Serge Malas: Immigrant, Craftsman, American
From Mike Malas (with Joshua Heston)
My grandfather, Serge Malaschitchsevas, was born in Lithuania in 1921. His family was of Russian descent. The Lithuanians weren’t too fond of Russians and, as a boy, my grandfather suffered discrimination just because of his Russian last name.
Nonetheless, my grandfather became a great electrician, mechanic and machinist. He was very resourceful and he was a perfectionist. Everything he did had to be perfect and everything he touched was just amazing. He was super strong as well. I remember him walking up and down stairs on his hands! He was like Bruce Lee! And he was a work horse. If he wasn’t bleeding from something, he wasn’t doing it right that day.
Early on in World War II, the Germans occupied Lithuania and the Nazis began using Lithuanians as a war mule of sorts. My grandfather lost contact with his father and brother. We believe they both may have ended up in Siberian work camps.
Lithuanian men (including my grandfather) were used as conscripted labor. Many were also forced — sometimes as gunpoint — to become frontline Nazi soldiers.
Many times, when Allied soldiers were storming the front lines of Europe, they weren’t killing Nazis, but instead they were killing enslaved people with guns pointed at their backs. My grandfather knew it was possible he could be sent to the front lines of Western Europe against his will.
As the war wore on, he saw his fate and he knew he would be sent to battle soon. One day he was sitting in a room when a German officer asked if anybody would be willing to drive a truck for the German army. My grandfather, being a very smart guy and realizing the situation, knew driving a truck would be a lot safer than being sent to the front lines.
He raised his hand and said, “I’m the best person for the job.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Well, I’m a mechanic. I’m a machinist. If something breaks, I can fix it. I am an electrician. If something goes wrong with the wiring, I can fix it. I can take care of the truck from top to bottom, front to back.”
So from then on, he was driving a truck for the Nazis. “He was always very proud he had never had to take up arms to shoot at or kill anyone, ever,” remembers Malas’ daughter, Rita Pinckney.
Not long after that, my grandfather was in France, driving a truck carrying an anti-aircraft artillery gun. Two German soldiers, essentially with a gun to his head, were guarding him, telling him what to do. This was after the invasion of Normandy and the United States Air Force was bombing everything.
Grandpa is driving down this narrow, single-lane trail in France with bombs falling. The truck is damaged — I think with only a flat tire — but he tells the two guards if he continues to drive the truck, it will become irreparably damaged and then they will all three be in trouble! He pulls to the right of this narrow trail and a bomb explodes just to the left, yards from the truck. If Grandpa had pulled to the left instead of the right, he would have been killed! The guards are terrified, leave the truck, and take off running.
Even as a young boy, my grandfather dreamed of immigrating to the United States and becoming an American. Now, he is in possession of a German truck and a German anti-aircraft artillery gun — in my grandpa’s mind he has gifts he can give to the Americans to help him become an ally!
He pulled the truck into a nearby apple orchard and sat down to wait!
A week of nothing to eat but apples passed. A contingent of French troops kept asking him to join them but each time he replied the same: “No! I’m waiting for the Americans. I’m waiting for the United States. I want to become an American!”
However, after a week of nothing but apples, he finally caved and went to the French-held village. The selling point for him was the French were allied with the United States so it would be his best bet to get through to the Americans.
As the Allied forces pushed toward Germany, Serge was conscripted into the US Army as a mechanic, traveling in France and Belgium before being stationed in Germany. During that time, he became friends with a young man named Lawrence Spence, of Willow Springs, Missouri. Despite Grandpa’s limited English and Lawrence’s limited German or Lithuanian, they became like brothers.
It was that brotherhood that would later allow Grandpa to get to the United States.
The war ended in 1945 and Grandpa learned President Truman would allow 100,000 displaced Europeans to immigrate to the United States — provided their papers were in order and each immigrant family was placed with a sponsor family in the States.
