Tag Archives: Holocaust

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/

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What I Think About on The 2016 Fourth of July

4 Jul

I am a fortunate person. My paternal great grandparents immigrated to the United States in the 1880s, and my maternal grandparents arrived in the early 1920s, before the Immigration Act of 1924 severely limited immigration and imposed a strict quota system. It was a bigoted act designed to limit immigration of Africans as well as Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans.   It actually banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians.   It was due to this horrible act that so many Jewish people trying to escape Nazi Germany were banned from entering the United States and were murdered.

Finally, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed and enacted on June 30, 1968, just in time for a Fourth of July celebration. It ended the strict limits of the quota systems and allowed preference visa categories that took into account an immigrant who had family members who were citizens, as well as an immigrant’s special skills.

Think of what this act might have meant for tens of thousands of Jews stuck in Europe. In my own family, the 1924 act caused the death of my grandfather’s family. He was able to get Visa’s for his parents, but not for his siblings. His parents refused to leave. And so everyone perished in the Holocaust.   My grandmother was able to get a visa for her father and younger sister, but not her brothers. Fortunately they survived.

The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the total immigration allowed and the number of visas from the 1965 law. But also in the 1990s other laws were passed to make it more difficult for legal and illegal immigrants adding reasons for deportations, according to a Wikipedia article on “The Laws Concerning Immigration.”

But the world changed on September 11, 2001, and along with it views on immigration. People got scared. We began to allow fear to rule the country. And if we do that, we let the terrorist win through fear. That is what they want.

We seemed to have gone back to the ways of the 1920s, when the white men in power seemed so afraid of those that were different. Many restrictive laws were enacted before women had the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was only ratified on August 18, 1920. At first many women did not vote. It took time for women to stand up and have their voices heard.

I cannot prove that having women’s votes changed the direction of the United States, but I believe that women voters have influenced many aspects of life in the USA.

The fact that we now have three women on the Supreme Court has made a difference. The fact that we have women in office on all levels of government: local, state, national, has made a difference. The fact that we have had women running for the two highest offices in the USA: vice president and president, has made a difference.

I am so proud and glad to be a citizen of the United States of America. I am so glad that my ancestors made the journey to the USA in times that were so difficult and were allowed to settle here and become citizens.

I hope that we all remember what is written in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

We must not let fear of the other make us forget that the United States was founded by the ‘other.’ Everyone who signed the original Declaration of Independence was the descendant of an immigrant. We were not perfect. The treatment of the Native Americans and slave ownership was not right. But the founders did their best with the information they had. The Constitution helped them make changes to reflect the society. Slavery ended, women got the right to vote.

With the death of Elie Wiesel, we must remember his words as he reminded us of the Shoah and our responsibility to keep another one from happening: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And we must side with the victim. We are a country founded by people searching for religious freedom, searching for a place to live with freedoms and the rights to be as equal as anyone else.

This Fourth of July, we must not give in to fear and hatred. We must protect those fleeing from war. We must not become a bigoted, hateful country. We must remain the defender of the victim. That is the heritage I want to rejoice on this July Fourth.

 

Behind the Beauty and Facades of Vienna

19 Apr

My husband and I took our children to Vienna in 1999. We went to Austria and Hungary primarily to see the total eclipse of the sun. But our tour started in Vienna. I was not sure I wanted to go there. My grandfather was from Galecia, when it was part of Austria. His entire family was murdered in the Shoah. So should I go to a place that hated my family, my people and my traditions so much?

But on the other hand, my grandfather also told me that he bought his property and built his bungalow colony in the Catskills because the hills reminded him of his home. I wanted to see that part of Austria. And I did, when we left Vienna to go into the Vienna Woods, into the rolling hills above the city, I saw what he meant.

It did remind me of the Catskills. And I understood that even though he would never, ever leave the USA. That he would never go back to Galecia, he still had that piece of home in his heart when he was in the Catskills.

In Vienna we also saw the Hundertwasser haus designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Born, Friedrich Stowasser, the son of a Jewish mother, as a child, he and his mother posed as Catholics during the war. His mother lost almost 70 members of her family. When we went up into the mountains, we stayed at the Bad Blumau Spa, which he designed. My son called this place the wacky hotel. It was an amazing spot. It is a place of beauty and peace designed by a Jewish man who was able to survive and provide beauty to the world.

