This exhibition illustrates Holocaust survivors living in Minnesota, in their homes, in full color. Each is a story of survival during exceedingly difficult circumstances. As a collection, these images focus on life and hope. From Europe to Minnesota, it was here they fashioned their dreams, their futures, and their families. Their lives are constant reminders about the value of freedom and the enduring human spirit.
how do we tell them our story
Like the children of many Holocaust survivors, Erika’s daughters wanted to know their mother’s story. “Tell us what you went through,” they asked. “It’s not that I want[ed] to protect them….” But how do you tell this kind of story to your children. At the age of 93 tears still come to Erika’s eyes as she remembers the events of 1941.” It’s like a band-aide and when you rip it off and all of a sudden it bleeds.”
The Jews of Radauti had a long history in the Austrian empire. They were granted a synagogue in the center of town by the Emperor Franz Joseph and they played an important part in the business and cultural life of the region. However, when the Nazis came to power the fascist Romanian Iron Guard was eager to gain favor with the invaders. They instituted several pogroms in cities of Lasi and Bucharest, but it was in the provinces where the Jewish population suffered the most. The goal of the German and Romanian governments was to kill all of the Jews in the region of Bukovina. As a part of that plan, in October of 1941 the Jews of Radauti were transported enmasse to Transnistria in the Ukraine. “We took whatever we could and crossed the river into the Ukraine.” There, the entire population of Radauti was housed in stables and camps. Although Erika’s family had been separated from her father she was able to remain with her mother and grandmother. “There was no way to keep clean…there was lice, typhus… I had long, beautiful hair and my mother cut it off just to keep clean… After my brother died, my mother gave up. She did not have the strength to go on and she also died….How I survived I do not know, I was waiting to die.”
What interrupted the Nazi extermination plan of the Romanian Jews was the German defeat at Stalingrad in 1943. Of the 8,000 Jews residing in Radauti before World War II only 2,000 returned. Erika Lefton was one of those who returned. She had lost her mother and her brother but she and her sister had survived and were reunited with her father. Erika stayed in Romania until the Communists took over when she left for Israel, finally finding her home in Minnesota.
a passion for human rights
At ninety-five, Gerda Haas has told her personal story many times. She has recounted her experiences during the Holocaust to thousands of students and educators. At ninety-five, she no longer wants to revisit this past. “It is too painful to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to relive it again, we suffered so much.”
Gerda has spent a lifetime sharing her stories. Gerda Haas was a founder of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, which sprang from a 1984 seminar she conducted at Bowdoin College. At the public opening of the center in 2008 Gerda stated, “From a distance of sixty years, Holocaust stories are much alike: the fear and anguish, the loss of property and dignity, families torn asunder, Jews brutally killed because they were Jews. My story is no different. Except I survived.”
Gerda’s family lived in the small Bavarian town of Ansbach for generations. She had a privileged and very happy childhood, but as Hitler’s power rose in Germany, “little by little the happiness of youth faded away.” In 1939 as Jewish men were rounded up by the Nazis, her father fled to England. Unfortunately, the borders closed before he could arrange for the rest of his family to join him. Gerda survived the war, but her mother and her only sister died in concentration camps.
After the war Gerda married another German Jewish refugee, Rudolph Haas. They raised four children in Lewiston, Maine. As Gerda worked to complete her education, she also began a relentless mission to educate others about the Holocaust. Gerda spoke to countless groups about her war experiences. In 1982 she received a grant to organize a conference and state-wide outreach program focused on the Holocaust. Her work was the foundation of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. At the dedication of the center, Gerda spoke of her journey:
“The only thing we possess that our forefathers did not is the wisdom of the past. This we must use as our guide for shaping the present and creating a better future. This is why it is so important to share the wisdom of the past, to teach it in the schools and to pass it on. We’ve come a long way. Today there is not a teacher or student in Maine who doesn’t know how close Hitler came to winning the war in Europe and exterminating all of us. Hitler did not win. Hitler lost. My own daughters and granddaughters and the sons and daughters of all survivors are testimony. The future is ours.”
we promised to remember
Judy Meisel is a wife, mother, teacher, civil rights activist and a Holocaust survivor. Her road to activism started with the injustices perpetrated on her new African-American neighbors in Philadelphia, her newfound home. As a survivor of the Kovno ghetto and Stutthof concentration camp she experienced unspeakable brutality and she was not about to let injustice happen in Philadelphia. “If their homes are not safe, my home was not safe. If their rights are trampled on, then my Jewish rights are trampled on at the same time.” So she baked cookies and marched through the hateful mob that surrounded the house to welcome her new neighbors.
Judy was twelve years old when the Nazis entered Lithuania in 1941 and she was a 47-pound sixteen-year old when she was liberated in Denmark in 1945. The story of her survival together with her sister Rachel is an odyssey that defies the imagination. They were enslaved, starved, beaten and terrorized. “From the time I got into the ghetto until the time we were liberated I never knew what would happen.”
In December 1944 Judy and her sister escaped from a transport during a heavy bombardment by the Allies. They were knocked into a ditch and were able to find their way to a farmhouse through the ice and snow. Two women and a Russian POW welcomed them, “It was as if she knew we were coming.” They were given food and a change of clothes and transported in a wagon to the banks of the Vistula River. During the night they crawled across the ice-covered river until they reached a convent. They stayed at the convent for several weeks. “ It was our first taste of freedom.” But the nuns felt that it was unsafe for them to remain unless they converted to Catholicism. “We wanted to live as Jews.” The two sisters left the convent with rosaries, disguised as good Catholic girls.
They travelled to Danzig where they worked for a German woman who ran an inn for Nazi soldiers. “Imagine two Jews working for the Nazis.” When the Allies began the bombing of Danzig they were told to flee to Nazi-occupied Denmark. They sailed for Denmark while the bombs were dropping. As soon as they were out of the harbor their boat was torpedoed. “I don’t know how long I was in the water, all I know is that I was so numb.” The sisters were rescued and taken to Denmark in a small boat. “I came to Denmark, I don’t know how I survived.” They were given clothing and food. “We thought we were the only Jews left. When we asked people, ‘How do you know there are Jews left?’ They replied, we know, we helped them cross to Sweden.”
It was incredible for the sisters to realize that they were finally safe. “ I owe my life to the Danes, not just my very life but my self-esteem as a human being.” It was unbelievable to think, “that in 1943 as we were in the Kovno ghetto, the Danes were taking their Jews across to Sweden.” And even more unbelievable that following the war King Christian and the Danish people welcomed them back. Other counties helped Jews leave, but only the Danes welcomed them back as full citizens.
Judy was especially lucky to have met Paula and Swen Jensen, a childless couple who not only welcomed her into their home and nursed her back to health, but “They created an incredible family for us with the other Danes.”
Judy has told her astonishing story to thousands of students around the country. “We promised that we would remember and tell the story.”
“Racism and bigotry, it’s still happening all over the world and we have to constantly work at it to see that this does not happen here or anywhere. We cannot afford to say, what can I do, I’m only one person. One person can do a lot.”
Louise (Gradstein) Dillery
angels in human form
“I am not a strong person. I survived because God put all kinds of angels on my road and that is why I am here at the ripe old age of 87.”
