Letter to Sigmund

Sigmund Lichtenthal – about 1950

This post was inspired by the Day 1 Writing Prompt for Lynn Palermo’s February Writing Challenge.

Dear Great-Grandpa,

I know we must have met. but I was 2 years old when you passed so, have no memory of that My impression of you was formed by pictures of you looking stern and imposing and a few stories my mother told me. She said you listed your occupation as “Expert” on your business card and that you drank orange juice out of a silver goblet every morning. She also told me you were so opposed to her parents marrying that you considered sending your son (her father) to South America. When they considered having a child you traveled to where they were on holiday, supposedly determined to interfere.

What was that about?

I have spent the last few years digging deeply into your story—a respected hatmaker and business owner who lost everything when Hitler arrived on the scene in Vienna. The more I learned, the more convinced I became that your story needed telling. At times, I felt guilty about the negative way I was portraying you. Then I’d find some evidence that corroborated my words. As I developed your character for my book, I began to see similarities between us.

We’re both stubborn. One of my colleagues once told me I was “like a dog with a bone.” Your obsession with gaining reparations for your losses might be described the same way. And like you, I can appear “stern.” My students would remark that I didn’t smile much. Which was weird because I often was in a pretty good mood. I thought about that for a while and finally figured out why. I was lost “in my head,” focused on thinking about “whatever.” I’d bet the same was true for you, too. Another characteristic we share is the need to always be right. Well, actually that’s not so much a need, but a fact. We are almost always right! The problem for us is our need to be sure everyone knows we are right!

Your assertion that “nothing really bad will happen” was based on historical evidence. I too, rely heavily on past experience to make predictions rather than let my heart be my guide. Sometimes that affects my relationships, as it did for you. Other times, it serves as a coping mechanism. I wonder if that was true for you as well. I wish I knew more about your early life. What did you experience that shaped your personality? That made you cut all ties with your family at a young age? What drove you to be an “expert?” That, perhaps, is the most glaring difference between us. To you, it was business and reputation first. To me, family is my number one priority.

Understanding our similarities has helped me write your story with more compassion than I might have otherwise. You made some difficult, often unpopular decisions. I may not have gone the same route, but I can understand how you came to make those decisions.

Thank you for persevering. Your strength became my grandfather’s strength, and in turn, that strength served your granddaughter, my mother, well during some very difficult years. You see? You were right! Nothing really bad did happen! Our family survived. We are still here. And now, your story will be told.

Your great-grandaughter,


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