June 11, 2008, - 5:01 pm

My Grandma, the Seamstress Who Lived the American Dream, Blessed Be Her Memory–Insight From Whence I Came

By Debbie Schlussel
I’m sorry that my promised piece on a Al-Qaeda terrorist on our shores–whose son fundraises for Barack Obama–is not yet up. But I just returned from my grandmother’s funeral (and to make a bad day worse, I returned to find my tire flat as a pancake). That piece will wait for tonight or tomorrow.
For security reasons, I will not note my grandmother’s name here, especially since she is now, escorted by relatives, on her way to burial in Israel, next to my grandfather in Jerusalem. If–and probably, when–the spineless Israeli government, along with pressure from the equally spineless U.S.–the Muslims are bequeathed Jerusalem, I do not want some of the many Muslim haters who read this site, to find my grandparents’ graves and do what they did to other Jewish graves under their control (they drilled holes and urinated in them and used their tombstones to make a Nazi-esque sidewalk).

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My Grandmother (2nd Row, Third From Left)

& Her Fellow Yellow Star Wearing Seamstresses

And now more about my grandmother, whom I briefly mentioned, last night:
Although my grandmother had been ill for some time, stricken with Alzheimer’s-esque dementia, I remember her fondly as a dedicated wife, homemaker, and mother. In listening to my mother’s eulogy, I learned things about my grandmother I never knew before. Here is some of what I remember and know, and some of what I learned:
From the time I was little and too young to understand the Holocaust, I knew that both of my grandparents had no teeth, a result of extreme malnutrition and no dental care in the Nazi concentration camps. Both wore a full set of dentures. But it, like losing most of her family to the Nazi ovens and bullets, did not stop her from making it.
She was a survivor.
My grandmother was born the sixth child of seven children, five boys, two girls in Olkusz, a small Polish town near the border of Germany. At a young age, she showed strong sewing skills, which saved her life. Because she was a talented seamstress, she was sent to work and learn from her uncle–my great-great-uncle–a well-known tailor in the Champs-Elysees in Paris. I still have relatives, the descendants of the tailor, who live in France. She was also sent to a special school for seamstresses.
When the Nazis invaded, my grandmother was allowed to live because she sewed. While most of her family was sent to their deaths in Auschwitz, my grandmother worked in Sosnowicz, Poland in a workshop, where she was ordered to make Nazi Wehrmacht uniforms. Yes, my grandmother helped make brown shirts for the brown shirts. And that’s how she survived.
Later, she was sent to a camp, where every day the Nazis marched her into a workshop where she mended uniforms and sewed, sort of like the sewing workshop in the movie, “Escape From Sobibor.” There were Czechoslavakians in and around the camp, and many of them were good to the Jews. They gave them bits of their stale food and old cake and helped them. That’s why my grandmother always saved a picture of a Czech woman and her son, who helped her survive.
Compared to my grandfather–who survived hard labor and near death in many camps–my grandmother had it easier. Maybe that’s why, when most Jewish Sabbaths–after we walked to my grandparents to visit, my grandmother would leave the room, when my grandfather talked about the experiences in the concentration camps. She didn’t want to hear about it. She wanted to forget and move on.
When the Holocaust was over, my grandmother learned that her sister, my late Aunt Esther, and two brothers survived. Her brother was in Bergen Belsen camp. And when my grandmother reunited with him, she met his friend, my grandfather, and they got married. They lived in Bergen Belsen, which became a displaced persons camp, for 3 years. That’s where my mother was born. My grandfather planned to leave it all behind and move to Israel, but at the last minute, he chose America instead. He heard that so many survivors were flooding Israel that people lived in tents on the streets of Jerusalem.
When my grandparents moved to America, they had nothing–no bilingual education, no government aid and welfare. They had the shirts on their backs. They and my mother lived in a single room in a house of a Jewish woman in Detroit. My grandfather found it hard to find a job because he refused to work on the Jewish Sabbath.
(Incidentally, my grandfather was descended from the Amshinover Chassidic Rebbe, the Peshischa Chassidic Rebbe, and the Afstrafser Chassidic rabbi–a heritage of which he was always very proud.)
Finally, he learned that Detroit needed a “shoichet”–a kosher slaughterer. He trained himself and ultimately opened his own kosher slaughterhouse. He and my grandmother got up at 3:00 a.m and took three buses from 12th Street in Detroit (where they lived) to Morris Kosher poultry, my grandfather’s business, in Hazel Park–a Detroit suburb. My grandfather would do the slaughtering, and my grandmother would pluck the feathers and put together the orders for meat and poultry. It was the last kosher slaughterhouse in Detroit (and it was never raided by ICE on a $10 million boondoggle).
When my grandfather finally closed up his slaughterhouse–because of government over-regulation and racist state inspectors harassing his Black employees–he turned the business into a giant kosher poultry, meat, and food distributorship, which my uncle now owns and runs. My grandmother helped him–not only in the business as his first employee/partner–but also at home as a homemaker–cooking, cleaning, sewing with pride.
Because sewing saved my grandmother’s life, I remember her constantly urging my mother to take me and my sisters to sewing lessons, thinking maybe it would someday save our lives, too. I took the lessons, and although I can’t make anything or make major alterations the way my grandmother–the skilled seamstress could–I can sew some pretty cool things. And I do sew some cool embellishments and designs on clothes as a hobby. In the future, I’ll put up pics of some of the things I’ve created. It’s really more art than anything else.
My grandmother made the greatest costumes. I could show her a picture of anything, and she could make it from scratch, without a pattern or anything. When I was a kid, my favorite thing was “Little Orphan Annie,” the musical. I showed my grandmother a picture, and she made me a satin red dress with the white collar, just like Annie. With my red, curly wig, I looked just like her for a costume party. So many people complimented her skilled craftsmanship and offered my grandmother money to make them things for them. But she wouldn’t do it. She made stuff for us out of love.
I won’t forget my grandmother’s “Bubbelehs”–giant matzoh-meal and egg pancakes, with tons of sugar on top. Those were good. And even though I’m not a fan of the dish, no matter who makes it, my grandmother’s gefilte fish was very popular in the Detroit Jewish community.
As I noted last night, because of the Holocaust and poor record availability, we don’t know exactly how old my grandmother was. But we know she was into her 90s and probably 94.
She lived a long life and after a lot of sorrow, lived the American dream, building a family, home, and a business with my grandfather in the only country on earth where they were free to do it.
My Grandma, Zichronah LiVrachah–Blessed Be Her Memory. May she rest in peace in her final resting place of Jerusalem, the eternal Jewish Capital.

