My Grandfather – from Guest Blogger Leela Corman

The Core Belief

And now for something a bit different…

Today, I am happy to post this guest blog from Leela Corman in response to the post on my father’s friend Menasch. 

With Rwanda, Darfur and the Iranian threats against Israel, I think it is an imperative for the Shoah survivors who are still living to make sure their testimony to the Nazi atrocities is recorded in some format.  Never again means never again.

Your story reminds me of my grandfather, Mendel Lipzcer, known in the US as Max. He was from a town in southern Poland. Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together about his story (he didn’t talk much): When the Germans invaded, he was literally on his way home from the Polish army, where he’d been a sharpshooter and played on their soccer team. The story goes that he witnessed the Germans killing his parents and baby sister and hauling his baby brother off to Auschwitz. His other brothers had already somehow scattered, and would fight in various Allied armies – one for the Free French, two for the Polish army in exile in England, and so on. Papa escaped into Ukraine, where, as he once told me, an election was in progress, in which he voted. I asked him who he voted for. He said, “On the ballot, vas Stalin, Stalin, or Stalin. So, I voted for Stalin”. He worked various jobs in Ukraine, whatever he could find – he once said something about a vinegar factory. There’s also a story about him beating up a Ukrainian guy who’d stolen a bunch of coats from Jews. Papa got the coats back. There are also some stories about him escaping more than once from Nazis – one involving his being marched off somewhere and running down off the line, seen by a Nazi officer who let him go. He was also shot, presumably in an escape attempt, but he never discussed it.


When the war got hot, he began hiding out in the woods and in barns. He spent most of the war protecting 19 people who were hiding with him. They spent most of their time in a hole in the ground on the land of a sympathetic farmer. Papa had a rifle and a grenade, and he and my uncle (my grandmother’s brother, also named Mendel) guarded them and fed them with whatever they could beg, borrow, or catch. When asked how he met my grandmother, he replied, “Vhere I met your grandmother? I met her in a cornfield. Vhen I turn around, alvays she vas right behind me”.


He said they knew the war was over when they saw Russians marching across the fields. In the chaotic days following the end of the war, he worked on the black market with a Russian soldier pal, moving back and forth across the Czech border. He was also an extraordinary tailor, and made suits for people out of army blankets. Because of his intimate knowledge of the area, and no doubt his skills as both a sharpshooter and a sharp man, the Red Army wanted to hang on to him – I’m not sure “draft” is the appropriate word here, but they didn’t want to let him go west, into the American zone, with his new family. My aunt had just been born in May 1945. So, Papa went to the general and said, “You know, I have a brand new baby girl…and I have two bottles of vodka”. OK, the general said. Leave the vodka and get out of here. So Papa bribed his way out of the Red Army with two bottles of black market vodka. I heard that story right before he died.


He and his new family lived in a DP camp in Germany for a while, and then made their way to Paris, where one of his brothers had settled after marrying a French woman. He had a small tailor shop in the 3rd Arrondissement, in a street that’s now behind the Centre Georges Pompidou, though at the time it was apparently where one went if one wished to engage the services of a fat prostitute. When the Korean War broke out, they decided that it might be WW3 and the Jews were really gonna get it this time, so they arranged to emigrate to the States where many relatives had already gone, washing up in the Bronx with my 5-year-old mother and 8-year-old aunt. My mother’s still pretty pissed off about that. Papa worked as a cutter for Pauline Trigere before opening his own shop. He could make you an evening gown out of pocket lint. He rarely mentioned his life in Europe or his experiences during the war, but every once in a while he’d be moved to talk about it – “Poland? Poland should drop dead” being one gem, said with a pickle held in midair. He hated Stalin more than anything, said he was worse than Hitler (quite a thing to say for a man whose family were killed by Germans). He survived the war because of his incredible cunning and his ability to lie, as well as his facility with languages – he would at various times pass for Russian, Polish, or German, for long enough to get him out of whatever trouble lurked. He was sometimes irascible, but his true nature was fiercely helpful. He saved and protected the people in his care. And then he came to the US and worked his ass off and never spoke of his life. I miss him.


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