Bernard (Bernie) Sanders was born September 8, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York, to Eli and Dorothy Sanders. His father, Eli, was born in Slopnice, Poland, and immigrated to the United States in 1921 at age 17.
“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…He came to escape the crushing poverty in his community and…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.” (Bernie Sanders)
Dorothy Glassberg Sanders was born in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents from Radzyn, Poland, and Bialystock, Russia.
Eli worked hard as a paint salesman traveling through the city’s five boroughs to support Dorothy, Bernie, and his older brother, Larry. The family lived in a three-and-a-half-room rent-controlled apartment on East 26th and Kings Highway, where Dorothy was a stay-at-home mom. Dorothy hoped that one day, they would be able to buy a private home but never realized that dream. Bernie remembers that they always had enough money for rent and food, but not for extras. “It’s not that we were poor, but [there was always] the constant pressure of never having enough money. …The money question to me has always been very deep and emotional.” (Bernie Sanders)
Dorothy had had rheumatic fever as a child and became ill from the long-term effects when Bernie was in high school. She passed away at the young age of 46 following a second failed heart surgery shortly after he graduated from high school. His father, Eli, died two years later.
Eli and Dorothy Sanders’ values and beliefs left a lasting impression on their sons, who decided to become public servants and, eventually, elected officials. Bernie credits Larry, president of the Young Democrats Club at Brooklyn College, with his introduction to political ideas. Larry, having moved to the UK as his wife was a British citizen, was a social worker for many years. First active in the Labor Party, he joined the Green Party in 2001, serving on the Oxfordshire County Council from 2005 to 2013 and then as a Health Spokesperson for the Party. He has said that the two greatest political influences on the brothers were the devastating impact of Hitler’s rise and election and the positive impact of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency.
History clearly showed, said Larry, that “politics could go desperately wrong. But it could also have a positive impact.”
In 2016, when Larry cast Democrats Abroad votes for his brother during the DNC roll call and paid tribute to their parents, Bernie’s emotional response was captured by the media and broadcast worldwide. In Larry’s heartfelt words:
“I want to bring before this convention the names of our parents, Eli Sanders and Dorothy Glassberg Sanders. They did not have easy lives, and they died young. They would be immensely proud of their son and his accomplishments. They loved him. They loved the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and would be especially proud that Bernard is renewing that mission. It is with enormous pride that I cast my vote for Bernie Sanders.” (Larry Sanders)