Remember

The Phoenix Holocaust Association sponsors and supports community Holocaust remembrance programs.  
We also record and publish stories of Arizona’s Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

Yom HaShoah/
Holocaust Remembrance Day

PHA hosts the largest community-wide Holocaust Remembrance Day event in all of Arizona. Yom HaShoah is recognized each year in April or May, coinciding with the 27th Day of Nisan (on the Hebrew calendar) marking the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, when Jewish resistance fighters defied the Nazis and fought for freedom and dignity.

Our annual Yom HaShoah Commemoration includes a procession of local survivors, a candle lighting ceremony to remember the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, a keynote address by a local speaker, a survivor’s remarks, an invocation and message from a local rabbi, music, prayers, and the presenting of PHA’s Annual Shofar Zachor Award for outstanding contributions to Holocaust and genocide education.  

Remembering the Survivors

Since 2000, as a tribute to his father, whose family was murdered in Nazi concentration camps, artist Robert Sutz has focused his array of talents full-time to create life masks of Holocaust survivors and paintings of Holocaust scenes. His studio is in Scottsdale, AZ and he is an active member of PHA.

The works are not for sale. They are intended as an archive, and a way for future generations to connect with the faces of those who survived the atrocities of the past. 

Survivor Stories

The Holocaust was a profoundly tragic time in world history that resulted in the murder of six million Jews, of which an estimated 1.5 million were children.  Another five million human beings were also killed, including Roma-Sinti people (“Gypsies”), political dissidents, communists, intellectuals, Jehovah Witnesses, homosexuals, Poles, and people with mental and physical disabilities.

Most Holocaust survivors alive today are over the age of 80.  Local survivors’ stories cover a wide range of backgrounds and Holocaust experiences. 

Charlotte

Charlotte (Rozencwajg) Adelman

Charlotte Rozencwajg was born on March 26, 1932 in Paris, France and lived with her parents, both tailors, and younger brother, Max. 

When Nazi Germany occupied France in 1940, Charlotte, 8, was forced to wear a yellow Star of David, forbidden from attending movies, and ordered to sit at the back of classrooms and trains. Before the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv mass arrest of Parisian Jews, neighbors hid the family. But Jewish collaborators, trying to save themselves, informed the Gestapo, who arrested Charlotte’s parents, loading them onto trucks. Her father jumped off the truck and went into hiding, but her mother was deported to Auschwitz.

Without parents, her brother was taken to a private Christian home and Charlotte to an orphanage, where a Romanian woman adopted her and brought the child to her apartment. The janitor of the building told Charlotte that children disappeared after being with that woman. When Charlotte overhead a Nazi offering the woman money for Charlotte, the frightened girl sought the janitor’s help and escaped. Her father arranged a truck to bring Charlotte to him in Eastern France.

Months later, both fled into the woods, pursued by Nazis with killer dogs. Charlotte’s father asked a Christian farmwoman to hide his daughter while he joined the French Underground. After nine months hiding in a cellar, she was permitted a bed inside the house. Once, during a search, Nazis poked a bayonet under the bed, where Charlotte was hiding, but they didn’t find her. The family took Charlotte to church every Sunday, but she refused to become Christian.

The war ended in 1945. Charlotte, 13, was reunited with her father, who located Max, 6, from Red Cross addresses. Max recognized his father from an old photo, but when the family returned to Paris, he had to be retrained to eat sitting at the table because the people who had kept Max required him to beg for food from under their table.

Charlotte received psychotherapy, mourning the loss of her mother, whom she learned was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943, and her father remarried in Paris.

Not wanting to stay in France, Charlotte, then 25, moved to Montreal, Canada in 1957 and lived with her parents’ friend for three years. She met and married Alex Adelman from Philadelphia and immigrated to the US.  In 1979, the Adelmans moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Charlotte and Alex have two children and two grandchildren. In spite of still having Holocaust nightmares, Charlotte tells future generations, at schools, about her traumatic childhood.  

Ella_Adler

Ella Adler Z"L

The wind gently rippled the face of the American flag while tears blurred my vision. I listened as my four-year-old daughter, Diane, pledged allegiance to America in Geneva, Switzerland, on July 4, 1959. I raised my left arm shielding my eyes from the sun. My tattoo A27331 emblazoned itself once more in my brain as those needling thoughts began again. Questions. Always those questions plowing through my thought’s visions. “How is it possible that I am here?” “Why is it that I was chosen to share this joy and celebration of freedom and life?” “Why not the others?” “Why was I spared?” “Why only me?” Questions I shall never be able to answer; able only to ponder, imprisoned by their guilt laden burden.

As I look at my proud-of-herself, smiling daughter hoisted high above the crowd on her daddy’s shoulders, a layered caravan of images and feelings kaleidoscope, sending me back through doors long closed on painful time. My mind shifts to frame the faces of a large family who lived together as one community at Miodowa 15.

KRAKOW

Easily, I slipped my hand between the well-tailored sleeve and jacket of my father’s dark coat and hung on tightly while he and I walked and skipped across and back over the parquet parlor floor; our feet moving in time to the ·Shabbat tunes he sang so wonderfully well while we waited to turn on the lights after Saturday’s sunset. “Rozinkles mit Mandles,” “My Yiddisha Mama,” and “A Brivele Der Mamen,” names only names, but melodies so poignant as to bring overflowing tears, even now.

Handsome and tall, with dark, wavy hair and moustache, appearing aristocratic, although he had come somewhere from an Orthodox shtetl in the south of Poland, my father, Murray Elbinger, had made a good marriage. Father, his brothers, and their father, having less than an eighth grade education, nevertheless, had ben textile merchants in a country which offered limited upward social and financial mobility.
Above the doorway entrance to our business house in Kracow, the sign read Spira-Rubin-Elbinger, but it wasn’t always so. My mother’s family was of the upper class, and had been in the textile business for over 40 years. Father’s name, Elbinger, was added to the business when he married my mother.

Grandfather Spira, a Cohen, was a loving, charitable, community-minded man who donated his own Torah from which he read in the old, Orthodox synagogue which stood at the end of our long street. Grandfather was a man of depth and warm concern, especially when it came to his daughter, Frania, for whom he had arranged two marriages. Mother’s first marriage was to a man whose main interests were studying Torah and praying; however, he did manage to produce a child, Lilka, who is my half-sister. With this man, life was unbearable, so Mother and Lilka’s father divorced.

My mother as a child, had suffered from typhoid fever. As a result, her life afterwards contained periods of emotional instability which ultimately we all had to live through. Relevant to re-marriage, this condition, plus the stigma of divorce made grandfather’s task quite considerable, but possible, since a business partnership was offered as well as a warm, caring wife.

I do not remember my grandfather. I only know what I have heard, but the figures of my grandmother and Aunt Pitzelle, my grandmother’s sister from Chicago, are clear in my memory.

Grandmother, small and stocky, wore a wig, lived in our house and always kept a bundle of money hidden in her skirts. My recollection of her is visual as I had not physical contact or conversation with her. I recall family conversations regarding her frugality, how she was in the way, and finally how she was bought out of the business. Grandmother died during the time we lived in the ghetto. I visited her there once in a place where they kept all the old and sick and dying people. I remember most of all that no medicine was available for her and there were crawling, incessant flies.

When I was very small, Tanta Pitzelle, my grandmother’s sister, came all the way to Poland from the United States to visit with us. She gave me, and all the others, three zlotys. I truly believed I was rich. Those worn zlotys, a bright, big colorful ball given to me by my mother’s friend for saying the word “dupa,” and a doll for having my teeth pulled are all the tokens from the treasures of my childhood I can summon up.

Hopscotch, a holiday game with hazelnuts, ice skating, dreidels at Chanukah, were games I played and activities I took part in, but all in all, I was not gregarious or athletic.

Out of my heart’s mind, indelible in my senses, my mother’s strong, solacing warmth encompasses me. To me, she was simply beautiful, lovely, full of life and caring. Mother didn’t play children’s games with me, nor do I recall having meaningful conversations with her. The last time I saw her, I was seventeen. I have never forgiven myself when as a teenager, I called her “crazy.” Nor have I let go of the guilt I felt when I could care for her no longer while we were in the ghetto, when they came, and when they took her away. Her pleading cries, begging me to give her the ring I wore, lie lurking beneath the surface of my memory. My father told me not to give the ring to her; I might need it later. A few days after she was gone, we received a letter which simply stated that mother had been sent to another hospital and for us not to inquire. Later, I found out that she had been shot. I have clung to the hope that mother never knew what was happening to her.

