We Odyssey Because…

Today the odyssey begins.

It is the all too familiar chapter in an American immigrant’s life to return to their hometown, family in tow. But this trip is different. It is a story 76 years in the making.
76 years ago, in the fall of 1938, Poland decreed that all citizens living abroad had to return within 5 years or they would lose their citizenship. Germany responded by forcing an estimated 18 thousand Polish Jews living in Germany across the border. On a Thursday night in late October the police officers that once served to protect my Zayda and his family knocked on their door and ordered them to the police station. They spent the night at a jail in a bordering town and were transported to the train station the next day, on Friday, October 28. Most Jews in Unna observed the Sabbath and did not travel on the Sabbath, so the German officials waited until the sun went down, marking the start of the Sabbath, to start the train.

My Zayda, only 6 at the time, remembers sitting on his Zayda’s lap in a train full of frightened people. In the midst of the chaos, his Zayda started singing L’cha Dodi, a Jewish prayer that welcomes the Sabbath. This moment stuck with my Zayda, and for the next 76 years, perhaps home would be found in his Jewish identity.

When the train arrived in Neu Bentschen, a station on the border of Germany and Poland, thousands of men, women, and children were forced to walk 9 km across the border to Zbaszyn.

They spent 10 months in Zbaszyn. His mother, Frieda, and sister, Ruth, helped distribute food and worked to keep their family and community alive. After 10 months his mother took action and brought her family to the train station to head to Northeastern Poland. As they waited for the train to come a man ran up, out of breath, saying he could get the kids on the Kindertransport – a series of boats that took 10,000 children to England. My great grandparents had minutes to decide what to do. They made the sacrifice to part with their children, ultimately saving their lives.

My Zayda was mad at his parents for leaving him and hid, refusing to get on the boat. His sister, Ruth found him and convinced him to get on the boat. She was told she would get on the next boat. There was never another boat. That was the last time my Zayda saw his sister. This moment stuck with my Zayda, and for the next 76 years, perhaps home would be found in the memory of his sister.

It took my Zayda over 50 years to tell this story. Today he shares it with anyone who will listen. He does not tell it because it highlights the darkest evils that exist, those that separated him from his family. He does not tell it because he thinks it is an extraordinary tale. He tells it so that he can take the experience and make a positive difference in the world.

It is the all too familiar chapter in an American immigrant’s life to return to his hometown, family in tow. But this trip is different.

My Zayda, his brother Siegfried, and his sister Ruth were refugee children. Manfred and Siegfried were given a chance to live while Ruth was not. My Zayda has never come to terms with the fact that she was murdered while he survived. But he chooses to celebrate her life and her memory instead of filling himself with hatred towards those that killed her. He has managed to take the darkest parts of his life and turn them into a deep seeded need to do ma’aseem tovim (good deeds). He has bestowed upon me, my brother my sister, my cousins, and my parents a huge burden: to make the world a better place.

In 1941 it was HIAS that helped my Great Uncle immigrate to the United States from Europe and eventually take in my Zayda and his brother. Today, HIAS is working to help over 130,000 children refugees in Chad. We Odyssey for Ruth, for Frieda, for Otto, and for the 6 million others that were murdered in the Holocaust. We odyssey for modern day refugee children to ensure that they are given a chance to live their lives.

It is the all too familiar chapter in an American immigrant’s life to return to his hometown, family in tow. But this trip is different.

It is different in many ways. It is different because we are returning to celebrate the life and family of Manfred Lindenbaum. Manfred will be surrounded by his children, their spouses, seven of his grandchildren, and friends.

It is different because this Odyssey is just as much for refugee children today as it is for refugee children 76 years ago. On International Refugee Day, we will cross back into Germany at the point where, 76 years ago, my Zayda first became a refugee. This odyssey focuses on helping modern day refugee children.

It is different because on this trip, Manfred’s family will not be in tow. They will be holding his hands, working together to make the world a better place.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “We Odyssey Because…

  1. Manny and family – We are smiling through our tears after reading your blog to date and watching video clips. You are amazing and we are thrilled to share a small piece of your odyssey through your beautiful blog. The world is already a better place because of you. What a tremendous experience for all of you. Love you, Lauren, David, Adam, Ethan and Eli.

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