For many years Louise did not consider herself a Holocaust survivor. She was never imprisoned in a labor or concentration camp, but as a Parisian Jew she suffered greatly under Nazi occupation. Louise was only 13 when her mother died of tuberculosis. As an only child, Louise was left in the care of her widowed father. “My father was a stoic man, I only saw him cry twice. First when my mother died and second as we stood at the city hall and watched the Nazis replace the French flag with the swastika.”
Thus began a series of degradations. “Humiliations were the worst of all, they make you ashamed of who you are.” But the worst day was November 25, 1942. Louise’s father, a strong man, had never been sick in his life. On that day, when ration books were to be distributed, he was too ill to get out of bed. She decided to take both their cards to the city hall. Two men followed her home and arrested her father. Louise never saw him again.
Thanks to “human angels,” Louise survived through the rest of the war. There was the school principal who let her attend classes, provided books and lunch money even though Jews had been barred from classes. There was the French priest, Father Deveaux, who gave her money to pay rent. There was the French policeman who hired her to tutor his children and tipped her off whenever the police were rounding up Jews in her area. And there was the non-Jewish mother of her friend Jeanette who hid her in the attic whenever the Germans came to search.
“I am the best proof that the force of good is stronger than the force of evil. I survived because of these angels in human form.” The message that Louise would like to leave for future generations is “Be on the side of the force of good. I am living proof. By myself, I would never have survived.”
Mary Ackos Calof and Esther Ackos Winthrop
May 21, 1939 - November 24, 2015
Esther Ackos Winthrop
March 15, 1935 - September 20, 2016
remnants of a lost heritage
Mary and Esther Ackos are remnants of an ancient community. They are Romaniote Jews, and their ancestors have lived in Greece since the time of Jesus. They and their families looked Greek, spoke Greek and were part of the Greek community. The only difference was their religion: they were Jews and to the Nazi invaders this meant that they had no right to exist.
Mary and Esther lived in Athens along with their father Menachem, mother Rosa, three siblings and a large loving extended family. As brother Sam states, “We were not poor, not rich, not middle class but somewhere in between.” The family lived peacefully amid the Jewish community of Athens until the Nazis invaded Greece in 1941. From then until the end of the war, it would take the generosity of a Christian neighbor, Menachem’s foresight and Sam’s ingenuity and determination to save Rosa and her children from the crematorium of Auschwitz.
When the Nazis invaded, as a precaution the family went into hiding at the home of Mrs. Sayanou, a Christian friend of their Aunt Esther. Although the family was in hiding, life had shades of normalcy. Rosa left to shop in her old Jewish neighborhood and the children were allowed to play outside. As the imminent threats subsided, they moved back to their Athens home.
It was not until March 25, 1944, Greek Independence Day, that real tragedy struck the Ackos family along with much of Greek Jewry. On that day the Nazis rounded up thousands of Jews from all across the country and sent them to extermination camps. Menachem Ackos, his brothers, sister and their spouses were among those deported and eventually murdered by the Nazis.
Fifteen-year-old Sam Ackos was left to head the household. He decided to move the family back to Mrs. Sayanou’s house where disguised as Christian relatives of the Sayanou family, Mary and Esther, their mother, sisters and brother survived the war. Eighty-seven percent of the 77,000 Jews residing in Greece in 1941 were killed in the Holocaust.
Life was difficult after World War II. A civil war divided the country and brought continued deprivation and poverty. In 1951 they decided to leave Greece. In the United States, the remnants of the Ackos family who had lost not only their country, but also their family and heritage, began a new life. Mary, Esther and their sisters finished high school, graduated from college and raised Menachem and Rosa’s 16 grandchildren in freedom.
As Sam Ackos so aptly stated in the family’s history, “There is no pen sharp enough to write exactly what has happened and there is no mind big enough to believe what took place between the rise and fall of the Third Reich.”
memories of a child
Ursela Cowan is too young to remember the terror of Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”), the vicious pogrom that marked the intensification of the Nazis’ anti-Jewish policies in 1938. She was only an infant then, but after more than 70 years she still clearly remembers the aftermath.
Ursela was the only child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. Following the rise of the Nazis, Jewish homes were ransacked and many people disappeared. This was the fate of her father, Carl. Fearing for her life, Ursela’s mother took her baby daughter and fled to the home of non-Jewish relatives living near the Russian border. Ursela and her mother hid there until the end of the war.
Children sometimes block unpleasant memories, but what Ursela remembers most about her years in hiding was the isolation that she felt. Unable to play outside or go to school for fear of being identified as a Jew, she felt like a captive of her beneficent hosts.
When the war ended Ursela and her mother returned to Bielefeld and were elated to find that her father had survived the war in Thereisenstadt concentration camp.
In 1950 the family settled in Duluth. At age 12 Ursela attended school for the first time in her life. She recalls the difficulty of learning a new culture and language. It was in Duluth that Ursela met and married Gary Cowan, her high school sweetheart.
“If I have one thought to leave to future generations I would say, ‘be courageous and do the right thing.'”
Eli Kamlot and Fanni Kamlot
December 23, 1919 - October 24, 2012
February 29, 1920 - February 12, 2013
freedom in Britain
Vienna erupted in anti-Semitic violence immediately after the Nazi takeover on March 12, 1938. But according to Eli Kamlot, people were well aware of what was happening long before the Nazis marched across the border. Austria had a long history of anti- Semitism and was very happy to rid itself of Jews. In the first three months of occupation 18,000 Jews left the country,among them, Eli Kamlot.
Escape meant traveling east. Eli and a group of his friends boarded trains and left the city in an attempt to reach Palestine. He got as far as Yugoslavia where he was caught, imprisoned and finally released on the Austrian border. Eli heroically walked back to Vienna and again attempted to leave the country.
The Austrians enjoyed terrorizing the Jews. Fanni Kamlot and her father were arrested by the Viennese police and held in prison for days without food. She and other Jewish women were ordered by the police to scrub the streets of her native city.
As members of a Zionist youth group, Eli and Fanni both made their way to England in 1939 and were married in 1940. Apart from the constant Nazi bombing of England, Eli has wonderful memories of the English people and their 11 years in the country.
In 1962 Fanni and Eli came to the United States. The only other survivors from their families were Fanni’s two sisters, one who left for Israel from Vienna at age 14 and the other who was shipped to Britain as part of a Kindertransport.
a new land, a new life
“At the age of nine I became an orphan. I was fortunate to survive the Holocaust with my four sisters.” With these words Mark Mandel begins his tale and recounts the pact that he made with his sisters to reunite in Israel after the war. Unfortunately fate took them in different directions. At 16, Mark settled on a kibbutz in Israel through the Youth Aliyah program. When the war with the Arabs broke out in 1949 he became a member of the Haganah and then volunteered for Israel’s first navy, while his sisters made their way to the United States.
Mark would have stayed in Israel, but he remembered the promise to his sisters that they would never be separated again, so Mark moved to Minneapolis to reunite with his family. Good neighbors make good friends and even better relatives. In Minneapolis Mark’s two sisters lived on Irving Avenue North and there he met their neighbor Roberta who has been his wife for 56 years. Today Mark and Roberta Mandel are surrounded by their loving family of four children, 10 grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.
Mark Mandel’s life truly represents the American dream But he cautions future generations, “It can happen again. Do not forget. You must never forget.”
he lied to survive
Sam Saide has a survivor’s instinct. How else can you explain the journey that took him from his family home in pre-war Lentza, Poland to Minnesota.