While in Vienna, I made sure that my children went to the Jewish Museum and to the Judenplatz, the area of Vienna where most of the Jews had lived. At the time there was no memorial to the Shoah or an additional museum to memorialize what happened there. When we went, the central grounds in the Judenplatz was in the midst of construction. There were signs about what would be built there. And there was a plaque on one of the buildings describing, in German, what had happened during the war, after the Anschluss with Germany in March 1938.

We stayed for three nights in Vienna. Because we were traveling as a family of four within a tour group, the hotel reservations clerk upgraded our hotel rooms from two small rooms next to each other to an actual apartment suite that was on two floors. It was a lovely suite. We had a view of the city. Our children loved this elegant accommodation. But the entire first day, I felt unsettled.

On Saturday morning, as we were eating breakfast in the hotel dining room, I heard chanting and prayers. I followed the sounds and found several women sitting in a hallway outside a room where a traditional Shabbat service was being held. I was amazed. There was still a Jewish presence in Vienna? People were celebrating Shabbat here? We were not the only Jews in the city? I felt a bit comforted that the hotel we were staying in allowed Jewish services and provided a spot for those who wanted to celebrate the Shabbat and keep kosher. A bit of my angst left me.

We did all the tourist stops in Vienna. We went to the Schonbrunn Castle; The Belvedere; and the Spanish Riding School, home of the Lipizzaner horses. I had to see the Spanish Riding School, because I remember seeing the Disney movie, “The Miracle of the White Stallions,” as a child and have always been intrigued by these horses. At the Schonbrunn Palace we learned about Sisi, Empress Elizabeth of Austria and her very long hair!

I bought souvenirs, some lace, white ceramics, gifts for the children, and of course post cards of art work from the museums, including the beautiful Klimt paintings. They were magnificent.

The Klimt paintings, especially the one of the woman painted and then covered in gold, was amazing.   But there was much going on in the background of that painting that we did not know. There was no mention that the woman in gold was stolen from a Jewish home during the Shoah, along with other artwork.

My views of Vienna changed again when I went to see the movie, “The Woman in Gold” and found out the true story of this painting and others like it. I had a totally different reaction than when I saw the “Miracle of the White Stallions” so many years ago.

Although “The Woman in Gold” has not received wonderful reviews, I found it fascinating.   Perhaps with my somewhat Austrian roots and my previous time spent in Austria and Vienna, I related on to the film a different level. Perhaps because my family was destroyed after the Anschluss, so I felt the story on that level as well.

Of course my family was not multi-millionaires. But they did own a farm and property that was all stolen. And they did suffer through the murders and destruction.

I wish the movie shown that Maria Altman had children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The Maria in the movie seems to be alone. And that was not the case. I wish the movie shown her triumphant in her life as well as in her fight against Austria to win the return of what belonged to her family.

For me the continuation of her family, as well as the return of the stolen property would have made the story even stronger. Not only did she get the beautiful Klimt, but she also made a lovely life.

I do not know if I will ever go back to Vienna. But I know that with the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world, we cannot stand back and say nothing.   So I am glad that movies such as “The Woman in Gold” have been made and are shown throughout the world.

Vienna in 1999 was a different Vienna than in 1938, but now I know that they were still not facing the truth of what had happened.   Vienna is a beautiful city. This is a fact. The pastry shops, the museums, the buildings, the parts are all stunning. But behind the facades, for me, will always be the homes, art, jewelry and lives taken.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/arts/design/09altmann.html?_r=0

http://www.designboom.com/architecture/rogner-bad-blumau-spa-hotel-friedensreich-hundertwasser-austria-01-19-2015/

http://jewishonlinemuseum.org/friedensreich-hundertwasser

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_White_Stallions

Speaking Yiddish Always Brings Me Holocaust Memories

28 Apr

My maternal grandparents were from Poland and Galicia. They came to the United States in the 1920s. Met and married when Grandma was 19, Grandpa was 29. At home they spoke to each other only in Yiddish, although both learned to speak excellent English. And Grandma was a ferocious reader in several languages.

