My grandfather, Joseph Steinhart, arrived at Ellis Island October 6, 1920. He was 16 years old. He loved the Unites States despite the anti-semitic discrimination that he faced throughout his entire life. Unable to attend the college of his choice. Unable to be an engineer in the Navy. And, witness to many acts of enthocentlrism towards others during his life before dying in April 1994.
Were it not for my grandfather’s stay at a Warsaw orphanage before coming to the United States, the world might never know parts of the amazing story of the institution’s founder, Dr. Janusz Korczak. Survivor accounts describe Korczak leading a column of orphans from the Warsaw ghetto to the death camp at Treblinka. My grandfather’s memories and drawings have informed generations of historians writing about the Holocaust and Korczak biographers.
I would like to think of my grandfather as a hero for what he gave me — a thirst for knowledge and a drive to fight for what’s right — but that would be insufficient. My grandfather is a hero for bearing witness to the worst and best of humanity. If he were alive today, he would be sitting at his desk with a stack of white typing paper composing by hand in his distinctive engineer’s block script letters to the editor and letters to government officials decrying the inhumane and un-American actions by the new American president. I desperately wish he were here today to share his wisdom, his courage, and to be a witness yet again to the best and worst humanity has to offer.