Maximilian

The story of my grandfather is complicated and a little cloudy. I was always told that he was killed when he jumped from a train near a town he recognized and was shot. Near the end of my grandmother's life I made an attempt to record some of her memories and stories of my father and grandfather as she had always been the person who told us about life during World War II and the Holocaust. I spent a whole afternoon asking her to tell me about people in photographs that I had collected from my family. When it came time to talk about my grandfather I was surprised to discover how much I did not understand about what had led to his death. They had decided to move from Prague to Budapest when the Nazis were invading. It would turn out to be an unfortunate choice. It was the wrong direction. My grandfather was taken to a work camp from Budapest. For the next few years my father and grandmother would wait for him to return. During that time my father and grandmother were constantly ready to be taken away by the Nazi. My grandmother would dress my father in multiple layers of clothes in case the Nazis came to take them away. They waited for months for news of him. While they waited for him they were once rounded up and taken to a brick warehouse outside Budapest. They stayed there for an entire night waiting to find out if they would be taken away to a camp. The next part of the story is a little unclear. At some point someone convinced a guard that they were there in error. It isn't entirely clear if it was the fluent German that convinced him to let them go or if he just didn't want to be there. From there they made their way to the Danube but needed to get to the unoccupied side. A man with a boat was willing to take them across the river but wanted something in return. The story is that they gave him a bottle of slivovitz, or plum brandy. To this day I keep a bottle of slivovitz in my home, just in case it comes in handy. My father and grandmother went back to an apartment and waited and tried to survive the rest of the war. One part of the story that I have never heard about is what it was like when the city was "liberated". Given that they had been living under Nazi occupation for so long, I have to assume that it was better in some way. Recently, I was talking to my parents about that period, partially because of this story, and my father said that the Russians who liberated the city were not much better than the Nazis. There is a story that one of the soldiers tried to rape my grandmother, but my children were present so I asked my parents not to tell us the details when it came up. Eventually, someone came to tell them what they had seen. They were on a train going west towards Paris when my grandfather saw what looked like his home town. The story that I had always heard about this was just as I started this tale. The people who were on the train arrived in Paris just as the city was being liberated by the allies, which was a new part, and the fact that the train was going West was also new. It was difficult to come to the understanding that his death was so arbitrary. If my grandfather had stayed on that train he would have arrived in Paris with the other men. After the war my grandmother went back to her home to regroup. She remarried someone who my father hated so much that he ran away on three different occasions, to other cities, and even to Israel as an orphan. My grandmother stayed in Paris, where they had moved to be near her new brother-in-law was, and waited for my father to return from the kibbutz where he had run away to. They were reluctant to let my father leave as they needed as many people as possible to try to build the nascent country. Eventually he made it back to Paris and his mother, step-father, and his half brother. Now that they were together, they made their way to New York to start a new life. My father didn't stay in New York for very long, his uncle had survived the Holocaust, along with his wife and daughter, and had settled in Chicago. He invited my father to come live with him in Chicago, mostly to get him away from his step-father. My dad took him up on the offer and moved to Chicago for the remainder of high school and all of college. He moved back to New York to go to graduate school at Columbia University, He met my mother there, they married, and eventually had two kids, of which I am the second. Growing up I learned about my family and their experiences in the Holocaust. I knew that my father's father had been killed jumping off a train and that his name was Maximilian. When I met the woman who would eventually become my wife, we talked about all the important decisions that adults have to make, even before we had gone out on a date. We talked about whether or not we would have a joint bank account and what names we would give our kids. I told her this story, as much as I knew it at that time, and we agreed that we would name our son Maximilian. Eventually we had that first date, and several more. A couple of years later I asked her to marry me, and she said yes, although with some hesitation since we were still in college. Fawn Phelps married me almost five years later, after we had graduated and settled in to our nascent adulthood. It took five years and a change of cities for graduate school before we were ready to have children. It had been over a decade since we had discussed the idea of names but we still wanted to name our child Max. When our first child was born, however, we named her Celeste, as we were planning on Max if our child had been a boy. We started trying to have another child about a year later as it had taken longer than we had expected to get pregnant the first time. We were surprised when we discovered we were pregnant a little over a year after our daughter was born. Our thinking about names hadn't changed since our daughter was born. We also decided that we did not want the delivery doctor or nurse to call out the baby’s sex. Instead, I would simply say “Hi” and the name we had chosen for the sex the baby was. On a Friday in February Fawn called me and she was very upset. She had been at the doctor’s for a post due date visit, and they were concerned about the baby’s heartbeat. The doctor felt that the baby’s heart beat was too high and they wanted to induce labor. Fawn was intending to have a natural childbirth and the induced birth scared her that she might be unable to do it. With some encouragement from me we went home, arranged for a friend to stay with our daughter, and went to the hospital to induce. It took less time to induce labor than our first child, and so it was around nine that evening that our second child was born, and I said, “Hi, Max!”

Last updated: Thu Oct 28 2021 10:26:23 GMT-0400 (EDT)