Concerns about immigration and both legal and illegal immigrants are everyday news. There is a lot of anger toward immigrants. People that have been here for generations feel entitled to their life. When recessions and depressions threaten that life, they look for someone to blame. Immigrants are easy targets. My grandfathers were immigrants, legal immigrants because they were fortunate enough to have sponsors. My grandfather Opa was a gardener. Many hired gardeners are now Hispanic. They are like my grandfather, trying to take care of their families by working at a dirty, hard job few are willing to take. Not only is empathy is lacking in our society, but a lack of gratitude for the lives we have in this country. For many of us, our lives were made possible by immigrants who sacrificed to be here.
Ever since I posted my last blog, I have been thinking about my grandparent’s immigration to the United States. Scandinavian immigrants were welcome with open arms because of a need to populate the harsh Midwest with people who understood the climate and could work with it. Opa immigrated because the alternative was death. My mother was only eight when she left her home with her parents. Talking about their life in Europe was not permitted in their house. I have many questions that would help me understand what path I am on and where I am going.
A few years ago, a man named Walter Klein contacted my mother. He identified himself as a distant cousin who wanted to share his search for ancestors with her. My mother, he said, was his cousin. He was trying to understand their link to each other. He discovered, in his genealogy research, a line that ran to her. He shared his family tree and pictures of destroyed European synagogues.
I knew growing up that Opa and Oma, my grandmother, had something they wanted to keep very quiet. My mother has, in her later years, been joking about being Jewish. They were Jewish, but I don’t think that was the secret. Walter’s papers have made me believe that the missing piece of the puzzle may be that they might have been Sudeten. There is now a wealth of information on the net of Sudeten’s trying to create their own homeland. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERsudetenland.htm Opa may have ignored the politics of the movement for independence because of his status in the community, only to realize that it was a Nazi supported movement that was not for Jewish Sudetens. They started their escape in 1938, going to Prague, then to Holland. This is just speculation on my part, pieced together from the small pieces of the puzzle I have. However, from their life in America you would not know it. Opa was a gardener, Oma worked in small sewing factories as a seamstress. My mother attended the Lutheran church.
My mother is now is beginning to talk about what she remembers about her other life. You have to weed through what you know is exaggeration and what is plausible. She harbors a lot of anger toward her parents even to this day. That shaped her youth. It also shaped her adult life and her relationship with her children (including me). I can make no excuses for her, but I can imagine what is was like for an eight year old girl of privilege, raised by a nanny, to go on an odyssey of running and hiding for more than eight months through Europe.
She related to me a story of standing at a table with her brother and parents with their papers in a folder to hand over to a German soldier that was checking them. She remembers tall, black, shiny boots. Another officer bumped their elbows, sending papers flying. Scrambling to gather them, the officer said for them to go. Mom said that there were good German soldiers. Then that little girl spent what seemed like an eternity on a ship trying to cross the Atlantic during the stormy season. She stills talks with anger about a mother who didn’t try to mother her until she was eight years old. A women who had two cooks and little time for her. For my mother, her mother was the nanny left behind. Clouded by spending her life trying to make her mother pay for that, my mother didn’t seem to have skills to mother her own children.