Manfred Wildmann 1930-2020, In Memoriam
Yesterday, my mom, Hugo, Nadine and I spoke to Nat about my dad’s life. It was amazing to me how similar our memories, especially the ones about my dad’s character, were identical.
And, we literally never agree on anything!
What kept coming up was how my dad was good natured, happy, hard working, patient, smart, kind, and always enjoyed whatever he was doing and he also had a good sense of humor. At home, he was the handyman, pool caretaker, dishwasher and gardener . He seemed just as happy working around the yard, as he did when he was reading or going on a bike ride. I always liked my dad. I realize everyone liked my dad.
When I was little I once went to work with him for the afternoon, and we walked by a candy machine in the hallway. I’m not sure why, but I asked him if I could have a candy bar. This really wasn’t something I would have done in another situation. I was a little surprised when my dad just said yes and got me one. I think his inclination was always to say yes.
Growing up I often thought of ways to earn some extra money. I had the idea of growing and selling vegetables, and I asked if I could grow a vegetable garden in our junk area. My parents said yes, but it took my dad all day to rotatil the area just so I could do the planting … and then I sold the vegetables to my parents.
My dad also helped me out on another occasion. My parents were chaperoning a Girl Scout trip, and during a long hike, I realized in the afternoon that I’d left the first aid kit where we’d had lunch. My dad said he’d go back to get it, and I don’t recall him making me feel bad about my forgetting it.
My dad always told me that his parents stressed the importance of an education because if was something nobody could ever take away from you. When he was in college, my dad worked full time, then went to engineering classes in the evening and studied well into the night.
My dad wanted to pay for all of our college so we didn’t have to work during college like he did. He told us to study what we enjoyed and to try and be the best at it.
Family and Judaism were a priority for my dad, and Jewish holidays together were his favorite thing. I’m sure this was due to his war years and the many holidays he could never have with his family. He always flew me home from UCLA for Passover, even if it was only for a day or two. I realized the only thing I could give him that he couldn’t get himself, was having grandchildren who lived near him and family to share holidays with. I’m glad my children developed a close relationship and were able to spend so much time together with him. I also benefited as much or more by living close by. We enjoyed many family vacations, holidays, and fun times together.
My dad had a difficult life during the war, and then again during the last several years because of his neurological illness. In between, for 70 years, I believe he lived a wonderful life filled with loving family, an interesting career and financial security. He deserved it!
My talk was going to end there until the funeral earlier today.
Some of you already know that from 1941-1943 (age 11-13) my father was separated from his parents and could only correspond with letters (initially with both his parents and later with just his father after his mother and brother were deported to Auschwitz). His sister Tante Laure collected the letters and my mom translated them to create a book.
You heard Nat quote from Pirkat Avot about the 3 crowns and how the most important crown is a good name. On the occasion of my dad’s 13th birthday, when he should have become a Bar Mitzvah, his father wrote a letter to him that also quoted two sayings from the Pirkat Avot: The first was: “Which is the best path for a man to keep: “A good heart” this includes everything.” The second was the very same verse about the 3 crowns that by coincidence, Nat chose.
After sharing these quotes, his father added, “Think about these words and strive to make them the basis of your life.” It is so fitting to know that at the end of his life, my dad had fulfilled his father’s wishes and was known for these things nearly 80 years later.
From the time I met Viviane, she would always tell me that her father was perfect. Of course everyone knows that’s impossible. No one is perfect. Unfortunately, I only knew her father for 32 years and it wasn’t enough time for me to find his flaw.
When I met Manny, he was exactly my age. I came into an existing family dynamic so I might have some unique observations. The Wildmann family dinner conversations can be loud and boisterous, particularly when the entire family is together, making it hard to get a word in edgewise. It was not Manny’s way to interrupt to make his points. Instead, he would wait for a break in the discussion and then speak in his slow, deliberate way, sometimes with a pause between his words. Everyone would fall silent to listen to him, probably due to a combination of respect and wanting to hear his insights or small jokes.
He was very welcoming to me, and showered me with kindness and generosity. For many years he applied his handyman skills to help out around our house, although he did eventually give us a book called “You can fix everything”.
