Last night I was out for dinner with my mom, and we ended up talking to the people sitting next to us. And somehow it came up that my grandfather, aka my dad's father was jewish. I naturally mentioned that personally I wouldn't call myself jewish, since well, neither my mom nor my grandma were jewish, and you're only considered jewish, if your mother is.
(not talking religious wise here, but racially, for lack of a better word)
And we ended up talking about my grandfather.
Now Vava Mutsen was this... larger than life guy. He wasn't an easy man, though as a child, I have no 'bad' memories of him. He was nice to us, always had gifts for us. And I remember that his and my grandma's place was always filled with stuff, cats and well more stuff...
But most of all, I remember the wall of his house, besides his driveway. It was filled with plates, you know the kind, painted collector stuff, or the ones with texts on them, like "God watches over us" (only in dutch) I remember there were dozens of them. And my mom mentioned how when grandpa was still alive, his neighbor really couldn't stand the sight of those plates. (never said they looked pretty*eg*) So the man trying to protect himself planted a two meters high hedge in between his yard and my grandparent's place just so he didn't have to look at the plates anymore.
According to my mom (personally I have no memory of this), my grandfather's response to this was: "Oh that poor man,now he can't see the plates anymore," right before he took a ladder and relocated the plates until they hung two meters higher on the wall.
I did mention that he wasn't an easy man, right?
Mom also mentioned that he could get two stones to fight. And how after he died, my mom and some friends went to clean up their place for grandma's sake, and how they found all this 'stuff'. Most of it useless crap that he'd just kept around, packed up, never used, but that was just there, because well... he bought it once upon a time and he just wasn't getting rid of it. (no not sentimental stuff, more things like curtains, or ashtrays or...)
And we started talking about how he became like this. And I said something about how my grandpa first came to Belgium, and that when my dad went to look for any relatives of grandpa back in Poland, that he didn't find a single member of my grandfather's family left alive.
And then my mom started mentioning details of his story that I'd never heard before.
Vava was 9 when he first got here. I think it was early in WW II. My grandfather and his brother were sent here, to come live with an uncle of theirs who lived in Luik. Their train got bombed and my grandfather watched his little brother die in front of him. His uncle who'd been at the station to come pick them up, died as well.
Authorities looked for other relatives, but didn't find anyone. Vava ended up living with a doctor in Geel, and ended up hidden with a farm family during the war.
By the time the war was over, Vava tried to look for surviving family, but by that point...
Mom said that finding his family was Vava's life work, that he spent decades looking for survivors, for friends, relatives and found no one. A thing not made easier by the fact that our last name is a phonetic transcription of his original name, which apparently, might not even have been the real family name, since it might have been written up as they traveled through Germany, on their way from Poland.
It's all gotten me curious, making me wonder if maybe we do have relatives out there that we never knew about, people who might never have realized that my grandfather was still alive. It's made me realize how hard it must have been for him, a little boy, who no longer remembered his native language, who remembered few or no prayers from his childhood, his culture. And who grew into this larger than life man, who was a figure in his town that is remembered even now, years after his death.