Bernie Sanders didn’t talk too much about his family in 2016, but that’s change with his campaign for 2020. In fact, details about his Brooklyn and Chicago rally speeches that campaign sources shared indicated that he plans to speak a lot about his family in the coming days. He loved his parents, Eli and Dorothy Sanders, very much and their struggles and perseverance still influence him today. Read on to learn more about his dad, Eli Sanders.
1. His Father, Elias ‘Eli’ Sanders, Was an Immigrant from Poland & Worked as a Paint Salesman in the United States
In an excerpt from one of his campaign speeches shared with CNN, Bernie shared that his father was a courageous man who journeyed to the United States from Poland without knowing any English. His speech said, in part: “I did not have a mom and dad who gave me millions of dollars to build luxury skyscrapers and casinos and country clubs. But I had something more valuable: I had the role model of a father who had unbelievable courage in journeying across an ocean, with no money in his pocket and not knowing a word of English.”
His father, he continued, came to the United States in the early 1920s when he was just 17 and didn’t have any money. He worked as a paint salesman to support his family, Tablet shared.
2. Bernie Grew Up in a Small, Rent-Controlled Apartment & His Mother Died Before They Could Move Out
When he was young, Bernie grew up in a small, rent-controlled apartment. In his speech, he said that his mom always wanted to move out of the apartment but died before they could.
His planned speech, shared with CNN, says in part: “Coming from a lower middle class family I will never forget how money — or really lack of money — was always a point of stress in our home. My mother’s dream was that someday we would move out of that rent-controlled apartment to a home of our own. That dream was never fulfilled. She died young while we were still living in that apartment.”
3. Bernie Has Said that He’s Only Alive Because of His Dad’s Courage — the Rest of His Dad’s Family Was Killed by Nazis in Concentration Camps
Bernie Sanders credits his dad’s courage with keeping their family line alive at all. His dad had the courage to leave for the United States. Tragically, the rest of his dad’s family was killed by the Nazis.
Part of Bernie’s speech, released early, says: “He came to escape the crushing poverty that existed in his community, and to escape widespread anti-Semitism. Needless to say I would not be with you today if he had not made that trip from Poland because virtually his entire family there was wiped out by the Nazis.”
His written speech goes on to later say:
My father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical, and extremist politics mean. I learned that lesson as a tiny, tiny child when my mother would take me shopping, and we would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler’s concentration camp.
Bernie’s dad immigrated from Slopnice, a rural village in Poland that was often used for airdrops before local Jews’ homes were confiscated, Tablet shared. Most of Eli’s family members died in Hitler’s concentration camps.
In 2013, Bernie and his brother Larry and their wives returned to Slopnice, toured the war memorial and visited the place where their family home once was. The mayor of the town, Adam Soltys, shared that Eli’s niece had gone to school with Adam’s father. Eli’s half-brother, Romnek, was the leader of the Jewish community. Sadly, that meant he was also one of the first killed by the Nazis when they took over the town.
4. The Deaths of His Dad’s Family Helped Push Both Bernie & His Brother Larry Into Politics
Both Bernie and his brother, Larry, are politicians. Larry is a politician in the UK. Larry told Tablet that the oppression of the Nazis — in contrast to FDR — showed them how important politics is. Larry told Tablet: “Politics could go desperately wrong. But it could also have a positive impact.” In fact, Bernie once credited Larry with first introducing him to political ideas when Larry was president of the Young Democrats club at Brooklyn College. He often took Bernie with him to meetings.
The deaths of his family members at the hands of Nazis still brings him to tears today, as you can see in the PBS video above. “I’m proud of his courage in willingly going to his own death in order to protect innocent people. So I’m very, very proud that I had a family member who showed that type of courage and decency. … We talked earlier about why I got involved in politics. And just, it is in order to prevent the descent of humanity into this kind of disgusting behavior. How does it happen? How can people do this? And that’s the struggle that we’re all involved in. And it just makes us realize how hard we have got to work to not descend into this type of barbarity, and to create a world where people love each other, and to do so many wonderful things together. And that’s what this reinforces with me.”
5. Eli Sanders Died in 1962 When He Was Only 57
Sadly, both of Bernie Sanders’ parents died young. His mother died just after he graduated from high school. Then his dad died just a few years later on August 4, 1962, when he was only 57.
Eli Sanders and Dorothy Sanders left a lasting impression on Bernie Sanders that still continues to this day. In 2016, when Larry Sanders voted for his brother Bernie during the DNC roll call, Bernie got choked up when Larry talked about their parents. You can watch in the video above starting at about 2:32. Larry said about their parents: “They did not have easy lives and they died young. … They loved the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and would be especially proud that Bernard is renewing that mission.”
His speech and Bernie’s reaction were so heartfelt and authentic, it is obvious they loved their parents very much.