I think in return, I gave him what was important to him. Family to celebrate the Jewish holidays together and grandchildren to dote upon. At our wedding, when the videographer came along, here’s what he left on the recording that we got several weeks later: “Marriage is about having children. I want a lot of Jewish grandchildren.”
Many people who suffered his childhood have constantly looked back with sadness, with terror, with anger. Being a holocaust survivor was part of his identity, but it did not define him. He chose not to look back, but instead to look forward.
When he was interviewed by the USC Shoah foundation about his experiences during the war, he spoke about the day that all of the Jews in his town of Phillipsburg were deported. The Jews were gathered in the square to be put on a truck and the whole town came out and stood there. As he recounts, “Then one woman had the courage to come forward and embrace my mother. Nothing happened to her. If more people had done something like that, things may have changed.” That part of the interview is now on a loop at the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and some of our friends have told us they saw it. I wondered why out of the thousands of interviews of holocaust survivors, his words were chosen to be on that loop. I think it’s because of his message of positivity, of hope, that individuals can make a difference. It’s a message about the future. Looking forward.
Manny was a 2-time immigrant, first to France where he had to learn French and then to the United States where he had to learn English. Some would say moving to California counts as a third immigration. He was the perfect example of the American dream. Manny looked forward and creating a future for himself. He came to our shores penniless and with hard word he earned 2 engineering degrees and built a successful and fulfilling career as an engineer. He had the financial security to retire, travel around the world, and be generous with his children and grandchildren. And most importantly, he raised a family and had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who adored him.
He was a role model grandparent. When he was with his grandchildren, he no longer looked forward, nor did he look back. He was completely in the moment with all of his attention focused on them.
Manny enjoyed hiking and skiing, only giving up the latter about 10 years ago. The ski lifts run from 9am-4pm and he had to ski every possible moment. He arrived as soon as the lifts started running in the morning and in the afternoon he actually skied past the 4pm closing time. To do this, he had to navigate multiple lifts to make his way to the lift that ran to the very top of the mountain. And then, get on that lift right at 4 o-clock so he could ski down the mountain after closing time. At that point, the mountain was nearly empty and it was just him making his way down and battling the invisible elements. We can learn some important life lessons from this story: To make the most of every minute you have… and to plan ahead!
A couple years after his last ski run, his degenerative brain disease became apparent. When I think of his last years, they metaphorically were his last ski run of the day. He continued to find happiness in the time he had left. Sometimes when you get to the bottom of the mountain, the slope flattens out and you have to work hard with your poles to keep going. When he could no longer hike, he kept walking, finally just to the street corner with his walker and then just to the end of the driveway, fighting the invisible elements until finally he was unable to walk.
At a doctor’s visit about a year ago, the doctor asked what he enjoyed doing to which he responded “hiking and skiing”. Of course at that point he would never be able to do either of those activities again. Reflecting on it now, maybe at that point of his life he chose wisely to no longer look forward, as the future was bleak, but instead he realized it was finally time to look back.
For those who missed the Thursday night minyan, Viviane quoted from the letter that Manfred’s father Henrich wrote him when they were separated during the war and he had reached the age of Bar Mitzvah. In the letter his father referenced the teaching about Keter Shem Tov. To quickly summarize, it is the crown of a good name, which is the more important than any other type of crown. Henrich expressed his hope that Manfred would make it the basis of his own life. Not knowing about this letter, Rabbi Nat Ezray independently spoke at the burial ceremony about how Manfred had left this world with Keter Shem Tov, the crown of a good name.
Today we mourn Manfred’s passing. But in the future as we look back on our memories of him, we can also look forward, as he always did, and seek to apply the lessons he taught us to our own lives.
I wrote this on the typewriter my grandpa received for a graduation gift decades ago. I used to type on it at their house, and it’s in my room now which means a lot to me. It’s ironic he was gifted a typewriter since he never knew how to type properly, and always just used his index fingers.
My grandpa valued school and education. He was always patient with us and never complained. He did kind of consider anything that wasn’t science or math useless. In fourth grade he helped me make a lightbulb in a shoebox and I was so proud of how bright the one we built was.
