GRANDPA - SPEAK TO ME IN RUSSIAN
The story will be a forty-minute documentary on the search for my personal roots, centering on the life of my paternal Grandfather, Kalman Lentin. Kalman was one of the multitude of Jews who left their homes throughout Eastern Europe for the West. How he and a few thousand like him ended up in Ireland is a mystery. He left Lithuania I can only guess, as a boy of fourteen. He knew no English. Along with others, Kalman started as a peddler, walking the local countryside pack on back, selling small household items on the weekly system. How did these people, many of them mere youngsters, manage to survive in a strange land with no English? How did they relate to their peasant customers?
On 25 May 1899 he married Annie Klien. They had five sons and two daughters. When I was born in 1933, they lived in a comfortable Victorian House within its own grounds outside Limerick. Kalman had prospered but in 1936 Annie died of Diabetes. Kalman eventually sold the house, which still exists, and came to live with us. He and I shared a bedroom. Always a taciturn man, he spoke little, never of his past. I vaguely became aware that he came as I thought from Russia, and started to nag him to speak to me in Russian. He stayed silent for several weeks, until one morning he barked the word for I think, 'bread'. That was all.
He spoke reasonable English, could read the paper, never a book; had extremely limited writing, could do simple sums, enough for trade. Worldly events appeared to pass him by. As far as I know he never referred to the War, although he must have had remnants of family in Akhmean. He did not correspond with his brothers, one as close as Belfast. In the early forties he married again and set up house. He sold the store in the early 50's and died in 1958.
What are we if not reflections of our past? But what past? What can I and many like me reflect? I am in Ireland because Kalman found himself here, by chance or by design? I have of course chosen to stay. But I am not of Ireland! Am I an Irish Jew or a Jew who is simply Irish by birth? One way or the other I am hyphenated! And what of Kalman? What made him turn West and not East to Palestine? How do you live a life after totally cutting yourself off so completely from homeland family and roots, does such an action "salt the heart to stone"? The film will also integrate interviews with remaining relatives and the few others who knew him, and where possible avail of archive photos and footage of sthetl life. Kalman's story will be recognised by so many Jews throughout the world, because for many it is a Universal story.