Both my parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland. But, unlike my mother, who talked a lot about her life before and during the Second World War, my father didn’t speak at all about his past. He was a quiet and gentleman and he died in 1973 when I was 25. Up to that time, it had never seemed right to ask him about his past and after then it was too late.
His name was Meyer but sometimes written as Majer. I knew that he was a ‘Litvak’, his parents were called Layb and Hinde and that he was born in a place called Baranovich when it was part of Poland, near the border with Russia – at other times it was part of Russia and it’s now part of Belarus. He was born in 1915 according to his passport, although I’ve found other documents saying that he was born in 1914.
And my mother told me that he had seen the Germans shoot all his family in 1942 but that for some unexplained reason he wasn’t shot and that he had then joined the partisans for a couple of years and then the Russian army.
That was about all I knew about his background. I didn’t even know about my father’s siblings and have never seen any photos of any of his family, which is still a source of great sadness. And, apart from one exception that I’ll tell you about in a moment, I have never met anyone else who knew his family.
But he did have two medals, which he gave me, and their pictures are shown below. As you’ll see, one was a very impressive Red Star with an image of a Russian soldier holding a rifle and the other was a flat silvery disk with an image on the front of a tank and three aeroplanes and some writing in Russian which I later found out meant ‘For Courage’.