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May 31, 1996 - Image 45

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-05-31

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Close Ur

1'0 1[11

A grandd hter
traveled deep into the Polish
countryside in search
of her grandfather.
She found much more.

oman Godek's eyes nar-
rowed in suspicion.
Standing before him
were three strangers,
one of them a young red-
headed woman from
America. They had
the weary but ex-
hilarated faces of
pilgrims who had finally reached
their destination. They wanted to
talk to him.
Assured they meant no harm,
he eventually invited them to his
home, a cottage like most of the
others in the tiny Polish hamlet
of Frysztak. A drinking well and
tidy garden plot in the yard com-
pleted the simple tableau.
Inside the kitchen, one of
two rooms in the house, a story
unfolded that has linked past to
present, child to parent, and
grandchild to grandparent. While
it closed a circle for one family,
it opened the future for a young
woman who has made it her life's
work to teach the Holocaust long
after its living survivors are gone.
On her first trip in 1990 as a
faculty member with March of the
Living, a program that takes thou-
sands of teen-agers through the
concentration and death camps of
Poland and to Israel, Debbie Fin-
dling wasn't prepared to search
for her grandfather, who was last
heard from in 1941. She called her
father to ask the name of his fa-
ther's village, but abandoned the
idea after people warned her that

rural Poles hadn't seen Jews for United States with the help of the
50 years and would regard her American Friends Service Corn-
with deep suspicion. And certain- mittee in 1941.
Like many young Polish Jews
ly, if she decided to go, she would
need to remove the Star of David of his day, the boys' father, David
Findling, an itinerant laborer, left
on the chain around her neck.
In a remote region of her heart, for Germany in the early 1920s,
Ms. Findling, a Southfield native seeking an environment more hos-
who serves as religious school pitable to Jews. In 1925, he mar-
principal at Congregation Netiv- ried Etla, and the couple bore five
ot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif., had children — Joe, Fred, Martin,
always wondered about the fate Fanny and Regina.
Joe Findling, 67, remembers his
of her paternal grandfather, David
father in "images
frozen in time" —
Her father, Royal
the clothes he wore,
Oak attorney Fred
his workboots, his
Findling, and uncle,
sardonic Yiddish
state administrative
jokes and his affini-
law judge Joseph
ty for communism,
Findling, had told
which afforded an
their story to the
ordinary working
family time and
man a sense of high-
again. It always
er purpose. David
dead-ended with
Findling, Mr. Find-
their failed attempts
ling recalls, had
to find their father
problems holding
through the Red
onto a job because of
Cross, the last time
a tendency to speak
in 1989.
mind: He was
Their search, of formerly Jewish home in Tikocyn,
course, had an im- Poland, on the most recent March fired from a butcher
shop after he gave
mediacy hers did
of the Living journey.
away the secret in-
not; they remem-
bered their father as flesh and gredients in the sausage.
His last real job was in a lum-
blood, while Debbie approached it
beryard, across the Rhine in Duis-
with a more distanced eye.
berg. In 1937, the Germans kicked
oe and Fred Findling were out the owner, a Jew, and all his
nearly teen-agers when they Jewish employees, including
boarded a ship from south- David Findling. Joe remembers
ern France, spirited to the accompanying his father when he




delivered Pesach supplies by
pushcart to Jews in Cologne, the
only line of work left for a man
with little education and few
When in 1938 Hitler ordered all
Jewish heads of household back
to their countries of origin, David
Findling packed up what he could
— a loaf of bread and about $5 —
and boarded a train to return to
his Galician village, Fryzstak.
With the matter-of-fact tone of a
man leaving for a weekend jaunt,
he told Joe at the train station to
look after the family.
Within-the next few months, the
remaining family members saw
their synagogue desecrated and
found themselves cowering when-
ever somebody knocked on their
door. In her bones, Etla knew they
were doomed, and she sent all but
her youngest child to a relative in
Belgium. She later moved to Brus-
sels, but never again lived with
her sons, who were placed in sep-
arate-private homes and orphan-
ages. The three eventually lived
together again in a home for Jew-
ish refugees.
In 1941, David Findling's
letters stopped. In 1943, after
her children had scattered to
America, Etla was picked up
off the street in Brussels and
shipped to Auschwitz, where
she perished upon her arrival.
Fred Findling knows that because
he found a book during a trip
to Belgium a few years ago that

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