I Am Ukrainian

As part of our Family Legacy Planning series, we have stressed the importance of preserving family heritage. Statistics show that children who know more about their ancestors grow up with a higher self-esteem. Moreover, knowing stories of ancestors who overcame obstacles gives heirs confidence they too can be resilient when hard times strike.

In my own family’s mission to learn more about our past, I have discovered some powerful revelations. All four of my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe to escape the Holocaust. Many of my ancestors descend from Ukraine, from a town they called Polnoa, now known as Polonne or Polona. Given today’s war in Ukraine, I feel a strong solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

My family’s life in Ukraine was difficult. Jews were persecuted by the Czar. Our “Zaidy” (the Yiddish word for grandfather) even had one eye poked out in a vicious pogrom against the Jews. My great-grandfather Eliezer Weinstock (“Zaidy”) was among the lucky few who made it to America. He left behind all of his possessions except “the knowledge between his ears,” prompting him to say: “What you put into your mind, no one can take away from you.” Hence, our family put an emphasis on education and giving your all in a commitment to lifelong learning.

I always thought all of Zaidy’s family made it to America. I was shocked recently when our longtime paralegal Becky Samons made a hospital visit to my mother and asked her if she lost any family in the Holocaust. I expected her to answer “no” but, for the first time I learned, the answer was “yes.” Zaidy’s two oldest children, Elke and Enoch, were both married and unable to afford passage to the U.S. They remained behind and became victims of Hitler’s mission to exterminate all Jews. My mother recounts that she and her grandmother shared a bed, and their nightly prayers were that Elke and Enoch were still alive. But, they were never heard from again.

My one-eyed Zaidy never learned English, forever clinging to Yiddish, his mother tongue. In his late years, he went before an Alabama judge to apply for U.S. citizenship. Though unable to pass any test in English, the judge waived the formal requirements and proudly declared him a United States citizen, saying anyone who’d endured his plight was worthy of U.S. citizenship.

I am proud to descend from Ukrainian Jews who instilled in me values of family, education, and leading a productive and spiritual life. I am now the proud grandfather of five grandchildren. When time came for me to choose the name my grandchildren would call me, I was honored to select “Zaidy” as my name, a tribute to my Zaidy Eliezer Weinstock. Without question, being “Zaidy” will always be the most important part of my identity.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s “Zaidy” Eliezer Weinstock, a Ukrainian who lost an eye in a czarist pogrom against Jews.