When my dad came to America, he was sponsored by my grandmother's family. She had three sisters and a brother that had immigrated to America way before World War II started. She had not even met her oldest sister until she came to visit my dad for the first time! I can't even imagine. When the war was over, her siblings here in America wrote letters back to Brzostek, hoping to find a relative that survived. That is how they reconnected. My grandmother was the only one to survive from the entire family in Poland.
After the war ended, my grandmother, father and aunt stayed in Poland and lived there until 1957. At that time they emigrated to Israel. At the time they left Poland, my dad was enrolled and attending law school, and my aunt was going to dental school to become an orthodontist. The news that they were leaving Poland was a shock and the entire exit happened very quickly. They were only given about a week notice. Poland was becoming increasingly dangerous for Jewish families.
When they got to Israel there was not enough money to send my dad back to law school and my aunt back to medical school. My father told his sister to pursue her career and he started to search for a "job". He worked for a while in a factory that manufactured ammunition. The reality was that he was not happy, and my grandmother saw it. The opportunities in Israel to make a living were not great. She finally convinced and basically "pushed" my dad to get on a boat and go to America.
Coming here must have been frightening. He knew no one, had never met any of his relatives, did not speak English and had only $5 in his pocket. When he got off the boat, he was greeted by one of his cousins, who recognized him from a photo my grandmother had sent. The problem was, he only spoke English. Somehow they got by, and when my dad got to his aunt and uncle's house, luckily they spoke Yiddush, so finally my dad could communicate with them. He quickly enrolled in a class to learn English and he was on his way.
Our family here really took him in. He had a huge family, lots of first cousins and he quickly became close with them all. I remember growing up always surrounded by my dad's cousins and their kids. We are all very close, and even though we now live all over the country there is a special bond we all share. Most people are so close to their first cousins, but after that their more distant relatives are just that - distant. For me, my second cousins are as close as my first. My dad's first cousins became his adopted American siblings. But the fact is, most of them really did not know or understand what he went through during the war.
Writing this book is for them as much as it is for my children. This is their legacy, their family, their history. I have heard from so many of my cousins, heard how excited they are to read it, and after they read it, how touched and moved they were. I am very close with one of my cousins, and his mom, Phyllis is one of my dad's first cousins who lives close by. Tomorrow is my launch party and first book signing. She insisted that she must attend the event. And then I got a call from one of my cousins, Amy.
Her dad, Billy, and my dad became very close, again another first cousin. Unfortunately, as happens, Billy is not doing well, Parkinson's is a horrible disease. They live in Altoona, PA, which is probably close to 5 hours away or more. Billy wants to be here to support my dad, to see him again, and maybe for the last time, and to support me. I am blown away. They are making the long drive tomorrow to come out for the book signing. Words can not express how much this means to not only me, but my dad.
To go through what he did, to feel so alone in the world for so long. To think you are the only Jewish person left alive. These are feelings I can not even begin to imagine. But then, to find family, to know they are here for you, and to know they genuinely share your joy and happiness and are happy themselves for you, is one of the most moving and important lessons. Family is everything, Sala proved that in her determination to keep her family together. Our family has stayed together.