Peace on Earth from a POW
It’s not a secret that David Green was a World War II veteran and a two-time prisoner of war. We were on our way home after helping Miriam clean out her parent’s house, an abode full of treasures from an extraordinary family. They lived and loved each other for 60 years in the very same house. This unique quality of loving endurance was defined by the stamina and determination that David Greenblatt displayed during WWII.
“Actually, if I come home I would need to earn $35 a week,” Canadian Army war veteran and a two-time prisoner of war David Greenblatt wrote in a letter home from the war to his sister, Sadie Ruth Greenblatt.
I read the letters in the Promaster 2500 van as we drove from Toronto, Canada to Auburn, California. An upright Steinway bequeathed to my husband, Stretch rode with us in the van. Stretch went to New York University on a musical scholarship. The last time he played a Steinway was at the Conservatory. Now, 40 years later, he would have his own Steinway in our home. It was a gift from the past; a survivor of two family traditions, Stretch and Miriam would play music and relive memories.
There were occasional references made to Green’s past, since Green was honored, more than once, as a veteran and because he volunteered for the veterans themselves. But the letters to his sister were never shared. Those letters from the war, and a couple of other mementos, sat in a box without a top, underneath a stack of papers. Once the stack of papers was removed, a Pandora’s box opened. We instantly knew what these old 3 by 5 Air Avion missives were, and whom they were from.
We had no time to station ourselves in an old armchair and peruse them. We had a two-day deadline to get everything out of the house, packed and strapped down in the van and roll out onto the road to California before a storm rose up. We just barely made it.
Miriam was the bright spot in the lives of her father, David, and her mother, Sylvia (known affectionately by her husband as Slink). The World War II prisoner of war veteran became a successful businessman, a husband, and a father. The Steinway was not purchased for the show. The Steinway was for Miriam to play as she continued her lessons for many years). It became her inheritance.
Miriam’s uncle, Albert Jaffey, was a concert pianist who studied in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s —- he was the uncle that taught piano lessons, but only to motivated students who wanted to learn classical music. Uncle Alby agreed to take Miriam on as one of his students when she was 8 years old but only if she promised to practice and work hard.
Albert Jaffey studied in Germany with the likes of Egor Petri, a famous pianist. Jaffey had to depart from Germany returning to Toronto, Canada because, as Petri put it in his recommendation letter written on September 16, 1923, in Berlin at Wilmersdorf, “It is with sincere regret that I take leave of him, as I am sure he would have profited enormously by continuing his studies in Berlin, which unfortunately circumstances do not permit.” The unfortunate circumstance was the fact that Jaffey was a Jew living in Germany. Petri was not the only person who protected his beloved with kind phrases.
In all the letters David wrote home he never said the words “if I die”. Instead, he employed the euphemism, “if I stay over here for good,” when talking to his sister about the finances and how to take care of their kid brothers since his father died while David was at war.
In June of 1944 David wrote home with tales of bombs whizzing by his head and yet he made it sound glorious, “Not to worry Mom and Dad, your loving Son and brother, David.” Many a friend died in those days. David always paid tribute to his fellow soldiers. There was a May 19, 1946, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada Memorial Service; it was the regiment that David joined when he enlisted in the army. The memories remained buried lots of memories.
The first day on the road we christened our van Probee, since it was a new RAM cargo van, and renamed the Steinway upright to Madame 1098 because that was the model number given to the piano at production. She wasn’t just a Steinway she was Madame 1098, dignified and upright. In times of stress and war, names are changed for other reasons.
The mood was set for us to read another of David’s archives while the rain and wind slapped the van protecting Madame 1098, Steinway of the prairies. We investigated David’s Canadian Army soldier pay book from 1945. The pay book lists his name, but it also states his regulation number, B46386, the number the military gave him. The pay book required his Christian name. David proudly wrote Chanan David. Chanan (pronounced as HHaa-Nae-N) means gracious or compassionate in Hebrew. His surname was Greenblatt, the name listed on the dog tags that he hastily threw away before he was taken prisoner of war by the Germans. Internment changed him, once again, to Prisoner of War No. 86240.
The letters to David from his family after they found out that he was a prisoner of war were happy, almost ecstatic.. It took me a while to realize that the Canadian National Telegram on November 4, 1944, advising Miss Sadie Ruth Greenblatt that her brother, B46386 who was previously listed as “missing in action” was now Prisoner of War number, 86240 was a blessing. The blessing, David was alive; he was no longer missing in action, and it meant they had hope, that he was still alive.
Transporting Madame 1098 took five days and four nights. Our journey was easy; we found places to spend the night with our modern apps to help us. It was hard not to think of the young men trudging through the mud, sleeping in culverts as we easily turned the 18-foot van into the driveway into the hotel.
A hot shower and a clean bed would be appreciated even more after reading another of David’s war letters. Parcels and letters were the highlights of David’s day. Occasionally he would ask for clothes, but a revealing sign of war was his request to his family to wrap the items they sent in toilet paper; it was a significant item always in need, something we took for granted the hotel would provide.
As we rolled into our driveway we examined one last remnant of wartime, a December 25, 1942, Talisman newsletter. Ironically, there was a picture of the three Wise Men looking up at the star. Ironically, the only words on the front of the Sixth issue of the newsletter were the same ones we wish for today; Peace on Earth.