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    Biography of Burt Berger's Grandparents, by Burton W. Berger.

    My mother's two parents were Samuel and Fannie Wartur (maiden name Stern).

    I started writing this story about my Grandparents in 2008. It is now July 11, 2012 and I am trying to finish the story – Both my Mother's parents, Fannie and Sam, and my Father's Mother, Esther, were alive during my early years and I knew them well. My Father's Father had passed away before I was born in 1914. Then my Grandpa Sam passed away in 1950. A year later, 1951, my Grandma Fannie passed away. During this time period, I was in my early 20s, studying to be an Architect, at the University of Oklahoma. My Father's mother passed away in 1955, while I was in the army stationed at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. An army officer came into our building to give me the sad news and to tell me to get my belongings together. An army car was waiting outside to take me to the bus station to go home to attend my Grandmother's funeral.

    I was very close to both my Mother's parents. We traveled by trolley car at least every other weekend from the Bronx to Yonkers. I miss them very much. I remember seeing my Grandma Esther Berger, whenever we visited my Aunt Myril and Uncle Doc in Brooklyn, Grandma Berger lived with them. I also saw her at the Berger-Heller Family Circle social gatherings. We had to rent a large hall to hold all of the family, about 60-80 Relatives. YES, we were a very prolific family. My father was one of 9 surviving children. Two were still-born (in Europe), 7 traveled to the USA from Europe, and two were born in the USA.

    In the summer of 1953, August 22nd, Sandy Gulko and I got married, and after I graduated the University of Oklahoma in 1954, Sandy and I went to visit my Grandma Esther in the Brooklyn Hebrew Home for the Aged. She was a feisty, intelligent and amazing conversationalist for a 90+ year “old lady, but more about her later.

    My Grandpa Sam was born in Odessa, Russia in 6.15.1879 and came to the U.S. in 1885. He was one of two sons, two sisters were born in the USA, after the family came here. I do not remember, nor was I ever told how he got to the USA. My Grandma Fannie was born in Austria-Hungary in 2.20.1885 and came to the U.S. in 1901, but again, I do not remember ever being told how she and her parents got to the USA.

    I have no knowledge of either of their childhoods. I got to know them when I went to visit them, when I was very young. Grandpa Sam worked for the Otis elevator Company. They lived in a house in Yonkers, New York. The house was typical of the home in their neighborhood. They had a store on the first floor in the front of the building, the kitchen-eating area and one bedroom on the first floor, and two bedrooms on the second floor. The house was a stand-alone building that was built adjacent to the front sidewalk. They had no front lawn. This was the standard house setting in their urban area.

    This was the second house that my mother lived with her parents and two brothers. They sold mostly clothing, and in those days, they called my Grandparents’store a "dry goods" store.

    My mother married my father on October 23, 1927, and so she moved out of Yonkers and into their first apartment in 2136 Wallace Avenue in The Bronx. This was to be the apartment that my sister, Ruby, and I grew up in until 1942, when a new apartment building was built next to our present apartment building and my parents rented an apartment in this new building. We finally had our own bedroom, which we had to share. When my father passed away in 1969, and a year later when my mother had a stroke, my sister took my mother to live with her and that was the last time that the Bergers lived in The Bronx. My Mother passed away while living with my sister in Spring Valley, NY in 1974.

    A bit more on my Mother's parents and their life.

    Both my Grandparents worked in the store. Their living area was in the back of the house, on the first floor. The rear yard of the house had a great garden, really a ‘mini farm”. My Grandparents grew their own vegetables in this garden. I remember picking radishes, string beans, tomatoes, onions, carrots, potatoes and even watermelons. I did this with my Grandpa. He would pick two carrots out of the ground wipe them off and together we ate raw carrots.

    My Grandmother cooked on a wrought iron coal burning "stove" in the kitchen. By that I mean, there was no gas or electricity for the stove. All cooking was done on this stove. The process of heating the stove was very interesting, remember, this was around the early 1930s. I helped my grandfather bring up a big metal bucket of coal from the basement, opened the iron door and shovel the coal into the stove compartment. Then he started the fire for the coal. When the top of the stove was hot enough, my Grandmother would them put on the pot or pan, whatever she was cooking with. The coal delivery was made once a week. The house had a double door opening in the sidewalk and a chute that the coal delivery man used to slide the coal from his truck down into the cellar of my Grandparents’ home. “Man” there was a lot of coal. I shoveled the coal into the bucket and brought it upstairs into the kitchen. The coal was also used in the cellar furnace to heat the house.

    The customers in the area who visited the store were a very diverse group from many different European countries. My Grandmother had a great ear for languages which she learned in Europe, and she spoke 9 different languages. My Grandparents had three children - Esther (my mother) born in 1905; Harry, born in 1906, and Frank, born in 1908.