Mother spent her leisure time reading German romances. Also, she loved to dance. Even though she was heavy, she was light on her feet, and I loved to watch as she whirled about the dance floor, expertly led by one of the special men called fortanzers, who were hired by the coffee houses to dance with the ladies in the afternoon between coffee and schmoozing. Father did not mind as he did not dance, and he was proud of mother who won trophies for her dancing.

I shopped with mother on Wednesday afternoon for the big, fat carp which blissfully spent the remainder of its days swimming in our bathtub until it was time for cooking and our Shabbat dinner. Sometimes I would go with the maid to market and she would select a chicken which later would be picked and plucked and prepared for our dinner. Smells in the kitchen of challah, the trip to the baker with cholent, melted wax and polished candlesticks imprinted themselves into the fabric of my past.

I would often wonder what mother thought about as I sat looking at her deep, brown, almond-shaped eyes when she lapsed into one of her silent dreamy moments. Once mother had been in love with a German Baron, a gentile, but her father would not allow her to marry outside her faith. It seemed the wistful memory of that love haunted her.

Mama was a dreamer. Mama would also disappear. I was terrified during those times and haunted by her disappearance. No one ever told me why mother had to go away. I would hear her cry, but I never saw her in a state which might frighten me. I was protected from that and any discussion about mother’s condition was taboo. One time when mother was gone, I poked holes in a hot water bottle with a pair of scissors. My father’s answer to my actions was a sound smack.

I was well into my teenage years when I was told about mother’s periods of insanity, her shock treatments, her visits to the neurologists and her confinement in a strait jacket. Although I do not recall mother being violent with me, Lilka suffered from mother’s problems.

I was never alone. From the time I was born until I was two years old, I had a nanny who nursed and took care of me. I, of course, was very attached to her, but mother sent my nanny away because she was jealous of her.

My name was Gisela. Mother called me Greena Jaba. She said it was the nanny’s fault that my complexion turned green because I had been nursed by her.

According to my recollection, Ida was considered papa’s girl while I belonged to mama. Every Saturday, mother, father, Ida and I would dress up and go to the park located in the middle of Krakow. Black bread and butter, along with a glass of cool, rich buttermilk was the treat father would buy for us, and except for whipped cream ·Neapolitan, the most regal lunch I could imagine. Although these were my favorites, I could also be talked into eating sauerkraut and knackwurst. Father’s concerns the other six days of the week had to do with business. Mother was often gone. The maid or sometimes the other children in the family would play games with me. The person I was closest to was Ida, my sister.

Ida–it is hardly bearable to write her name–my raven-haired, dark, liquid-eyed sister. My most intense sense of loss comes from my memory of you. So full of life, you appeared to dance as you walked. You were father’s favorite. You hungered for learning. I remember you reading Shakespeare to me and every time I hear Ravel’s “Bolero” the hearing brings upon me an almost unbearable sadness, because you loved that piece of music so.

You were the one who so gently held me and told me the facts of life when I came running to you, scared to death of the bleeding when I was thirteen. You were the one who stood with me against parental restrictions. You, so intelligent, so clever. I always questioned why I was chosen to live and you to die. For years, I found it impossible to accept your death. You walk in my dreams, away from me on unfamiliar streets. I run forward to touch you. I reach for you. I scream, “Why haven’t I seen you in such a long time?” When I arrive at your side, you slowly turn and look away. The person in my dream is an imposter, not you. My dreams do not tell me that death is forever.

The time we spent together was so brief–because of our difference in age–because I was not verbal, because I was too young (and aren’t we all) to understand what it meant to have and appreciate you.

I do remember when you attended college and began breaking away. I know you resented living in the Jewish quarter and resented the fact we spoke Yiddish at home. You didn’t want to bring your friends to our house. According to you, we had no “savoir faire.”

Orthodoxy permeated the Casimir streets where we lived. Yiddish, loudness, along with strummels, caftans, pies, beards, black shoes, and white stockings made me feel, when I came home from school, that I had entered another world. In fact, I truly had. This was the world of our parents and, of course, our world. I had little contact with other Jews who lived in Krakow.

I did not speak Yiddish. Perhaps this was my way of rebelling, of rejecting what you were rejecting. The Christian students ridiculed those of us who spoke Polish interspersed with Yiddish. I, like you, Ida, made an extra effort to speak only Polish. And we both stepped across an imaginary line when we came home from school each day.

Nowhere was there for you to turn as you became more and more uncomfortable regarding your Jewishness. No conservative congregation existed. All around was Orthodoxy and that for you, I recall so well, was out of the realm of consideration. Perhaps consciously or unconsciously you knew that your only possible escape from what befell you ultimately was to become Christian. Mama and Papa did not sit Shiva, but I remember their silence and their hurt when you moved out and converted. I want you to know that I felt I understood your reasons, even though, looking back, you must have known how devastated our parents were.

Your picture on my dresser is an ever-present reminder, along ‘With all other thoughts of you that remain. Never will I forget the letter and the pair of slippers you sent to me while I was still in the ghetto. I held on to that letter until it was taken from me in Auschwitz. The slippers which I held every night, I left behind when we were moved to Plaszow.

The Ghetto

At the time we were forced into the ghetto, you lived outside. Even though you had the opportunity to be with us after you had been denounced to the Germans by the parents of your Christian boyfriend, you were Christian and did not, you felt, belong with the Jews.
In my mind’s eye, I can see you writing to me. I still know how it feels to touch the folded edge of that soft, tattered paper. I still know what those faded lines said. You told me that you loved me. You asked me to forgive you for all the sisterly disagreements we had and you hoped that we might see each other once again.

If there could be a way to tell you, or if somehow you could know, I would say: you meant so much to me. I love you, and thank you for helping me grow. I hope you didn’t suffer, that the pain was small, the ending swift. When those moments crush their weight against me, that is how I wanted to it to be for all of you.

Papa and I were the only ones left after mother was taken. Ida was never with us in the ghetto where we were herded and penned like pigs as they wanted us to appear. Scrounging, filthy, crawling shredded beings, fatless, leftovers hauled away dead after the long night’s longer torment in wheel-squeaking wagons pulled by another, soon to join with them. We began to become who it was they said we were–dirty, stinking, lousy, contentious Jews.

Father was able to go in and out of the wall they built to keep us out. Because he knew about textiles needed for uniforms, blankets and other supplies for the German army, they needed him. He was allowed to leave and return each day, sometimes smuggling bits of food back in with him. I prepared whatever we had and attempted to keep our small, crowded space as clean as possible. For one and one half years, we had one room in which we were trapped with or fears of raids, of beatings, of hunger, of pounding, and of dirt. It was here I learned to live one minute at a time.

Selected meant being chosen for a journey whose destination we never knew. One day, father was gone and they came for me. They told me to carry with me a small bundle of belongings and line up at the appelplatz. My Uncle Spira, head of the Jewish police who took orders from the Judenrat, was nowhere to be seen. I spoke to one of the policemen who knew me and told him I was Spira’s niece; they let me go.

Uncle Spira who lived in our house before we lived in the ghetto conspired with the Nazis. He felt that doing this would insure his family’s, as well as his own, survival. On many occasions, Spira would warn us of an impending selection and this time, his power or his powerlessness, saved my life once again. I believe that without his presence, I would not have survived.

In 1943, the ghetto of Krakow was liquidated. A German commander, Franck, was in control of the city and vowed as all other Nazis had in other cities to make it “Judenrein” (free or clean of Jews). Father and I, along with all those from the ghetto still alive, were moved to Plaszow, a labor camp situated twenty miles away and built for twenty thousand inmates upon a Jewish cemetery. I clearly remember the marking stones in the ground as I looked down when we marched in over them.

Before we were moved to Plaszow, an announcement was made over the public address system: “All children must remain in the ghetto and will later be moved to a children’s camp where care will be provided.” My sister, Lilka, had two children. The Nazis gave her the choice of staying with her children in the ghetto or going to Plaszow with her husband who would not leave without her. Lilka left the children in the police station with the hope that our Uncle Spira would look after them. The Nazis relished choiceless choices. Lilka chose to stay with her husband, go with him to Plaszow, and suffer untold terrors of guilt-ridden years. Today, she lives in Israel and has another husband and two adult children, Fannie and JoJo.

I must say that one never exactly knows what one will do in any given situation under stress such as we had to endure. Uncle Spira helped the Nazis and in that position pulled me from selection, that is, death on more than one occasion. If he had not chosen to be a member of the Jewish police, I would not be here. Uncle Spira was still in charge of the ghetto when father and I were taken to Plaszow. We heard shots and saw fire and smoke as we were taken away, but it wasn’t until later that we learned through whispers passed by the Kapos that he had been shot and burned.

