Father's Birth Year a Mystery

Had several interesting conversations with my sister Lee and brother Bernie Friday on the occasion of our father’s birthday. I’d tell you how old he would have been but that was what we were trying to agree on.

Family lore has it that Kopel Fuersetzer (through several iterations Fuersetzer evolved into Forseter) was born in Ottynia on January 5, 1911. Or was it 1912? My recollection is the date disparity centered on Austria-Hungary’s military draft rules. Ottynia, a small shtetl in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Galicia, was part of Austria prior to the Great War, World War I.

Young men could be drafted when they turned 18 so there was reason behind the fluidity of actual birthdates in the Hapsburg Empire. At least that’s the story I grew up with. And my brother did as well. (After the war Ottynia became part of Poland. After World War II Ukraine absorbed Ottynia within its borders.)

Lee, on the other hand, remembers Dad telling her he was 35 when she was born in 1947. That would put his birth year as 1912. That’s what we had engraved on his tombstone.

But ... several official papers I reviewed Friday—his Polish good citizenship document, his U.S. military enlistment record and his death certificate—all list his birth year as 1911!

Out the window went the theory of military draft evasion. Enter the realm of supposition.

Bernie posited he claimed being a year older because he needed that earlier date to obtain government permission, perhaps a peddler’s license, after he moved to Danzig when he was 16 or slightly older. As official records from a small shtetl would be rare to come by, it would have been easy to prop up his age in Danzig (present day Gdansk).

Sounds plausible. With Polish document in hand he would be forever recorded as having been born in 1911, though in his mind he was a year younger.

Mom and Dad always said he was six years older than she. Sylvia Gerson was born November 11, 1917, in Lodz, Poland. But was their age difference a rounded up six years from five years, 10 months, from a 1912 birth year, or a rounded down six years from 1911?

My siblings and I will never know.

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