Lawrence Spence agreed at once to be Grandpa’s sponsor family. At the time, Grandpa was working in Germany as part of the Allied occupation force. There he met Anna, the young woman who would become my grandmother.
Grandma was one of the young women who did laundry and cooked food for the servicemen on the base. Their paths crossed and Grandpa fell in love.
Five years passed. My grandparents were married and my uncle had been born. Still, there was no word on whether their immigration papers would be approved. It was now the era of the Cold War and there were many hurdles at the prospects of a Russian-turned-German-soldier (and his family) immigrating to the United States in 1950! Moreover, the window of opportunity was closing. Nearly all the 100,000 displaced people had been allowed to immigrate. The program was nearly over.
#SustainableOzarks Photo of the Week
Fall in the Ozarks: Three Weeks Difference
by Vince Anderson, Mountain Home, Arkansas
You can call me a nut, but I have something for photographing prairie grass in the Ozarks. In this field is species called Broomsedge, Broomsedge Bluestem, Yellow Bluestem, or Whiskey Grass.
Though some may call this species a weed, this grass brings back fond memories. As a young boy in Ozark County, I would crawl through our field laden with broomsedge in the fall and wintertime. Crouching though these brown tufts, I would try to catch rabbits, flush out songbirds, or just sit in the middle of our field watching the wind gracefully bend and whip these brown wisps in our meadow.
About every other year in early March, we would burn off the fields, and I would watch this grass dance and crackle while it gave off a sweet & pungent smell. Somehow, I still love that smell. I would wait anxiously for only a few weeks for the spring rains, and these ashen clusters would soon sprout new shoots of life.
Even today, I never get tired of seeing this lowly prairie grass. It still does my heart good to see these golden boughs waving back at me every autumn & winter as I travel down an Ozark highway. — Vince Anderson
Serge Malas (continued from above)
Spence knew the paperwork should have been finalized and he was frantic to get his friend and young family into the United States before it was too late. Spence was still in the army and one night he got off his post, went home, packed up his family, and began driving overnight to Washington, D.C. The next morning he was waiting on the steps of the government building where all the signed papers were.
Spence spent the entire day searching the paperwork, to no avail. He could not find Grandpa’s paperwork anywhere. The clerk at the front desk saw how passionate Spence was to help his friend and finally, at the end of the day, the clerk said, “If the paper you’re looking for is going to be anywhere, there’s only one place left it could be.”
And the clerk took Spence into the hallway and to this small room with hundreds of the thousands of pieces of paper in it, all stacked floor to ceiling in wire baskets. This room held all the unsigned immigrant papers — the rejects. By now, it is time for the office to close but Spence takes one look the thousands of papers, grabs and basket and starts picking through the first stack. The clerk shrugs, and then begins searching as well.
Hours past closing time, the clerk hands a paper to Spence. “Is this it?” he asks. The name on the paperwork — Serge Malaschitchevas.
Spence begins jumping for joy. The paper had been properly signed but misfiled!
As they walk out of the now-closed office, the clerk turns to Spence, “Tonight, at midnight, we have a burn order on every piece of paper in that room. If you had not been here today and not given up, your friend would never have been allowed into the United States.”
And so, in 1950, Grandpa and Grandma, my uncle, and my dad (who was still in Grandma’s belly) got on a ship and sailed to America. Grandma, as a young woman, had never even stayed over at a friend’s house (she tried once and couldn’t do it!) and now, speaking only German, she was willing to get on that ship and sail to a country she had never even been to, where they spoke a language she couldn’t understand, all because of her love for my Grandpa.
That’s true love.
Well, they get over here. Grandpa’s last name was shortened from Malaschitchevas to just Malas, and they settled in with their sponsor family. Spence and his family opened their home to the Serge and Anna Malas in Willow Springs, Missouri. In time, Serge and his family would move to Springfield.
“He was a man of honor,” notes daughter Pinckney. “He was extremely happy to become an American citizen. Because of his accent and having come from a country controlled by the USSR, he did encounter discrimination, especially in this part of the country.”