PlaSzow

In Plaszow, at first, we were placed in a heavy labor area and told to carry heavy stones across a field, pick up another stone and carry it back across the field again. This went on for hours and days; we were being worn out. There was no purpose in our work and those who could not continue were shot. Nazi guards moved among us with German Shepherd dogs trained to kill those who were pointed out to them. Indiscriminately, we were torn to pieces by dogs and shot at by S.S. using us for target practice.

Our daily life was guarded by death, dogs, Nazis, and by senseless, unending roll calls when we would stand in the rain at attention for hours in the bitter cold, pinching our cheeks until they bled so that we would look alive, so we wouldn’t be selected, so we could survive a little longer. Some fell, left to die in the mud. Those of us who endured–bony, grey-skinned grimy ghosts of ourselves–looked forward to stinking hours of bodies in wet rags, unbathed, freezing cold, and crawling.

Our existence? Water was our soup; sometimes containing a piece of flesh or dirty bread. Foul latrines where you never knew when the guards would enter and order everyone out. No time, no privacy. Eyes always watching. Eyes in my sleep or that which I willed myself to escape into; a semi-wakefulness waiting for the next scream or shout or shooting raw hunger, raw nerves, raw intensity. I shall probably never be rid of them for they loom over every today’s shoulder. Was there ever another existence? Was there ever really a god of any kind?

Not one day, but one second at a time. I climbed those painful seconds every day, crawling through endless eternity one over until each not new morning came, looking forward to nothing, encapsulated into each second as if it were forever.

Once at the end of one long hungry day, I was part of a group which was told to carry stones. The Nazis decided to punish us for our apparent slowness, or their entertainment. We were assembled into rows and the Nazis’ guns were pointed at us. I remember wishing I could be an insect, and at that moment my eyes became blind. Out of fear, I could not see. I waited for the shots to put an end to the unbearable fear, but no shot came. Instead, one of the guards pointed to me and I was made to lie on a table where they whipped me into unconsciousness. Bleeding and stripped of the skin on my back, I was left without aid. The others dared not help for fear of their own punishment. I managed, in spite of the blood and pain, to get to my barrack. I knew if the guards found me on the table where I was whipped, I would have been shot. At least, we weren’t all killed. The blood and screaming must have assuaged their savageness for the time being.

At other times, I was hit on the back of the head or on the back. Now, in restaurants or other public places, I find myself wanting to sit with my back to the wall. In this way I feel less threatened.

Death lay everywhere. Life meant nothing. I watched while my friend was hanged. The rope didn’t kill her the first time, so her friends had to retie it and hang her until she was dead. She had been one who had tried to escape and we, as a warning, had to watch her execution.

Lullabies were played over the loud speakers at Plaszow as children were marched past their parents to Chujowa Gorka, a hill where they were shot. We who watched saw a parade of tiny shadowed marionettes slump clumsily to the ground as those who held the strings released them.

Amid insects and without anesthetics, I had two operations. One occurred when my fingernail was removed and another took place after a cyst was discovered under my arm. I was taken care of because I was in a labor camp and since I was relatively strong, I was kept at slave labor to provide supplies to the German soldiers.

Plaszow contained Jews who were found hiding, as well as slave laborers, and German political prisoners.

In 1944, rumors of Germany’s loss of the war were already circulating among the inmates of the camp. The Germans were afraid of the evidence which they had created and which would indict them if it would be found.

We were ordered to open the graves of those buried under the ground, stack the bodies, and burn the stacks with torches while the Nazis stood by with guns and dogs. The stench of that burning flesh and dead bodies became a part of the atmosphere and all that stood or lay in it. For years afterward, I was not able to go near a spit or open barbecue as that smell would always bring back what I so much wanted to forget.

At night, I was allowed to see my father, but every time we met and every time we parted, we never knew whether or not we would see each other again.

Father was involved in some kind of work for the Nazis and when possible, smuggled food to me. Others smuggled in eggs and small amounts of sugar. One woman in my barrack would beat an egg and a few grains of sugar together in a glass and whip the concoction into a glass full from which she would allow me to have two or three teaspoons.

Overriding my hunger and bad treatment was fear. I worked in a factory which made brushes and I was transferred to night work. Not able to keep my eyes open, I was incessantly trapped between sleep and fear of being shot, webbed in the horror of not ever seeing my father again.

As time went on my hunger grew worse as less food was avail­able and more energy was expended in working and searching for food. We were doled a watery coffee and less than an ounce of black bread each day. Interwoven among my thoughts of finding something to eat was a prayer for my father’s safety and a dumbly mumbled “Shema.”

In March of 1944, Soviet forces advanced westward and as they did so, the Germans began a systematic evacuation of the slave labor camps in their paths. From Plaszow, hundreds ended in Auschwitz while others were sent to Mauthausen, Flossenburg, Stutthof and Gross Rosen.

One evening, I made my way to where I was to meet my father. I searched among those milling about. He was not there. “A transport went out today,” I was told. I never saw him again, even though I never gave up the thought that I would again find him.

AUSchwitz-Birkenau

Now, my turn had come. Inconsolably alone, exhausted, starving and occupying one slim space squeezed against death, I also was pushed into an awaiting cattle car. Given no water, and one pot which we like animals used degradedly and publicly, we were crammed, crushed and shut up into a stifling, smothering blackness.

The ride to Auschwitz-Birkenau, although seemingly interminable, lasted only four to six hours. I carried with me all I owned: the clothing on my body, a toothbrush, a lipstick, a picture of my mother and Ida’s letter.

When the heavy door of the train car was opened, an ugly dusk had fallen. Through my incomprehension, weakness and hunger, I could make out the tall, silver, shadowed, cane-shaped high electrified barbed wire poles looming over me. Crisp, well-tailored officers pulled us out of the train cars, jabbed, prodded and shoved us into lines while others of them gazed at us with steely, cold hatred, indifferent to our humanness. The Nazi propaganda had worked. Those young officers were trained to see us as inhuman, infested vermin. We were almost living proof of a well instrumented self-fulfilling prophecy. Kapos in striped, filthy, prisoner uniforms herded us like undefined animals into a large room where we were separated, men from women, and told to undress. Shivering and cold with no respite from our sufferings, all that we possessed including our last remnants of dignity were taken from us.

We were not shaved, but naked, grey and sallow. We were inspected, turned around, looked up and down, classified and delineated. Who will live and who will die? By a flick of a clean manicured hand foppishly playing God, life was categorized to death.

To the right meant life. I was shoved left, selected to die by Mengele, “The Angle of Death.” Like discarded rags, I fell into a heap onto the bare damp floor, apathetic to my surroundings, my mind minimally functioning, every movement a futile effort. Less than a step from death, hardly 55 pounds and without hope or caring, I stared with clouded eyes at the young girl next to me who had been separated from her mother. The girl’s mother had been selected to live – for labor.

A window, possibly a foot from the floor, above me suddenly rattled, and as if in a twilight sleep, I heard a floating intense scream, the voice of the mother insisting that the girl beside me jump through the window. Clawing and straining the last amounts of energy left in me, I followed, climbed and stretched through that same window. Once outside, I found myself surrounded by women who clothed me and the girl from the rags they wore; they smuggled us to their barracks.

I had escaped backwards to the rubbing edge of death. I was tattooed which meant I would be used somewhere as slave labor. Some chance for survival existed, although I did not know it.

Everywhere I met shuffling, dragging feet, begging mouths, dysentery, resignation and fear mixed with one focus–where to get something to eat, garbage, a spot of soup on the floor, dirt, anything which would ease the pain of the gnawing, burning hunger. I licked the floor for a taste of dropped moisture.

One minute was woven to the next with hope. Underneath the hunger, lay loneliness and thoughts of my father. “He will be waiting for me.” “When this is all over, we will meet and go home.”

Search lights doomed us to a target if someone desired, as we stumbled through the mud and night in fear of losing our shoes on the way to the latrine. To be without shoes was to lose one’s life. Some put them under their hats or heads while sleeping. I had no underwear, a thin sweater and skirt, and no heat. Eight of us occupied one wooden planked bunk from which we were roused at 6:00 a.m. every morning to stand in the cold, rain, wind, or sun for interminable hours. Exhausted, some fell, then were beaten into the mud to death. We rubbed clay into our faces to create an appearance of health, yet our bodies swarmed with lice, rashes and running sores. Our only purpose: live.

I could not believe that here I would see anyone I knew. How I recognized Lilka or she me, I’ll never understand, but there she was. A thin layer of joy spread over my world until she told me about the gassings. With that, I fainted. She held on to me and quickly brought me to my senses. I only saw her one more time when she brought underwear, cabbage, and bits of food to me. I never saw her again until I returned to Krakow.

Dazed and mute, lacking all energy to talk and wracked with dysentery, fast closing the gap which would categorize me as mussulman-camp slang for a prisoner crossing the line to death, – I pulled my clogs through the sucking, unrelenting mud, returning from the latrine to our barracks. As I approached, a bunkmate shouted to me to hurry. We were being transported to a labor camp.

