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Cruise Conversations That Linger In My Heart

6 Apr

When I travel I have learned to expect the unexpected.  You never know who you will meet or what will occur.  The best is to be flexible.  But occasionally you meet someone who makes an impression.

The first time this happened was on a cruise over 25 years ago.    At lunch time, on a cruise, you get to sit with many different people.  You never know who you will meet or what you will talk about.  On the second day of this Caribbean cruise, we ate lunch with an older man, who when he reached across the table,  I saw numbers tattooed on his arm, numbers obviously from Nazi days.

I said nothing.  I remember as a child, in the early 1960s, I saw numbers on the arm of my parent’s friend.   I asked the question, “Why do you have numbers?”  The room grew silent, and I was taken from the room and told never to ask that question again.  It wasn’t until I was much older I understood that  in the early 60s people did not talk about the numbers.

But this was the early 1990s and I was no longer a child.  Since we were seated next to each other, I waited.   When most of the people left, I asked.  I had the most interesting conversation.  The man next to me was a retired priest.  He was on board to hold services.   He had been in the camps as a young man because he and his parents resisted the Nazis and were part of the intelligentsia and were ardent Catholics.  He and I had several conversations over the week-long cruise. We spoke about his experiences and the death of my grandfather’s family in the Shoah. Although I have forgotten his name,  I have never forgotten him.

But when we went on a cruise this past March, I did not think I would meet another survivor. So many years have passed, and among those survivors who are still alive, few still travel.   At lunch one day, I found my husband speaking to a much older couple.  The man was obviously elderly and perhaps recovering from an illness.  But he spoke strongly with a distinct British accent and he had a much different life experience.

His story touched my heart.  He and his brother were sent away from his home in Germany on a Kindertransport to England when he was 14.  He was one of the lucky ones.  His parents survived as well!   “We had a wonderful life in Germany,” he told us.  “We were more German than Jewish.”

But of course that did not help.  His parents were quite wealthy and aware enough to start the search for visas and relief early on.

When he turned 18, he enlisted in the US army and was sent to the United States.  His service helped him become an American citizen, because until then he was a man without a state.  While in the USA, just before he left for Germany, he became a US citizen.  His commanding officer advised him to change his name from Adolf and the very Jewish last name to something less Jewish sounding.

“If they capture you in Germany with that name, they will not keep you as a prisoner, they will kill you,” his commander told him.  Since he was getting citizenship he should change his name now.  So while he traveled to court he kept thinking of a good name.  He decided on Ralph for his first name.  For his  privacy I will not relate his last name.  He did go to Germany and was a translator for the Army during the closing days of the war and afterwards.

I have read about the Kindertransports and heard speakers discuss these train rides to freedom,, but I never actually met someone and had an informal conversation with someone who survived through this path.

Although I have read many books about the Shoah and spoken to many survivors, these two men will remain in my memory. My conversations with them linger in my heart.

What Happened To Karola?

27 Feb

I am still finding clues about my grandmother’s family in the old photo album we found hidden in the attic. Many of the photos might remain mysteries. As they have no caption or notations. But as I slowly go through them, I sometimes find a photo with a message on the back.

In February,  I was showing the album to a visiting cousin, when I flipped over the photo of a young woman. I was surprised to see it had a note on the back in Polish. I could understand a bit. It was to her cousin Thelma (my grandma). It had a date, June 6, 1946. And it had a place, Kielce.  I was glad that I had finally found a photo from after the war. I thought that finally I had found someone who survived. I had thought the book was hidden because it was filled with those who perished.

The back of the photo.

Karola in June 1946.

I posted the photo on the “Tracing the Tribe,” Facebook group to get a translation of the back. It was dedicated to my grandmother. “To my sincere/honest and devoted cousin Thelma from Karola. I knew they were related because Karola looks so much like my grandmother. I assume they are first cousins.

My Grandma Thelma summer 1942.

The rest of the inscription reads, “Kielce, June 6, 1946. “.  And that opened up a new issue. Someone wrote, “Do you realize that this is dated from Kielce less than ONE MONTH before the pogrom in which 42 Jews — pretty much all Holocaust survivors — were massacred in the local community center? Did your relative survive that horrible event.”

I Don’t know if she survived!

I started investigating Kielce.  On July 4, 1946, there was a pogrom against the approximately 200 Jewish survivors of the camps who had moved back to Kielce. They were a tiny percentage of what once was a thriving Jewish community.

