Museum of Family History
presents
 

The
Hermann Pressman Diary

 

Eulogy for a Granddaughter


 

From Hermannís Granddaughter, Debra (Debbie) Gold Linick


July 1996


Although Poppy has had this event well planned out for more than half his life, it's hard for me to know exactly what he would want me to say. And looking at everyone here, I'm sure there are a hundred different memories in a hundred different minds about who he was and what he meant to you.

I've heard my mother and my aunt Ruth talk of the stern disciplinarian who would go to any lengths to defend the honor of the woman he loved. Even defending that honor when one of his daughters talked back to Nanny. The story goes that he threw that daughter so hard into her bed that the picture frame above her bed fell off the wall and crowned her. He was also the practical father - who wanted his daughters to be prepared for the world around them - with solid secretarial skills that would serve a woman well. He tried to help my mom with her French too, but somehow in his heavy German accent - that wasn't quite a success.

I've heard my Nanny tell him hundreds of times to go fly a kite when he would become over affectionate at times she didn't appreciate or when he was loud and saying something she didn't really like.... I think he was always loud. And maybe my Nanny would think about all the love notes that he left for her in the morning, sitting next to the prune juice and pills that were her daily regimen. These notes were lovingly and artistically prepared everyday in the later years of a very long and happy marriage.

I've heard real estate customers tell him he drove a hard bargain - sometimes in an exasperated voice - no match for his indefatigable spirit. Some would storm out and never return. But many others would come back over the years, and send their family or refer acquaintances. Pop never forget any of them, he never forgot a name or a house.

I once met a man that Poppy knew from his candy store years. He was the former police chief. Pop said he used to be a burly and gregarious young Irishman. I met him when he was frail and weak senior after a stroke. He recalled with my grandfather their younger days when they brought kids from the local orphanage for a day at the beach. A bus load of them would arrive and Poppy would have candy and toys for all of them. Maybe some people still remember that side of my grandfather. And those from later years, maybe they remember all the charity drives that Poppy supported, cane in hand canvassing the streets of Long Beach and coming back to his temple family with hundreds or thousands in donations. I remember celebrating him as man of the year at the Temple after one of those drives. And from all the folks who stop him on the street around town I guess the one thing they'd all agree on is that he's unforgettable, one in a million.

And Poppy's wife, Belle [Hermannís second wife, whom he married after his first wife of fifty years, Helen, died], would probably add something about the loving, kind and generous man that she knew over the past year. Something about the excitement with which he entered her life and the happiness that they brought to each other in the short time they've had together.

But I can only speak of the Poppy that I knew. My Poppy was never a stern disciplinarian. My first memories are of a loving and loyal companion to a five year old girl. During the energy shortages of the early 1970s, a 7a.m. bus stop could be a dark and wintry place. But Pop always made it feel warm and friendly and safe. I woke up every morning to the pastries he brought me. He was always the first customer at the bakery when it was opening. There was always a note in his beautiful handwriting on top of the box. And there was always "my cake." The rest of the world calls it coffee or crumb cake, but it was "my cake" in my house. It was my favorite and Pop never forgot it. And after breakfast he would stay with me at the bus stop. He'd bring his two imaginary friends, Yippie and Yippie. Yippie and Yippie were brothers and they were close friends of Poppy so I guess we were all sort of related out there on the bus stop playing games and laughing before the bus came.

Poppy made beautiful drawing of Yippie and Yippie. And he loved my drawings too, even if they were not as artistic. Poppy would hang my crayola picture of him and Nanny proudly on his cluttered office wall and he would point out the work of his granddaughter and the paintings of my mother equally proudly displayed in the salesroom.

At Hanukkah time, Poppy's art, creativity, and energy combined to make a wonderland for all his grandchildren. He filled the bedroom seemingly from floor to ceiling with toys and cards for everyone. It was not until many years later that I wondered at the hours he spent personalizing each card and finding the right gifts for each grandchild - no easy task for a sight deficient man who had lost his driving abilities several years earlier.

Well some years passed and we moved from the house around the corner. A house that my grandfather had provided to each of his daughters as a wedding present. A piece of land to call their own and to help prepare them for the future. We moved from Rochester Avenue to Merrick.

Pop was still a central force in our lives. Sometimes he was the boss or business partner that drove clients or staff crazy and brought my mom home with high levels of frustration. His home was still the central point, not only for Hanukkah, but Passover, Thanksgiving, all the major holidays. My cousins and Peter and I would converge for Poppy's toasts - he always thanked G-d every morning in tefilin and at every family gathering for all his blessings - most of all his family. And Nanny would provide a delicious and massive homespun meal - always kreplach for Mickey.

By now I was old enough for summer sleepaway camp. The bakery packages changed to care packages big enough to feed the entire bunk. He was also sending coupons and checks to Jody and Linda to prepare them in their college years. I think they appreciated the cash, but they really enjoyed the way the man who prepared his daughters for secretarial school boasted about his granddaughters, the soon to be attorneys. And in this age of liberation, he never forgot to slip in coupons for Tampax.

By the time I reached college, Pop had taken on some heroic proportions in my life. Not only was he the loving father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, an adoring and faithful husband, and a shrewd and entirely honest, sometimes too honest, successful businessman. He was also the patriarch that saved my family tree from the grips of Hitler. For my college entrance essay, He was the person I wrote about, the one I'd want to interview most over a dinner. My grandfather was the eighteen-year-old boy in Berlin who saw Hitler come to power. And on that troubled day in 1933, he wrote in his diary of terrible things to come for Germany and for the world. He left first for Antwerp, Belgium, asking his reluctant parents to leave Germany with him. And finally he urged them that they and Sonia would never see him again if they didn't leave because he would never return to Germany. My grandfather learned Flemish and French. And then English as they set out in 1934 for the boroughs of New York leaving Europe behind forever. My grandfather never forgot the distant relatives caught in Hitler's fascist grip. I have cousins in Chicago, in Israel and some in New York that are thankful for his help in getting them here. The story of Pop's prewar years are in the Holocaust Museum, and a copy is with each of his offspring. He never accepted reparation payments from Germany and for fifty years, I don't believe he ever spoke German again.

Not until a few years ago, when another granddaughter - the international traveler, began preparing for three years in Heidelberg with her husband and the US Army. Poppy hoped his rusty language skills might give me practice before my trip this August. We spoke almost every Shabbes. Poppy, Belle, Michael and I. Poppy would always intersperse some German practice for me and chide Michael for not learning more. At his grandson Peter's wedding in April he spent hours with Nicki's friend Thorsten. They talked of Thorsten's home town in Germany. and Pop later commented to me what a lovely young German gentleman.

And in June Pop wrote me a full letter in his shaken but artistic handwriting - all of it was in German. I spoke with him and Belle Shabbes before last and he practiced with me again over the phone. He prepared me as he always had for the next step in my life and he told me he loved me. Thanks Pop, I'm ready. Ich liebe dich sehr. Sei gesund and G-d bless you.

next, the Berlin diary >>

 

 

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