Monday, October 25, 2021
Two of my paternal cousins share with me a deep interest in our family history. Both my parents were very tight-lipped about revealing anything concerning their families. If I pried any information out of my mother, it was generally reliable as far as it went, but invariably it lacked some essential detail. My father was steadfast in his unwillingness to divulge any family history and was quite prepared to dissemble to throw me off the scent. My cousins Keith and Ann were slightly more fortunate. Keith's Dad and Ann's Mum were my father's youngest siblings. They remembered a fair amount of what must been a very unstable childhood marred by both the Depression, World War Two, poverty and being members of an Orthodox Jewish family in east end London, and they were slightly more willing to tell their children what they remembered, although they didn't understand why we were so determined to dredge up unhappy memories. They shared fond affection for their mother who - daringly - had worked as a typist in a newspaper office before her arranged marriage, who was musical, who became a mother of five and who had once entertained the revolutionary anarchist Emma Goldman at her home. Of their father, none of them had anything good to say. He'd been a military tailor during World War One and had found his way to England from Eastern Europe illegally. He moved from England to Wales and back. He'd later abandoned his wife and young family, likely due to the immense pressure of having to support them during the Depression. Our grandmother had died a few years after the end of World War Two. She was buried in a large Jewish cemetery in London in a marked grave that was likely paid for by her better-off brothers. She was missed by her children but never lived to meet any of her grandchildren. In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, women and girls did not attend the funeral and her daughters did not know where she was buried. My cousin Keith was the one who located her grave a few years ago. He's a couple of years older than me and he's the primary keeper of the family records. He has invested a great deal of time and money researching family history and obtaining records: birth, marriage and death registrations. A couple of years ago I mentioned to Keith that I'd like to find our grandfather's grave. Keith is very busy caring for his Dad whose health is failing but was exceedingly helpful whenever I presented what I thought might be a possible death record, and eventually was able to confirm that I'd found the correct unmarked grave in the same Jewish cemetery where our grandmother was buried. My next plan was to have the grave marked. I consulted my siblings and our cousins to see if they had any objection. There were none. I wanted a simple marker giving his name and his death date. It's fair to say my own father would have objected had he still been alive but I simply felt that, although I probably wouldn't have liked our grandfather much, I wouldn't be here without him. It felt like a Mitzvah, or Commandment. Keith very graciously offered to share the cost of having the marker made and installed and he handled the administrative side of things from his home in England. When he sent me the photo of the marked grave I felt a sense of completeness that I hadn't felt before. I still believe it was the righteous and just thing to do. So, to my supportive cousins, I send my sincere thanks. And to my paternal grandfather, the late Henry Grundland, whose Hebrew name is Chayim, which means "lives", I'd simply like to say one word: Shalom. It means Peace.