Zygmunt Frankel

SIBERIAN DIARY


GRANDFATHER DIES

During our last visit to Ustrzyki Dolne, two years before the war, my grandfather looked to me the same as he always did except that he went out less, spending more time in his armchair. He was almost ninety. Once, when I was sitting with him, he asked me the time. I went to the neighbouring room where there was a grandfather clock, looked at it, and told him. A quarter of an hour later he asked me the time again, and a little later once again. When I told my father about it, he nodded sadly and said that yes, old people sometimes grew forgetful.

A few months later, in winter, returning from school, I found my father packing the small leather holdall bag which he usually took on short business trips. "Grandfather is ill", they told me. He has caught a cold which has spread to his lungs and father was going to Ustrzyki to be with him until he got better. I asked father to give him my love and wishes for quick recovery.

Two days later, when I was already in bed with a book, the telephone rang. A few minutes later my mother came in, sat on my bed, looking at me sadly, and then said in a quiet voice:
"Your grandfather is not with us any more."

I didn't quite know how to react, what one said in such cases. I felt a great sadness at my grandfather's death but he had never been a part of our close family circle, I only saw him for a week or two each year, and a part of my sadness was, I think, sympathy with my father who was that much closer to him.

My mother went to Ustrzyki for the funeral, returning the next day, while my father remained there for the traditional seven days' mourning period when the family sit on low stools in stockinged feet and relatives and friends call to offer sympathy.

They said that the news, "Our old mayor has died", spread through Ustrzyki, and that "everyone came to the funeral". I don't believe everyone did; the younger people did not know the old Jew who had been the mayor of Ustrzyki before their time and who did not go out much except to the synagogue; many others who might have come had to be at work, and so on. But a lot of them, Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians did come, forming a long procession which followed my grandfather's coffin to the Jewish cemetery, and later shook my step-grandmother's and my father's hands, saying what a fine man he was and - the older ones - what a good mayor, some of them adding the best Ustrzyki ever had.

Telling me about the funeral, my mother said, with some hesitation, that she had visited the Ustrzyki Jewish cemetery once before, shortly after her marriage, when my father took her to see his mother's grave. It was, she said, a grey and cold winter day, and the cemetery looked rather drab and poor compared to that of Wieliczka where her father lay. There was nobody there except an old Jewish beggar who knew where each grave was and whose form of begging was to offer to say a prayer for the dead. He now went in front of my parents, stopped at my grandmother's grave, knocked on the frozen ground with his stick three times, and called out: "Tova Frankel, your son Leib (Yiddish for Leon) is here with his wife Giza to visit you!" Mother said that this combination of poor cemetery, drab weather, and the almost pagan ceremony which had been forced on them, was awfully depressing and that the memory of it came back to her during my grandfather's funeral.

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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