Half dead, barely covered in rags, we 350 women were marched to cold black-mawed iron-sided trains in whose bellies we would be packed. As the doors slid shut with a loud shuddering sound, we began the long journey to Freudenthal, located in Moravia, a province of Czechoslovakia.

The word Freudenthal means a meadow of happiness; it was not. It was, if anything, an endurable labor camp, considering the alternatives; containing only women who every day marched through Licterverdun under the cold, vacant, by standing eyes of the towns­people. We marched to a textile factory located at the other end of town where all day we stood with our hands withering in frigid water, weaving cloth for the uniforms of German soldiers. We were kept in barracks on bare board bunks, wearing only what we wore from Auschwitz, without a stove, and with the snow finding its way through the cracks and slats.

Punishment here was standing all day and night exposed to the bitter night air, but no orders were given for shooting or killing by the men who guarded us.

I began to have severe pains in my stomach and was not able to eat. Anyone in this condition was of no use to the Germans. Fear and hunger traded places in my mind. In pain and so ill, I couldn’t stand; I was relegated to a make-shift infirmary. A baby, deliberately placed here to starve, was my lone companion. Its tiny voice cried and whimpered from pains of hunger until it slowly retreated into its appointed death. Friends of the child’s mother had placed it there in order to protect the mother. If any female was caught pregnant or with a child, she was automatically sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Even now, hearing a weak cry of a child is an unnerving experience for me.

No medicine or aid of any type was available; however, Yanka Bowman visited me daily and managed to trade my bread ration for potatoes which seemed to soothe my stomach.

Although the winter months seemed dull and long, when spring came events seemed to happen fast. In April, a soft spoken German officer visited our barracks and asked questions about who we were and what we did in the camp. We saw him only once, but later learned he was an English spy scouting the area.

We noticed flowers blooming as we marched through Licterverdun. We also noticed photographs of Hitler with candles lighted in front of them as we peered at the windows of the houses we passed. When we arrived at the factory, we learned that Hitler was dead. With that message, we dared once again to hope.

LIberation

Rumors were heard that the Russians were not far away. Fears and whispers were passed in the night. “We will be marched until we drop of exhaustion, and if not dead, we will be shot.” The townspeople also heard the rumors and the plans for the march. These inhabitants, because they felt the Russians would go easy on them if the prisoners were not harmed, persuaded the guards not to carry out their strategies.

Awakening one day to the sounds of guns and bombing, we saw planes overhead. Knowing it would be the Russians who would come, several of the women jointly sewed a Russian flag and climbed to the roof of our barracks and attached it so that anyone flying over would not bomb this place where we were.

Not one guard was to be seen this morning. Not even one. Our eyes searching through the cracks and windows of our barracks fell upon truckloads of soldiers. I dragged what was left of my being to the door and stood numbed with disbelief. Fear, tears, shaking and trembling overtook my senses. I was free. “What does that mean?” With tears flooding my eyes, my mind raced through the possibilities of what would happen to me. “Who will I find waiting?” “Where will I go?” “What will I do?”

The Russians who liberated us treated us with compassion, broke down the doors to the camp warehouse and let us eat what we wanted. Because I continued to ‘suffer from stomach pains, I ate very, very little which, no doubt, saved my life. Many of those who gorged themselves became more ill than they had been and died after they were liberated.

We were loaded into trucks by the Russian soldiers and taken to the homes of the Germans who so blandly watched our wretched, hungry march through their town. The soldiers told us to take anything we wanted. In one house, my eye focused on an apple. I had not had a piece of fruit in almost five years. I took that apple, a towel, and a few articles of clothes to put on. I wanted nothing more from the Germans or anyone else–but I longed to find my father.

The next day, those of us from Krakow were helped into trucks and driven to that grand medieval city we once called home. The Russians who now occupied Krakow had set up refugee processing centers. At one of these buildings, we were dropped off. Others who arrived before us placed their names on a refugee list. I searched those handwritten columns seeking my father’s name but instead found Tanta Natalka’s name and the number of the place where she was living.

The Poles had taken our homes, jewelry and other personal belongings. Before we were walled into the ghetto, some of us had trusted what we possessed to those we thought were our friends. We found out after we returned that we were not expected. We were resented before we left, and less than few welcomed our corning back because they had profited from our belongings and our absence. What we had once owned had become theirs.

As Constantine had forced Christianity on all of his subjects, so had King Yaghello in Poland after his conversion. However, Yaghello and those following during the eleventh and twelfth centuries were troubled by a breakdown of their economy as a result of constant conflicts with Tartars. Anxious to rebuild their country and restore their treasures, these rulers encouraged and invited Jewish traders, shopkeepers, and moneylenders to their country.

Casimir III whose name is acclaimed in Jewish sections of Polish cities by at least one street named after him was a king, who with candor, exposed the practical motive behind his benevolence by declaring, “We desire that the Jews whom we wish to protect in our own interest, as well as in the interest of the Royal Treasury, should feel comfortable in our beneficent reign.”

Consequently, desperate Jews fleeing the bloody attacks of the Crusades, the Hussite Wars in Bohemia, and the Black Death found respite from their terrors and settled in Poland.

The Jews were protected by the King and by edict, but the Church and uneducated peasants, as well as jealous noblemen, waged for centuries a frightful war of anti-Semitism upon those Jews welcomed for their acumen. For over 800 years, 3,500,000 Jews lived in Poland. Eastern Jewish life for the majority was imbued with an intense religious quality, resisting influences from the outside.

For the most part, the economic condition of the Jews in most of Poland was painted with hardship and thrift. Jews were never allowed to own land. The strict adherence of the Christian to the law regarding usery forced Jews to carry out transactions in money, thus keeping Christian hands clean. Forced to collect taxes and extricate owed money, as well as appearing different and a victim of the Church’s derisive appellation, “Christ Killer,” they easily became ugly, hated and unwanted in the eyes of the populace.

On Easter, fresh from Church and the rantings of a fanatic priest, Christian children in Poland would attack and mercilessly beat Jewish children.

When we were sent away by the Nazis, many of the Poles because of this indigenous prejudice applauded the event. When those few of us returned, we were looked upon as ghosts from the past without a right to claim what was ours.

The war being over, we thought the pogroms had ended, but many of us were beaten and harassed to the extent that I wore long sleeves deliberately covering my tattoo.

Several of my Christian friends, one especially who attended high school with me, tried to persuade me to become Christian to avoid further persecution. I questioned my right to bring Jewish children into the world to fall victim to its terror. Tempted to convert, I nevertheless did not succumb for I realized that I would have been traitorous to those who had perished, especially my family.

Aunt Natalka, the only survivor of my mother’s generation, returned to Kracow to find a Polish family occupying her home. Having some conscience, they allowed her a room in the attic and the use of the kitchen. It was here I found her, and here I stayed, going every day to the refugee center, searching the lists for my father’s name.

I found a man who had been with Papa in Gross Rosen. He told me that Papa had been wounded in the foot by a German officer and when the Germans began losing the war, the S.S. drove the inmates from the camps to avoid any evidence of their crimes and victims. These remnants were marched to death. Some would die of exhaustion; others were shot because they could not keep going. My father was one of these.

No words I knew could wrap themselves around the feelings of loss I now bore. My whole existence, the thinnest attachment I had to life had for the past five years since the last time I saw my father clung to the knowledge that I, without question, would see him and be with him again. Without that hope, I would not have survived the horror and degradation of the camps. Now with certain reality, I must go on without it. A vacuum within a vacuum. What threads now would warm me against despair? An orphan among millions. I struggled for sanity and reasons for being.

To do my share, I found a job in a small factory, pouring shoe wax into containers. I had no skills and my education which was typical for girls in Poland was meagre and interrupted. The pains in my stomach continued, and I continued to live day to day.

One evening, Willie Springurt, a young man from Luxenbourg and whom I had known in the ghetto, came to my aunt’s door. Willie’s parents were Polish. When Hitler took over in Germany, they, and he, were forced to immigrate from Frankfurt to Poland. All of his family were exterminated during the years we were in the ghetto.

Before the last days of the Krakow ghetto, Willie and I became acquainted after having been introduced by a friend. He visited with me frequently, enjoying many conversations. Papa for some reason did not like him. Perhaps he was jealous. We went together for about seven months, although I considered him a friend more than a potential mate. Shortly before I was sent to Plaszow, we broke off seeing each other.

After Willie’s first visit to find me at Aunt Natalka’s, he came often and brought white bread for my stomach which he said would be much better for me than the black bread I had been eating. The white bread helped.

