By Doug Lipman

Story Summary:

Doug’s father was disowned for marrying a Christian woman. When Doug’s father is part of the liberation of a concentration camp in WWII can he and Doug’s grandfather reconcile?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  A Jewish Boy’s Dream

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why was Doug ‘s father so keen to get his father’s approval?
  2. What biases drove Doug’s grandfather to disown his son?
  3. Why do you think Doug’s grandfather finally heard his son?
  4. Do you think there are any issues on which families shouldn’t or couldn’t reconcile?

Resources:

  • Interfaith Families: Personal Stories of Jewish-Christian Intermarriage by Jane Kaplan
  • GIs Remember: Liberating the Concentration Camps by Robert Abzug

Themes:

  • Family and Childhood
  • Interfaith
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Taking a Stand/Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

When my Father was a little boy, he had a secret dream. My father was born in 1911 in Chicago, Illinois. Both his parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. They’d left to escape the pogroms – state sanctioned mob killings of Jews like them. Now neither of them considered themselves part of the Jewish religion, but it was important to both of them that they were proudly part of the Jewish people.

Now my Father’s father, his pa was a stern silent old world father who scarcely talked to his children. And I think that’s why my dad had a dream about his wedding day. As a little boy he thought when I’m married on that day my Pa will certainly know I’m grown up. He’ll be proud of me. And on that day, I’m going to sit next to him at a table and the two of us are going to talk.

November of 1940, my dad was 29 years old and he was nervously waiting for the chance to talk to his Pa. “Pa I’m going to get married. Virginia and I want to get married next month.”

“Virginia? That’s not a Jewish name.”

“Oh, she’s not Jewish Pa, but I love her.”

“If you marry that woman, you are not my son and you will not be welcome in my house.”

So a month later my mother and my father got married. It was the wedding that my dad had always dreamed of… but his Pa wasn’t even there.

About one year later the Japanese air force bombed the U.S. naval installation at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The U.S. declared war on Japan and later on its ally Germany.

1943 my dad was 32. He was drafted into the army and sent to Europe. He told me, he said, “Doug I was shot at every day for 18 months and I never for one minute expected to come home alive.”

But near the end of the war in May 1945, my dad wrote my mother this letter.

My Darling Virginia,

I’m enclosing a photo of me taken at one of the nicer concentration camps. It shows me giving a cigarette to a naked starving skeleton of a man, nothing but skin and bones – alive! The other photos I took myself. The one of the bus. We had a bus to take them to where they could be taken care of. But when we filled the first bus they wouldn’t wait for the second one. They crawled on top of it. I had to point my pistol at them to make them get down.

There’s another photo of the boy inmate. He’s sitting in the grass you can’t see it, but his father is lying next to him dying and the boy was going nuts trying to get someone to do something.

There’s one last photo of the crematory. We can still see bones, human bones in the oven.

The next day my father wrote this letter.

My Dearest Virginia,

I finally got that letter off to my Pa. After all the letters I wrote to him. After all the months he didn’t write back. I was never going to write again, but the family kept saying write to him write to him. So I did. And I don’t think it was a kind letter. I told him a thing or two that it happened in all these months of frontline fighting and after I well, I said, it wasn’t any easier for you and you were the only one for me and if he didn’t like it he could just…it was too bad.

And then after a while I said, “what am I fighting for. If not to crush the very kind of prejudice that he harbors against you.”

I’m sure that letter will just make him angrier than he already is. The family kept telling me to write and I did, but not the way they thought.

A few months later my dad got back to Chicago and his sisters said to him, “Paul that letter you wrote from the camp. I mean he wouldn’t read it, but when we read it aloud to each other we could see that he was listening from behind the crack open door of the bedroom and it changed him. Ever since then he’s been talking maybe there could be some kind of reconciliation between the two of you.”

It took almost a year but in November of 1946, my mother and my father were invited to the apartment of his Ma and Pa for a belated celebration that he’d come back alive. My Dad was given the place of honor at the table next to his Pa and the two of them just listened to the laughter and looked at the faces. Everyone was so glad that they were all back together again.

After a while his Pa got up, “I’ll be right back,” and he brought out a cigar box. It was filled with letters. “They’re all in there. I read every one.” And, then, with a conversation bubbling happily around them, my Dad and his Pa talked.

 

A Jewish Boy’s Dream: The Holocaust Reunites a Father and Son