Love is What Carries on….Even After You’re Gone by David Weiss
The title of this blog, a quote from “Tuesday’s with Morrie” sums up my ongoing relationship with my grandfather. As I was writing my third book “Escaping Death, Embracing Life: The Jack Grinbaum Holocaust Experience”, I had the opportunity to learn from my grandfather almost four years after his passing. This book is the extended and transcribed interview that I did with him about one year before he died. The experience of writing about my grandparents’ Holocaust years is always a personal roller coaster. It makes me feel close to them but it’s also painful to travel back and think about all of the things they went through before I even knew them. This experience, the complete version of Grandpa Jack’s life during the Holocaust, was especially surreal. Picturing these people and places was haunting but thinking about his survival was also inspiring. The things he said about my grandmother’s time before, during and right after the Holocaust also left me both sad and amazed at her zest to stay alive and to thrive.
Sort of like driving a car, some of the action of life takes place behind you, some of it takes place in front of you, and some of it is happening right around you. These observations and lessons are a key part of the past, lessons for the future and things to remember for the here and now. Six Things really popped out at me as enduring lessons from this book writing journey and re-living the Holocaust “with” Grandpa Jack.
1) Grandpa Jack always knew he was special.
He never believed in false modesty. Grandpa Jack had pride in his abilities and he wasn’t afraid to say it. During our interview, he kept repeating a similar phrase about how there is simply something special about him. He had an unbreakable, innate belief that he could figure out solutions to problems that nobody else could. He felt that he had a physical, mental and emotional power and resilience that was at the top of the human curve. After re-living the interview and having known him so well for so long, I have to say that he is certainly correct. He also had the ability to never let what he can’t do interfere with what he can do. He did not, however, believe that he was a super hero. He knew he always needed a trusted partner and he was the consummate realist. Grandpa Jack did not believe that he survived and others died because he was “better”. He noted, often, the presence that luck played in his survival. But he did feel that most people who would have been in his shoes would not have made it. This is why one of the most difficult things for him to do after the war was to tell his story (see #2). Why did Grandpa Jack go on to find success in every aspect of his life? Probably because he knew that he would!
2) “Nobody would believe it”
After the war, Jews had to tell the Germans what happened to them in the war in order to receive reparations. Grandpa Jack’s biggest concern was that nobody would believe all that he lived through. The camps he was at were the most brutal, paired with two escapes, stealing guns and changing names. He did the impossible and didn’t know if anyone could believe it. He was in the ghetto and camps for well over four years and with the incredible hard work of tunnel digging and working with weapons, his survival was not the intention of the Nazis. I was struck when he mentioned that my grandma and him shared that in common…Her times in the camp spanned longer than almost anyone because her town was invaded in September of 1939, (very early on, as soon as Germany invaded Poland). One sickness during that 5+ years would have lead to death. Somehow she survived. Their bond was surviving despite all odds. A survival so unlikely it was hard to believe it could happen.
3) The Mind Protects
One thing that somewhat aggravated Grandpa Jack were questions about specific dates and people’s names. Over the years he was asked to recall these things at various times. Since some Holocaust books and memoirs have been written with the recollection of names and dates, people think that most Survivors remember specifics. Grandpa Jack was taken from place to place and really had no idea about what month or week it was most of the time. He also blocked out a lot from his childhood, the ghetto and the war years. What he does know/remember about specific dates, he learned from people he was with in the camps years later. He learned some things in displaced persons camps, some things in Belgium and other things here in the United States. I learned as I went through these interviews to just let him talk and recall what he can remember, which is experiences. They seem to be playing out in front of him like it was yesterday in many cases. It almost seems like divine intervention, what he could remember for motivation purposes he knew and what his mind needed to discard, it just let go of.
4) The Value of an Active Mind
Grandpa Jack also kept coming back to the concept of how he was always moving forward and was always thinking, planning and scheming forward. When I think about the years that I knew him, this remained his style. He was never idle. Rarely was he idle physically and mentally he was absolutely never idle. During the Holocaust he would survive one day and figure out something, some way to survive tomorrow. He always preached the concept of staying one step ahead of the crowd. He admired go-getters and he was the consummate go-getter. Grandpa Jack seemed to have a feeling that if you follow along with the rest of the herd, you’d all get crushed as one. His thinking helped him survive the worst of times, but it also helped to set him up well for the good times…which would always become the great times. He was a visionary.
5) The Value of Personality and Warmth
Grandpa Jack always placed a great deal of emphasis and focus on interpersonal relationships and warmth. During the Holocaust, he always worked to build some kind of a special human bridge. He figured that this was his only real chance. Bridges with guards, fellow prisoners and people in the displaced persons camps after the war were a goal and priority. He had a strong internal belief that he could gain empathy by establishing a rapport and that he could establish this rapport with almost anyone. Once again, I saw him do this but by the time I knew him he was experiencing all good times. His evaluation of people was always based on how “warm” they are. He loved his Uncle Jack. That was his favorite person. The first thing he always said about him was that “He was such a warm man”. That was the highest compliment grandpa could give someone.
6) The Times are Always Changing
As John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future”. This comes into play when dealing with education and social interactions. Grandpa Jack had almost no formal education. Many people who don’t have a high or even average level of education down-talk the value of formal learning and a college degree. Not Grandpa Jack. He knew that the world had changed and that the key to success is education. While he didn’t get a college degree, he paid for 3+ college degrees and we owe him endlessly for that. Beyond that, he instilled in us the value of both learning and academic achievement. Grandpa Jack also loved talking to young people. He hated being around only people his age or older. He wanted to know what young people were thinking and doing. He was truly young at heart but he also knew that the way of the world belonged to the youth…and he always wanted to know the way of the world.
To quote Mitch Albom and Tuesday’s With Morrie again, “Death ends a life, not a relationship”. Keeping the memory and relationship going with Grandpa Jack is easy because he left so much behind to learn from.
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David Weiss was born, raised and still lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Being the grandson of four Holocaust Survivors has always been an integral part of his identity and life. David earned a Bachelors of Arts in Education from Cardinal Stritch University and a Masters of Arts in Education from Viterbo University. He spent eleven years as a second and third grade teacher before starting his own promotions business. David is also an author and teaches at the college level. David and his wife are the proud parents of a six year old daughter.
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