Family matters

Tell us stories about your grandparents

Photo from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum archive
Harold Fishbein, at the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’s Schlachtensee Displaced Persons camp in Germany after World War II. Fishbein and others under his command helped thousands of Jews impacted by the war start new lives in Israel.

Those of us blessed with grandparents in our lives — whether we are young or old — always have stories to tell about that special bond we share with the generation ahead of our parents.

In this year’s Juniata Valley magazine, we want to share your stories — share that special joy that floods into your heart when you talk about the adventures you’ve shared with your grandparents.

I’ve got two. One of them actually came up in conversation earlier this week, when I was chatting with a transplant to our area about Hanukkah, the eight-day holiday that began at sunset last Sunday evening.

The tale was about my grandfather on my father’s side, Harold Fishbein, who is a hero to tens of thousands of the Jewish faith.

In fact, in the 1980s, after he and my grandmother retired to La Jolla, California, the San Diego Union-Tribune produced an article on his work after World War II, calling him “Father to 60,000.”

My grandfather was director of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’s Schlachtensee DP camp (Duppel Center) near Berlin, Germany, postwar. The purpose of these camps was to return displaced persons — Jews who had survived the war — to their homes.

But they had no homes, had few possessions — all taken from them. UNRRA staff wanted to take the displaced persons out of Berlin and move them to a safer area, but there was resistance from the military leaders in charge of the restoration of Germany.

My grandfather began a book about his experiences; a draft copy is held by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. From that draft:

“For two years, the PCIRO (Preparatory Commission of the International Refugee Organization) and the Berlin military authorities responsible for the safety, security, and future of the DPs had been requesting EUCOM (European Command) permission to move the displaced persons away from Berlin into the U.S. Zone. There, it was felt, resettlement would be facilitated, maintenance would be less costly, and they would not be subject to the risks of changing politics in the four power city. Just as regularly the requests were refused. The Army did not want to vacate the DP centers, only to have them filled with more refugees from Poland.”

Eventually, he and others who were part of the command leadership hatched a plan. They assisted the mass of Jews, providing the necessary papers, food, clothing, money and transportation, to a new home — their homeland, Israel.

My grandmother, whose health prevented her from traveling — one of the reasons they settled in the fair weather of Southern California — insisted that my grandfather visit Israel after she was gone. He did, and that’s where the second part of the story begins.

Before travel, he placed an ad in the Tel Aviv newspaper, announcing his visit and offering to meet with any survivors of the DP camp or their families.

When he arrived, a small contingent were waiting at the airport. He was whisked to his hotel where more were waiting — literally hundreds — to thank him for their lives.

One of the DP camp survivors had emigrated to the U.S., where he was very successful — so much so that, to mark my grandfather’s 90th birthday, he hosted a party in Chicago that was open to our entire extended family.

In my youth, my grandparents lived in State College, where I grew up. Both my grandfather and my father were prominent in town (my dad was a well-known radio sports announcer); my grandfather introduced me to notable citizens including artist Stuart Frost and Charles Schlow, whose gift to the community is the library that bears his name.

When I was in the Navy, stationed in San Diego, I often spent time with him, where he made it his mission to teach me our faith and its philosophy.

Harold Fishbein died June 11, 1996, at age 98.

What can you tell us about your grandparents? If you have a story you’d like to tell, send it Lifestyles Editor Jeff Fishbein at The Sentinel, 352 Sixth St., Lewistown, PA 17044; drop it off in person at our office in Pleasant Acres, or email it to living@lewistownsentinel.com.

Stories should be in the words of the kids who are telling the story. Just like mine above, “first person” stories are what we want to hear. These should be memories, not just expressions of feelings (although that’s obviously part of it). Stories should preferably be at least 250 words, but you are welcome to write longer stories — 500, even 1,000 words.

We’d like your pictures, too, to include with your story. As with all family heirlooms, we will treat them with the utmost care while they are in our possession.

And if you’re a grandparent who wants to share a story about your relationship with your grandchildren, we’d be happy to hear that as well.

The deadline to submit stories and photos is Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.

Questions? Contact Fishbein by email or call (717) 248-6741.

Oh, the second story — well, let’s save that one for the magazine.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $3.92/week.

Subscribe Today