In memory of my grandfather - a life to be remembered.

Story posted on October 19, 2013 at 12:41 AM
My grandfather passed away four years ago, at the age of 87. I think his life was remarkable, and I really want his story to be saved and remembered.               Zigmund Strizhevsky was a twenty year old student in Odessa, when the war with Nazi Germany began. As a medical student, he was not expected to go into the army and would be allowed to continue his studies, but he wanted to fight for his country. As a Jew, he also wanted to protect the world from the Nazis, whose virulent anti-Semitism (though only rumored at this point) was widely believed to be true. My grandfather left his studies behind and volunteered for the army. Since his father had passed away when he was a young child, his mother raised him alone. Shortly after my grandfather joined the Army, his native Odessa was occupied by Germans, and his mother was sent to the ghetto and was among the hundreds of thousands of Jews killed in the Holocaust. My grandfather was unaware of her fate until he returned to Odessa after the war.             When my grandfather joined the army, he was sent to the battlefields poorly trained and poorly equipped. Soldiers had to share one rifle among four or five of themselves. Infantrymen were used as cannon fodder by Russian commanders to harass, distract, and stall the Nazis. My grandfather was captured by Romanians who were fighting on the side of Germany. Zigmund wanted to continue his fight against the Nazis. He attempted to escape three times, but was caught twice, beaten and sent back to the camp. In a way he was lucky to be captured by Romanians and not Germans because the Germans would have executed him after his first escape attempt. Not willing to stay a prisoner, my grandfather organized a group of fellow prisoners and they managed to flee the camp. However, as soon as they were free, the very men he had organized turned against him. They said that if they were captured with him, a Jew, by the Germans, they would all be killed. He was forced to leave the group and continue his journey alone without food or a weapon. He successfully found a Soviet army unit and joined it. He fought until the end of the war and was wounded; his wounds plagued him for the rest of his life. Even though he should have been heralded as a hero, he had to hide his story until the end of his life, as POWs in the Soviet Union were considered traitors. Even if they were able to escape, they were sent to the Gulag, which was not any better that the Nazis' camps. Only close friends and family knew his story.             After the war ended, my grandfather completed his medical education and became a trauma surgeon. He was very talented, and was considered one of the best physicians in his town. He fought for the life of every patient, often coming to visit them even on his days off. If a patient was severely injured, he resorted to amputation only when there were no other options so that a patient could have a better quality of life. He invented many tools to help patients recover after surgeries that affected their bones.             He spent most of his time in the hospital, but in his free time he was able to build a small summer house in a village by himself, with only the help of his two sons. He also tried to find time to paint as he always had an artistic talent, but rarely had time to express it.             He enjoyed his job and tried to ignore the fact that he was never promoted to a higher position. He knew it was because he was Jewish. My grandfather’s life was difficult, sometimes tragic, but he was always optimistic, friendly and creative.              With the help of HIAS, my grandfather immigrated to United States in 1989. He spent a lot of time studying Jewish history and attending synagogue, things he was deprived of in the Soviet Union. He also reinvented himself as an artist, and even had an exhibition of his work in his small apartment in Brooklyn. He missed being a surgeon until the last moments of his life, but he was happy that he found his Jewish identity in the United States.
Zigmund Strizhevsky was a great man and a wonderful grandfather. He continues to inspire me.