Maurice Chorney was one of those Holocaust survivors who never really talked about his experience.
But when his daughter, Helene Shipon, was moving Chorney from his house to an assisted living home in 2010, she found letters from his family back in Poland.
And they did all the talking.
Chorney, who died in 2013, immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1938 when he was 17. He came over to work at his uncle’s Philadelphia shipyard.
But the rest of his family, his parents, his sisters and others, stayed in Poland and died during the Holocaust. Chorney went on to serve in the Army during World War II and beat the Nazis who killed his family. He also grew up to run the shipyard, raise a multigenerational family of his own and prove that Hitler did not win.
Now, Helene Shipon and her husband, Philadelphia-area businessman Alvin Shipon, have used those letters to document Chorney’s journey in a book: “Dearest Maysheleh.”
The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website. It has two customer reviews on Amazon. Both readers gave it five stars.
But Alvin Shipon, who wrote the book, didn’t do it for sales or ratings. He did it as “a labor of love” and to document history, said his son and Maurice’s grandson, Matt Shipon.
In reading the letters between Chorney and his mother, father, sisters and friends, the Shipons “fell in love with the family they never met,” Alvin Shipon said.
“We cried,” he added. “We actually mourned for them.”
The letters revealed the harrowing emotional journey of Chorney’s young life. His grandson recounted them in a recent email to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia about the book.
“We hear the words of his parents in their own pen, describing the degradation of their conditions,” Matt Shipon wrote. “We hear the words of other family members and friends describing the financial and physical stress they were enduring.”
“As the letters go on, the situation in Poland becomes more and more bleak,” he continued.
“Until he receives a letter from a friend informing him that his family was murdered and the house he grew up in was burned to the ground,” the grandson concluded.
After suffering the tragedy but living through it, Chorney carried a weight around for the rest of his life, according to Helene Shipon.
He worried when she and her brother got minor colds; he escaped upstairs when he needed time to himself; he took a glass-half-empty perspective; he worked 10-12 hours a day; he never said no to his loved ones.
“I had to ask my mother if they could babysit,” Helene Shipon recalled. “He would never say if they had plans or anything.”
Helene Shipon knew the letters existed even before she found them while moving her father out. When she was in high school, he talked about his history to her for perhaps the only time.
Chorney called his daughter down to the basement and told her about the letters, though he didn’t read them to her.
“My guess is he brought her down to show her so she would know if anything happened to him,” Alvin Shipon said.
Upon reading the letters later on, she gained a deeper understanding of her father’s journey, she said.
In the exchanges, Chorney’s father, his one sister and his friends were clear about what the Nazis were doing to them. One friend, on his own journey to the U.S., said he’d rather be poor here than rich in Poland because in the U.S., no one would hit him just for being a Jew.
Chorney’s mother, though, was more positive. Be happy, be healthy, be a mensch, she told him.
All of Chorney’s loved ones encouraged him to work hard and thrive. They also read his letters in return. Chorney’s father would keep them in a box and read them over and over, according to a friend.
Chorney’s father, despite his honesty about their situation, held out hope that people would come to their senses.
“They will understand that blood is being spilled for no reason by innocent people,” he wrote. “Then the world will return to being a proper place to live in.”
In a letter to his cousin in the U.S. during the war, Chorney wrote that he was fighting to fulfill his father’s vision.
“The allies know what they are fighting for. Those Nazis don’t,” he said.
“I’m alive and that’s something to be thankful for, even though at times I wonder,” he added.