My Father-in-Law, Fred

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His six children called him Siegfried the Dragon Slayer, a name he embraced. His 13 grandkids knew him as Grandpa Ziggy. His beloved wife, Luba, called him Freddy. 

Fred S. Findling earned all those appellations, and more, leading a life of courage, compassion, charisma, and love. His heart, crushed by the loss of his parents during the Holocaust, repeatedly replenished by the family he created, finally failed him on April 30, at the age of 88. 

Fred was born on December 4, 1930, the third of five children, three boys and two girls, in Cologne, Germany. His parents, Wolf David Findling and Etla nee Gottsediener, were Orthodox Jews with little education. His father was an itinerant worker. The family was poor but tightknit, the children sharing a single bed. 

The 1930s were a difficult time to be a Jew in Germany. Fred and his siblings were often taunted and terrorized. When he was eight years old his parents decided that the situation in the country had become too threatening and sent the four oldest to Belgium. It was the start of a journey that would lead to the brothers, Joe, Fred, and Martin, hiding in a French forest; the sisters, Fanny and Regina, being concealed and abused in convents; the parents murdered by the Nazis.

The boys, unaware that they’d soon become orphans, were able to escape to the United States in 1941 aboard the Serpa Pinto, a rescue ship arranged by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Jewish Defense League. Fred was deeply grateful to be an American, placed in a foster home in Michigan. But he had to confront new challenges, fighting through continuing poverty, anti-immigrant attitudes, and the need to learn a new culture and navigate a complex educational system. It was a childhood forged by loss, loneliness and bottomless hurt. 

Rather than becoming bitter, though, Fred turned this painful passage into unrelenting optimism and faith in people; a deep commitment to his remaining family, including distant relatives who had been scattered by World War II, and for whom he was an emotional and sometimes financial anchor; a lifelong sympathy for the underdog, fighting alongside African-Americans in the 1960s Civil Rights movement; and a desire to succeed the American way, through honest hard work, education, intellect, and no small amount of chess, guitar, ping-pong, and tennis playing. He carried his heavy past with a lightness that shined on everyone he encountered.

Fred became a lawyer, wielding the rule of law on behalf of injured and bankrupt clients. He built a practice, and an approach to life, that three of his four sons, David, Daniel, and Darren, would ultimately join. It was among the proudest of his achievements; having his sons close by, a part of what started as a family law firm, developing thriving legal businesses of their own. Hardly a day passed in which he didn’t express great joy in his daughters, Debbie, who found where his father and grandparents were shot and buried in Poland, Tamara, an adept child care provider, or his youngest son, Tim, a marketing expert. 

His greatest love, though, was for his wife of 25 years, Luba. With Luba, Fred raised Tamara and Tim, traveled the world, and extended his compassionate support to an entirely new extended family, which grew to adore him. And with Luba, Fred fought intermittent battles with severe heart disease, which threatened to kill him multiple times, as well as the internal emotional reconciliation that became his memoir, Siegfried, The Dragon Slayer

Fred is survived by Luba, his children and their spouses, his grandchildren, his brothers Joe and Martin. His absence will be felt by his many grateful legal clients and tennis partners. His presence will be profoundly missed. It renders a small tear in the fabric of the universe.