I always loved staying over at my grandparents and he taught me how to make the bed really. I enjoyed eating a french breakfast of jam and butter on bread, which made me love jam. In Elementary school we used to carve pumpkins together on the picnic table he built. When we were on walks, he always looked up at airplanes to see what kind they were which made me start to do that too. He always made salad for dinner and made extra when I was there because he knew how much I loved it. He loved chocolate so much he had a piece every day after lunch and always had some type of cookies after dinner, which made it deliciously unhealthy when eating at my grandparents. Whenever he drove me home, he got out of the car and walked me to the door which made me feel special.
His schoolbooks from the 40s were so detailed and beautifully written with drawings that I always thought they could have been used to write a textbook. He did the crossword every day in pen and in all caps, which is how I do it too. We played many games together as I can’t recall him ever saying no to anything I asked, and he taught me how to successfully play Mill.
In 3rd grade, my grandparents took me to the American girl doll store for tea when we were in LA. I was so happy when my grandpa noticed they sold hangers for the doll’s clothing, and he picked one up, measured it on his hand, and later made one for me.
He loved the outdoors and snorkeling, although everyone could have done without the speedo. My grandpa loved skiing and it always impressed me that after the war he hiked up the Alps with his friends just to ski down. Skiing with him in Tahoe, I remember getting to the funitel as soon as it opened, waiting in line and him telling me to stand in front of him, so nobody could push by us. He and my grandma went to my band concerts in HS and sat through the entire concert.
During car trips, he made up silly stories about the people of Cucamonga which made my siblings and I laugh. Until a few years ago, we didn’t realize this was an actual place.
More than anything, he loved his grandkids and Judaism. When we were in Philippsburg Germany a few years ago he pointed out where the Jews were rounded up. From that spot, he pointed out he could see the castle in Heidelburg, which made it more special to later tour it with my dad. When he spoke about his father being in WWI and being released when the Russians pulled out, he good humoredly said his dad fought for the wrong side.
My family always goes to my grandparent’s synagogue on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, and a few years ago after a prayer or song, my grandpa told me that I had a good voice, which I don’t. I took it to mean that he loved hearing family around him in a synagogue. When I asked if he believed in God, he told me the universe somehow all comes together so well, that for all we know, there may be some force which stuck with me.
During the past few years, it always made my day that he smiled whenever he saw me and was always happy after waking up and seeing me sitting there. He had a strong grip, which I loved because during the past few months I didn’t know if he could hear me, but he would always grip back and had a strong handshake. He was always kind and respectful to everyone. Maybe he didn’t recognize us, but he always shook my hand goodbye these past few months, smiling when he could. On one of my visits last August, when I left he said politely “I’d like to say goodbye” and that turned out to be the last time he could speak a full sentence to me.
He was content with his life and was fine walking the same route around the block every day and was not a complainer. He enjoyed his time with us. When Evan and I were in Elementary school, Evan asked if there was an afterlife with just us in the room and my Grandpa jokingly said “well, I’ll tell you if there is.”
I was very lucky that I grew up just a 20 minute drive from my grandparents house and my siblings and I got to see my grandfather a lot growing up. We would come over for dinner, spend the weekend there, and go on family vacations to places like Yosemite Hawaii, the Stanford museum, or the town he grew up in in Germany.
I was interested in science from a young age – definitely by the time I was in 6th grade – and given that Grandpa was an engineer and knew a lot about science, math, and engineering, he encouraged that interest. He gave me different books about how different
machines and their physics work and I remember discussing with him the subjects I’d learned in math and science in school. There are too many stories to include in the time allotted to me but the most impactful one I have of spending time with grandfather is
my experience building the marimba with him. For those who don’t know, a marimba is a giant xylophone. I played it in band and I was also part of a club in high school that
had various regional competitions — one of which was to build and play a musical instrument. I ended up deciding to build a marimba for that competition, using as a guide
it was also my idea to get the pillow that says, “Grandchildren are spoiled here”. I saw it at Marshall and Leah’s other grandparent’s house, and told my mom that Grandma and Grandpa should have one.
an e-book someone in Australia had written. Grandpa, an engineer, was the obvious person to help me with that. We ended up buying a bars of a special type wood for the frame and the keys. I would spend weekends at my grandparents house for a couple months to help build it in their garage. I ended up marking where to cut the pieces and Grandpa, at the age of 81 cut the wood into pieces with an electric saw. He also taught me how to drill holes in the wood to string it and how I could sand the wood into the correct shape to tune the keys. Then we added a resin to protect the wood. His other contribution was figuring out how to make the frame, adapting the contents of the book into something more doable. The marimba is still in my parent’s living room and I sometimes play it & will think of him when I play it. Others have mentioned that my grandfather really spoiled his grandchildren. It was my idea for us get a pillow for my grandparents saying “Grandchildren spoiled here” after I saw it in the house of Marshall and Leah’s other grandparents. I’ll always remember how lucky I was to grow up near him and my grandmother during my childhood.