Willie had a plan to escape Poland. Part of his plan included my marriage to him. I told him I didn’t love him, but he insisted that that wasn’t important. He loved me and if we married, things would work out. I felt I had nothing to lose. Poland certainly held nothing for me, especially after the news of my father’s death.

Willie and I proceeded with his plans and were married in a civil ceremony. In the meantime, both Blanche, my cousin, Natalka’s daughter, and my sister Lilka returned to Kracow. Blanche, of course, stayed with her mother and me. Lilka was allowed to sleep in the kitchen.

Getting up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to deliver them, Lilka sold bread rolls from door to door helping me to stay alive by sharing what she earned with me. Lilka, in addition to her incarceration at Plaszow and Auschwitz, as also a prisoner at Radom and Poinke. Ultimately, she ended her camp life at Krazow, Czechoslovakia, then found her way to Krakow.

Blanche obtained “Aryan” papers, masqueraded as a Pole, and worked for a German family. She had been sent to a labor camp for Poles before the war was over and it was from that camp she made her way home to Krakow.

Willie had a friend, Zigmund Zwern, who planned to go with us, and Aunt Natalka persuaded us to take Blanche along. Willie, Blanche and Ziggie all spoke fluent German and I was instructed by Willie not to say one word, because I would give us all away. We four, carrying fake German passports, made our way by train to Frankfurt, leaving behind Lilka and Aunt Natalka.

TO AMERICA

All of Europe was in turmoil, people of all sorts milling in every direction. We made our way to a refugee camp set up by the United Nations Rehabilitation Services. There I had my first experience with American cereal. I opened a box of Rice Crispies, but I didn’t know what to do with it or how to eat it, so I ate dry cereal from the box and was glad to have it.

In Frankfurt, Germany, because Willie and Ziggy both spoke English as well as German, they were able to get jobs with the American Occupation Forces, taking care of a housing compound. I had my first glimpse of an American M.P., thinking they were giants for in comparison to the smaller statured Poles and people I knew they surely stood at least a head taller.

For almost, a year, we waited for arrangements to be made for us by H.I.A.S. so that we could be allowed visas to travel to the United States. Was it possible that I would reach America? When I was a youngster in Poland, we really believed the streets in America were made of gold. It was hard for me to visualize or even anticipate making a trip to such a place to live.

In the spring of 1946, the ship, Marina Fletcher, was commissioned to bring the first group of refugees from Europe to the shores of the United States. Willie and I embarked on that ship and were among those masses thrust from Europe’s travail to be allowed under the first lowering of the immigration quotas to enter.

Nearing New York Harbor, I saw with my own eyes what I had only heard about. There she stood, that green painted giantess, the Statue of Liberty, holding her torch to the sky and giving me the· grandest welcome anyone had ever received. My heart rose in my chest and pounded louder and louder as tears swelled in my eyes. Feelings of joy and guilt surged through me. “The others who perished should be here to share my happiness.” “Why was I chosen for life?”

Willie had relatives in New York who, at first, welcomed us. The two of us were again married in their home and both Willie and I went to work for them in their factory. Shortly after we began working steadily, Willie became ill and was hospitalized. During that time, I stayed in the Nagel’s home. Willie was diagnosed as having pericarditis, an inflammation of the lining of the heart. The Nagels took care of Willie’s hospital expenses this time but after his recovery, we both sensed a coolness in their attitudes toward us.

We quit our jobs with the Nagels and found other jobs in the same business but nowhere could we find a place to live which was within our ability to pay. Finally, on Long Island, we found what we could afford, although it meant getting up at 5:00 a.m. to take the ferry to get to the city before work.

Willie again became ill and ultimately hospitalized, so we moved back to the city. This time we found a fourth floor apartment in an old run-down tenement on Delancey Street, on the lower east side. We were forced to add another member to our family-­ a cat, to keep out the rats.

Because no money was available to spend on cab fare, I spent countless nights walking by myself through Harlem to get to the Jewish Hospital to be with Willie. During the day, I worked in a factory manufacturing children’s clothes. My salary was less than $20.00 a week. Not enough to pay for rent and food, let alone the extra burden of hospital bills. I spoke very little English, which before hadn’t mattered since Willie took care of all the interactions that were necessary. Now I was compelled to use the phone for myself and also compelled to listen to the insulting remarks such as “Damn Refugee!” made by those too impatient to listen.

Sitting in the semi-darkness, watching the watery light reflect on the oxygen tent covering Willie, I realized he was struggling and thrashing to get air. As a nurse came through the door, she spoke: “He is frustrated.” By the time the words were uttered, Willie was gone. Not knowing any other explanation, I associated the word “frustrated” for years with death.

Shock overcame me. I remembered nothing until the cab driver of the cab in which Willie’s cousin, Lil, and I were riding shouted at me to get out as I vomited all over myself. The man assumed I was drunk. Stumbling out of the cab, I fell to the curb; water, grit, and vomit stung my face as the cabbie accelerated his pent-up anger. I had no feelings left with which to care.

The Nagels paid the funeral expenses the next day, ad Lil stayed with me for a while in my apartment. After I returned to work, a big, rough man from a collection agency informed me that if I didn’t pay the hospital, I would be turned in for deportation. I had no means to pay for a lawyer, or wit to confront the issue on my own. I hadn’t come this far not to go farther. I saved the money I would have spent for one meal each day and paid the debt.

IN The FACE of Sorrow

I had no idea what to do with my life. I did know that I resented entering and leaving the back door of an uncooled clothing factory where sweat poured down my face as I worked over a steam machine. The thought occurred to me that my life must have more meaning.

Julius, a young man I dated for a time, encouraged me to attend school. Taking his advice, I went to high school in the evenings and completed a general education degree so that I would be accepted at New York City College. Going to school changed my life. I knew at school a chair waited for me; someone would call my name and I would answer. A simple routine, but one which would save my sanity and sense of being. I struggled with learning, at the same time wrestling with who I was and what really mattered, nurturing in myself some semblance of purpose for this transitory life. The sight of families together in the park or walking down the street would pluck a tender memory from my own past and send tears streaming from my eyes. Feelings of worthlessness and fear of rejection underlay the small steps I took toward patching together the broken pieces of my world.

I continued to work at Mode-Kitty, the children’s clothing factory where soon I met another refugee, a person who to this day remains my most cherished friend, Martha. She and I made an agreement to share an apartment together, and until Martha met married Zoli, we lived not far from Mt. Sinai Hospital on 105th and Broadway. After Martha left, Helenka, another survivor of Plaszow, although I did not know her when we were both there, moved into the apartment and it was she who arranged the blind date which led to my present marriage. Not an uncomplicated transition but one whose history is worth repeating.

HARRY

A furrier by trade, Harry Adler when I met him was working with his father, brother and mother in his father’s business. As time went on, we became fond of each other and Harry took me home to meet his mother. Up until now, I had not told Harry that I had been married previously. When I did tell him, he in turn told his mother. All the Jewish-mother manipulations possible went into effect. In fact, Harry broke off seeing me and was coerced to Frankfort, Germany, on a business trip.

Protective of her second son, Harry’s mother did not like the fact that I had been married. She thought that possibly I had a child hidden somewhere. And to give her argument traditional credence, she insisted that since Paul, Harry’s older brother, had not married, it would not be appropriate for Harry to marry before him. Harry left and I continued my routine of school and work, disappointed and hurt by someone I sincerely cared for and hoped to marry.

Helenka, returning home one evening from a date with Joe, informed me that Harry had returned. So, after laying aside my ego and hurt feelings, Helenka and I conceived a strategy so that I could see Harry again. We had a party to which Harry was invited. Once again seeing each other, we both realized we truly cared for one another and began dating again.

Harry’s mother wasn’t any happier this time than she was the last, but Harry announced our engagement in December of 1951 at the Sabra Cafe in New York City to the melodies of Shoshana Damari.

Off on a business trip again, Harry left his parents in charge of making plans for a wedding in April. This they found difficult because of the restrictions surrounding Lag B’Omer, a period of time in which no celebrations of joy are to take place with the exception of one day. It seemed that every Jewish family in New York had wedding arrangements made on that day. No place was to be found.

Not willing to put off the wedding any longer, I flew, wrapped in a seal coat which would be sold to pay for my air ticket, to see Harry. Harry met me at the airport and gathering a shamus, and ten virtually from the streets to make a minyan, we were married and a photograph was sent back to mother to verify the event.

Because Harry had business to attend to in Brussels, we took an apartment where among my many culinary attempts, I made donuts which turned out to be stone with jelly inside.

