The Grandfather She Never Knew

Uploaded by ushmm on 09.06.2011

Elaine Culbertson: I don't think that anybody who's the child of survivors can say that
they had the average childhood. Both my parents were concentration camp survivors. They came
from different parts of Poland and probably would never have met if it had not been for
the war.
I always knew what had happened to my parents and especially because I started to ask questions
about why I had no grandparents. It became obvious to me that our family was different
from everybody else’s and that there were stories there that I needed to understand.
I was here at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as a part of a group of teachers and
a bunch of us went up to the Survivor Registry so that I could show them my parent's records.
I thought I had seen them all. I was shown a document that was a list of forced laborers.
On that document were the names of my father, my uncle, and my grandfather. I was not surprised
that they were in forced labor. What surprised me was that my grandfather's birthdate was
on the list.
With both my father and my uncle gone, I had never been able to ask anyone, "When was my
grandfather born? How old was he when all of this happened?" And suddenly here it was
on this document.
Nobody can fathom what it means when you say six million people died. But everybody understands
what it means when you talk about a family and what happened to them. Not only did I
learn the date and time of my grandfather’s death. I learned where he had died and what
he had died from.
It made him into a real person for me. Not a ghost of the past, someone that I had never
met, someone that I was only told stories about. The fact that there were documents
to prove that he had once lived and that he had died, that was an amazing find for me.
In Jewish tradition, a son stands for his father or anyone in his family who has died
on the anniversary day of the death. My father stood every time he was in Synagogue because
he didn’t know the exact date of his father's death. It would have meant a great deal to
him to have that information.
When I told my son, he said "Mom, I not only stand for my grandfather, your father, now
I can stand for your grandfather as well."