When I was in 4th grade, I was asked who my family hero was. I have a pretty incredible family, but to me only one answer felt right: my grandpa. Why Grandpa? It boils down to a few key points. He was a man who overcame more adversity than I could ever imagine, but didn’t let it affect his whole life. He was a man who loved his family and knew how important having a strong family was. And he was a man who worked hard no matter the task, whether on his education, his career, or, unfortunately, dealing with an incredibly difficult degenerative disease. And while it seems small, in some ways the most impressive thing I can say about him is that I can’t recall any specific instance where he raised his voice. If I could pick just one role model that I observed over childhood and young adulthood, he’s the one.
Others will tell and have told his life story, especially everything he had to deal with as a child, but I want to focus on one specific part: his resilient attitude. Many people have been crushed by things far less difficult than losing two parents and a brother before you become a teenager. Grandpa took his mother’s lesson to heart: your physical possessions can be taken, your home can be taken, but nobody can ever take your education away from you. He worked hard in school and came to America, learning a new language for the second time in his short life, and studying to become an engineer. I have no doubt that he was heavily affected by what happened to him, but he chose to make the best life for himself that he could, no matter the obstacles. Grandpa never told me to think this way, but his experience has always made me work hard to keep my setbacks in perspective.
While Grandpa did not let his childhood define him, he was always willing to share his experience (sometimes as bedtime stories, at my request), something I am extremely grateful for because many Holocaust survivors are not willing to. In 3rd grade, I attempted to share his experience with others as well. While at summer camp, a friend I had made in my bunk was homesick. I informed him that my grandpa had been in a camp for much longer than we were going to be and then never saw his parents again, and that a little homesickness really wasn’t so bad. It was extremely untactful, but somehow effective. A few years later, when I was in 8th grade, and we had a unit on the Holocaust, he spoke to the 8th grade class about his experience. Multiple friends of mine, even a few years later, told me they viewed it as one of the most memorable parts of their education. I’m glad he shared the story with me and others, because it will allow me to continue sharing it for years to come, as the tragedies of Nazi Germany gradually fade away into the distant past.
Grandpa also had a strong commitment to family, and as we learned from one of his recently-discovered college essays, made sure to marry someone with a similarly strong commitment. I was fortunate to spend an incredible amount of time with him over my childhood, hiking, playing board games like Sorry, or taking family trips to Yosemite, Tahoe, Hawaii, and most memorably, Philipsburg, where his speech to the town’s dignitaries at an event honoring him gave the mayor “goose-bubbles.” He went out of his way to have large family vacations, and to spend time with his grandchildren. He kept skiing, complete with the trademark yellow ski pants, until he was 79, both because he loved the slopes and because he loved spending time with family. Through all this, he enriched the lives of every member of the Wildmann family.
Grandpa’s commitment to family included participating in activities that were not his strong suit. He was willing to play basketball with me even though he had less than zero interest in the sport, or almost any sports at all. As a child, I returned the favor the only way I knew how, by making fun of how he dribbled the ball so high, and stealing it from him to score layups. On another memorable occasion, he agreed to play baseball in the front yard with us, even though he knew so little about the sport that he swung the bat one-handed. But, to everyone’s surprise, including his own, he launched a home run into the neighbor’s bushes! Grandpa always lived up to something Uncle Hugo said he was once told about his parents: “your mom’s good at sports, and your dad is a good sport.”
For me as a kid, sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa’s house were never complete without two things: a hike or walk up the hill, and a story about the silly people of Cucamonga. Every time Grandpa drove us back to my parents’ house, he would tell a new story about these people. It was always a great closure to an overnight visit. It took me many years to find out Cucamonga was a real place, not somewhere he made up. Eventually I even had a roommate from Cucamonga, who thought it was hilarious that my grandpa had told stories about the silly people of his hometown.
