Grandfather Prayer (Bethann Mangel Pflugeisen, 1999)

Grandfather Prayer

 by Bethann Mangel Pflugeisen


I dream my grandfather

thirty eight years before my birth,


through a crisp autumn Austrian night.


My Grandfather the Thief dying

in North Carolina as I grow

to the age he held in parting

sixty years past.


He is not staying alive for me.

is it the memories that keep him

or does he live

simply for the sake of survival?


I call at mid-morning

before the prism crack sunlight to rainbows

to tell My Grandfather the Thief

I dreamed us back to Austria.


I do not say I

dreamed to discover your

pre-war photos and orphaned memories

shoved into a closet.


I tell my Grandfather the Thief I

love him,

the first of

our twenty two years together.


I do not say I

doubt we will speak again

before you gather your memories

and leave once more.


I search his stroke-broken words,

seeking stories,


guarded now for too long.


Quietly I tally –

My Grandfather the Thief



his language – stolen.

his country – stolen.

his family – stolen.

his name – stolen.



my grandfather

stole from the Reich

his life:

one jew.

his children – three jews

his grandchildren – seven jews.

eleven (lives)(jews) in all.


My father, grandpa’s son,

Says to me, rabbinical,

“The Torah teaches all things

live and die in cycles of four:

“four seaons

“four directions

“four questions

“four decades of exile”.


Four generations

until the memories are gone

echo sister and I. We are the third.

The next will meet no survivors.


My Grandfather the Thief

won’t inherit me his memories

and the next generation

will complete the forgetting.


Except that I can play thief, too,

a game no longer dangerous,

steal back grandpa’s dream name

white refugee memories

shaping each scribed letter.

I steal with quiet

from my grandfather

I thank him for our lives.


Quietly I steal

for my grandfather

the memories, like waking dreams

disintegrating with his passing.



Bethann wrote this poem in June 1999, about eight months after my father had a stroke. For complicated reasons (see the Family History page) he entered the US with the surname Pflugeisen (his grandmother’s surname) which he changed to Mangel (his grandfather’s surname) in 1947. She changed her surname of Pflugeisen shortly thereafter. When her second son was born in 2014, she named him Isaac Pflugeisen, which I learned in July 2016 – through my family history research – was the name of her great-great-great-grandfather .