During this time, we traveled to Paris where we visited Lilka, who had smuggled out of Poland shortly after I left Krakow in 1945. I had not seen her since that time. Lilka had met and married Chilek. When Harry and I saw them in Paris in 1952, they had two children, Fannie and JoJo, ages 5 and 3. Living in a flat among other poor Jewish refugee families with no toilet or hot water, Chilek struggled to make a small living by tailoring, borrowing a neighbor’s sewing machine when it wasn’t in use. Seeing the conditions in which they were living, made it difficult for me to enjoy the remainder of my honeymoon without feeling guilty.

Harry and I had no money to help them, but we contacted Aunt Pitzelle’s son who lived in Chicago and he was able to send enough money to Chilek so that he could buy his own machine. From then on, although Lilka continued to suffer bouts of depression, they were able to make a good living and raise two children: one a fashion designer, living in Tel Aviv, and one who became a dentist, now living in Paris.

After visiting Paris, Harry and I returned to Brussels. From there, I sailed back to New York to my job from which I had taken a leave of absence. When Harry returned from Brussels, we were married again in a civil ceremony.

My life was taken up with working at Mode-Kitty during the day, going to school at night, working on becoming a citizen and trying to become pregnant. Under conditions of stress, a woman discontinues her menstrual cycle. I had not menstruated since my incarceration in Plaszow, and I feared that I would not be able to bear children.

CHILDREN

I desperately wanted a child, especially in view of the fact that so many members of my family had been slain. I felt it my personal responsibility to have a baby. Who would know of my family and pass on the memory of them if I did not have a child? Finally, after checking my temperature morning and night for what seemed an interminable amount of time, I became pregnant. In my eighth month, I quit work and school. I wanted a baby girl. I never had a brother, and I felt I didn’t know anything about raising boys.

My mother-in-law promised that if I gave her a granddaughter, she would buy a strawberry shortcake for me to eat all by myself. At 2:30 a.m. on November 14, 1955, after a car ride in a torrential rainstorm and a breakdown on the Long Island Expressway, I barely arrived at the hospital before giving birth. I was too sick from the anesthetic after Diane was born so I gave the most beautiful strawberry shortcake I had ever seen to the nurses on the maternity ward.

Why did I specifically want strawberry shortcake? Harry and I would visit his mother’s house and mother would often have strawberry shortcake for dessert. However, there were always so many people around that I could never have more than one slice, and I longed for a shortcake all to myself.

I had my baby. How can I express what that meant to me? A future, during the blackest hours of my worst pain and desperation, was unthinkable but here in my arms lay the most awesome expression of the word miracle. Nothing is impossible. I held the real, breathing wonder of that next to my heart.

Harry’s father died in August of 1954 of a heart attack, not living long enough to see his first grandchild. Up until that time, Harry had worked with his father and eventually they turned a furrier trade into a mail-order stamp business. After his father’s death, he began working for Schoco Toy Company, and then found a job as a travel agent.

We lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Elmhurst, where we slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room giving up the bedroom to the baby. Diane Ida, the second name after my sister, was a colicky child who refused to grow hair and insisted on being carried. She also inherited a crooked little finger, taking after her father’s mother. Other than that, she was a beautiful healthy baby who kept us up most nights.

When Diane became a year and a half old, we gathered up enough nerve to let her cry until she fell asleep by herself. We managed to do this feat by holding on to each other so that neither of us would get up and go to her. Soon afterwards, life smoothed out. In retrospect, I attribute Diane’s colic to my nervousness and lack of experience and if the poor child suffered as a baby, I blame myself more than anyone.

Four years later on August 31, 1959, I gave birth to a son, born with a full head of hair, who loved to eat and hummed when he did. I believe experience did make a difference.

“My daddy’s going away for a hundred days!” Diane would tell our friends before Harry decided to go into the import-export business in Switzerland. What a scramble this time was for us. Harry went to Switzerland the day after the night of his brother Paul’s wedding. Three months later, Diane, Allan and I joined Harry in Geneva. The flashing, sparkles of light, and banging sounds of fireworks emerging from the sky on that Fourth of July night jarred my thoughts to the present time, but the questions I ask remain unanswered.

PERSEVERANCE AND HOPE

Now, as I retell all this, the year is 1986. I completed eleven years of education, received both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree and served as Director of Social Services at Mesa Lutheran Hospital for eleven years.

I live in Phoenix, Arizona, with my husband, Harry. Diane graduated from Northern Arizona State University, married in 1982, and lives in Israel with her husband, Desmond, and daughter, Naomi. Allan graduated from Harvard University in 1984 and now works in Los Angeles, California. Allan married Susie Cooper in November of 1980. All my dreams are fulfilled.

Forty years have passed since I was liberated. Neither the terror filled memories, nor the agony connected to them, nor the tattoo have faded. Although other survivors have had their tattoos removed, I chose, as a reminder to myself and as a symbol to others, to keep mine. Of itself, it is a memorial.

In the same light, I write to those of my family so that you will not forget, so that you know I bore witness to the most heinous crime ever committed, so that you will be inspired to overcome what at the time might seem to you impossible.

I am often called upon to speak to school children and to others about what my life’s experiences have been. Frequently, I use a quote from Shakespeare which reads, “Sweet are the uses of adversity which like an ugly toad wears yet a precious jewel in its head.” I explain the quote to these audiences: “Life may give you horrible conditions with which you must struggle; however, from the struggle, you will learn to create beauty from the lessons you have learned.”

Out of my experiences came the need to prove that I deserve to live when so many others died. These feelings compelled me to learn English, return to school, continue with college, complete a master’s degree, and maintain a position as a director of medical social work. During the many years I spent attaining these achievements, I wanted to quit. Primarily, because I had trouble with both written and spoken English, I spent many hours in excess of what was normally required to complete an education. (I might add here that without Harry’s support, patience, encouragement, in addition to his ability to type and edit my papers, I would never have made it.) My determination to succeed, nonetheless, was my most powerful motivator.

I hope that my experiences and accomplishments will be an inspiration to you. Images and thoughts you may turn to when you feel life has dealt more to you than you can handle at the time. A guide to your own successes.

Look for one more way… never forget… never give up hope, the keystone for survival… you can turn bad into good.

frieda4

Frieda Allweiss

Frieda Allweiss was born to secular Zionist parents on May 21, 1933 in Chortkow, Poland, a small town where Jews had lived since the 1700s. She spoke Polish at home and attended a Yiddish school. In 1939 the Hitler/Stalin pact divided Poland and Russia occupied Chortkow until June 1941, when Germany broke the pact, invaded Chortkow, and began killing Jews. Frieda’s craftsman father was conscripted into the Russian army, and Frieda, 8, and her mother fled, beginning a six-month odyssey trying to stay ahead of the Nazis.

Taking only what they could carry, Frieda’s mother dressed her daughter in multiple layers of clothing, and the two boarded a train with other families on the run. They endured cold, hunger, fear, Nazi bombings, and overcrowded cattle cars with no sanitation facilities. Constantly on the move, they went from Kiev to a collective watermelon farm near Stalingrad. She survived scarlet fever and then typhus, which left her unconscious for several weeks.

By sheer luck, Frieda’s father was reunited with his wife and daughter in 1942. Until the winter of 1946 they lived in Krasnouralsk in the Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union, where Frieda attended school. Food was in short supply, but American flour, sugar, dried eggs, and Spam helped save her family from starvation.

Of Chortkow’s 10,000 Jews only 100 survived. After the war, Frieda’s family (that now include a baby sister) remained in Germany until 1949. At Bergen Belsen DP Camp they lived in former Nazi barracks, and then in Bensheim, another Displaced Persons camp near Frankfurt. They settled in Detroit, Michigan, aided by HIAS and the Jewish Federation. Frieda’s father found work, and she, at age 13, resumed her education and finally began a normal life.

In 1952, Frieda, 19, married a survivor who had hidden in Poland’s woods during the Nazi era. A man who could fix anything, he was a mechanical draftsman and started his own car repair business.

A widow, Frieda has four children, two grandchildren, and has lived in Scottsdale since 2006. For years she was silent about her Holocaust saga but has begun to speak because she believes that those who managed to survive the Nazi era in many different ways, must tell their stories.

Esther Basch

Esther was born on May 28, 1928, the only child of Rabbi Moises and Fanny Roth.  While Esther’s country of birth was Czechoslovakia, the same town of Szollosh was Hungarian when Esther’s mother was born there. In fact, it was once again Hungary by the time Esther was 9 or 10 years old. Today, that same town is Vinograd, Ukraine.

The Germans entered the town in early 1944 and, within a few months, Esther and her parents were forced to leave their home and move into the ghetto, a four-square block area located across the street. People were “fed” bread or watery soup once a day and Esther remembers starving. Occasionally, when they could, some Christian neighbors would throw bread over the fence when the guards weren’t looking. They remained in the ghetto for six weeks.