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22 Responses

Condolescences on your loss.

c f on June 11, 2008 at 5:10 pm

Let’s hope Jerusalem G-d forbid, is never divided and your grandparents find their rest there. My condolences upon your loss. Life is like that, both with its joyful moments and then grief intervenes. Only a fortnight ago there was the joy of Shauvos and now its lamentation for the passing of a loved one. G-d remembers the generations gone by and he takes care of the living. He has kept His promise to the Jewish people and as he kept them to your grandparents and to your family – He will keep them to you as well. Baruch Hashem!

NormanF on June 11, 2008 at 6:45 pm

May this lovely lady rest in peace.

HelyeahWinnie on June 11, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Debbie,
I don’t visit your site often but I’m glad I did today. I was touched by your recounting details of your familys’ history. I’m a Nurse Practitioner and up until last September when I changed practices every single one of my patients was disabled and a large number of those patients were dementia patients. It is such a painful disease, painful for the family that is left behind. My prayers and condolences to you and your family. May Gd continue to bless you and your family.

Azygos on June 11, 2008 at 6:51 pm

The deeds of the islamonazis knows no bounds. It is unfortunate that one has to take such measures as you have, to secure a loved ones grave.

samurai on June 11, 2008 at 7:37 pm

Miss Schlussel:
You have my deepest sympathy in the loss of your grandmother.
Are you still observing the year of mourning for your father?
Will you also be observing a similar year of mourning for your grandmother?
I’m just imagining all that time with no music.
I wonder how you manage?
Ah, but you are unusually prolific with your writing, so maybe that’s how you are able to cope.
I also write, but not nearly as much as you, nor as often as you.
As for Jerusalem, I wonder why contemporary Israelis seem to have such short memories?
Don’t they remember what it cost to unite the divided city?
Don’t they remember what Jerusalem was like when the Arabs controlled the Temple Mount?
Do they really want to return to that same intolerable situation that existed prior to 1967?
I remember how we Mormons rejoiced over the astounding miracle of the Six Day War.
Indeed, the whole of Christendom rejoiced!
When I was in Israel, the tour guide solemnly pointed out the monument to the Israeli paratroopers who died in the battle for the Temple Mount.
I wish I could say something more appropriate, to try and give you solace in your hour of grief.
Shalom aleichem.
John Robert Mallernee
Official Bard of clan Henderson
Armed Forces Retirement Home
Washington, D.C. 20011-8400
[JRM: THANKS FOR YOUR SYMPATHIES (AND THANKS TO EVERYONE ELSE). NO, MY YEAR OF MOURNING MY FATHER IS NOT UP UNTIL THE END OF AUGUST/EARLY SEPTEMBER OR SO. I WILL NOT HAVE TO KEEP THE SAME RULES (REGARDING NO MUSIC, ETC.) FOR MY GRANDMOTHER B/C IN JUDAISM, THOSE RULES ONLY APPLY TO A CHILD, SIBLING, PARENT, AND SPOUSE. AND ONLY FOR A CHILD IS IT A YEAR. FOR THE OTHER THREE GROUPS, IT’S THIRTY DAYS OF MOURNING. DS]

writesong on June 11, 2008 at 8:34 pm

Dear Debbie:
I’m still bummed out about the loss of your father. Now this.
Your grandmother’s life was clearly a blessing for all of us. She bore witness to the cruelty of the Nazi regime and European anti-Semtism. Yet she lived a long life to tell about it. I regret to hear the news of her passing.
Sincerely,
There is NO Santa Claus