When the Nazis invaded Sam’s hometown he was only 13 years old. All Jews were forced to register with the Reich and wear the yellow star. As an act of defiance, Sam removed his star. But it wasn’t long before neighbors identified Sam as a Jew and he was sent to the Posen concentration camp.
Posen was the first Nazi camp established in occupied Poland. It was a transit, extermination and forced-labor camp. Once there, Sam sensed that if he revealed his true age he would be immediately killed, so he told the guards that he was 19 rather than 13. The Nazis put him to work digging pipelines. “It was winter and cold, -30 degrees, we worked in wooden shoes with torn clothing- no hats or gloves. All my friends froze to death.” From Posen, Sam was sent to work in Auschwitz. His job-carrying bodies from the gas chambers to the crematorium.
Sam eventually found a way out of Auschwitz by claiming to be Lithuanian. But this did not end his suffering. The Nazis transferred him to Warsaw, a city rife with typhus. During the war years he survived so many calamities, “I got shot and I got beaten. There wasn’t a day that I wasn’t beaten.”
After the war Sam made his way to St. Paul with just $7.50 in his pocket. From meager beginnings he built a successful auto parts business that is still operated by his son.
“For four years and three months I prayed to G-d every day, and G-d helped me.”
a lone survivor
When the Nazi army invaded Poland in 1939, Eva Krause was a typical teenager of 14. Family life as she had known it came to an abrupt end when she was marched into the town marketplace with her mother and sister. Amid the shouting, guns and chaos Eva’s grip on her mother’s hand slipped away and she was separated from her family. Eva was the only family member to survive; the others were shipped to their deaths in the gas chambers of Treblinka.
Alone, Eva endured years of starvation, hard labor and disease in Bergen Belsen. “We were stripped of dignity, we were dehumanized. I thought everyday was my last day, I never thought I would survive.”
“My sleepless nights are still haunted by the memories which will remain in me for the rest of my life. The blood of our mother, father, sisters and brother are still worn on my soul.”
“Even today, more than a half century later, many of us are still stunned and horrified by what took place during the Holocaust. But even more unbelievable was the apparent unwillingness of most other countries to take a step necessary to have prevented the ruthless destruction of six million Jews.”
Today Eva frequently speaks to school groups about her experiences. Having grown up in a religious home, she still wants to share her faith in God with the young people with whom she speaks. She has many messages about her personal history to share. But one message she does not share with young audiences. She does not like to mention that, “to this day I am still horrified by the silence [of the world] but beyond that silence, lies an even more terrifying silence, the silence of God.”
Suchava, Bukovina, Romania
reunion in Eretz Yisrael
Leah was seven years old when Nazi Army invaded Bukovina in the summer of 1941. Within the first days of occupation the Nazis and their Romanian collaborators killed 50,000 Jews. Although Leah and her family survived the invasion, they were soon forced on an epic journey across the Ukraine to a concentration camp in Transnistria.
Many Jews died of exposure, starvation and disease. “There was no food, no shelter — people died like flies.” In Popvich, Ukraine, Leah’s family was housed in one room with a family of ten. “At night the family was alive and in the morning all ten were frozen to death.” During the years of migration and incarceration Leah lost both her parents and one brother but six of the siblings managed to survive.
In April of 1944, Leah’s sisters Clara and Bracha were the first of the family to leave for Palestine. Too ill to travel, Leah was temporarily left behind as her sisters sailed from Europe on a Turkish ship filled with orphaned children. Upon their arrival in Haifa, the orphans were placed with families whose religious practices were similar to their own. Henrietta Szold, the Zionist leader and founder of Hadassah, personally placed Leah and her six siblings with the same family. “It was a miracle, we were all together.”
Leah didn’t talk to her children about her experiences, “I never talked about my past. I wouldn’t want to put this burden on them. They should never know a war like my generation.”
From her experiences, Leah offers this warning: “Today anti- Semitism is waking up in this country. We have a lot of work to do.”
disappearance from Warsaw
In October 1940 the Nazis established the Warsaw Ghetto, forcing 400,000 Jews into a small area of the city. At 15, Sam was assigned to a work detail. One day he never came home.
Sam was picked up by the SS and began an ordeal that spanned five years through five different camps. The first was Madjenek. “Every day was another day of survival. Every day they made you strip naked; if you had any meat left on your bones you were still useful and sent to the right. If not, you were sent straight to the crematorium.”
One day a transport of women arrived. Desperate to find his sister Helen, Sam begged a guard to find her. Miraculously, they reunited for a short time and vowed to meet in Warsaw after the war.
At liberation, Sam, weighing 78 pounds, was hospitalized for six weeks. During this time, Helen returned to Warsaw. Finding no one, she moved to a DP camp. When Sam was released from the hospital he began to search for Helen — an ordeal that took him across a continent from Bergen Belsen to Italy where he finally found Helen.
With hope and optimism Sam started a new life in St. Paul. At his son Ivan’s Bar Mitzvah he said, “The United States presents to me and all our sons and daughter(s) an equal opportunity. Have patience, make an effort and be tolerant.”
years spent hiding
Lucy was six years old in 1939. She and her mother were in the countryside enjoying the waning days of summer when the Nazis marched into Poland and her world unraveled. Lucy’s two uncles were murdered in the streets of Cracow. Her father, fearing for his family, urged them to flee to Russia. Struck with fear, her mother hesitated and he was forced to leave without them.
With false documents sent by her father identifying them as Catholics, Lucy and her mother began their odyssey of hiding. First they fled to Tarnow, Poland.
When it was no longer safe there, they moved on to Warsaw hiding as Catholics and then fled again back to Tarnow before finally being liberated by the Russians.
“The potential of (evil) is there in all of us if we do not remember the past.”
murdered before my eyes
Helen Segal was the only child of a middle class family living in Chernovitz, Romania, a province with a Jewish population of over 50,000 before the war. Her family survived the Russian occupation, but she experienced her darkest days when the Germans took command.
Helen witnessed the murder of her mother by the Nazis. She was saved only because her father shoved her behind a door when the shooting started. Left in a state of shock, Helen and her father moved into the ghetto, where her father protected her until the end of the war.
After the war Helen emigrated to Minneapolis where she married and raised a family. Although Helen has suffered great losses, she is grateful for the blessings of friends and family. “This is the best country in the whole world. I wouldn’t want to live anyplace else.”
years spent hiding
When the Germans invaded Stolpce, Jack’s mother, father and entire family of 27 were murdered. He escaped to hide in the forest. One night he had a dream that his girlfriend Rochelle would find him and that they would have a long happy life together.
He was so sure that they would be reunited, that he even made a place for her in his forest bunker. It seemed unlikely that they would meet again as Jews were being murdered, sent to concentration camps, or just disappearing. Jack didn’t give up hope. “I didn’t know how this could happen, but I knew it would.” His friends thought he was crazy, but he still believed that she would find him. In October 1942 Rochelle miraculously found Jack and his group hiding in the woods.
That New Year’s Eve, they married among the partisans in the forest. Together they hid for three years. “When we got together we didn’t have anyone else. She lost her family, I lost my family. We took care of each other.” And so they continued to do for 68 years of marriage until Rochelle’s death.
Today Jack’s loving family — children, grandchildren and even two great-grandchildren, surround him. Reflecting on his experiences, Jack’s message is, “Be happy when you have a mother and father. Take good care of them.”
a hidden child
Of the almost one million Jewish children living in Poland at the outbreak of the war, only about 5,000 survived. Most of these youngsters survived by hiding.
