leon gork tour guide
My Father's Story
Note: I have put the story in my father’s mouth, as I believe he would have told it, had he been able.
We had a child, a son, and wanted him to have a brother.
We had both grown up in families with many children; my wife and I, each had four sisters and two brothers. I had left my home, with my two brothers to immigrate to South Africa.
I arrived in the town where they lived, Springs, in 1935. My wife’s family were very hospitable and friendly people, besides her older sister was a teacher and used to give English lessons to the new immigrants. I was ambitious to get ahead and understood that knowing English was important.
When I met her she was 19. an orphan. Her mother, Rachel (Ita Roche) had died 4 years earlier.
Her father, Barney had remarried and was living with his new wife, Rosa Kimmelman, a widow, in her home in Judith's Paarl, an exclusive suburb of the big city of Johannesburg.
The burden of earning a living lay heavily on the shoulders of Hetty, my wife to be. She was left to run the family business with her older brother Rubin Her efforts contibuted towards the support of two sisters, Anne and Mona, who were studying to be teachers, and the maintenance of the home for her two younger siblings, Lily and and Ralph. She also had an older sister, Sarah, engaged to be married to Louis Nestadt, a bright young man with good business sense.
We were married in 1937, with the blessing of her father, who gave us a wedding present of 300 pounds, which was enough money for a slap-up wedding and to make a down payment on a piece of land with a small house, purchased from her stepmother, where we lived and started our business.
Our first attempt at having a child ended in a miscarriage. We tried again and our first son, Raymond, was born.
It was a very happy time; things were going along nicely in the business. We took our baby boy for walks, cuddling him, playing with him. Each new action he performed was a reason for delight and for complimenting him on being very smart. We didn’t allow anyone else to take care of our precious bundle, no black nanny, as was the custom in many families. Aunts and uncles came to admire the child and bring gifts, like the wise men from the East brought to baby Jesus.
Each complement was a motivation for the child to perform cleverer tricks. He delighted in the happy smiles and expressions of wonderment that he caused. He was growing up to be an ambitious little boy, and later when he began school he was renowned for high scholastic performance. His teachers complimented us on having such a wonderfully clever and gifted child.
My marriage and our little boy were a great comfort to me. The parting from my family, my father Moshe and Mother Bluma, in Poswil, a village in Lithuania, had caused me great sadness, especially the parting from my sister, Rosa. I, the youngest of seven siblings she had raised me, while my mother was earning a livelihood by taking care of orphan children. I loved her like a mother. I was also attached to her two children, who were babies at the time I left for SA. My child, replaced my lost family and became the focal point of my happiness.
Our little boy was nearly a year old when the 2nd WW broke out, but we were far from the battle sites. We were upset about the war but felt safe in South Africa and our lives carried on as always. There was some talk of rationing imported products because of transport problems in the War Zone, but South Africa was rich in basic foods and the rationing wasn’t much more than a little discomfort.
We wanted our little boy to have a sister or a brother and in September 1940 our wish was granted when my wife gave birth to our second son, Leon. Times had become bad in 1940, during my wife’s pregnancy. The war situation, which didn’t seem serious a year earlier, and didn’t affect our happiness, worsened, and a dark cloud of anxiety and sadness, loomed on our horizon. Each day brought news of new German atrocities against the Jews in Poland and especially in Lithuania. I couldn't think of anything but the suffering of my dear Sister and her family.
July 17th, 1941 was a black day for us, when my wife’s father passed away suddenly. Then in August 1941 came more horrible news; the Jews of Lithuania were being massacred, they were being brutally beaten to death. Our happy little world crashed. We were in a living nightmare. Never again would I see my sister, or play with my nephews. Our second son came into a very sad world.
Wherever the baby turned, his gaze fell on sadness. The joy of a second child wasn’t enough to assuage it.
He was a happy baby and couldn't understand why everybody around him had such long faces and were forever in tears.
People in depression don’t cuddle babies or bill and coo at every new trick. The child grew up in a strange world. Not sharing in our sadness, he became an outsider. He reacted in the only way possible, longing for some reaction from mother and father, he was forever provoking, breaking things, splattering food all over the kitchen, laughing ane painting the walls around him with feces, refusing to wear clothes and so on.
We didn’t react by punishing him, which we should have done. That at least may have helped him to feel noticed, but we took pity on him. Our pity was a sort of compensation for the sufferings of our nephews in Lithuania.
In addition to not punishing him, we were hysterical about protecting the child and in so doing were being overkind. We did everything for him, not allowing him to do anything himself. This behaviour frustrated him and his provocations turned into temper tantrums.