A Promise To My Grandfather
March 5, 2005 5:56 PM   Subscribe

A Promise To My Grandfather "When I was 9, I caught my grandfather shaving in the bathroom and that is when I saw it: His Camp Number - 58877241. Not knowing any better, I asked him why he got such a 'stupid tattoo'. He told me that he really didn't want to get it and quickly tried to cover it with a towel. I followed him asking him, 'Why don't you get it removed then?' He stop dead in the hallway and without turning around said 'So I don't forget.' .... When he died last summer...I reached down and took his arm in mine. I unbuttoned his sleeve and rolled it up. I looked at the number again - 58877241. My wife looked at me and asked 'Why are you doing that?' All I could say was 'So I don't forget.' Right then I made my promise to him - Never again." A timeless message.
posted by ericb (29 comments total)
I think the message this writer got in response is the most remarkable part of the story.
posted by BradNelson at 6:07 PM on March 5, 2005

And the added twist is that a woman (BettyG) read the online diary online and wrote the following e-mail message to the author (whose grandfather was Roman Edemskoi), revealing that it was her grandfather (Ivan Feduleyev) who was "saved" by the heroic act of Roman Edemskoi! The power of the Internet to connect the relatives of those who lived through such a horrific time/occasion, etc.
posted by ericb at 6:10 PM on March 5, 2005

BradNelson - yes, you beat me to my "expanded" posting.
posted by ericb at 6:11 PM on March 5, 2005

*read the diary online*
posted by ericb at 6:11 PM on March 5, 2005

*wrote the referenced e-mail message*
posted by ericb at 6:12 PM on March 5, 2005

I was an intern at St. Mary's Hospital in Montreal in 1986. I was doing my Emergency rotation. A patient came in, an elderly lady, I forget what her presenting complaint was. I started to examine here by taking her pulse. As I grasped her wrist I saw the tattoo, something like five or six numbers crudely inscribed on her forearm.

Nothing more I can really say.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 6:24 PM on March 5, 2005

I have to say, the "twist" at the end involving BettyG floored me when I read this last night. I just couldn't believe it. I almost wish there weren't any, uh, spoilers in this mefi thread so that people could go to the follow-up diary and experience it. Staggering story.
posted by socratic at 6:43 PM on March 5, 2005

It seems he didn't even mention his grandfather's name in the entry, which heightens the coincidence even more.
posted by abcde at 6:54 PM on March 5, 2005

A very moving post. It's hard for me to imagine a generation in which people were not confronted by those terrible numbers. I was always struck by the bravery of those who didn't hide their tattoos.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:09 PM on March 5, 2005

posted by pyramid termite at 7:39 PM on March 5, 2005

This is such an amazing story... Brought me to tears.
I sure hope it's true.
posted by numlok at 7:47 PM on March 5, 2005

If the story is true, then the potential press attention it is garnering would be an ideal opportunity to make a statement about fighting hate "because we will not have this happen again". So, I'm sorry to say that at the moment I have to sort question at least the "Betty" response, since the author seems to be indicating that s/he is backing out of any kind of publicity or further coverage because some have expressed their doubts about the veracity of the story.

If it is an honest coincidence with BettyG, why wouldn't the poster, having such strong feelings, want to stand up and tell the story? Especially in the face of suspicion? I very much hope I'm wrong.
posted by taz at 8:13 PM on March 5, 2005

That is a pretty amazing story.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:03 PM on March 5, 2005

My Grandfather's was 84 384.
posted by ori at 9:25 PM on March 5, 2005

Wow. Christians = Nazis. Maybe we can, "fight the hate" by sending them all off to re-education camps.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 12:17 AM on March 6, 2005

taz ... maybe some people don't care to subject themselves and their family history to the corrosive cynicism and shark-like behavior of some of the media ... considering that they're relating this to current politics, you just have to know how some right wing people are going to react ... and there's a difference between getting to tell a story and being paraded before the public as the sideshow act of the week

one day the details of your life are constants known to you and yours alone ... the next day, those details are argued about by every idiot capable of forming an opinion ... who needs it?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:46 AM on March 6, 2005

Maybe so, pyramid termite; I can picture it.
posted by taz at 5:30 AM on March 6, 2005

That is disingenuous, drscroogemcduck. I didn't get that this was directed at "Christians", just people who, as a group, hate and would do harm to another group based on ideological differences. There are "Christians" who have done that in the past, and do it today, there are also Jews, Muslims, Atheists, etc. People can be bad, especially when they have a mob behavior. I think we all need to worry about protecting the world, ourselves, from that. It didn't take much back in the 1930s to convince a lot of people that killing off entire races was good for "their" group. Let's not have that happen again.
posted by qwip at 7:07 AM on March 6, 2005

Maybe we can, "fight the hate" by sending them all off to re-education camps.

No one proposed that. Instead, what is being proposed is that we fight hate by exposing it to the light of day, and by encouraging remembrance of episodes in global history when hate was allowed to proliferate to the point of rampant atrocity, through the gradual silencing of liberal philosophies and humanistic ideals.
posted by Miko at 7:59 AM on March 6, 2005

my Grandfather liberated Belsen. He only talked about it twice, and I heard part of the conversation once, when I was very young. He was a devout Christian and what he saw there shook him to the core and he never really recovered.

