When he was first captured, my father was sent to an Italian prison camp. My father, as I’ve said before, never really talked about being a POW and he didn’t tell stories except for two. The first was about after the Italians fled and he was recaptured by the Germans. When he was received in the camp, Stalag 3B Furstenberg, the two people in front of him lied about being Jewish. My father, because he’d already been in an Italian prison camp, told the truth because, as he told us, by this time he didn’t care if he lived or died anymore. The following morning the two men who had been in front of him were shot.
The other story was about Aunt Matilda.
As I think back upon my family, particularly the Aunts and Uncles on my father’s side, they were a pretty serious bunch. Aunt Minnie and Aunt Bella, at least as I remember them, were almost always serious. They laughed and joked around, I think, when they were amongst themselves or when at a gathering and the kids were all gone outside to play ball. But I don’t remember them being really silly or fooling around with me or my brother. I remember my father-in-law once putting his tongue through a paper napkin at the Christmas dinner table and then making faces and noises. That was silly. I don’t remember my aunts on my father’s side ever being silly.
Aunt Matilda and Uncle Martin were the funny ones. Uncle Martin always told the truth as he saw it and very often his total candor led to awkward moments where we laughed because we felt he couldn’t possibly be serious about how critical he was being. Aunt Matilda would say he was joking, but I gather very often he was serious. Whether witty sarcasm or unbridled criticism, who knew?
So being-funny Aunt Matilda wrote her baby brother, my father, a letter that was received by the Italians in the prison camp he was he in. Of course the Italians (and the Germans too) censored all mail, so they received it instead of him. He was called into the commandant where they proceeded to read him the letter.
As my father told the story, the letter started off “Congratulations, you are now in the hands of the spaghetti-eaters,” and it went on and on about the Italians. The more they read, my father told us, the more he laughed, and the more he laughed, the madder they got, and the madder they got, the longer they left him in solitary confinement.
Aunt Matilda was a pip. As another story about her has it, she was once being blocked by a tractor-trailer truck whose driver was apparently having a hard time moving the truck out of the way. My aunt, after honking and waiting, got fed up enough to go give the driver a piece of her mind, telling him that if he couldn’t move it, she would do it for him. The driver made the mistake of accepting it as a dare. Aunt Matilda moved the truck for him. She was very proud of that.
I am not a youngster although most of the time I feel like one. It’s the cliché. My mind feels like eighteen and my body…I am sixty-six now and sometimes it feels sixty-six and sometimes it feels younger, but not all that much younger. I would say that sometimes it feels eighty, but I don’t know what an eighty year old body feels like.
That said, when I refer to my grandparents and even my aunts and uncles (because my father was the youngest of 13 children so most of my aunts and uncles were approaching my grandparents’ ages) I am talking about people basically born somewhere around 1900, and since my father and mother were born in 1918, it could be in the 1890s or even slightly earlier, hence circa 1900.
My Uncle Martin was really cool. He was a great cook who made his own coleslaw and sweet and sour stuffed cabbage and potato latkes and brisket, you name it. He was married to my Aunt Matilda who was my father’s sister. Aunt Matilda was a dear; she was the sweetest woman you could want to know, as I remember her, and as I write this I see her shy face with a smile on it that caused her dimples to show. But her eyes—they were the most kind and loving eyes, eyes that looked at you with pure love and adoration.
If Aunt Matilda was a softy, Uncle Martin was harsh and abrupt and opinionated and terribly, terribly outspoken. He always spoke the truth as he saw it, a good thing, but often it was critical and judgmental. When he went there, people would laugh embarrassedly at what he said and no one knew if he were telling the truth or joking. As a good example, my wife was a dancer, always thin and always concerned about her weight and waistline, but boy could she eat, and boy, she loved food, and she loved Uncle Martin’s food, ethnic food. She was Polish and Russian by heritage, mostly Polish. My Uncle was Hungarian. I am Hungarian and Czechoslovakian. Some of the ethnic foods are very similar, some aren’t. When my wife and I visited, usually at a family gathering like a birthday or anniversary, she would eat and eat and eat, happily so. My Aunt Matilda would look at her lovingly and enjoy watching her eat. Uncle Martin would say something like “Why don’t we just put all the food in front of her?” There were many variations. Sometimes he would push the serving dishes to her and say “Here, this is for you,” or “Is this enough?” or “Where does it go? You’re feet aren’t fat.” Sometimes he would just spoon more food on her plate and say, “Here, have some more.” Aunt Matilda would ameliorate, telling him to leave her alone or telling her he was just kidding, and everyone would laugh but no one knew if Uncle Martin was being funny or bitterly sarcastic. Much to her credit, my wife didn’t care; she just enjoyed herself eating.
