There are several variations of the story of my father’s birth. The established facts: he was born on May 10, 1946; he was born in Magnitogorsk; and he was born prematurely. My grandparents named him Herschel, in honor of my grandfather’s father, Hersch. Every version of the story includes the miracle. The doctor at the factory clinic told my grandparents that their baby would die. They should not bother holding him or getting attached. My grandfather ignored him and brought his newborn home. He placed Herschel in their oven, and set the temperature low enough to warm his tiny body. As he monitored his homemade incubator, I have no doubt that he also prayed to God to spare his only child. Somehow, the Angel of Death passed them by. Maybe the baby’s name (Herschel) was so close to that of his deceased grandfather (Hersch) that Death thought that he had already made his collection, years earlier, and let it go.
Sometimes, when Bubbe tells about how my father came into this world, she insists that she did not even know that she was pregnant. It is likely that a person would not menstruate regularly in the severe environment of post-war Russia. Couple the circumstances with her background (“I was a girl from the country,” she says. “What do I know how the babies are coming?”), and it becomes clear how that might happen. In this story, she has cramps, and then suddenly my father is born.
Even though she did not realize that she was pregnant, she was thrilled to have a child. She and my grandfather wanted a large family. “"Only with the children is the life worth living," she told me. “A life without children is not worth it one cent.” In another version of the story, she was so damaged by whatever caused his premature delivery that she could never have another baby.
Happy birthday, Dad! You are truly one in a gazillion.