It seems my ancestors really want to help get my book written. I’ve posted before (here and here) about “coincidences” where I’ve stumbled upon material to support the story of my great-grandfather, Sigmund Lichtenthal, and his business—its growth and loss in 1938 and his lifelong quest for reparation. At least, that was the original plan. The book has now morphed into the larger tale of a family that lost everything and struggled to build a new life.
A few days ago I was chatting with my sister Jeanne who had just come across our great-grandfather’s wallet in a box of assorted ephemera. Now, that may not seem unusual, but I am the curator of our family “museum”, having emptied my mother’s house into mine in 2011. Almost all the family artifacts landed in my office, save the few items specifically chosen by my siblings. Jeanne has no idea how the wallet ended up in a box along with two of her childhood autograph books, and a few other things from our generation. I never knew the wallet existed.
Oh—did I mention Jeanne found the wallet the day after I finished writing the chapter in which Sigmund dies?
Finding the wallet was cool enough. It is a pretty unique wallet.
But what was tucked inside was priceless.
While writing the book, I have struggled with the way I portrayed Sigmund. Was he really the difficult, stubborn, arrogant person I imagined? My opinion was somewhat reinforced by the letters written to my mother by her cousin, Bob Cunningham. But this newfound item put all my doubts to rest.
Carefully folded and placed in its own plastic envelope was a newspaper clipping written in German. I gave it a quick review. (Thank you, Mrs. Karacsonyi for my high school German, recently reinforced by my practicing on Duolingo for the past 928 days.) “This is good to miss anything”, I thought. I opened the Deepl.com website (more accurate than Google Translate IMHO) and started typing.
Here’s the result of the translation:
Recently we wrote a paragraph about the unbelievably large number of parents who are cast out by their own children and become the burden of welfare agencies. A reader who does not wish to be named sent us the following little verse: Remember it, gray father, tell it to your mother. Shall your later life be free of worries. Don't give the acquired goods too early to the children. Otherwise, you will become their slaves and they will wish you to die! He who owns will be respected. Children's gratitude is a rarity. To take bread is to spoil, to give bread - bliss!
My guess is that Sigmund came across this little gem while reading one of the local German-language newspapers in New York. I did a quick search to find the original source of the article. No luck. It’s not important anyway. However, I did discover that the saying was quite popular in the 1920s and 30s. Someone on the German eBay site even sold a plate decorated with the saying!
Please tell me—who saves this? Is it a cautionary tale to parents not to overindulge (or even help?) their children. Or is it a cautionary tale to children not to expect anything from their parents? Or was Sigmund “the reader who does not wish to be named?” Whatever the case, the quote speaks to Sigmund’s character.
The fact is, the clipping was so important to him he kept it in his wallet!! What was he thinking when he carefully folded it and inserted it in the plastic holder to preserve it? Was he proud that his reluctance to help his children made them independent? That was of no benefit to my grandfather whose difficult life led to a fatal heart attack at the young age of 58. Or was he despondent over the lack of a relationship with his son as the years wore on?
Sorry, Sigmund. I’m leaning towards the former. If I’m wrong, please send me another message!