On May 23, 1944, Esther, her parents, and others forcibly held in the ghetto were loaded onto a train bound for Auschwitz. They were told that their destination was “a better place.” Esther recalls there being about 100 people in her car, standing like sardines, with no food or water available the entire time. On arrival on May 28, which was Esther’s sixteenth birthday, half the people were dead.

Once off the train, her father was sent in one direction; she and her mother to another. She was then forcibly separated from her mother, age 50, who was sent to the left; Esther, to the right. She never saw either parent again. During Esther’s 3 ½ months in Auschwitz she befriended a girl who was selected for a work assignment. Esther remained in a group that was being reviewed by Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death. Just at that time, a heavy metal door fell down and Esther snuck behind it to follow her friend; had she not done so, she would have become part of Mengele’s experiments. Instead she was sent to work at an ammunitions factory in Germany.

Esther recalls another occasion when she and Mengele crossed paths. She, along with the others, was in formation when Mengele appeared to make his selection. He held out his silver cane and pointed to those girls he wanted. She thought he was pointing at her and stepped out of line. Forcefully pushing his cane into Esther’s belly button, Mengele pushed Esther back into line. Instead, he chose her best friend from grade school. To this day, Esther has nightmares about Mengele and can still feel the pain in her belly button.

In April of 1945, Esther was sent to work at another ammunitions factory, Salswedel, a sub-camp of Neuengamme, located deep in Germany. However, in order to get there, she and others had to take part in a death march, walking for four or five days further into Germany. Upon arrival, she found 3000 women there, including her best friend, whom the kapos had told her was killed.  Three days later, on April 14, 1945, American soldiers came to the gate and shot the lock open. (The Nazis had locked the women in prior to fleeing.) The Americans yelled, “You are free, you are free,” but the women didn’t understand what was being said.  They just saw more men in uniforms and were afraid until a Jewish soldier was able to explain. They were brought to the German area of the camp which held beds and had medicine and food.

After three months, the women were put on trucks and taken to a port where they boarded a ship bound for Prague, then a train to Budapest, where they illegally entered a kibbutz. The leader was Joe, a 21 year old who took charge of 60 children, of whom Esther was one. The plan was for Joe to take them to Palestine, but enroute they went to a Displaced Person (DP) camp in Germany for six months.  Esther recalls being served bacon and didn’t want to take it, but Joe, further back in the line, said “Take some for me.” Since he was the great nephew of the Sapinker Rabbi, Esther figured it was alright to take. Besides, it was the only food being offered. While in the DP camp, which Esther sometimes referred to as a kibbutz, she, now 17, and Joe were married. U.N. and American troops provided Esther and Joe with jackets and gave Esther white cloth to make a wedding blouse. They said a couple should look good on their wedding day. A narrow gold wedding band was provided by the U.N. troops. They were the first in the compound to be married.

Esther soon found herself pregnant so she and Joe were among the first to get to leave. They, with others, were sent by train to France and then boarded a ship bound for Palestine. They were within sight of Haifa when the British intervened and sent the ship to Cyprus. While they were well-fed in the DP camp, they still found themselves behind barbed wire.

They remained there for three months before being in the first group of 100 whom the British admitted to Palestine. It was December, 1946. Three weeks later, Joe and Esther’s daughter, Rachel, a Sabra, was born. The family lived in a suburb of Tel Aviv and in May of 1948, Joe held his infant daughter on his shoulders as he and Esther walked into the city to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. The next day, Joe entered the war.

Joe had three brothers, all in Israel. One brother worked on a project involving the bomb and died of radioactivity. Joe’s father, who lived in the U.S., struggled with the loss of a child and urged Joe and his brothers to emigrate. Unable to get a visa, Joe, Esther, and baby Rachel moved to Canada, living in Windsor, Ontario for six years.

Esther said living in North America was a big adjustment, but she did it for Joe’s dad.  While in Canada, Franny was born in 1953 and Mark 15 months later. In 1958 the family moved to Brooklyn where they owned and operated a movie theatre in Trump City, near Brighton Beach. Son Paul was born in 1963. Today, Esther has eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Esther sums up her experience by saying, “I cannot forget but I can forgive because if I don’t forgive, then I suffer, and I suffered enough.”

Fast forward to 2007 when Esther’s long-standing dream was finally brought to fruition. Thanks to daughter Rachel’s perseverance, Max Lieber, a member of the 84th Infantry that liberated Esther’s camp, was contacted and came from his home in New Mexico to Phoenix to greet Esther and receive her heartfelt thanks for, literally, saving her life. The two embraced and cried for ten minutes. The moment was not lost on Esther’s family, all of whom were there for the “reunion.” Had it not been for those U.S. troops, none of them would have been born.

Bronia Bronkesh Z”L

Bronia Cimmerman Bronkesh has lived in Scottsdale since 1991.  She was born in her grandparents’ home in Sarny, Poland in 1921.  Bronia first attended private Hebrew schools and then Polish public schools. Following graduation in 1938, she left for Warsaw to continue her education. While home for summer vacation in 1939, Germany invaded Poland and within the week the Nazis bombed Sarny.  Two days later the Russian army came to Sarny and over night the town became part of the Soviet Union. Bronia repeated two years of high school in Russian in order to be eligible for Russian college.  Life was good for a short while.

In June 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union and the Nazi army marched toward Sarny.  Bronia encourage her family to run deeper into the Soviet Union.  Bronia, her mother and sister left, sometimes walking for miles or riding trains while being bombed while her father and other relatives stayed to wait it out.  As soon as they managed to get to Kiev they had to leave because the Nazis were quickly advancing.  After three days dodging bombs on the Dniepr River, they made it to Dniepropetrovsk where boxcars waited to transport refugees into Asia. While riding the train for days in awful conditions, they were glad to escape the Nazis.  At a train stop they miraculously found an aunt who was able to get their destination changed landing them in Kirovakan, high in the Caucasian Mountains. Life was quiet far from the front.  Bronia continued her education and was accepted to medical school and she left her family to attend school in the Armenian capital or Erevan.

In October 1942 the papers reported atrocities inflicted on the Jews in the conquered territories. Sarny was prominently featured.  Its Jewish ghetto had been liquidated and its residents taken to the woods, forced to dig trenches and shot into those ditches. Among the thousands killed were Bronia’s father and grandparents.  In 1944 when Kiev was liberated, they returned and Bronia resumed her medical studies there and on weekends cleared rubble in the destroyed city. When Sarny was liberated, they returned but no Jews were left alive and so Bronia with her mother and sister left the Soviet Union in hopes of making it to the USA where they had relatives.  Their first stop was Lublin, Poland. There she met Sane Bronkesh whom she married on October 14, 1945 and a week later they left on a journey that took nearly two years.  They were smuggled by the Hagana through Czechoslovakia and Austria eventually landing in an American DP camp outside of Munich.  An American Jewish officer wrote to his mother asking her to place a newspaper ad that helped connect them with their relatives in the USA who secured visas for these Holocaust survivors who arrived in NY in June 1947 including Bronia.

Fred Greenwood Z”L

Mr. Greenwood was born in Eindhoven, in Holland. The town is in southern Holland, the country, as he describes it, being divided by 3 major rivers. In the 1600’s, he says, the Netherlands was like America is today, a world power taking in refugees from all parts of the globe, and this is how his ancestors came to live there, having left Germany in the early 19th century.

Mr. Greenwood explains that the land to the north is known to be more cosmopolitan and its citizens well-educated. His father was from the south, while his mother was raised in the north. Her family traded in diamonds, and she was an accomplished pianist, giving lessons, accompanying opera singers, and playing in cinemas to add background music as silent movies played on screen. Because of his mother’s love of music, Mr. Greenwood said that there was always music playing in his home, either live or on the radio. His mother’s brother played the flute with the great Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini.

Mr. Greenwood’s father was a Veehandelaar, the middle man who bought the cow from the rancher and sold meat to the butcher. Mr. Greenwood enjoyed accompanying his father on his job, riding on the back of his father’s bicycle. Young Freddy could count on being treated to fresh cold cuts from the butchers they visited.

Early in 1940, Mr. Greenwood remembers listening to the radio and hearing Hitler give a speech to a German crowd. His family didn’t speak German, but knew the word, “Juden,” and understood they were hearing a well-received hate-speech against Jews. On May 10th that same year, when he was 10 years old, his brother Jacques was 12 and his brother Hans was 15, Hitler invaded Holland. Within five days, the entire Dutch government was replaced by Germans.

A few days later, the reality of the Nazis was made clear to Mr. Greenwood when Nazi troops marched down his street, and he could see the parade from his living room window. The troops were led by a motorcade of long cars and motorcycles, the soldiers marching behind in lockstep. He remembers the frightening metallic sound of their heavy footsteps; Nazi troops had metal heals on their boots which added to the longevity of the boots and also the intimidating stature of the soldiers.