Of those 200, 42 were killed and 40 were injured.  This event started when a young boy told his father he was late because Jews locked him in a basement. It was a lie. But started a blood libel event. Polish police and soldiers participated. On July 14 nine Poles were executed for their role in this horrible massacre. Because of this event,  Polish Jews who survived knew they had to leave Poland. It would never be a safe haven. And a mass exodus began.

But what about my cousin?  I tried finding her name on any lists. But I do not know her surname.  I do not remember ever meeting her in the US, although I met most of my grandparents’ relatives. There were so few.  I had not met her in Israel when I took my grandma there in 1976.  I met many relatives then. (See previous blog: Speaking Yiddish Always Brings Holocaust Memories).  I sent the photo to a cousin in Israel. Although we are just a month apart in age, she is a generation above me. My mothers first cousin. And her parents survived the war by fleeing to a Russia. She knew the family who survived and moved to Israel. She also has a picture of Karola, but knows nothing about her.  

So I am beginning to think she perished. Which breaks my heart. Did she send the photos to relatives in an effort to get out of Europe?  What was happening? Was she alone?  I need answers. 

I could not let my search end there. I have contacted a distant cousin who I met through Tracing the Tribe. He is a much more experienced researcher than I. I hope he will be able to bring me closure about cousin Karola.

In the meantime I also continue to search for her. But I also continue to learn about the political and social anti-Semitism that led to this horrendous event and its aftermath.

UPDATE:  Karola lived: From another cousin who read the blog I found out this information:  “Karola lived in Paris with her husband and beautiful daughter. They visited us for a few days when I was a teen. My mother kept in touch for many years, the daughter also came to NYC and stayed and then they seemed to lose contact.” Wrote my cousin. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kielce_pogrom

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

Defacing a Cemetery and Bomb Threats Make Me Angry

20 Feb

I was not sad today when I found out more Jewish Community Centers had received bomb threats that forced evacuations.  I was not sad today when I found out Chessed Shel Emeth Cemetery was vandalized and over 100 stones were toppled.  I was not sad.

I was ANGRY! I am still angry. I am frustrated that people believe hatred wins. It does not win.

This wave of anti-Semitism has touched me on several occasions. My sister and nephew were exercising at the Tenafly, NJ, JCC when it had to be evacuated in bitter cold weather. Children and elderly had to walk or be taken to a safe place.

The Jewish Community Center in Kansas has been on high security for over two years now since a horrible instance of anti-Semitic violence led to three deaths. And twice bomb threats have been received this year. I am used to seeing armed guards at the JCC and at our synagogues.

But today was the final straw. Today the cemetery where my husband’s parents and grandparents, as well as his great aunt and uncle,  are buried was vandalized. Chessed shel Emeth in University City, Missouri, in St Louis.  I am so angry that someone thinks toppling graves is acceptable. I think my anger is intensified because so many of my family have no graves. Their remains are included in the ashes of the concentration camps and destroyed Jewish communities in Europe.

I think I am angry because by destroying graves, they– the haters– try to wipe out out memory. I am always searching in my family’s genealogy, always wondering about who came before and how are we related. So I say to the haters, “It will not happen. We carry each person’s name and memory as a blessing. ”

I contacted the cemetery as soon as I found out to discover the status of our family graves. I was surprised at how quickly I had a response. I was contacted within an hour that Our stones were not toppled.

I want to thank all those who reached out to us. I am glad that the community is coming together to help repair the damage.  Donations can be made to help pay for the damage,. (See link below.)

And I say to those making threats and trying to destroy cemeteries, You will be found. You will be punished. This is not Europe of 1939. This is the United States of America. And you are in the wrong. We stand united.

I am angry, but I believe in goodness.  And I will continue to work with and focus on those who want a better world. I think we need to spread kindness, but we also need to find those who are perpetuating these acts and hold them responsible for their actions. It is just wrong.
If you want to help the cemetery please go to this site: https://www.chesedshelemeth.org/how-to-donate.html

Vandals target historic Jewish cemetery in University City

Speak Out In Times of Great Moral Crisis

29 Jan

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” Dante


In March 2002, my husband and I took our two children to Washington, DC, for spring break. We decided that in order to show no fear in face of terrorism we would go to our nation’s capitol and visit all of the museums and sites.

The White House was still closed to the public. There were snipers on the roof. And new obstacles to block terrorist attacks were being put into place.

But we went to museums, to the Library of Congress, to the Ford Theater, to George Washington’s Home at Mount Vernon. We showed our children that these places will stand. And no matter what happens, we as citizens of the United States had freedoms.

My son was 11 and my daughter was 15. My husband had already been to the Holocaust Museum. We decided that I would take our daughter there, while my husband took our son back to the hotel. A good decision at the time, as it is a difficult museum to see.