When I was a kid, well before my wife, we thought Uncle Martin was cool because he had pin-up pictures inside his dresser. Like good old furniture (I still have my parent’s bedroom furniture, two dressers, one of which was a chest of drawers), his dresser was a chest of drawers that had cabinets on the top which had doors inside of which were shelves. The pin-ups were on the inside of the doors. The one I most remember was Jayne Mansfield sitting with her legs folded under her. She was in a bathing suit and you could see her big breasts almost fully bare. He had others around, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable and more. None were real nudes, though he had magazines too that were nudie books, but for kids back then, he was real cool.
There are lots of stories about Uncle Martin and Aunt Matilda. More to come.
The other morning I was thinking that one overriding question which has evolved seven years into this particular presidency is: Why should we be worrying about the same things our parents and grandparents worried about?
For me, this brings up a whole set of remembrances dealing with my heritage and my family. Most immediately, I think about my Uncle Martin who used to carry around a transistor radio listening to the news in Yiddish. He was listening to the Jewish news, ever-concerned about the survival of a then fledgling country named Israel. Israel was and is about as old as me, born May 14, 1948. (I was born in June 1949.) As a human being I am a bit to the latter part of middle-age, even perhaps old, but as a nation Israel is a mere infant. The USA was two hundred thirty-nine on its last birthday and it is still only a baby.
Israel’s birth came a short three years after my father was liberated from Stalag 3B Furstenberg after he spent more than three years as a prisoner of the Third Reich during WWII. Yes, he was a Jew in a POW camp. Yes, unlike the two men in front of him in line at their arrival at the camp, he told the truth, that he was Jewish. Those two men who lied were shot the next morning. My father never spoke about his war experiences and he never spoke about his POW time except for two stories, one of which was that one. The other has to do with his interment in Italy and my Aunt Matilda, but more of that later. The reason he told the Germans the truth, he said, was because he had been in an Italian prison camp first and by the time he got to the German prison camp he no longer cared if he lived or died.
Uncle Martin worried about Israel. He worried about the survival of the Jews. My father’s family emigrated here legally from Hungary. Two hundred seventy-five thousand (275,000) Hungarians were killed in the Holocaust, you know, the Holocaust the Iranians deny ever occurred. My mother’s family emigrated here legally from Czechoslovakia. Approximately two hundred sixty-three thousand (263,000) Czechoslovakian Jews were killed. If not for their having made their ways to this country, I would not have been born and perhaps the whole of my father’s and mother’s families, like many, many families of Jews, would have been obliterated. And you might once again add, as I do in my thoughts, obliterated in that Holocaust which according to Iran, the country this president negotiates with despite its steadfast and unrelenting commitment to permanently removing Israel from the face of this earth, never occurred.
Tell that to the eleven million (11,000,000) people who were killed during the Holocaust.
I have to stop for a moment to record here that a total of eleven million (11,000,000) people, 1.1 million of them children, were killed during the Holocaust. Six million (6,000,000) of those victims were Jewish; two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe at the time of World War II were killed by Nazis. Other groups targeted by the Nazis were Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and disabled people, to name just a few, such that a full five million (5,000,000) non Jews were killed as well. Only fourteen million (14,000,000) Jews remain alive today.
The other day this US president referred to the Israelis as terrorists, likening them to those who kill Jews simply because they are Jews, likening them to those who join Iran in the quest to eliminate Jews from the face of the earth, likening them to those who wantonly kill women and children and innocent elderly people, to those who would deny Israel’s right to exist. Israel’s survival under this US administration is already in great peril. This president’s reckless terminology, which he purposefully and repeatedly utilizes, now makes its survival even more difficult. This president seems to have no regard for Israel or for any of the American allies. This Obama would give more than one hundred billion (100,000,000,000) dollars to Iran to further its goals of annihilating Israel, conducting terrorism throughout the Middle East and arming terrorists throughout the world. He fashions himself a man of peace; in reality his is the greatest funder of Islamic terrorism ever. No wonder nearly a third of Americans still believe this president is a Muslim. He celebrates a Muslim boy who built a bomb-like structure at the White House because the boy got into trouble with school and the police, but he does not even contact the family of Kate Steinle, the woman killed by an illegal alien who had been deported 5 times. And there are countless examples of his biases in favor of Muslims (and others) and against Americans—I’m sure I don’t have to name them.
My Uncle would find America’s behavior under this administration inconceivable. Anyone with any relation to anyone who suffered losses in the Holocaust would find its behavior the same. And that is not even putting judgmental terms to it, because, in fact, its behavior is simply reprehensible and very often bizarre.
So, why should we be worrying about the same things our parents and grandparents worried about? Why has this administration brought the free world back to a real concern for its very survival? Haven’t we as a nation, we as a people, we as human beings learned anything?
By this administration’s behavior, apparently not. This Obama demonstrates the greatest (and most blatant) hypocrisy I’ve ever seen. He truly believes, and this is the scariest part, that because he says he is right, he is right, that because he says he is transparent, he is transparent, that because he says he cares, he actually cares.
Take a look at this. See what the Jews are up against, what the Americans are up against and what the world will be more and more up against as we move more into the midst of a religious war and fail to act accordingly. Didn’t Europe and the U.S. try to appease Hitler? That worked out well, didn’t it?