My Grandparents: Harry and Helen Davis

These are portraits of my paternal grandparents. Harry Davis was born Herschel Davidowitz in 1892. Helen Davis, nee Gotlieb, born in 1895, and Harry were both from Lodz, Poland. They met in New York, and were married in 1925.

Harry Davis (born Hershel Davidowitz); Photographer Unknown

Harry Davis (born Hershel Davidowitz); Photographer and Date Unknown

The images are flatbed scans of sepia tinted photos that have suffered some damage over the years. The photographer and date of the sitting(s) are unknown. Clearly, these portraits marked some kind of formal or special occasion, as the subjects are dressed up and looking their best. This is not the kind of studio portrait that would have happened every day.

Helen (nee Gotlieb) Davis; Photographer and Date Unknown

Helen (nee Gotlieb) Davis; Photographer and Date Unknown

I never knew my grandfather Harry Davis as he died in 1947 before I was born. However, in his absence, he was a figure who has loomed fairly large in my life, since he was an artist, and I was named after him.

My grandma Helen on the other hand was a beloved if somewhat peculiar presence in my early years. I believe that English was her fourth language (after Yiddish, Polish, and German). This led to an idiosyncrasy of language that was particularly noticeable in her essentially incomprehensible written communications. Her vast love for her family was immediately and always apparent, and I loved her a great deal.

My father adds some biographical details:

Harry and Helen knew one another slightly in Lodz. She came to borrow books at an informal lending library that he and his friends had established in Lodz. His friend Felix Kornberg was married to her sister Regina. Harry reconnected with Helen at the Bronx apartment of Bessie, another sister.

Harry had been taken as a forced laborer to Germany during World War I. After the war he and his brothers established a furniture manufacturing business in Leipzig, Germany. So he came to New York City from Germany.

Helen really didn’t know German. For her, speaking German was just speaking Yiddish with a different accent, especially a very soft “l”.

This entry was posted in Writing.

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