with thanks to Steven M. Lowenstein
My father’s parents were Germans,
and they were Jews,
and they were born long ago,
one just before and one just after
the outbreak of the war
that was to end all wars,
They came to New York in ’37 and ’38,
met and married and had a son.
From them, I have inherited
copies of Der Struwwelpeter
a fondness for Riesling,
Pünktlichkeit is beyond punctuality.
It is showing up ahead of time for movies,
meetings, and medical appointments;
submitting papers and assignments
safely before their deadlines;
and returning books to the library
at least one day prior to their due dates.
Pünktlichkeit is a preemptive way of life,
and not everyone admires it.
Even Rabbi Breuer of Frankfurt,
later of Washington Heights,
scolded guests who rang his doorbell
before the agreed-upon time.
“Zu früh ist auch nicht pünktlich.”
But pünktlichkeit served my grandparents well.
They left Germany before the Kristallnacht,
before the St. Louis, before their neighbors
were called to trains that went first to France
and then to Auschwitz. Who knows
how many reported to the railways
before the hour they were told?
(An earlier version of “Pünktlichkeit” was published in Moment magazine.)