Monday, November 5, 2007

My Grandfather's Story

My paternal grandparents were born in Hungary. Actually, they lived in a corner of Hungary that changed hands often in nationalistic skirmishes, so every few years, my grandfather had to learn a new language in school. Listening to my grandparents and their various sisters- and brothers-in law was always interesting. There was always a little competition about whose "willage" was the best ("My willage had a river." "Well my willage had two rivers." "My willage had a train station." "Ooooooh." Game over.).

My great-grandfather managed to put away enough money to come to the United States, and then, slowly, he'd send for his children. When he'd saved enough money to bring over my grandfather, he told my grandfather to go to the port and pay for a boat ride to the U.S. Not surprisingly, given that this was, shall we say, not entirely legal, my grandfather's money was stolen and he couldn't do anything about it. Someone took pity on him and allowed him to stow away in the hold of a boat. That he did, and endured the Atlantic crossing without food or water.

When he arrived in New York, he ended up being kidnapped by the Jewish Mafia (as Dave Barry would say, "I am not making this up.") The JM thought they'd use my grandfather to extort money from his father. My great-grandfather, however, refused to pay a dime. "Do with my son what you will," he said. So my grandfather was held captive, but was allowed to sit in a storefront window every now and then so my great-grandfather could walk by and see that he was still alive. Still, he refused to pay ransom for his son.

Eventually, the Jewish Mafia guys realized that they were never going to get any money out of my great-grandfather, so they let my grandfather go. He was taken in by a wealthy New York department store family (I can't remember whether it was the Bambergers or the Mays). They wanted him to marry their daughter, but he refused. He married my grandmother instead, which never made sense to me, given that she was a complete shrew.

He and my grandmother opened a dry cleaning and tailoring store, and slowly worked to bring over all their brothers and sisters, and whoever else needed it. This was, of course, in the 1930's and 1940's, when Jews were desperately trying to get out of Europe as fast as they could. One of my great aunts didn't make it out before the Holocaust started, and spent time in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. That's a story for another day.

The moral of this story? I could've been an heiress!

1 comment:

Scott T. said...

ok, (1) I've never heard this before. Why? (2) damn, you mean I almost married money! (3) am I your only reader?

Interesting stuff. People were fascinated when I told that my grandfather was a prison of war in Nazi Germany.