In the spring of 1941, Adam’s mother, a concert pianist, was on tour in far eastern Russia. When the Nazis invaded Lvov she couldn’t return home and had no way of knowing the fate of her only child whom she had left in the care of a Christian friend.
Adam’s father was also gone. With forged documents identifying him as a Catholic, he was shipped to the Eastern front in a labor unit. Both parents were now marooned in Russia, not knowing what happened to each other or to their son.
Left in Lvov, Adam was sent to live with his grandparents in Jaworow. Soon the Nazis overran the village and his grandparents were deported. Homeless, he was sent to his maternal grandparents in the Cracow ghetto. For a second time, he was in danger because the ghetto was about to be liquidated. Once again the Christian friend came to his rescue. Adam’s safety demanded strict secrecy and this friend spent the next three years hiding him as her own son.
a voice for the future
World renowned for his work in pediatrics, Dr. Robert Fisch is an artist as well as a noted author. As a young man he dreamed of being an artist or an architect, but when the war ended he enrolled in medical school.
Dr. Fisch survived not only the Holocaust, but also the dark days of Communism in Hungary. “When the Communists took over it was as bad as the Nazis.” After the Hungarian Revolution he knew it was time to leave. He left for Austria and with the help of HIAS, immigrated to the U.S. in 1958.
For Dr. Fisch the Holocaust is a horrible memory. “When the war ended I had a lot of hatred in me, and I thought I would be able to be cruel with the Germans. But when I met Germans who were hungry, I had two choices. I do either the same things they did to me, or I will be different. And I didn’t feel that to let them suffer would be the answer.”
“What is now most important is what we can learn from this event. To be respected you need to have respect.”
Sabina Zimering and Rubin Zimering
February 24, 1923 - September 6, 2021
February 6, 1922 - January 14, 2012
a lasting friendship
Through her memoir, Hiding in the Open, Sabina recounts her fantastic story of survival. She describes living through the war years as “unbelievable luck.”
Sabina and her sister Helka obtained forged documents from a teacher who was also the mother of her friend. The sisters tried to escape to Switzerland, but ran out of money. Disguised as Catholics, they spent the war years in the open working as Polish Catholics among the Germans.
It is important to Sabina that people know about the relationship she has maintained with the family that saved her. “This relationship began in our childhood, lasted through the horrors of war and the hardships of post-war… and wore through the lives of three generations.” It is the story of two Jewish sisters and two Catholic sisters who were able to look beyond their religious differences.
Sabina and her sister were able to survive by hiding in the open. Today Sabina’s message to young Jews is,“Be Jews — don’t hide!”
life under siege
The siege began on September 8, 1941 when the German troops encircled Leningrad. It lasted for 900 days. Hunger and cold became the city’s greatest enemies.
As the bitter Russian winter set in, Leningrad’s oil and coal supplies were exhausted. By November, food was in such short supply that the city’s population of dogs, cats, and horses began to disappear. The staggering number of dead bodies could not be buried in the frozen ground. Corpses accumulated in open areas.
In 1942 Inna and her mother received permission to leave Leningrad to stay with her grandmother in the Urals. With her father conscripted into the Russian army, the women waited until they could return to the city.
During the winter of 1944-45 Inna and her mother made the journey back to Leningrad by freight train. Returning to their apartment they found a totally bare space. Everything imaginable had been burned for fuel during the two and a half year siege.
hiding in the mountains
Over 70,000 Greek Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Victor and his extended family of eight survived due to the help of righteous gentiles.
When the Nazis invaded Greece in 1941, word spread to Patra that Victor’s entire maternal family of 90 had been murdered in Salonica. Friends urged Victor’s father to take his family and flee before the Nazis entered Patra. With the help of his father’s friend, the Chief of Police, the family obtained Christian IDs and escaped to hide in a series of mountain villages.
Everyone suffered, not only the Jews. “We were all hungry. One day my father was in the hills looking for food, he ran in to a man from our town. ‘What are you doing here, the Nazis are looking for you and your family.’ As my father turned to leave, the man handed him a small bag of wheat. It was all he had. That bag of wheat helped keep us all alive until we came out of hiding.”
“I am alive today because of the people who protected us. I feel obligated to let people know.”
Max Goodman and Edith Goodman
November 23, 1923 - September 29, 2019
Born: September 11, 1931
Max was 16 when the war officially began, but he and his family had been experiencing acts of anti- Semitism as early as the 1930’s. It began with anti-Jewish propaganda in newspapers but soon spread, as the trend was to blame the Jews for more and more of Romania’s problems.
Life in Russian occupied Romania was difficult for the Jews. Although never incarcerated in a concentration camp, Max and his family still suffered the deprivations of war. They moved from place to place, living in crowded unsanitary conditions with little food and water. With only one water pump in a city of 4,000, Max was so thirsty he drank water from the muddy river and contracted dysentery. “From the 200,000 Jews deported into Transnistria in 1941, 150,000 died of starvation by 1943. If the Russians would have waited until fall of 1944, they wouldn’t have found one person alive.”
“We didn’t know what was going to happen from one day to the next.” In 1939 when the war between Poland and Germany began, bombs fell on Edith’s hometown. At first her parents thought that they should stay, but a Romanian official who knew the family warned them to leave. “He said, ‘I don’t care where, just go!’”
With that warning her father moved the family to the next town. It was the beginning of a nomadic odyssey that lasted the war years. “My father was very resourceful, he did anything he could to keep us alive. “Somehow when the need was greatest, something came through. We were lucky that we had our parents and that is how we survived.”
Max and Edith met in Radautz in 1949 and married in 1950. They were finally able to leave Romania for the U.S. in 1958.
Edith clearly recalls watching the bombing of Vietnamese villages on the news during the 1960s. “When I watched the coverage of Vietnam and saw the little children running away from the bombs it reminded me of myself as a child. I don’t want people to forget what people can do to other people; they shouldn’t forget.”
Some say it’s luck, others call it intuition- Paula will tell you it is some of both. Paula admits that she is uncertain of how she cheated death on numerous occasions. If you ask her, she shrugs her shoulders and replies, “I don’t know, I was young, maybe I was smart, I just don’t know…”
When Chaim Rumkowski, the Jewish leader of the ghetto, placed her name on the deportation list, she knew it meant certain death. Unsure of what to do, she ran away and hid, saving her life.
When the ghetto was finally liquidated Paula was deported to Auschwitz. There she found herself in a line. “There were always lines. I didn’t know which line to go in, to the right or the left. First I got in one line, then I changed my mind and got in the other line. I don’t know why, I just did it.” Had Paula remained in the first line her life would have ended in the crematorium; intuition saved her again.
“It’s something that I can’t forget. It comes back to you. I never told my kids, I was embarrassed to tell them what I went through.” Now she tells her story because, “I hope never again — everyone should believe. I don’t want anyone to go through what we went through.”
an underground railroad
Most Americans are familiar with the Underground Railroad that spirited slaves out of the South during the Civil War, but few people know of the underground channels that helped Jewish children escape the Nazis during World War II.
Alix Kowler was happily living in Vienna when in 1938 German troops marched into Austria and the country became a part of Hitler’s Third Reich. The persecution of Austria’s Jews began almost immediately and many Jews fled the country. Although Alix begged her parents to leave, they had no intention of doing so. Finally in 1940 she was allowed to join friends in Antwerp. At the age of fourteen Alix began a solo journey that would not end until her liberation in 1944.