Unfortunately, the last few years of Grandpa’s life in some ways mirrored his early years: he had to deal with something difficult and uncertain that I hope nobody else I love ever has to. But through a difficult half-decade of a failing body, and years of not knowing exactly why it was failing, he maintained his inner strength, continued to spend the time he could with his family, and tried to live the best life he could manage. To use a bit of a Bridge metaphor, a game he taught me…We don’t choose the cards we are dealt, but Grandpa chose to keep playing as well as he could, even as each successive hand had fewer and fewer points in it. And he never wanted to give up and be the dummy.
Grandpa never sat me down to explain morality or right and wrong to me, because he didn’t need to. He was already showing me how to act every day that I was around him. All these lessons, about education, hard work, family, and resilience, will stick with me as long as I am alive. And decades from now, assuming I am lucky enough to also be a grandfather, I will tell my grandchildren about my grandpa, my hero, and hope that I am living up to the example he set for me many years ago.
Thank you all for attending via Zoom. My cynical side thinks many of you are here because you are tired of Netflix and want to try out the free Wildmann channel.
Our thoughts are with each of you and your families during these times. I want to thank Rabbi Nat for coming to the cemetery today – many of you might not know that my dad’s parents and brother never had a funeral because they were murdered in Auschwitz – my mom mentioned when my dad died how important it was to her that my dad get a proper Jewish funeral.
My dad lived a good life – attending the weddings of grandchildren and was married to my mom for 65+ years – clearly a marker of a life well lived. When I think of my dad I think of his intelligence, his level headedness and his decency. I was always struck by what an eventful life my dad lived.
My dad was always happy, seemed to live without worries, and was always appreciative of what he had. He was smart, creative and talented, worked hard and had a real sense of pride in what he did. He was secure in who he was and I never saw him try to impress others. He had an interesting way of looking at issues and having his own opinions on things. He taught me important lessons with few words.
My dad liked to hike, ski and climb mountains with family and friends. I received emails and texts from friends yesterday saying how much they enjoyed hiking and skiing with my dad. My memories of climbing Half-Dome, Mt. Rainier and other peaks with my dad are filled with me realizing that somehow he always had more energy than me.
I was always impressed with the books my dad read in German, French and English. Once I was surprised to find a big new hardcover book from the library entitled something like “Justice for the Palestinian People”. Not what my dad typically read. When I asked him about the books he said “it was on the new book table at the library and I figured if I took it home for three weeks it would not be on display there and no one else could read it”
My dad knew a lot about almost everything except SPORTS – once I asked him how he knew so much about Finance and he said simply – Finance is just math and common sense.
I remember as a kid being impressed by a friend of mine who said his dad was so important he had to fly to northern California for business on Yom Kippur. I told my dad that this person must be important. My dad said simply – if he was so important he could decide not to work on Yom Kippur.
I spent a lot of time with my dad discussing education and how kids learned and our school system and why some kids excelled and others struggled. Years later when Marshall was going to be placed in a combined 4th/5th grade class I was concerned and asked my dad what he thought. My dad reminded me that he had been in a combined class during the war – K-12 in one classroom – he said it did not impact his learning.
Whenever I think of the time I spent with him it is always a happy memory – well almost always happy. A few times in his life grandpa did get mad – strangely almost all of these times he was mad at me.
When Marshall and Leah were young I asked grandpa what he thought was important in raising kids – typical of grandpa it was not a long answer – it was simple and good advice – he thought many different experiences for kids was the key – expose them to many different things he said.
I think of what my dad would say of the current situation to me – at least the four of you are all together in your house –– make the most of it. He would tell Marshall and Leah, and other kids, that they should not waste this time and they should learn and study during their time off from school. I remember my dad saying that your education is one thing that cannot be taken away from you.
The current situation made me think that one of the things my dad taught me was a firm handshake while looking people in the eye. I now wonder when my next handshake will be. When it happens, it will make me think of my dad.
My dad found happiness in all he did, he enjoyed doing and learning – he left me countless happy memories and pearls of wisdom. In a dad I could not have asked for more.