He built an addition to the house that could double as a bomb shelter. After all he had been through, he wanted security for his family and he didn’t know if nuclear war was going to happen. He prepared for World War III.
Being a highly skilled machinist, he also built a machine shop attached to the house. All he had to do was walk out of the house into the machine shop every day to go to work. He began doing a lot of work for local companies that had manufacturing machines. He also sharpened saw blades, lawnmower blades, anything to make ends meet. He was very successful for his work ethic and the quality of his work.
Once, he hand-welded a 14-foot trailer for a buddy of his. He built that trailer by hand and, what a lot of people may not realize, in order to get a trailer to drive smoothly down the road, it has to be perfect: perfectly weighted on each side. It’s easy to mess up, especially if you’re making it by hand.
That trailer he made years ago is still around. It still drives perfectly. The quality of Grandpa’s work was just unprecedented. You would not find a better machinist anywhere.
My favorite memories of Grandpa were in his machine shop. As a child, I was always just flabbergasted at the things he could do with metal. In the shop, there was metal threading all over the floor. Tiny bits of meal and metal splinters were all over the place. Grandpa’s hands were like graphite — if he had slapped you, it would have probably cut your face open! His hands were that calloused and rough.
He would make cool machines in order to save time. He had a press to smash aluminum cans for recycling and I loved using that thing! You’d take a can, put it in there, pull a little handle on the side, and this pneumatic press would just WHAM! smash that can into the smallest pile of aluminum you could imagine. You could have jumped on that can all day long and it would never get that thin!
Grandma died about 20 years ago, as did my uncle who had lived with Grandpa and Grandma his whole life. My grandparents were really close, so Grandpa lived for 20 years by himself in his house. Many times when the love of your life dies, you die shortly after. Grandpa didn’t because he just kept working. He had his machine shop. Even after he got Alzheimer’s, Grandpa would go into the shop every day just to move things around. He had to get his hands on metal. I know it gave him comfort and a sense of place.
He loved animals — especially cats — and he just wanted to do what was right for people. He always loved to help people. I’m thankful to have that kind of blood in my veins. I learned from Grandpa’s example to never make excuses. To attack the day, achieve your goals, always put your best foot forward. I learned from him not to judge people, to never point fingers.
Grandpa loved the Cardinals. He loved Budweiser. He loved going out on Table Rock Lake. He always wore his coveralls. He always had a pencil, a meter, and a slide rule tucked into his pocket. He was my hero.
I miss him tremendously.
MAY 30, 2016. Many thanks to grandson Mike Malas and daugher Rita Pinckney for sharing their heartfelt memories of Serge Malas (March 12, 1921-March 12, 2015).
Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon (from Lane McConnell of the Branson Farmers Market)
1 medium butternut squash (about 1 lb.), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced sliced
4 sliced of bacon, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 T. olive oil
3 T. butter
½ tsp. fine grain salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream or milk
1 tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. nutmeg
For garnish: Crispy bacon, chopped chives, crumbled goat cheese
Preheat oven to 400°F and place a rack in the middle. Lightly grease a baking sheet and place butternut squash chunks, quartered onion, diced red bell pepper, chopped bacon, and garlic cloves in a single layer.
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring at halftime, until butternut squash is nicely roasted.
When ready, remove from the oven and peel garlic. Transfer everything to a large pot, add thyme, stock, and puree with an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, then transfer roasted veggies to a food processor and process. (You may need to add some chicken stock to get a fine puree.) After you have pureed the mixture, add it to a large stockpot.
Place pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until it starts to thicken. If it’s too thick add more stock, ¼ cup at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.
Take a taste and adjust seasoning. Serve garnished with some crispy bacon, chopped chives, and crumbled goat cheese as desired.
And, if you are looking for other ways to use up all that delicious winter squash from your garden or the gardens of local farmer friends, check out Lane’s blog, 417Localista.com!