When Alix first arrived in Antwerp she stayed with family friends, but she soon found permanent lodging in the Home General Bernheim, a way station for children escaping from Germany and Austria. When the Nazis invaded Belgium in May of 1940 the children were transported to southern France. Alix and the group lived for almost a year in an unfurnished barn near Toulouse until the Swiss Children’s Aid stepped in and moved the group to the abandoned Chateau de la Hille near the Spanish border. In August 1942 the French police raided the chateau. As one of the older children, Alix was sent to Le Vernet internment camp. She would have been sent to Auschwitz had the Swiss Children’s Aid not demanded immediate return of the children. The Vichy government released them but it was no longer safe for Alix to stay in France. Immediately plans were made to smuggle Alex and her friend Ruth into Switzerland or Spain.
At age sixteen the two girls left with a little food and 500 francs each. By foot and on trains they began a trek to reach Switzerland. Their journey took them to safe houses and convents. Ordinary French citizens and a succession of nuns working for the resistance hid the girls. Finally the girls reached Grenoble only to learn that it was impossible to enter Switzerland because the Nazis now controlled the borders. In Grenoble Alix received false French papers and found work as a maid. She remained in Grenoble for 18 months until France was liberated from the Nazis in August of 1944.
back to Europe
Walter claims that his Holocaust experience is very limited. Although he was never incarcerated in a camp, Walter’s story is unique because he experienced the war years both as a victim of the Nazis and as a liberator.
When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in March of 1939, Walter, as a Jew, was immediately expelled from the school he was attending there. With great difficulty he made his way back to his parents in Romania. In 1940 the family obtained visas and left on the last ship leaving Italy for the U.S.
In 1942 following the invasion of Pearl Harbor, Walter was drafted into the U.S. Army. His knowledge of German landed him at the Military Intelligence Center in Fort Ritchie, Maryland, where he was trained in interrogation techniques and joined the famous cadre of “Ritchie Boys.” All were refugees who were trained in intelligence and psychological warfare. They were then sent back to Europe by the army.
Today Walter frequently speaks about his past. “The message of all of us who experienced this time in history is, never forget.”
the solo of a lifetime
As a youngster, Murray, a talented musician, dreamed of becoming a cantor or conductor. Those dreams abruptly ended when at 14, he was captured by the Nazis. He endured five years in Nazi labor and concentration camps.
In April 1945 with the American army nearing, the Nazis began a death march moving prisoners through the forest near Liebernau. The SS killed anyone who couldn’t keep up. While marching, Murray noticed something edible on the ground. As he bent to grab it, two armed guards dragged him away. Facing inevitable death, he asked, “What if I sing for the SS? Do you think if I sing they will let me go?”
“I sang for maybe two minutes, I don’t know what song I sang… but it was the solo that saved my life.” For whatever reason, the executioner spared his life.
For many years, Murray did not share his stories. He did not want to burden his family with tales of his horrific experiences. “I kept my life story silent for so long. Now I want [people] to understand what can happen when good people do nothing, when they look away when neighbors are abused, when they place economic well- being ahead of basic human values.”
Manfred Sigmund Gabler (Manny)
escape to the east
By 1937 it was obvious to Simon Gabler that he and his pregnant wife could not stay in Germany. As Hitler’s plans to make Germany judenrein “cleansed of Jews” progressed, they knew that they would either have to leave the country or they would end up in a concentration camp. So their journey began. From Chemnitz, Germany to Milan, Italy, where baby Manny was born, on to Genoa and finally to the only escape possible for refugees without travel documents; Shanghai.
From 1937 to 1941 the open port of Shanghai allowed more than 18,000 undocumented Jews seeking refuge from Nazi Germany to temporarily settle in the Hongkou area of the city. There, a one square mile unwalled ghetto was set up to house the refugees.
When the family landed in Shanghai Manny was only one year old. His memories of the war come from his nine years living in Hongkou. Living conditions were harsh but “we lived surrounded by equally poor Chinese.” Food was scarce for both the Jews and the Chinese. It was a common sight to see bodies of Chinese babies who had died during the night lining the street as he walked to school in the morning.
When you live through an experience like this. “I think you get a really deep sense of who you are. There is a satisfaction in just knowing that I have survived and done okay.”
Max Sherman and Manya Kaplan-Sherman
July 4, 1919 - April 15, 2013
November 20, 1922 - November 9, 2017
As you gaze at Max and Manya Sherman you can see the love that has kept this couple together for 71 years. The touch of their hands, the way they finish each other’s thoughts, the bond that kept them alive through the madness of war.
Max and Manya were married in the Kaplan family home on Erev Shabbat, in April 1940. Manya,16, and Max, 19, were encircled by family as they exchanged vows. “The war makes you grow up.” The world around them was unraveling. On September 6, 1939, Zwolen was heavily attacked by the German air force. Almost 80% of the town was destroyed. As Manya states, “It was chaos, nobody knew who was going to survive.” Persecution of the Jews started almost immediately. The Jews were herded into the burned-out section of town, which became the ghetto.
As long as you were young and healthy the Nazis had use for you. Max and Manya worked in a nearby brick factory alongside her sister and brother-in-law. In 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. Max struggled to keep ahead of the Nazis, moving from one hiding place to another. Together with his brother Mike and brother-in- law Leon they struggled to keep the family alive and out of view. Eventually Max and Manya were sent to different concentration and labor camps.
As Manya so perfectly put it, “every little story is a book in itself. It is so unbelievable it is hard to describe.”
With liberation came chaos. Those who survived were scattered across Europe. The Red Cross and UNRRA circulated books of lists of survivors in an effort to help families reunite. Max, liberated by the French in Germany, was one of three boys in his family of six brothers to survive. The Russians liberated Manya in Czechoslovakia. She returned to Poland hoping to find her family. Of the six girls in Manya’s family, four miraculously survived. Max found Manya by searching through those lists. The close family wasted no time in reuniting.
Yes, as Manya recalls, the war did make you grow up. But the love that brought them together as teenagers remained as real as it was when they wed in 1940.
a human guinea pig
Although Margot was born in Berlin, her family moved to Holland in 1932. Through Margot’s involvement in the Zionist movement, she met Lodewyk Meyer, her husband to be. They both hoped to someday immigrate to Israel and raise a family there.
When the Germans invaded Holland in 1940, life for the Jews became very dangerous. Margot worked with the underground, producing forged ID papers. In 1942 she and her husband were ready to leave for Switzerland, but instead were sent to Auschwitz.
Upon arrival, Margot immediately went through the selection process. As a young married woman, Dr. Mengele chose her for a special hospital unit. She didn’t know that this unit was providing human specimens for the Nazi sterilization experiments. These experiments were to develop a method suitable for sterilizing millions of people. Margot survived her interment in Auschwitz, but her husband died there.
For many years Margot didn’t speak about her experiences, but with the rise of Holocaust denial, she knew her story had to be told. “It doesn’t make any difference what you look like, on the inside we are all the same.”
a child’s memory
By the time George Sirosi was born in Budapest in 1938, the tide was already turning against Hungarian Jews. The first of a series of anti-Jewish laws was passed in May 1938, followed by a second in 1939 and a third in 1941.
