Our Grandmothers, Part I

This is the first installment of a series of stories people have shared with me about their grandmothers. You can read about this project here. This first collection focuses on gratitude.

Austin Saylor

My grandmother is one of the most well traveled people I know. She and my grandfather have traveled to every US State and many countries. She has instilled in me that traveling is the best education.

They took me and my cousin out West the summer before high school to experience the red rocks in Arizona, the unfathomable depth and width of the Grand Canyon, the endless feeling of the Salt Flats, the majesty of the Tetons, and the beauty of the springs, rocks and wild life of Yellowstone. That was a very shaping trip for me.

“My grandmother taught me so much about the earth in those 10 days.”

She didn’t even really start traveling until after she retired from teaching earth science for 32 years. She helped get me started traveling at a young age, and I can’t thank her enough for showing me how to travel well, how to appreciate and study the earth, how to meet new people wherever I go and learn something from them, how to follow my dreams and always stay humble, and how to always stay curious.

I’m still learning something new from her every time I see her. But the one thing I’ll always associate as learning from her is that traveling is the best education.

Meryl Ayres

Gramp loved to say, “There’s nobody I like better than myself.” And I used to cringe with embarrassment when he’d say it to people we didn’t know very well. But I want to tell you something. Right now, there’s nobody I like better than myself.
You know why? Because it’s the same reasons, in different ways, than when Gramp said that. Here I am. 90 years old — if that means anything, I certainly never expected to be 90 — surrounded by people that I love more than anyone else on this entire earth. So why don’t I love who I am?

David James Cole

My grandmother’s name was Lore Wertheim (then Lore Cole, after she married my grandfather). Although I never knew her, her life had a big impact on mine, and the story of her life serves as a constant and important reminder to me to be grateful for what I have, and make the most of it.

Here is her story, as recorded in a historical biography my family has kept:

Lore — born January 23, 1925. Died on May 14, 1976 in Larchmont [NY] USA. Attented private Christian/Jewish kindergarten in the MHS. Thereafter, Jewish Grammar School. Munster since the foundation of the Association of German-Jewish Youth. Took piano lessons for many years until one day the teacher cancelled the lessons as he had difficulties with the Nazi party. Since further education in Germany was not possible since 1933, her father succeed in 1938 in placing her at the Jewish Home General in Brussels. Since the age of 13 did she reside on her own in a foreign land.
She attended grammar school in Brussels to learn the language. Later she attended high school there. Since her father finally succeed in obtaining visas and passage for the USA, she left Brussels secretly on May 9th, 1940 to join her father in Amsterdam. In order not to call any attention to herself, she carried only a small hand bag and left everything else behind. On the 10th of May 1040 German troops overran neutral Holland. An escape to the USA was impossible.

At the age of 15 she found herself under the rule of the Nazi regime.

She found a home in Amsterdam amongst relatives at Zuider Amstellaan 286. Beginning on April 29, 1942 all Jews in Holland had to wear the “Jewish Star”. She was called before the SS twice for deportation, but she was released each time. She was set free as she was working for a so-called Army Factory. She was again arrested towards the end of 1942. In February 1943 she was sent to the transit camp Vught, part of the concentration camp Herzogenbusch. This camp was under the supervision of the WVHA Berlin. She worked there at the factory of Phillips-AG. She was given at least one warm meal a day and was exempted from deportation until June 1944.
On the 2nd of June 1944, one week before the Allied landing at Normandy, she was deported to Auschwitz where she arrived on the 3rd of June 1944 via the collection point at Westerbork. She was one of the last Philipps workers to leave. On June 6, she was “selected” at the camp and received the tattoo No. 87823. She was assigned to work for Telefunken. As the Russian troops advanced, she was moved to Gross-Rosen, the to the [illegible] near Reichenbach in Silesia. There she produced radio tubes and was given a crew cut. A few days before the end of the war, she was transpored to Hamburg. She was suffering from Typhus. The Swedish Red Cross saved her and transported her to [illegible]. There she remained in isolation until 1945 when she recovered. Thereafter she joined her father in Haarlem Holland. She emigrated in 1946 and died in 1976.

“I owe everything I have to the luck and perseverance of a teenage girl in a Nazi concentration camp, those who helped her, and those who came before her.”

The impact my grandmother has on me is, essentially, to always know how improbable my existence is, and how much I have to be thankful to those who made it possible. The chances of me being alive to walk this Earth today are astronomically slim. I’d be pretty foolish not to cherish that, and make the most of my life.

You can read more about this project here or submit your own stories here.