Unexpected Inspiration on a Cold Winter Night
By Romi Sussman
It’s not often that you get a history lesson along with a story of hope and perseverance from the person that comes to repair your air conditioning unit.
But, when you live in Israel, that is pretty much par for the course.
Last night, our air conditioning specialist, Eliyahu, was over to give us a quote and we got to talking. He mentioned that his parents arrived in Israel separately on their own as young adults – his mom from New York and his father from San Antonio.
“San Antonio?” my husband Josh exclaimed, “How did that happen?”
And so his story began.
It turns out that Eliyahu’s grandfather was from Slovakia. While his great-grandparents were on a business trip to New York, Eliyahu’s grandfather was born, granting the newborn United States citizenship. After returning to Slovakia Eliyahu's great-grandparents went on to have another ten children.
In November 1940, Slovakia joined the Axis - Germany, Italy and Japan - when its leaders signed the Tripartite Pact and would go on to infamously become the first partner to consent to the deportation of its Jewish residents in the framework of the "Final Solution." As the tragedy of Holocaust unfolded, the boy’s accidental birth in America would be the determining factor in saving his life. He was sent to the U.S. at the age of 16, alone.
And so, this 16 year old boy arrived in New York, where his relatives wanted little to do with him. “We have other relatives in San Antonio” they said, and shipped him off again.
When Eliyahu’s grandfather graduated from high school he enlisted straight into the United States Army Air Corps and wound up fighting the Nazis on their own turf, in Germany.
When the war finally came to an end, he asked for a pass to travel to Slovakia in search the family he had left behind.
His discoveries were devastating - there were no survivors.
Despite the completeness of this tragedy, along the way he managed to have a few adventures, some of which included crashing the Jeep he was given from the U.S. Army and ending up in jail for illegally selling wares to Russian soldiers, among others.
The most heartwarming story was when he met his future wife - her family, unlike his, had the great fortune of being hidden throughout the duration of the war (another story for another time) and to top everything off, he ended up working for her father after they were married.
He eventually made his way back to America, where him and his Slovakian bride began to build a family in San Antonio.
Years later, one of their children, Eliyahu’s father, decided to come to Israel.
Eliyahu’s mother had made Aliyah on her own one week before the outbreak of the ’67 war. She was living in Massuot Yitzhak (one of the original Gush Etzion communities destroyed in 1948, but then rebuilt along the coast) and recounts seeing the planes flying overhead when Israel attacked encroaching forces in Sinai.
Eliyahu’s parents met shortly after the war, settled into life and raised their family. Later, all of Eliyahu’s grandparents followed his parents to Israel. Today Eliyahu lives in Bat Ayin, a few short meters away from the original site of Massuot Yitzchak.
Upon finishing his story I asked Eliyahu if he had written any of this amazing tale down. “No,” he said, “but when my grandfather ran from the Nazis to America, they actually stamped his passport with a Nazi insignia."
Can you imagine? He ended up donating the passport to a museum in Texas before he passed away.
When Eliyahu finally departed, the hour was very late. I sat there marveling over the fact that only in Israel would you invite your air conditioning repair specialist over for a quote and receive a spellbinding story of survival, hope, perseverance and the Jewish experience.
This is truly a story for the history books.
A story that is still being written through the generations living out the dreams of a people…our people.
Romi Sussman picked up from Potomac, Maryland and moved across the world with Josh, Matan and Yehuda in July of 2004 with the help of Nefesh B'Nefesh. Since then, she has had four more boys, Amichai, Eliav, Azriel & Yakir and lives in the community in Neve Daniel. Roni is an avid blogger and you can read more of her work at "Sussmans b'Aretz" on Blogger.