Grisamore: The letters came home but he didn’t

gris@macon.comFebruary 26, 2012 

In the letters he wrote home, Jerome “Jerry” Blumberg would tell stories about Patton’s Army and the march across Europe.

Sometimes his words were filled with hope. Other times, you could read the fear between the lines.

He addressed them to his father. The two had a special relationship. Jerry was the oldest of Reuben and Alice Blumberg’s five children.

It took weeks for his letters to travel across all those battlefields, mountains, forests and whitecaps and finally reach the house on The Prado in Macon.

One time, he told about being surrounded by German soldiers and having to hide in an attic. Another time, he complained about it being so cold that the ink in his pen was frozen. His family could almost hear him chuckling as he shared a story about “borrowing” a battery from an Army jeep and hooking up two wires and a light bulb so he could see to write at night.

At the end of every letter, he said this: “It is almost over, and I will see you soon.’’

Indeed, the war was nearing its end on Feb. 28, 1945. In another six weeks, both Hitler and Mussolini would be dead. In another two months, Germany would offer its unconditional surrender.

But Feb. 28 was also the day -- 67 years ago this Tuesday -- Blumberg’s life ended along the Roer River in Belgium as part of the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion.

Back home in Macon, Bob Blumberg remembers the knock on the door. It was not the postman delivering a handwritten letter from Jerry but the cold type of a Western Union telegram.

Tears fell at the feet of this large and loving family, who owned and operated Central Jewelry in downtown Macon. Several more late-arriving letters showed up at The Prado over the next few weeks. All had been written before Jerry took his final breath on the final day of February.

He was 26 years old. Jerry and Bob shared a birthday, Jan. 5, nine years apart. Jerry taught Bob how to shoot marbles and load a gun. “He truly was the best big brother anyone could ever have,’’ Bob said.

Blumberg’s body was never returned home. He is among the 7,992 soldiers buried at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium.

The rows of headstones at Henri-Chapelle form arcs as they softly sweep across the Belgian countryside. Most are the shape of white crosses, which is what distinguishes Blumberg’s 3-foot marker from the others. It forms the Star of David, the six-pointed symbol of the Jewish faith.

Blumberg was one of the more than 550,000 Jewish-Americans who served in the U.S. military during World War II. He was one of 11,000 U.S. Jewish soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in a war that witnessed the atrocities and genocide of some 6 million European Jews by Nazi Germany.

Bob was the youngest of the five Blumberg children and was 17 years old when his brother was killed. There were three girls in the middle -- Rozlyn Sandler, Carol “Honey’’ Hurvitz and Amy Taratoot.

He once visited the cemetery in Belgium with his sisters and would send flowers twice a year to place at Jerry’s grave. Bob now lives in Longboat Key, Fla. He named his son, Jerry, after his older brother.

When his father died in 1962, the box of letters his brother wrote home ended up in Bob’s possession.

“For 50 years, I touched that box hundreds of times but could never bring myself to open it,’’ he said. “Then, one day I did. I cried for three hours.’’

It was not a letter, but an e-mail, that added another chapter dedicated to the memory of 2nd Lt. Jerome Blumberg.

The e-mail traveled through cyberspace last September, bouncing from Washington, D.C., to Macon and its final destinations in Atlanta and Florida. It was correspondence from a woman named Colette Young. She is a native of Belgium but has lived in the U.S. since 1980.

In her search for living members of the Blumberg family, she had come across the online obituary of Carol Hurvitz, who died in Macon in 2004. She contacted Temple Beth Israel in Macon to see if they could help her locate the two surviving siblings -- Bob and his sister, Amy, who lives in Atlanta. (Rozlyn Sandler died last year.)

The office at Temple Beth Israel contacted members Mike Kaplan and his mother, Letty Kaplan, and they helped put Young in touch with Bob. Mike had gone to college with Bob’s son, Jerry, at the University of Georgia. As a teenager, Mike had also received an award named in honor of 2nd Lt. Jerome Blumberg. It was once given annually by Temple Beth Israel for outstanding youth leadership.

In her e-mail, Young explained a custom of Belgian men volunteering to serve as a “parrain,’’ which means “godfather” in French. Their families would care for the grave of an American soldier at Henri-Chapelle.

“Without the American soldiers, I would have grown up speaking German in my own country,’’ Young wrote.

In the early 1950s, her Uncle Jean began caring for the grave of a Jewish-American soldier. After her uncle died in 2001, the duty fell upon his oldest daughter, Marie-Ange, who is Young’s cousin and lives in Liege, Belgium.

Young said her uncle selected a Jewish soldier because his parents had hidden a Jewish teenage girl in their home for about a year during the war. The girl’s parents were killed by German soldiers.

Marie-Ange took on the additional responsibility of caring for Blumberg’s grave and will one day pass down those duties to her granddaughter.

“Jerry will never be forgotten,’’ Young said. “He gave his life to save our’s.’’

Young visited the cemetery last December, where an official accompanied her to Blumberg’s grave. A small U.S. and and a small Belgian flag were placed in the snow-covered ground. The official took sand brought from the beaches at Normandy and symbolically rubbed it across the black letters of Blumberg’s full name.

It was the final resting place of a man Young never met from a family she one day hopes to meet.

“It was emotional,’’ she said. “I was so proud and grateful. I wanted to hug him.’’

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