Thursday, November 13, 2008

Grandpa Saul

My Grandpa Saul Schneider. I want to write about him but, unfortunately, I have very few memories of him, one, because I just don't seem to have a lot of childhood memories and, two, he died when I was 13. He was the first of my grandparents to die. At the time, all I knew was that he seemed to be a serious person, that he was born in Poland, smoked cigars, loved watching All in the Family while comfortably seated in his arm chair, and that his first wife (before my grandmother) "died in childbirth". I had also always heard that a dozen or so of his cousins "died in the Holocaust". To this day, I don't who, when, or where.

Now I know a few more things. He was born in Brest-Litovsk, Poland (now Brest, Belarus) on August 27, 1910. I have a copy of the original birth record. Until a couple of years ago, I thought Solomon/Zalman/Shlomo preferred to be called Sol. I now know, by his own handwriting on his social security number application, he spelled it Saul. I still see it spelled Sol in some current family correspondence but, now that I know he preferred Saul, I use Saul. He has a great-grandson named Saul.

For whatever reason, I thought he came to America when he was still a child. As it turns out, he came to America in 1928, at the age of 18, sailing with his mother Sheine/Jennie and siblings Meyer, Ray/Rivka, Lilly/Leya, and little Max. Father Morris/Moishe had already come ahead (first in 1911 and then again in 1922) and was waiting in New Jersey for his family. I heard a few years ago that his sister Lilly was a twin but that this mysterious twin sister "didn't survive". She was referred to later as Sarah but when I received a copy of the August 29, 1914 birth record for Lilly, the same record showed her twin as Rokhl. None of the living cousins seem to know when Rokhl died but she did not make the trip to America. For pictures of Saul and his siblings when they were still living in Brest-Litovsk, see the label "Towns in the Old Country" for 2 "Pictures from Brest-Litovsk, Poland" posts.

I've also learned something about his first wife. The 1937 Brooklyn marriage record for Saul and my grandmother Bessie Berger confirmed that this was his second marriage and that he was widowed. Thanks to the NYC databases on the ItalianGen website, I found a 1934 marriage record for a Saul Schneider. I took a chance and ordered the record and it turned out to be the right one. His first wife's name was Pauline Propper. I mentioned this to some family members and they told me that no one ever spoke about it because it was a sensitive subject. She "died in childbirth", her parents claimed her body the funeral and wouldn't let Saul attend the funeral. Well, it turns out that Pauline died in October 1935 (after 21 months of marriage) from rheumatic heart disease. There is a notation on the death certificate that she has no history of pregnancies or abortions. She is buried in Staten Island and her headstone says "Beloved Wife". If Pauline's parents wouldn't let Saul attend the funeral, why does the headstone say "Beloved Wife" instead of "Beloved Daughter"? I'll probably never know. I have one picture that I think is Saul and Pauline. I know it's Saul, just not sure about the lady being Pauline.

My grandparents Saul and Bessie married in Brooklyn in 1937.

They had 2 children, Harold born in 1938 and my mom Dolores born 1942. There is a story that Bessie was pregnant with third child, went to the hospital to have the baby, but did not come home with a baby so we think it was stillborn.

Saul started out working Shlucker's Bakery with his father but he later became a presser in the garment industry. He was a member of the ILGWU. I've heard that he wasn't just any presser, he was the head presser. When the boss had a client coming in to look at samples, Saul was the one called to prepare the samples.

I still haven't discovered who the cousins are who died in the Holocaust. If they lived in Brest when the Nazis took over the city, they were likely in the Ghetto and were killed in October 1942 when the ghetto was liquidated. I have copies of all of the Shnayder and Tokar/Toker ghetto IDs so maybe I'll be able to figure it out. I like to think that these cousins were in the street watching the Nazis march into the city and that they shot at, or threw stones at, the Nazi soldiers who shot them on the spot. That may sound a little warped but at least they wouldn't have had to go through the suffering their neighbors had to endure.

As I mentioned earlier, the few memories I have of him are of a serious person. When I was 12, I went to Queens to spend a few days with Saul and Bessie. When it was time for dinner or lunch, Bessie would serve Saul first and she stayed in the kitchen while he ate but I had to wait in the other room. When he was finished eating, Bessie and I ate. A cousin sent me this photo of Saul. I have no memory of the goofball in this photo.

In March 1978, Saul suffered a serious stroke. He was alert enough to know that he didn't want any of his 6 grandchildren to see him lying limp in his hospital bed so they pushed the bed over to the window so he could wave to us on the ground below. Three days later he died. When I went back to school after sitting shiva, I can picture myself walking to school with my friend Adrienne and telling her that it didn't seem real. He was the first relative close to me who had died. I could still picture him sitting in his armchair, smoking his cigar, watching Archie Bunker insult everyone.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

My cousin Maddy had some comments about her Uncle Sol that she gave me permission to post...
She remembers Sol as being very funny. He used to crack everyone up by reading from the dictionary with his thick Yiddish/Polish accent. He also told a lot of jokes at family gatherings.
She remembers that he was the one called when someone needed the tube on their TV set changed and that he had the first TV set in the family with a clicker.
She also remembers standing on the kitchen table when Aunt Bessie and Uncle Sol hemmed her winter coat.