I know his memory will be a blessing.
Hugo Wildmann – Berkeley, CA 3/26/2020
When I met Manny in 1999, he along with the rest of the Wildmann family warmly welcomed me – I soon discovered that that particularly warm welcome was because even Manny, who always viewed the world through rose colored glasses, had given up on Hugo ever getting married (and more importantly adding more grandchildren for he and Sylvia to dote on). Over the years, I got to know Manny while spending time outdoors together – skiing and hiking, and golfing together, celebrating Jewish holidays together, travelling together, and, of course, spending time together at family celebrations.
As you have heard from others, Manny enjoyed life, was always upbeat and never complained. He also had an uncanny ability to laugh at himself. He was always good natured about joining in family football and basketball games and laughed along with family members about his lack of athletic ability. On a family trip to Hawaii to celebrate Manny and Sylvia’s 50th wedding anniversary, Manny entered the airlines halfway to Hawaii contest. Since we all knew Manny’s math and engineering skills and watched him working with pen and paper and doing all kinds of calculations, we all expected him to win. When he didn’t win (or even get honorable mention), he laughed along with the rest of the family as we teased him and he laughed even harder when all his grandchildren included a skit about the contest in a play about the trip before we all headed home.
When Marshall was a baby, Manny and Sylvia frequently came to Berkeley to spend the day with him while Hugo and I worked. During those visits, while Sylvia cared for Marshall, Manny designed and built the perfect sukkah, fitting perfectly on our deck and easy to put together and take apart – especially important as Hugo did not inherit his handiness.
We were very lucky to have Manny and Sylvia nearby and our kids spent a lot of time with them, both at our house and at their house. As Dan said last night, when Manny spent time with his grandchildren, he was truly in the moment with them doing whatever they were doing – swimming or gardening together or just reveling in watching his grandchildren play together. Manny and Sylvia also often played games with their grandchildren – usually one of the games that Hugo and his sisters’ had played as kids – and somehow after 50 years, all of Manny and Sylvia’s games still had not only all their original pieces but even an intact box. As the kids have said, he also generously shared his life story with his grandchildren and many of their classmates when they learned about the Holocaust.
A few years ago, we travelled with Manny and Sylvia and 19 members of Hugo’s family to Phillipsburg Germany, the town that Manny’s family is from and from which they were deported by the Nazis. On that unforgettable trip, Manny was honored by the town and we had lunch with the Burgermeister and other town officials, along with visiting his family’s home and the square from which his family and the Jews of Phillipsburg were deported. Manny was unable to walk much at that point, but his grandchildren fought over who would push his wheelchair and talk with him.
Manny was a wonderful role model of how to live a good life from beginning to end and he gave us many wonderful memories, strong family connections and an unbreakable bond to Jewish community and tradition. We will all miss him.
Welcome and thank you for participating, it’s nice to see faces. I’m OK with my virtual shiva, and Yona is staying with me.
My dad was born on April 16th, 1930 and lived in Philipsburg, Germany. He was the youngest of 4 children by many years. His grandparents lived nearby, his grandfather was the head of the small Jewish community.
His parents foresaw that they shouldn’t stay in Germany and they tried to emigrate to the US, but their visa was rescinded by the US. In 1940, at the age of ten, his family and the other Jews in his town were deported to Vichy France to live in internment camps. His grandmother died of dysentary soon after they arrived because of the harsh conditions.
His sisters managed to get placements outside the camp, one to be a maid with a family, and one to help with a children’s home run by the Red Cross, where my dad was eventually able to join her until the war ended. My father’s parents and brother were deported to Poland and murdered in Auschwitz.
During his time in the camps he made many drawings, an early sign of his engineering talent, we have the drawings as well as letters between his family members.
My father and his sisters emigrated to America in 1947, first to St. Louis and then to NY so that my father could go to CCNY in mechanical engineering, working full time to support himself.
My parents met in NY when they were 20 years old in a social group of French speaking Jewish kids from Europe who came after the war.
They got married in January, 1954 after my dad graduated and then moved to LA for his job in aerospace. He attended UCLA at night to get a masters degree in engineering, commuting an hour each way.
I was born in 1956, and my brother followed 3 years later, and my sister was born 3 years after that.
