Last year on Memorial Day…
Last year on Memorial Day I posted this on Facebook. I am also posting it here.
Last year (2009) I submitted this to the National Museum of American Jewish Military History so in honor of Memorial Day I am sharing it with all of you. It is actually a continuation of something I had put in a family history book I made for my grandmother’s birthday. In August it will be in a genealogical journal called the Galitzian Gazette.
Harry Lawrence Rothstein
My interest in family history stems mainly from my father, Michael Jaron, whose research focuses more on the Polesie and Ukraine regions of Eastern Europe. I remember looking over his shoulder when I was younger and him showing me his earliest Family Tree Maker database, which also included my mother’s family. I focus my research on my mother’s side of the family. Her mother’s family was from the Netherlands and Germany, and her father’s family from the Galicia region.
My maternal grandfather, Harry Lawrence Rothstein, was born 19 May 1924 in Vienna, Austria to Marcus (Moses) Rothstein and Bertha (Bassie) Tillinger. From what I understand, most of the collective family, as well as many other Jews, had moved to Vienna at the behest of Emperor Franz Joseph I to help stimulate the economy. I have also been told that one of Harry’s grandfathers was a goldsmith for the Emperor. Before moving to Vienna, Marcus’ family came from the Tarnopol area. His mother Laura (Lea) was from the Krochmal family and was supposedly a great-granddaughter of Nachman Krochmal, but no one I have spoken to seems to know the exact connection. Her father was Tsvi Areyeh/Hirsch Leib and her mother was Pessie Goldbrum/n. All I know about their parents is that we believe Tsvi’s father was named Avram. I theorize that the reason my branch is not known is because Tsvi or his father is a Krochmal through his mother, who may have been unmarried at the time of birth. Marcus’ father was Joseph Rothstein and Joseph’s parents were Michael Rothstein and Cipre Zukker. Bertha’s mother, Hanna Wolf Wax Mossler, came from Kolomyya, and her father, Aron Moshe Tillinger, came from Stanislav. I was told by one of Aron’s grandchildren that she remembered her father saying that Aron’s paternal grandfather had 15 male children.
Harry and his sister Paula immigrated to the United States in 1938, leaving from Vienna with a stopover in Italy. This past April Harry’s first cousin Mina told me about how when they stopped in Italy they were allowed off of the ship to explore. They lost their group, and when they finally made it back to the port they saw their ship sailing off. They ended up staying with a Jewish family for two weeks until they could get passage to the States. Once Harry was finally in the United States he attended George Washington High School at the same time as future Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Harry enlisted in the U.S. Army on 29 July 1943 at the age of 19. He felt a strong desire to return to his homeland and take part in defeating the Nazis. His father Marcus was a prisoner in Dachau for a period of time before being freed as part of a prisoner exchange initiated by New York Senator Robert F. Wagner. After basic training Harry’s unit was sent to France and then made its way through Italy and Germany, finally arriving in Austria. He eventually joined the CIC** as he and the Army felt that doing this type of work put his skills to their best use in defeating the Nazis. He interrogated prisoners and reviewed and translated Nazi documents. He also seemed to prefer the more “civilized” accommodations provided by this assignment.
Like many veterans, Harry did not speak much of his war experiences, but several stories were told quite frequently. He helped liberate one of the concentration camps. He seemed to think a good way to get through his experience in the Army was to be a “yes man.” When asked if he could drive, he said “yes” and was assigned to drive an officer around. This was his first time ever driving, and it was a standard shift as well. When asked if he could type he said “yes” and was assigned typing duties. He became a very fast two-fingered hunter and pecker. A favorite story was the one when he recognized a prisoner he was interrogating, but the prisoner did not recognize him. He told the prisoner he’d better reveal all that he knew because the Americans already knew everything about him: where he lived, where he went to school, even where his mother bought her groceries. The story ended with the prisoner being shocked at how good American counterintelligence was and revealing all that they wanted.
Harry was quite accident prone while in the service and had several stays in the hospital. He cut his cheek in a car accident. He caught malaria, and he earned a Purple Heart when he broke a finger. He was asked to remain in the military after the war to continue reviewing Nazi documents and interrogating prisoners to determine if they should be charged with war crimes. Apparently he had a relapse of his malaria, however, and was sent home.
Unfortunately my cousins, my brother, and I never got to know my grandfather, but from what I understand he was a great storyteller and very handy. He met my grandmother before the war and they married after the war in New York, where their families lived. In 1953 they moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where their three daughters grew up. The middle daughter is my mother, who stayed in Pittsburgh.