My daughter and I walked the halls of the museum. We watched movies and videos. We listened to testimony. We looked at memorabilia. Then we went to the Hall of Remembrance. I wanted to light a candle in memory of my family who perished in the Shoah. For my great grandmother, Chava, for whom I am named; her husband, Gimple, and their children, in laws, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews who had all perished in the fires of hatred.

But there were no candles left. And I cried. My daughter searched throughout the room for one last candle for me to light.   And then she sat with me as I cried.   I cried for all those who perished without a name. I cried for all those families who had no one left to cry for them.

When I left I purchased a poster, this poster that I show on this blog. This poster, which I framed and hung in my home office; its words call out to me even louder now.   We cannot remain silent in times of great moral crisis.   We cannot be silent like those who said they were only following orders.

We in the United States are now in a great moral crisis. There is no legality in singling out one religion over others. Timothy McVeigh was not a Moslem, he killed 168 people in Oklahoma City. He was a white Christian.   Should we ban all white Christians?

I am so shocked by what is occurring. Those in Congress who say they have values and care about family and country. You are living in a lie. Your alternative truths are lies.

For those of us of faith, we know what the Torah, the Bible says.  It says: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.  (Leviticus 19:33-34).  We were strangers in a strange land.  And most of those who live in the United States now were also strangers in a strange land, the descendants of immigrants and refugees.

Anyone who really cares about our country and our people, you must not be silent. We must speak out in times of great moral crisis!  Call your Legislators and Senators; speak out.  Vote!  Support the ACLU! Do not remain silent.  If we do,  then we are condoning those who are the enemy of what the United States stands for: liberty and justice for all.

I Wonder About November 9, 2016: 78 Years after Kristallnacht

30 Oct

I wonder.

I wonder if there is some cosmic meaning to the date of this year’s election in the USA. November 8, 2016, is one day before the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass when Nazis in Germany burned synagogues and destroyed the businesses owned by Jewish families. The Nazis killed, burned, destroyed and vandalized.

I wonder if Kristallnacht would be re-enacted or reinvented in the USA as the Republican nominee has stirred up the bottom of the pond and brought forth, not a new nation, but a new uprising of hatred against the other.

I wonder what will happen on November 9, 2016?

I wonder what the Jews in Germany felt as citizens of a country where the people turned against them. It scares me as I see the citizens of the USA and the European Union turn against Jews through out the world. And I see, here, in the one country where Jews have always felt a feeling of saftely, an uprising of hatred.

I wonder about the famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I wonder what he would be thinking now if he still lived.

But it is not just for the Jews that I fear for in this somewhat uncertain world. I fear for all those considered the Other determined by Race or Religion or Nationality.

I wonder if the USA will ever be the same after this nasty, tasteless, hate-filled election.

I wonder, I hope and I pray that when it is over on November 9, 2016, the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, that we will have learned from the past.

I wonder, I hope and I pray that peace will return. And the hatred that was stirred up can somehow be mitigated and returned the the bottom of the pond. Never to be disturbed again.

 

The Rosh Hashannah Card Has A Story

1 Oct

szenk-1936-shana-tova

In 1936 my Grandma Thelma’s siblings sent her a Rosh Hashannah card from Poland. On the front is a photo of her siblings. Seated are her brother Isaac and his wife, Bronia. Standing are her youngest siblings David and Esther. Soon after this photo was taken the world really began to change.

This photo looks so peaceful and calm. But so much was going on behind the scenes. Plans were already being made. Getting out of Poland was their main goal.

My Grandmother worked diligently to get her family out of Europe. She and my grandfather owned a bakery and had two young children. Grandma had taken her children to Europe in 1931 and since her return had been searching for ways to rescue her family and my grandfather’s family. It was very difficult.

Eventually, she got documentation to bring my great grandfather Abraham (her mother had died young) and her younger sister, Esther, to the United States. Esther was older than 21, but she was very tiny. So they made her younger. And thus she was able to come with her father.

The age difference was a bone of contention for years. My Tante always stating her ‘fake’ age, my grandmother always correcting her. It was made worse by the fact that my Grandmother had traveled by herself to the USA in 1922, when she was only 16. To get the papers she needed, she made herself two years older! The war over their ages went on for years.

It was great until Tante wanted to retire. Truly she was 65, but legally she was 62. I remember this as my Grandmother and Tante would argue about this as well.   Like sisters, with love, they found many things to argue about.