1941 was a pivotal year in the life of three-year-old George, for it was the last time he saw his father, a prominent professor and physician. As soon as Hungary joined the war against Russia all doctors were drafted into the army. But Jewish doctors were not allowed to serve. They were sent to the territories to fill-in for the drafted doctors. Consequently George’s father was sent to Transylvania and when the Nazis conquered rural Hungary he was apprehended and sent to his death at Auschwitz.
Left to fend for themselves George and his mother left Budapest for her family home in Szeged. In 1943, deportations began in Szeged so they again returned to Budapest and found safety in a Swedish protected house. George’s clearest memories of those days are hiding in the cold basement during the constant bombing and the image of stacks of frozen bodies in the synagogue courtyard.
George Sirosi was seven years old when he was liberated by the Russians on January 17, 1945, one of only three members of his extended family to survive.
Ben Kibort and Reva Kibort
December 26, 1926 - February 9, 2012
Born: March 4, 1933
a family survives
When the Russians invaded Ben’s hometown they confiscated his father’s store and closed the Hebrew school. One year later, the Germans came and things got worse. They moved the Jews into the ghetto and deportations started.
In 1944, with the Russians again advancing on Siauliai, the Kiborts were shipped through Latvia to Stutthof Concentration Camp and then on to Dachau. The Germans needed to keep the inmates moving and began a push to the Alps. In Bucholz the men found themselves in a park, surrounded by Nazi soldiers with machine guns. As the gunners took aim, the mayor arrived, calling off the killing. Ben, along with his brother, father, and uncle, was spared as the Nazi soldiers fled form the advancing Allied armies.
The American officer who liberated them was Jewish. He asked if anyone had relatives in the U.S. Ben’s mother had told him of his cousins the Edelmans in Buffalo, MN. The army contacted Rabbi Minda of Temple Israel and arrangements were made by members of the Edelman and Moses families for Ben and his family to come to Minnesota. Miraculously, Ben’s mother also survived camps in Poland and the family was reunited. “My family was one out of 10,000 that survived intact. People couldn’t believe it.”
the road to freedom
Reva was only six years old when the Nazis marched into Poland. Within weeks her father died in a bombing raid, leaving her mother alone with six children. When the Warsaw ghetto was built in 1940, the family was moved into a small apartment with several other families.
On the eve of the ghetto’s liquidation, Reva’s mother urged her daughters to flee before it was too late. They joined their siblings outside the wall and fled to the countryside. There they were rounded up with other Jews and sent to a series of camps. “I was only 11 years old and the oldest of only 11 children who survived the transport.” Reva took care of the youngest, a six-month old baby born in the camp. “I was holding the baby and the German guard told me to drop the child and run. I don’t know why he said that… but I set the baby down and ran. The guards opened fire and killed all the other children; only I survived.”
After liberation, Reva was sent to a DP camp for orphans. One day an American from UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) asked Reva if she wanted to go to America. “I didn’t know what to say, so I asked my sister. She said that we would go only if they took both of us.” In Minneapolis, Reva was placed in a foster home and at 14 she was finally able to attend school for the first time.
I wouldn’t let go of her
Anne was only 14 years old when the Germans invaded Poland. She was one of seven siblings. With the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto, the sisters and their one brother were relocated to the ghetto where they lived for two years. From Warsaw, Anne was sent first into slave labor in Demblin and then on to another labor camp.
Throughout the entire ordeal Anne wouldn’t let go of her little sister Reva. Knowing that most young children were immediately sent to the gas chamber, Anne held on to Reva’s hand and protected her throughout the war years. Miraculously five of the seven survived. As orphans, HIAS settled the two youngest sisters, Reva and Etta in Minneapolis. The rest of the family soon followed.
The experiences of the Holocaust taught Anne that you need to “fight back, don’t let them take you like sheep to the slaughter house.”
a mother’s resolve to survive
Berta Hellmann, Helen Bix’s mother, was a remarkable, resourceful woman. Not only was she a college-educated woman who spoke five languages, but she was a businesswoman with the grit and perseverance to see that her family survived the most catastrophic event of the twentieth century.
“She did whatever she had to… I don’t know how she did it,” says Helen as she recounts the tale of her journey across three continents. In November 1938 immediately following Kristallnacht, Berta somehow arranged for the release of her husband from a Nazi concentration camp. As he left for Shanghai, she prepared to leave separately with her two children, selling whatever she could and planning the perilous journey across Europe to Genoa, Italy and securing passage for the open port of Shanghai.
In Shanghai Helen and her brother Emil attended the Shanghai Jewish School while Berta worked long hours at the retail store she opened in the International Settlement at 757 Bubbling Well Road. Everything suddenly changed in 1941 when her husband died from tuberculosis. Now money was even scarcer and Berta had to work even harder to feed her children. In 1943 the Japanese forced the family to move to the devastated Hongkou ghetto. “There was no place to hide.” But the most horrific experience that Helen had to endure was her daily walk over the Garden Bridge to school. There she witnessed an execution by Japanese guards. “It is a memory that I just can’t get out of my mind.”
In Hongkou Berta began a business. “Whatever she could sell she would find someone to sew and she would make a profit.” This is how the family survived. “With everything going on it is amazing we actually survived. Not just the war years but also the Chinese mafia, the communists, the nationalists.”
In 1948 with the aid of HIAS Berta and her children were finally able to immigrate to the United States. After settling in Minneapolis, Berta again began her own sewing company that Helen helped grow into a thriving business. Helen Bix is forever thankful to the Jewish community for giving her a home. She continues to work for the Jewish Federation and HIAS, organizations who make it possible for the Jewish people to live in freedom today.
a chance encounter
Leo’s philosophy for surviving in a concentration camp was simple: Don’t bring attention to yourself and don’t stand out. But sometimes you just act.
Leo was about to be shipped out to what he knew would be certain death. What possessed him, he didn’t know, but he bravely told the commanding officer that he wouldn’t leave without his wife who was in the next cell. Leo wasn’t married, but his schoolmate Alecia was the young girl in that cell. He made a courageous attempt to save them both. Surprisingly, the officer let them both stay.
After surviving the war, Leo immigrated to Canada. Decades later, Leo’s son Sol made a trip to Israel where he worked on a kibbutz and befriended a young British woman. Before returning to Canada, Sol stopped in London to visit his new British friend. Miraculously, Alecia was the neighbor of the British girl’s family.
Many years after this chance encounter, Leo’s grandson Kenneth was studying abroad in London and found Alecia and developed a close relationship with her family. Renewing this relationship allowed the Weiss family to witness how Leo’s bravery gave Alecia a chance to survive and build a family of her own.
As Leo recounted before his death, “For many years I didn’t want to talk but I realized that I need to do it for the kids. For as long as I’m here I have to educate the kids, to tell them what happened.”
escape to the east
Paula was 19 years old when the Germans invaded Poland. Like many others she chose an escape route east to Russia. With no family or money, Paula found work on a Kolkhoz, a collective farm
Most of the work available for the peasant laborers was the backbreaking work of a field hand. Paula was lucky and found herself a job in the collective’s office. Did she speak Russian? Her answer “Very little, but the Muslim Tartars working the farm knew even less.”
When the war ended in 1945, Paula was in the Ukraine. “I didn’t want to be alone anymore so I married and had a son.” Unfortunately her husband died and she was a young widow left in Russia with her child. Paula remarried and when the Allies granted permission, Paula, her husband, son and the infant daughter returned to Poland where they remained until they were able to immigrate to the U.S.
