My grandfather, Leon Schachter, was born in Leipzig in 1914. Unable to attend university due to his status as a Jew and concerned for his safety, he left for Denmark in 1935. He worked on a pig farm until he earned enough money for safe passage to South Africa for himself and his parents.
Leon arrived in Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s eastern Cape in 1936 “without a penny in his pocket” and unable to speak a word of English, but vowing never to speak German again. Born Leo, he changed his name to Leon to sound less German. He eventually established a successful general store, married, and had two daughters (one being my mother, Elisabeth).
Skip forward and my mother and father are living outside of Johannesburg. My father was a neuropsychiatrist at a rural mental hospital, and my mother was a social worker. They were opposed to the apartheid regime and didn’t see a bright future for their two young children (or their careers) in a country with such restrictions and inequalities, and we moved to Seattle in 1986. My grandfather, knowing the challenges of starting a life in an unfamiliar space, readily gave his blessing.
We had very little when we first immigrated to the States, in part because the apartheid government restricted my parents from bringing much with them — or officially immigrating, for that matter. I have fond memories of living at the Travelodge on 25th Ave. NE by University Village for several months. Fortunately, my father was blessed with an excellent education and a strong work ethic and had arrived with a position at the University of Washington Medical School.
Over time my parents established themselves professionally, financially, and within the community. I have so much gratitude for their bravery in moving our family halfway around the world, and am so thankful to my grandparents who took those first steps to leave their home countries. I feel truly blessed to live in a place where I can offer my children freedom and security, knowing that this is not the case in much of the world, especially for women and Jews.