    The first time that I met my Grandparents, they stayed most of the day in the store or in their garden. In those days, people did not travel around too much. My Grandfather’s morning drink was a hot glass of water, with a lemon wedge, that was the start of his breakfast. He told me that the hot water cleaned out his “pipes”. That is what they did in Russia.

    My Father's two parents were Bernard Berger and Esther Berger.

    Sometime when I was around 6-8 years old, my father told me a story about his Father's last name. According to my Father's story, Berger was not his Father’s last name. WOW! This was like getting hit by a ten year old with a shovel to my head, which happened to me when I was 12 years old. But that is not part of this story.

    As I loosely try to remember the story, my last name might be “Schwager”or something like that. NO WAY!

    Grandpa Bernard was caught stilling his own alcoholic drinks in the bathtub of his apartment, when somehow the police knocked on his door and caught him in the act. They arrested him and took him before the Judge. During his questioning he was asked his name and he said, “Schwager”. He had no record, so the kind Judge gave him a stern warning and told him if he was every caught again “stilling” liquor, he would be sent to jail.

    As fate would have it, some years later, Grandpa Bernard was caught again, but this time he was brought before a different Judge. Again the questioning by the Judge. “Will you please give the court reporter you full name.” Grandpa thought for a minute or so and told the judge, “my name is Bernard Berger”. Now Grandpa had a sharp quick wit to say the least, he used his wife's last name. He never stilled liquor again. “And that is the end of the story.”

    To my knowledge, no one in this huge Berger family ever mentioned his real last name to me, even though my father told me he thought it was Schwager.

    I do not know for sure, when my Grandfather was born or in which country, but I think he was born in the Czech Republic. My Grandmother was also probably born in the Czech Republic. Grandma Esther Berger was born in 1862. I do not know how or when they came to the U.S., but my father came to the USA. when he was two years old, in 1900. My father told me he was born in Austria-Hungry.

    They had nine “living” children (2 were still-born in Europe) when they set up living in Manhattan's lower East side in the Houston Street area, which was more commonly called Hell's Kitchen. This was a large area of immigrants from all over Europe.

    It was tough living then. There were three sons, Joseph (my father), Sam and Julius. There were six daughters, Anna, Pauline, Gussie, Dottie, Myril and Molly. Both Myril and Molly were born in the U.S. I have no knowledge of my Grandparent's childhood. I never knew my Grandfather as he died before I was born (he died around 1914). My father was in High School then, but he told me that most of his brothers and sisters had to work to help the family survive.

    My father had to quit High School to work. He never finished High School. When I first met my Grandma Berger, I guess I was around 5-6 years old and my Grandmother was around 73 years old. My Grandmother also had Great Grandchildren at this time. My first recollection was in Brooklyn, NY in my Aunt Myril's house. My Grandmother lived with my Aunt and Uncle and my two cousins and she helped out by cleaning the house and helping out with the cooking. I also remember that the Berger's were a very large family and we had to rent a social hall to meet each other. The social meetings were for the Berger-Heller Family Circle. To this day, I never recall meeting anyone named Heller, nor was it ever discussed who they were. It was like they never existed.

    When my Father was old enough, his brother Julius got my Father a job as a motion picture projectionist. He worked in the RKO Fordham theater showing movies. In the 1930s until around the late 1940s, the theater also had live vaudeville acts on stage. My Father retired around 1963. But our family did see the shows for free. My mother worked in Alexander's Department store as a sales woman.

    One interesting note was that four of Grandpa Berger's Grandsons, including me, were all named Bernard after him. But both my parents and Aunt Molly changed their son's first name to Burton. I was named Burton William Berger, and my cousin was named Burton Wallace Stone. The initials Burton W. were after Grandpa Berger's Yiddish name of “Beryl Wolf”.

    I got to know my father's family, mostly by meeting them at family functions. My father was the Social-Secretary, and kept the Minutes of the events. Sandy and I met Grandma Berger after we got married. She was around 91 years old then, and still was able to hold a conversation with us. She weighed about 90 pounds and about 4 feet 6 inches tall, but she was a very witty, sharp and wonderful Grandmother. Her favorite expression, when she felt we were doing something which in her eyes was wrong, was, “Datsa not nice”! My father was her favorite.

    She died in 1955, when I was in the army stationed at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. I was given emergency leave to attend the funeral. I now had no more Grandparents, this was the end of an era!

    Note: Trying to remember all the above and put it down on paper, is a bit draining. At times I had to look at photos to resurrect what happened; at times I conjured up a thought and said to myself, “YOUR ARE THERE!’And most of the time I just sat and stared at the computer screen and thought about these amazing times that I just relived through.

    The above writing covers a period of approximately 55 years – on four pages.

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