All I can remember, and my memories may be wrong or confused, was that he remembered people crowding onto their vehicles as they drove in. some of them started rounding up the SS who hadn't run away. Grandad took out his gun, passed it to a Rabbi who was talking to him in English and basically said "go on, they deserve it". The Rabbi handed back the pistol and said, no, you do it. He said that some SS were shot out of hand, but most were set to work cleaning the camp. He may have hinted that many of them were also shot later.

The big problem they had was so many were dying and there was no food or medical supplies, indeed there were few liberators.

He said they got the Mayor and bigwigs from the nearby town and he escorted them round the camp, and the Mayor kept insisting that "we didn't know anything", but as Grandad said, you could smell the camp from the town, you could see it and the town was supplying the camp with provisions for the Germans.
posted by quarsan at 7:59 AM on March 6, 2005

From the US Holocaust Memorial Museum web site:

The liberating units encountered deplorable conditions in the camps, where malnutrition and disease were rampant, and corpses lay unburied. The soldiers reacted in shock and disbelief to the evidence of Nazi atrocities. In addition to burying the dead, the Allied forces attempted to help and comfort the survivors with food, clothing and medical assistance. Though official reports were prepared at the time of liberation, individual soldiers often did not record their impressions of the camps until many years later. These accounts, recorded in the form of official unit histories, personal statements, and oral testimonies, provide an important resource in the study and understanding of the Holocaust.

Focus on Liberation

Personal Histories: Liberation Encounters

Liberators: Bibliography/Links

On reflection, I think I'll go to Kos and recommend that the people involved contact a museum such as this rather than a media outlet. Their story is much more likely to be properly handled in a scholarly setting.
posted by Miko at 8:11 AM on March 6, 2005

Fill my mind with this dread.
Let me be sick, oh, so sick.
I deserve it, you see.
I am human, and humans did this to humans.

Bodies budozed.
Horrible malnurished bodies.
I saw the film, I deserved to see it.

"This is what happens when racism becomes State policy" stated my teacher, Mr. Easton.

Dear Mr. Easton
God bless you, I have not forgotten the lesson you taught, way back in 1969.
posted by Goofyy at 8:41 AM on March 6, 2005

That was incredible. Best thing I have seen all year for sure. Bittersweet tears joy + sad.
posted by bukvich at 9:24 AM on March 6, 2005

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Rememberance Authority in Jerusalem might be interested.
posted by liam at 9:41 AM on March 6, 2005

Such an amazing story, response, and resolution that is about to come full-circle for those families. Even more touching for millions of other families (mine included) that don't have the glimmer of these oral histories...just empty spaces of vanished genealogy. I second liam's Yad Vashem headquarters association. They should definitely know about this because they witness heartbreak every single day:

I went a few years ago to Yad Vashem with my family, and we went directly to their public library, where you are encouraged to search surnames for any possible survivors that may have registered with their system -- the most comprehensive database of registered survivors in the world. We searched their database for hours, trying to locate the obscure, foreign names of my mother's entire side of the family from Warsaw, only survived by the oral history of my deceased grandmother and grandfather who emigrated through Ellis Island. Every combination of my mother's maiden name with various spellings...as going through Ellis Island completely changed the phonetics. But not a single survivor or name registered, nor did they register for the dozens other who sat around us searching, which clearly meant that none of the missing family had survived the concentration camps. Not a single uncle, aunt, cousin or nephew. It was completely heartbreaking and demoralizing to watch the families around you breakdown in tears and hopelessness when none of their names registered, either. It was one of the most difficult things to witness to that date, watching your own sadness magnify in dozens of others who suffered the same fate. Therefore, Yad Vashem needs these stories for the solace of others who have been left with no promise of survivors and huge emptiness in their pasts. Stories like the one posted are all we have to hold onto to salvage any semblance of hope in regard to the trauma of the holocaust.
posted by naxosaxur at 12:22 PM on March 6, 2005

When I was in High School we had a teacher who would show us films that the GI's made when they liberated the camps. He didn't put them in any kind of context, he just liked seeing how many of us he could make physically ill.
posted by berek at 1:34 PM on March 6, 2005

Here's another interesting Holocaust story from Carolina Traveler on WCNC in Charlotte. (video link. Brief commercial intro)
posted by ElvisJesus at 1:54 PM on March 6, 2005

Further to naxosaxur's comment, I took part in inducting the German non-Jew who arranged to get my family out of Germany as one of The Righteous among the Nations.
posted by liam at 2:39 PM on March 6, 2005

^^^very cool liam...i remember the memorial from my pictures, but it's significant to hear the connection.

...This thread keeps making me think of the CYE episode where Larry David's chef keeps his lottery numbers written with marker on his arm, showing that sometimes humor - in addition to excellent stories like the one from dailykos - is a good way to cope...
posted by naxosaxur at 6:36 PM on March 6, 2005

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