Sunday 14 February 2021

A letter to my father's cousin (long gone). What did you know?

 Dear Ted

You are long gone now.

I came to see you in Manchester


when you were 90

and I was 50.

I asked you about your uncles in France.

What happened to them?

You didn’t know any more than

what my father (your cousin) told me:

Their names, their work

that they were in France at the beginning 

of the war

Not there at the end.

Nothing else. Nothing more, you said.


Your sister came over

and we talked.

She said how she used to write to the French uncles 

when she was a girl. 

But she didn’t have the letters.

She remembered the name of a road.

But that was all. 


I came to see you when you were a 100

and I was 60.

We talked.

This time you told me that my father

(your cousin)

had a half-brother,

You knew my father’s father

but my father didn’t know him.

Yes, you said, my father’s father

had an ‘illegitimate child’. 

But the French uncles? 



Then your ex-wife’s brother died.

Amongst his papers were four letters.

They had been sent to your father.

They must have passed from your father

to you,  to your ex-wife, to her brother. 


Did you not remember these letters, Ted?

Two of them told of the plight of your uncles

In France. My father’s and your uncles.

Two of them told of the plight of your aunts

(my father’s aunts)

And your cousin 

(my father’s cousin)

In Poland.

Did you not remember those letters, Ted?


I found out that your French uncles

and aunts

were deported to Auschwitz

and never came back.

One Polish cousin (my father’s cousin)


As I write this, he’s 97

in a Jewish Care Home

just down the road from here

in North London.

I visited him.

He mixed English with Polish

with Yiddish. 

He thought he was in trouble.

And he thought that someone

had taken his things. 

He lives in his own little world

his son told me the other day.


Then you and your wife Gladys died.

Your son, went into the room where

you and I talked about these things.

The room where you said that 

you knew nothing more.

There was a locked closet

He opened it.

Inside was a sealed box,

Marked ‘family photos’.

He opened it.

Inside were black and white photos

going back to a time before the First World War.

Pictures of the French uncles

Pictures of the Polish aunts

and your cousin. 

On the backs there were messages

to your father.

Pictures of your French uncles’ wives.

One of the French uncles was in uniform

On the back it showed that he was

in a German regiment.

I remembered you or my father

telling the story of how the two uncles

fought on opposite sides in the First World War.

They could have killed each other.


later I found out that one of them

was the best man at the other’s wedding.

All this.


You couldn’t tell me or your son

about the photos.

Even as we sat a few feet away from them

you couldn’t open the closet and get them out.


But you didn’t destroy them. 

You left them there for us to find. 


Why did you do  these things, Ted?

Why couldn’t you tell us they were there?


And one more thing:

I found out that your sister

tried to get one of the French uncles

out of France and get him to the US.

Why didn’t she tell me this?

Perhaps you knew about this.

If so, why didn’t you tell me?