My father received a job offer from his boss who had moved, and we moved to the Bay Area in 1962. My father spent almost 25 years working at Ampex Corporation, becoming head of the research department and chief scientist.
It’s been hard to lose communication with my father over the past year because of his disease, PSP, which is related to Parkinsons. He was always so interested in everything and in all of us. He liked crossword puzzles – when I was little I would do the junior one with him, when I was older we would do the real one together. I helped him with projects around the house including with electricity, he had studied to be an electrician during the war. When I was 7 I helped him put insulation in our attic which wasn’t a real attic, but crossbeams we had to crawl on, and we had to be careful because the insulation contained fiberglass. Daddy cared a lot about the community – membership and support of a synagogue was important to him, and he liked contributing to Israel as well as local Jewish causes. This commitment has been passed to all of his kids.
My mother translated and compiled the letters that my father and his family wrote during the war, these are some of the accompanying words my father wrote:
“Despite the Germans, the deportations, the camps and the separations, I do not feel that I had an unhappy childhood. For the first ten years of my life, I lived in a close, nurturing family, the youngest and probably most spoiled of four children. I was of course lucky to have survived, that I had older sisters who were able to take care of me, so that I never felt alone in the world, but also lucky that I was old enough to remember my parents and to know who I am, yet still young enough when I came to the United States to go to the University, acquire a profession and have a normal career.
I am sure that the war year experiences influenced my life in many ways. I do not take worldly possessions too seriously: they can easily be lost. I try to judge people, not by their positions in life, but by how I think they would behave when all the trimmings of wealth and power are taken away, when they are left to their inner resources as in camps. The behavior of people in these camps did not necessarily correlate with their status in life. Finally, all the losses of Jewish lives convinced me that the only way to make up for these losses was to get married Jewish, to have children and raise them so that they would choose Jewish mates and raise Jewish children.”
If you’ve been to my apartment you probably saw my desk. A standing desk that I would build, fitted to the space of each apartment I’ve had. My first one was not in my apartment, though, it was a project that my grandfather, Manfred Wildmann, decided we would build one summer when I spent a few weeks there. We built me a “workbench” – a place to create whatever my eight year old mind could dream up. I remember going to buy the wood with Grandpa, cutting it (“measure twice, cut once”) and making a big work bench for me. I was always impressed with what Grandpa built – he was an engineer, and a do it yourself person, and our lives were surrounded by things he had built. I marveled at the picnic table, the jungle gym/swing bars in the yard, and then learned the story of how he had sat and drawn up the plans for the house, pulling an all nighter to design the whole house due to the contractor’s schedule.
Later in life, though, I learned that building physical things is one thing, but what is truly a marvel is the deliberate and intentional closeness and caring with which he built our family. Family was a value in itself but also connected to his story, with his own family having been torn apart and his brother and parents being murdered during the holocaust. Upon arriving in America with nothing, he didn’t seek to just build a house – he built a wonderful and strong family, with practical and down to earth kids and grandkids.
A year ago, we were clearing out that house after decades of life there, and my workbench was still in the garage. Did I want it? Should we somehow keep it or bring it to Israel? (it’s true that it was way, way smaller than I remembered it, but still not able to fit in a suitcase) I realized that I didn’t need the workbench itself. I was glad that I had the memory of building it, and that I inherited Grandpa’s get-it-done attitude. And most importantly, I can create that same memory – and attitude – in his granddaughter, Vered, who I hope to raise knowing who her great grandfather was. Hopefully she, and definitely I, will think of him whenever she sits down to work at the desk we will one day build for her together.
I believe in complete faith that things in the world happen for the better, and this year the universe decided to challenge this faith of mine also on the subject of death.
You are simply an example to me of how to end life. You lost a brother and parents in the Holocaust, you came to the United States with nothing – and you gave us everything. You built a big family, you gave us a life full of good and happiness, you even got to play with your great-grandchildren last year, and you loved us all with every drop of love you had.
This year I learned from someone close that you can leave the world even at the age of 28, and it makes me understand in depth what privilege you have received to reach such an old age and enjoy the fruits of all your hard work. We will all leave this world – you got to leave it as nature intended. You left a great imprint and now you can rest forever. Thank you for the life you gave me. Love always.