Front Great grandpa USA Visa

In any case two were saved. I have my Great Grandfather’s passport and visa. In the passport it states that he has to leave Poland within a certain time or the visa is invalid. Luckily my grandparents also sent money. Saving family was utmost in my grandparents’ mind.

But my Grandmother was unable to rescue her brothers and bring them to the USA.   They decided that they had to leave Poland: Uncle Isaac and his wife, Bronia, along with David and Bronia’s sister, Rosa. The Rabbi said that David and Rosa must marry before they left Poland. So a quick wedding was held.

They escaped Poland to Russia. Not as great, but they were tailors…or they became tailors. And so, my grandmother would say, they were employed to make army uniforms for the Russian army.

Their lives were not easy. They suffered. But they survived. Many were not as fortunate.

After the war they wanted to leave Europe. They were in Italy and the Facists were on the rise. They were afraid. They wrote to their sisters in the United States, and to Bronia and Rosa’s sisters in Australia. They decided whoever sent documents first , they would go to that country. They just wanted out of Europe as quickly as possible.

Once again they were among the fortunate ones with sisters on two continents working to save their siblings. The sisters in Australia got documents first. My great aunts and uncles moved to Australia. There my cousin was born. There my Uncle David passed away when in was in his 30s. He is buried in Melbourne.

When my cousin was a child, they decided to move to Israel. My Great Uncle and his wife; his sister in-law, and niece. My cousin and her family still live in Israel. My grandparents, great aunts and uncles have all passed away. But when I look at this Rosh Hashannah card, I see hope. I wish everyone a blessed, happy, healthy and sweet new year.

 

 

 

To read more about the family:

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/who-are-you-these-photos-call-out-to-me/

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/grandma-thelma-knows-what-she-knows/

Donating My Holocaust Books to the Right Place

12 Jul

image

My husband and I are members of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education (MCHE) in Kansas. There is an important reason for our support. I was named for my great grandmother who was hidden during the Shoah and then murdered by the people who stole her property. In her memory I feel it is important to keep contact with Holocaust organizations.

Since MCHE started, I have attended a few events and made financial donations. This year, we were among those honored for our 20 years of support. But two years ago, I became a bit more involved. I started serving as a preliminary judge for its White Rose Essay Contest. Open to students in eighth through twelfth grade, it is held each year in the Kansas City area. Preliminary judges help to weed the multitude of admissions down to ten in each category 8th and 9th grade/ 10th – 12th grade.

I enjoy reading the essays. It is amazing what some of these students do under the guidance of their teachers. The students have to research a specific topic, which changes each year, using both internet sources and books, many of which are held in the MCHE library.

I look forward to the essay contest each year and being a part of this process. I learn the stories of survivors as I read these essays, which has helped to encourage me on my path to discovering more about my family.

I have a collection of Holocaust books, both non-fiction and fiction. I have way too many books to be honest. Even with a Kindle, I still cannot let go of books very easily. But this weekend I had an urge to purge my bookshelf of books I no longer read.   And a thought occurred.   I had read all these Holocaust books, some several times. Perhaps the MCHE could use them for the White Rose contest, as well as for other researchers.

With that goal in mind, after two days of sorting through my books, I found 17 I was willing to part with and which I thought could be used for research. These 17 non-fiction books pertaining to the Shoah only touch the surface of my collection. But for me it is a positive start.

I contacted MCHE and offered my books.   There were six the historian definitely wanted for the library. The books were already in the car waiting to go. As soon as I got the email, I sorted the books into two groups and took all of the books over.

When I entered the Center, the director said, “Were you waiting in your car for my email?”

I smiled. “The books were in the car,” I admitted.

I did arrive within an hour of getting her email. To be honest, I really wanted a good home for these books where they would be used and appreciated. I think I found that home.

But on the other hand, I was worried that I would go through the books again and change my mind. It is difficult for me to relinquish a book. I even emailed my daughter with a list of the books and asked her opinion.

“I am planning to donate the following. If you have a feeling for any of these books speak now,” I wrote her.

She responded with one word: Donate.

The books they did not want for their library they will offer for sale to their members. That would be fine with me, as the income would still go to MCHE.

However, as I spoke to the Director I suggested they review my books. All were in excellent shape. Perhaps they should replace the books on their shelves with my almost pristine copies? She agreed this was a great idea. It made me feel even better. Perhaps even more of my books would remain on the shelves of the library.

Whatever MCHE and its historian do with my books, I am glad. I am letting go. When I get my letter acknowledging the donation, I will think about those who will continue to read and use my books and know that I donated my books to the right place.

 

 

http://mchekc.org/white-rose-student-essay-contest/