There wasn’t much time. My flight was leaving in a few hours, and I needed to get to the airport.
The plastic folding chairs weren’t exactly comfortable, but he preferred it that way. For years, he even sat on one in his living room. Eventually, he bought a soft recliner, but I suspect that was more to stop us from nagging than anything else.
The view from the balcony made up for it. Bay to our right, ocean to our left. On a clear day, the sun would rise and the sky would brighten, and he would joke that you could see all the way to Europe.
Except it wasn’t a joke. He could always see Europe.
So we enjoyed the view, and looking back it seems fitting that my last question was what he remembered most about our trip.
There wasn’t much time. Cancer marches to its own beat, flights and families be damned.
A year earlier, our family sat down to a Passover seder at a synagogue in Berlin. Such an action in such a place once risked a death sentence. But there we sat, three generations of Zimmermans.
In pretty comfortable chairs, not for nothing.
The seder was the culmination of a 10-day journey to Poland and Germany. A trip that was talked about for decades and came to fruition just in time. Retracing a family history that the Nazis tried to wipe from the face of the Earth but ultimately—my own existence as proof—failed to fully erase.
Quite a lot to choose from. The streets of his hometown. His still-standing elementary school. Treblinka, the death camp that took his mother and two sisters. The gas chambers of Auschwitz.
None of those, as it turned out.
It was a large sign over a subway station entrance in Berlin with the names of every death camp the Nazis operated. Above the camp names was a heading, written in German, that translated to “we will never forget.”
That’s what stuck with him. That sign in that city, of all cities. A nation once hellbent on destroying him was now saluting him, and promising never to forget him.
There wasn’t much time. A month after we got up from the balcony and said goodbye, he was gone.
Grandpa never heard a compliment he felt he deserved. His life was defined by work—supporting his family as a child, surviving the Holocaust, making a new life in America. None of this, in his view, made him unusual. He’d be quick to tell you that there was nothing special about that, or about him.
He was wrong.
There wasn’t much time. My wife was in the recovery room with our newborn baby, and I needed to get back.
My parents wanted to know: What’s Aiden’s middle name?
I knew they would ask, and I couldn’t wait to answer.
Morris Zimmerman lived. Our family survived. My son would carry his name.
There was time.