Paula suffered for her heritage, but her wish for the future is clear. “Stay Jewish because many others are turning the other way”
escape from the train
“Our house was always the place where people congregated. Our doors were always open to strangers.” Thus begins the tale of Regina Gruskin Kugler as she recollects her happy childhood in Poland.
Regina, her sister and three bothers lived a peaceful life surrounded by a strong extended family. This came to an end when the Nazis invaded her town on June 22, 1941. First the Nazis confiscated Jewish property, then they relocated Jews to a ghetto. Finally, the Nazis started deporting Jews to concentration camps.
Rumors were rampant in the ghetto. Some residents escaped the ghetto, including Regina’s brother Meyer. The rest of the family remained until the ghetto was liquidated in November 1942. When the ghetto was closed, Regina and her family boarded trains for what they were told were “labor camps.” But as the train pulled from the station her father, Abraham recognized that the route led to the Treblinka extermination camp.
As word of their destination spread throughout the train, the passengers had only one chance to survive; to jump out a window of the moving train. At the urging of her father, Regina joined 12 others and jumped from the train. She made it to safety in the dense forest but the rest of her family died in the crematorium of Treblinka.
Amazingly while hiding in the forest Regina found her brother Meyer who had escaped from the ghetto. “We tried to find help but no one would help us.” After months of hiding in the forest Regina finally found refuge with the Catholic Kuscinski family. They hid her in their barn until the end of the war, at a great risk to their own safety. After liberation Regina and her brother Meyer were reunited, the only two family members to survive.
“Millions of people lost their lives in the Holocaust because ordinary people failed to live up to the accepted moral standards. I was one of them that was helped.” Yet, Regina says, “I don’t have a solution of why I survived and so many worthy people didn’t. Perhaps I survived to tell the story of the great tragedy and hope that it will never be repeated.”
Fred Baron and Judy Baron
February 24, 1923 - May 23, 2014
Born: September 29, 1928
the arc of fate leads to Minnesota
Upon arriving in Auschwitz, a fellow Austrian, non- Jewish kapo warned Fred and his fellow inmates, “You have arrived at hell on earth… don’t trust anybody. Don’t trust your best friend. Look out for yourself. Be selfish to the point of obscenity. Try to stay alive from one minute to the other one. Don’t let down for one second. Always try and find out where the nearest guards are and what they are doing. Don’t volunteer for anything. And don’t get sick, or you will be a goner in no time.”
These words guided Fred through imprisonment in Auschwitz, numerous forced labor camps and finally to Bergen Belsen. By the time the British arrived, Fred was near death. The Red Cross provided each inmate with a can of condensed milk and hard toast. “I didn’t have the strength to open a can of milk. That was the first time in my life that I started to cry.” A British medic carried Fred to a field hospital where he was treated and finally transported to an emergency hospital in Sweden.
Although Judy Baron began the war in Hungary, Fred’s and Judy’s lives followed similar arcs. Judy, along with her mother and two sisters, were also sent to Auschwitz and from there they worked in slave labor camps where both her mother and one sister died. Judy and her sister were finally transported to Bergen Belsen.
When British and Canadian troops entered in 1945 they found thousands of bodies unburied and approximately 55,000 inmates just barely alive. Typhus and starvation were so pervasive that about one third of the inmates died after liberation. Among those was Judy’s sister who died just one week after the British entered the camp. Judy was in such critical condition that she was transported to an emergency hospital in Sweden. It was during their recovery in Sweden that Fred Baron met Judy and they began to live again.
“In 1947 some friends helped me come to the United States. I stayed on the East Coast for about half a year and was on the verge of going back to Sweden when somebody told me, ‘What you see here is not really the United States.’ I found out there are Scandinavians in Minnesota, and I figured if they could stand the cold, maybe I could too!”
move to the Lodz ghetto
Shortly after the invasion of Poland in 1939, the 230,000 Jews of Lodz were ordered into the poorest area of the city, the newly established ghetto. By May 1, 1940, the ghetto was officially sealed off. Joe and his family packed their belongings to make the move. At that time, the Germans still allowed Jews to bring anything they could carry into the ghetto. Joe’s mother had one prized possession, the stove that her husband had recently purchased.
They packed up the large ceramic stove for the move, only to find that the Polish caretaker of their building demanded that they leave the stove for him. Outraged by this theft, Joe’s older sister marched over to the police station to report the incident. Unbelievably, a German police officer returned with her and demanded that the Pole return the property to the Jews.
Today Joe encourages everyone to enjoy every day because you never know what is going to happen.
Eva Gross and Ella Weiss
Born: December 6, 1927
March 3, 1910 - January 20, 2011
There are so many Holocaust stories of families being separated during the war. The story of Ella Weiss and her daughter, Eva Gross, is a tale of the devotion of a mother and daughter who together survived deportation from their small Hungarian town, six concentration camps including Auschwitz, forced labor, death marches, and finally liberation.
When the Hungarian police came for Eva and her family, Eva’s aged grandfather had a premonition of what was to come. A religious man, he did not take his tallit and t’fillin. “Mein kinde, where we are going, I won’t need it.”
How Eva and Ella stayed together was a miracle. “My mother and I made up our minds that whatever had to be done, we would do to survive.” They protected each other through stays in six concentration camps.
On their arrival to Auschwitz another inmate warned them to register using different last names because the Nazis were separating family members. Ella used her maiden name and Eva took her father’s last name – they stayed together.
When guard dogs attacked Ella for using the latrine, Eva bandaged her leg with scraps of cloth torn from her dress so that the guards wouldn’t discover her injury. When Ella had trouble using the sewing machines in the factory where they worked, Eva did both jobs so that Ella wouldn’t be shipped out.
In winter of 1945 they were forced to march to Bergen Belsen. With no coats or shoes, many people died of starvation and exposure. “My mother gave up hope; she grew weak and couldn’t go on. She said, ‘let me die here.’ A guard told us to drag her, you are almost there.” We made it to Bergen Belsen where the English liberated us.
Today Eva speaks frequently at schools. Her message is always the same: “Don’t hate, it is a terrible thing. Everyone is born innocent. There is no reason to hate.”
saved by king christian of denmark
Jerry Valfer begins his tale by stating, “I can forgive, but I cannot forget… When you lose all the young years, you got nothing.” Jerry’s story of survival starts with his arrest at age 13 on November 9, 1938 just hours after Kristallnacht. He and his father were jailed along with most of the Jewish adult male population of Mannheim. Jerry was released several days later but his father was sent on to Dachau for several months’ incarceration.
This close call was a sign for the family. Their son needed to get out of the country. The logical choice was to send him to Palestine to join his older brother Karl. Jerry was sent to a Youth Aliyah camp in Schniebichen, Germany near the Polish border to train for life on a kibbutz in Israel. The group was set to leave for Palestine via Trieste, Italy. But when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 all borders were closed. Jerry was one of the 20,000 young people unable to escape Germany.