When I stayed with them, they spoke Yiddish to me as well. As a young child I could respond and easily speak to them. But that ended when my parents realized that my siblings and I spoke and understood Yiddish. They had been using it as a secret language to discuss finances and personal matters. So the order went out…stop speaking Yiddish to the children. My Mother, in later years, would tell me that she regretted making that demand.

But Yiddish connected me to my grandparents. And I studied German in high school and Hebrew in college. Then I spent a year in Israel at Hebrew University. While there I spent so much time with my great uncle and great aunts, who spoke Yiddish at home. So my Yiddish slowly improved, and I became more fluent.

The kneeling sailor is speaking to my Mom;behind her my Uncle; behind him my Grandma.

The kneeling sailor is speaking to my Mom;behind her my Uncle; behind him my Grandma.

My Grandma’s family was lucky. She went to Europe in 1931 with my Mom and Uncle and stayed for six months. When she returned to the US in 1932, she told my grandfather that they had to get everyone out. And she started the process. She was able to get visas for her father and sister. They made my great aunt younger than her real age, so she could come in on her father’s passport. Her brothers and their wives were not as fortunate. But they did survive the war.

My great aunt Tova,  my great Grandparents Gimple and Chava. The man driving is an Uncle.  And the horses and cart they bought with the money my grandparents sent.  They all perished.

My great aunt Tova, my great Grandparents Gimple and Chava. The man driving is an Uncle. And the horses and cart they bought with the money my grandparents sent. They all perished.

My Grandpa’s family was not fortunate at all. They all perished. My grandparents did send his parents money and visa to come to the US. But they could not believe what would happen. They took the money and bought a horse and cart. They did not want to leave their other children and grandchildren. And my grandparents could not get everyone visas.

My mother used to tell me that every morning after work, when he found out that his entire family was murdered, my grandfather would sit in the kitchen and cry. He was a baker…up all night. But before he went to sleep for the day, he cried for all he lost.

In the meantime, my grandparents thrived in the US. They had two children, five grandchildren; two businesses, both a bakery in New Jersey and a bungalow colony in the Catskills.

Grandma wrote to her brother in Israel often. When I went as a college sophomore, I spent a year of college at Hebrew University. I had a cousin who was my age, and my great uncle and aunts (one uncle had died in the 1950s.) I met a few other relatives who had survived the Shoah. But no one ever spoke to me about it. I was young. But my Hebrew and Yiddish were improving rapidly.

Then when I was a junior in college, I took my Grandma to Israel with me during winter break. She had not seen her brother in 42 years. We spent a month together. A month I will never, ever forget.

The phone calls at the hotel would be in Hebrew. Someone would call and speak to me. “I understand the Tova S. is here,” they would say. “Yes,” I would respond. They would then ask genealogy. Who were her parents? Where did she live? When all the right answers were given, I would hear. Yes. She is my mother’s or father’s or someone’s cousin. And they would set up an appointment to meet with us: to see my Grandma.

And the holocaust became real to me. Each person in Yiddish told my Grandma their story of how they survived the Shoah. And who had died during that horrible time. If I did not understand a word, Grandma would translate. Sometimes they would tell me the word in Hebrew. Day after day, week after week, I heard so many stories.

But then came the worst of all. Rafael came. I knew him and his wife and daughter. They had never spoken to me about their experiences. But when Rafael saw my Grandma, it was an outburst of pain and crying from both of them. Rafael was my Grandma’s first cousin. His sister, Tova Malcha, had been my Grandma’s best friend. And Tova Malcha had not survived. When Rafael and Grandma met their memories overflowed. Not only on death, but on the lives they had left behind.

At that moment, at that time, my Yiddish was at its best. I understood all.

After Rafael left, I asked Grandma why no one had ever told me these stories? Why I had not met all these people who kept showing up? Why Uncle had only introduced me to a few of the relatives when I spent my year there?

There was no answer.

When we returned to the US, my Grandpa was so happy to see Grandma. “Never leave me again,” he said. He did not come with us, because he refused to ever leave the United States.

She never left him again, till she died.

And I never speak Yiddish or hear Yiddish without the images and sounds of that month in Israel and the Shoah ever present in my mind.