There is NO Santa Claus on June 11, 2008 at 8:46 pm

Debbie –
My deepest condolances to you and your family. Your grandmother sounds like a truly amazing woman. Those who survived that madness had to phenominal individuals. And judging from your writings, you are amply following in her footsteps.
cjh

cjhill on June 11, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Sorry for your loss. I have one Grandmother who has Parkenson’s although I am not happy with the general of her children my Uncles and Aunts (my father as well) and I don’t know what I will do when my Grandmother passes on. It is very difficult being around my family. She was in the holocaust in Hungary.

adam6275 on June 11, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Well, i now see where you get your PASSION from:)
My condolences…and to paraphrase Shelley a little:
Peace, peace! she is not dead, she doth not sleep-
He hath awakened from the dream of life-
‘Tis we, who, lost in the stormy visions keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings.-We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.
As the Holocaust survivors die off, we are losing an important memory…thanks for keeping it alive…no one else seems to want to!!!

EminemsRevenge on June 11, 2008 at 9:55 pm

The prophet Isaiah said: “One day He will wipe away the tears from all faces and death will be no more.” The righteous are not just promised resurrection to life – death will be banished and there will never be another funeral in the world and we will find happiness instead of tears. Death is now our common lot and even the righteous die because in our imperfect world, there is only so much they can do to improve the world. In a perfect world, there would be no death. When we have conquered sin and achieved spiritual ascension, perhaps then the world will be perfect. In the world in which we all live, the most we can do is fear G-d and walk in His ways, to our good.

NormanF on June 11, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Didn’t Luss have a slaughterhouse in Detroit until a few years ago?

kishke on June 12, 2008 at 1:01 am

Thanks for the story Debs. Your grandmothers memory will live on in the work of her children and grandchildren.
“Vaya con Dios, Abuelita”

tita2juju on June 12, 2008 at 1:31 am

A fine recitation of a good soul

Pat on June 12, 2008 at 3:29 am

Debbie,
What a story. I have no doubt that she is smiling at what you’ve become. It never ceases to amaze me the strength that holocaust survivors have. Their stories bring me to tears as I look at the life we have right now.
I’m sorry for your loss.
Take care.

diaphanous on June 12, 2008 at 5:13 am

My sincere condolences. HaMakom Y’nachem Otach.
But, as we are very political and honest on this blog, you do know that at the Mt. of Olives cemetery the amount of anti-Jewish graffiti is mindboggling so I hope your grandmother is laid to rest at one of the Western Jerusalem cemeteries. My parents requested to be buried at Shiloh, where I live. Now, that is a threatened cemetery.

Yisrael Medad on June 12, 2008 at 7:08 am

My deepest condolences to you and your family. Your grandmother’s story was inspirational to say the least. She was a strong, wise, wonderful woman. This world could use more people of her caliber.

Islam Delenda Est on June 12, 2008 at 8:55 am

Debbie,
So sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing. My sincere condolences to you and your family. May both her and your grandfather rest in eternal peace in Israel until the time fortold in Isaiah.
About a year ago I lost a dear friend Ted who had been an inmate at Bergen Belsen; Ted may have known your grandfather. Anyway I learned so much from him about what really happens in life. Those survivors are a valuable resource that we are rapidly losing to the ages – just let us hope we do not lose the lessons they can teach us.
Debbie, I noticed that you mentioned your grandparents lived in the 12th Street area. Where they still in that area in 1967? They sure did see a few changes in Detroit as time went on. I’m a native Detroiter myself (NW – 7 & Evergreen area – Redford HS Class of 1967). Left in 1974 after Mayor Young really accelerated the downward slide, but I do get homesick from time to time.
[BB: THANKS. NO, MY GRANDPARENTS MOVED TO SOUTHFIELD IN 1961. DS]

BillBowen on June 12, 2008 at 2:59 pm

My condolences and sympathies. Both of my parents died in the last three years (and my cat). I join with those above in the hope that your grandmother, grandfather, and father all will rise in the resurrection of the just.

Loser on June 12, 2008 at 5:33 pm

I’m very sorry for your loss.

John Harper on June 13, 2008 at 6:15 pm

I’m sorry for your loss(es) over the last year Debbie.
God bless your family.
~anontwit

anonymous twit on June 13, 2008 at 6:30 pm

“Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

Mack Hall on April 11, 2010 at 7:59 pm

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