Jerry’s unlikely savior was the Danish crown. He was one of only 500 children granted papers to enter Denmark. Rather than being deported to a concentration camp with his parents, Jerry was sent to freedom in the Danish countryside. At the age of fifteen, Jerry found himself working at a windmill in rural Denmark. “The work was hard but we got room and board and we were safe.” After an accident at the mill Jerry was sent to work on a farm. “I lived so far away… I didn’t even know there was a war.” During his years away from his family he had absolutely no communication with them. He didn’t know if they were dead or alive. His sanctuary in Denmark came to an end when a spy turned him and nearly 200 other teens over to the invading German army. They were sent by cattle car to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Improbably, Jerry was reunited with both his parents in Theresienstadt. Jerry was to spend eighteen months in the camp. On April 15, 1945, King Christian of Denmark again came to his rescue. With the help of the Swedish Red Cross he arranged to get all the Danes out of the camp. After a brief stay in Sweden Jerry returned to Denmark where he resided until he was able to join his parents in the United States in 1948.
How did a teenager survive alone through the horrors of the Holocaust? Jerry’s reply: “Sometimes I didn’t think; I just kept on living.”
a returned treasure
When the German army entered Poland in 1939 Esther Reicher was only 11 years old. Her father Mordechai, a well-respected rabbi, was away serving as a chaplain in the Polish army. Esther, her mother, older sister and little brother were caught by the tightening grip of the Nazi war machine. It soon became clear to the family that they, along with the rest of the Chrzanow Jewish community, would be sent to slave labor or death camps.
Knowing that all personal items would be confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis, Esther’s mother the Rebbeztin Chaya Sura, tried to save the most precious items that the family owned; her husband’s extensive library of religious books which included texts by the Sfas Emes, a famous Hasidic rabbi. Before being shipped to the concentration camp, Chaya Sura left the books with her non-Jewish Polish neighbor.
Esther was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. Following the war she married Israel Begam, also the sole survivor of his family. In 1949 they settled in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In 2004, Esther and her three daughters returned to Chrzanow. There is no longer a Jewish community in this small Polish town. Still, when Esther and her daughters knocked on the former neighbor’s door, they were greeted by the family’s daughter. To their surprise they were reunited with the family treasure; the surviving books that were hidden by this Polish family for over half a century. Today the remnants of this library reside safely in the homes of Esther’s daughters, a tangible legacy of Mordechai and Chaya Sura’s faith.
saved by a stranger
On the banks of the Danube River in Budapest, visitors today find 60 pairs of iron shoes: men’s shoes, women’s shoes, and children’s shoes. They memorialize the days when the river ran red with Jewish blood, as Jewish citizens of Budapest were taken to the riverbank and shot by members of the Hungarian Fascists, the Arrow Cross.
Charles Fodor was eight years old in 1944 when he and his grandmother were trying to find their way to an international safe house. As they ran along the promenade close to the Danube River, three women wearing the armband of the Arrow Cross ordered them into an apartment building.
Suddenly, a man grabbed his grandmother and took her and Charles out to the street. He told them, “You don’t belong here, get lost.” It was later they learned that all those in that building were taken out and murdered on the banks of the Danube River.
“I have learned that life is most precious. Do a mitzvah each day to thank God for the gift of life.”
an open door in Shanghai
Curt was 17 years old when life in Germany became too threatening to stay. Following his father’s release from a concentration camp, Curt’s parents made the decision to leave the country before it was too late.
In 1939 they were unable to obtain papers to enter the U.S., so Curt and his family fled to Shanghai. Between 1938 and 1941 thousands of refugees found temporary refuge in this Japanese occupied Chinese city.
The Jews were settled in the poorest part of the city, the impoverished Hongkou District. Despite aid provided by an international committee established by Victor Sassoon and the Hungarian, Paul Komor, living conditions were disastrous; crowded shabby apartments, meager food rations and little or no sanitation.
The Hort family, along with the other Jews of the Shanghai ghetto, were saved by the bombing of Hiroshima. They left Shanghai in 1947 for San Francisco feeling “free and grateful.”
“Many of my family were killed during the war. I have a feeling of responsibility to tell people that this should never happen again. That is why I am speaking out.”
Koblenz on Rien, German
Early in 1940, Trudy had planned to join her parents in Shanghai but her passport never arrived, and she was stranded in Stuttgart with no escape route. “I was arrested by the Gestapo like a criminal and sent to the ghetto in Riga, Latvia.” It was the start of a journey that took her through 10 different concentration camps.
In 1944, with the allies approaching, Trudy was forced on a march to keep ahead of the advancing Russian army. One night, the women slept in a barn on the floor with hundreds of sick people. Many had been there with little food or water for weeks. In the morning they were awakened by the cries of Russian soldiers announcing “You are free, you can leave.” “It was unbelievable,” Trudy said. “We didn’t know where to go, which direction. We walked for days, on roads filled with the dead bodies of Germans and their horses.” Finally, Trudy was too sick and weak to go on.
“I was picked up by the Russians and taken to a hospital where I stayed for seven weeks with typhoid fever. So many people died in the hospital, they went through hell and then died in the hospital. It could have happened to me.” Trudy was in the hospital on May 9th when the war ended.
It took nine years for Trudy’s parents to learn that she had survived. When they were finally reunited in New York, Trudy was pregnant with her first child. “I am happy that I survived to see my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
without hope you didn’t survive
Joe grew up in the small town of Pilica, Poland. The oldest of six boys, he was the only member of his family to survive. Joe was sent to Auschwitz with his family and was there for 17 months before being sent to several other camps and escaping from the infamous Plasow camp near Cracow. He was liberated from Buchenwald in 1945 by American troops.
You needed three things to survive a concentration camp: luck, strength and hope. In the camps hunger was constant. Joe was beaten unconscious by a guard for stealing potatoes. If you were skin and bones you didn’t have a chance. “I was small, but I was very strong and I tried to keep up my strength.” Joe also never gave up hope. “Those who gave up hope didn’t last. My goal was to sit at a table and eat a loaf of bread. You had to have hope.”
Joe’s friendly demeanor is infectious. Everyone calls him Uncle Joe. “My strength saved me. I believe you have to have a good attitude and be nice.”
the knock on the door
As a youngster, Fred (Manfred) experienced the terrors of Nazism. He witnessed the smashing and looting of Jewish shops, and the daily beatings and disappearances of Hanover’s Jewish population.
The real terror struck with a loud knock at his own door. It was common for Jewish men to disappear, and one day Nazi officers came for his father. Fred watched in amazement as his diminutive mother bravely rebuffed them, claiming that her husband was “out on business.” In truth, a Christian family elsewhere in the apartment building was hiding Fred’s father.
In a memoir, Fred states; “Papa believed that God would protect the Jews, believed it deep in his soul.” Nevertheless, Fred’s father was eventually caught, served in slave labor, but was able to eventually escape to freedom.
a legacy for the future
Dora Eiger Zaidenweber has spoken frequently about her experiences in the Holocaust. Her testimony is partof the Shoah Foundation Institute, Yad Vashem, and her story appears in the book Witnesses to the Holocaust. Dora has made it her mission – “her obligation” – to tell her story.
“Having survived, I have an obligation to tell my story. That responsibility is based on the fact that I am still here.” She feels that it is her duty to remember and honor those who have no one to remember them. Dora started telling her story shortly after she arrived in Minneapolis in 1950.
Dora states that in the early days people weren’t so eager to hear of wartime horrors. Someone said, “Why not just forget it and live a normal life? There is no normal life after the Holocaust.”
Today, in her 80’s, Dora continues her mission by speaking to student and adult groups about the Holocaust. She teaches all who will listen about what can happen when people choose to turn away and not get involved. Dora’s children and grandchildren have taken up her mission by sharing her story to ensure that future generations will not forget the lessons of the past.