Although Eindhoven was the 5th largest industrial city in Holland, there were only 700 Jewish people living there, and many of them were related. Consequently, young Freddy thought that “everybody was family.” Yet, that feeling changed overnight. After the German invasion, he remembers staying at an “aunts” house (one of many relatives he referred to as such), but feeling strange during the walk home. “For the first time in my life, I felt self-conscious,” Mr. Greenwood remembers. “Something had changed, but I wasn’t sure what.”

Still, his mother was determined that her family would carry on with their lives regardless of the madness that seemed to be taking hold of their country. Even her determination, however, was no match for the restrictions that came with the occupation. Jews were not allowed in parks, in public swimming pools; they were not allowed to use cars or bicycles; they could not hold certain professions, and they could not socialize with non-Jews.

In 1941, it was decreed that Dutch Jews would have to wear the Yellow Star identifying them as Jewish. In the middle of the Star was the word, “Jood.” From a moral standpoint, this was the ultimate humiliation. However, Mr. Greenwood pointed out that it was also a practical nightmare. Each family was given only a few of the stars, but was forced to sew it to any article of clothing worn outside of the home. This meant that his mother had to constantly take off the star and re-sew them to the clothing of each family member every time they changed clothes.

Among the restrictions was the law that no Jewish children could attend school with non-Jews. This meant that Freddy and his brothers had to take the train to a Jewish school 30 miles away. The most traumatizing aspect of this was that as time passed, they noticed that more and more children disappeared. Without a goodbye or mention of plans to leave, the children simply vanished, leaving Freddy and his brothers to wonder what could have happened to them.

The “final solution” was contrived by Hitler and his top men at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942.  Within several months, “Uncle Michael” came to tell each member of the Groenewoudt family to pack a suitcase and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Uncle Michael was not Jewish—he was Catholic– but was among the close friends that the Groenewoudt’s considered family. Uncle Michael had nine children, some of whom had been instructed in piano by Mrs. Groenewoudt. Certainly, he had much to lose if the Germans ever learned about his underground activity, but this extraordinary man chose not to let fear inhibit his morality. Uncle Michael showed up one evening and took Freddy to his “first address.”

They left in the middle of the night on bicycle. Uncle Michael was a big man, and had one stiff leg that was of little use. Still, he could pedal faster on his bicycle than most fit men with two good legs. His only advice to Freddy as he led him to his new home was to “be obedient.” For this 12-year-old boy living in hiding, this meant that he was not to complain, do as he was told, and above all, not to make a sound.

Over the next two years, Uncle Michael would show up every few weeks to escort Freddy to a new hiding place or “address.” His feeling was that it was unsafe to keep Freddy in the same home too long because sooner or later the milkman would notice the regular consumption of an extra bottle of milk, or the neighbors would wonder why they were no longer invited to visit. It was a wise strategy, but not without many risks. It was remarkable that Uncle Michael could find 14 different families to hide Freddy, and that he managed to smuggle the young boy without notice was a death-defying feat.

With each “new address,” Freddy was given an escape route so that he could be ready to flee if there was any sign of Nazi soldiers coming to the home. Luckily, he never had to use the emergency escape, although he did have one or two close calls with soldiers.

On one ride to his next home, Mr. Greenwood recalls that they ran into a German soldier, also on a bicycle. Michael didn’t panic and simply carried on a short conversation as though traveling in the middle of the night with a suitcase and young boy on bicycle was the most natural thing in the world.

The Groenewoudt family owed much to those brave people who risked their own lives and their families’ lives to save people they didn’t even know. Freddy’s mother was lucky enough to be taken to “Den Haag” and stayed with a family including an opera singer. Michael had procured fake papers for her and so she could live openly with the family.

Mr. Greenwood’s oldest brother, Hans, had been working as a chemist in a factory owned by a family named Phillips, but he was not allowed to stay. Hans had visited Freddy once while in hiding, but then disappeared and Mr. Greenwood has no idea what happened to him. However, he suspects that Hans died on a specific night. That night, Freddy had a dream that he saw his brother on a bridge but he couldn’t move and go meet him. Mr. Greenwood reports that the dream is still so vivid in his head, and was so vivid then, that it woke him from his sleep and kept him awake throughout the night.  His second oldest brother, Jacques, went to work on a farm and then went into the underground political resistance, not to be confused with the military resistance.

Freddy’s only communication with his mother was through Uncle Michael, who relayed messages back and forth as often as possible. Many others helped young Freddy through this terrible time of underground confinement. One teacher continued to send him homework, correcting and grading his work, so that after the war, he had only lost one year of schooling. Even with his homework, however, Mr. Greenwood reports that the toughest part of his hiding was fighting the boredom. He could not make a sound, move in front of a window, or leave his room—not an easy way for anyone to pass hour after hour, day after day for two years, let alone an adolescent boy.

In August 1944, Mr. Greenwood remembers that he could hear the Allies attacking the Germans on the Belgian border 20 miles away. A few weeks later, on September 14th, the allies came through Eindhoven, where he was staying, and he was told he could actually wear shoes and go outside. Freddy found it exciting to be outside and see the allied armies, paratroopers and planes all from the highway as he walked.

Although his side of the rivers was liberated, his mother’s side was not free until 1945. So, it wasn’t until he was 15 that he could finally see his mother after three years of hiding and waiting for the war to end.

Freddy, his mother and Jacques moved into a garage that was a teacher’s art studio where their only furnishings were a sink and table. He and his mother visited their old house where all their belongings were being used by another family. Afraid to make a fuss, his mother left with only a couple of her things, those items that the new owners said they could do without. Later, the Dutch government supplied them with low-rent housing.

His mother began to give piano lessons once again and she went to the head of the Phillips family who owned the factory where Hans had worked. Mr. Phillips agreed to pay for Freddy’s tuition in the “gymnasium,” a university preparatory school. There Freddy did well, but could never overcome that feeling of insecurity that haunted him just after war broke out, a feeling he had never experienced before the war, when he was surrounded by friends and family. Now anyone he knew who was Jewish was gone, and he felt vulnerable.

In 1952, after finding no real job or career that interested him, Freddy received the permanent visa he needed to move to America. He had applied after a visit to his uncle in New York. Upon entering the New York harbor on ship, he remembers being so joyous, that he waved to the Statue of Liberty as he sailed by. As soon as he settled in the U.S., Mr. Greenwood discovered he needed to register for the draft. Within 4 months, he was in basic training as an American soldier of the Korean War.

On his way to Korea in Fort Lewis, he found the drudgery of military service was taking its toll. One day after roll-call, Freddy and a friend decided to part ways with their unit and go left instead of right. They continued down their path towards the compound library, thinking they would pass the time with some good books. As they approached the door, a colonel opened it and asked, “Are you the guys sent to help?” “Absolutely!” they replied, and thereafter happily continued to show up daily for easy work in the library, having their meals with the officers, all the while astonished at their good fortune.

Freddy’s good luck continued in the army. He began taking photos as a hobby and ended up being a kind of unofficial base photographer. One of his subjects was the lovely young actress, Marilynn Monroe whom he photographed when she was on base entertaining troops.

In that one year, from 1953-54, at the age of 22-23, Freddy got married to Anita Amsel and soon after had a baby on the way, traveled as part of the engineering corps to Japan and Korea, and then still with the army, came back to the U.S. In 1954, when the war ended, he returned to join his uncle in the diamond cutting business. Like previous jobs, Freddy found diamond cutting uninteresting and an unsatisfactory way to spend his life.

One day as Anita was having her hair done, her stylist asked her if her husband would like to become a stylist himself.  He thought it sounded like a fine idea, so he went to beautician school on the G.I. bill, and began his new career. It was a rough start. The first few jobs ended with his being fired for dropping shampoo bottles, inability to use hairpins properly, and an “atrocious” hair cut or two. But after many false starts, he developed knowledge of permanents, tints, and problem solving–fixing mistakes made by other stylists.

In 1960, he opened his own shop in Queens, NY. He and Anita had three children, and the family lived comfortably and happily on the east coast. Yet, when they came for a vacation to visit Phoenix and Scottsdale, the family liked the area so much, they relocated to the Valley of the Sun in 1966.  Mr. Greenwood eventually opened two highly successful shops in the valley and was able to sell his business and retire at the age of 56.

The Greenwoods enjoyed a long happy marriage and had three children. Their oldest son, Mark (now Naftali) lives in Israel where he has 4 children. Their younger son, Robert, lived in Chandler, married with two children, and their daughter, Rochelle in California. When, in 1993, Mrs. Greenwood tragically died of cancer, Mr. Greenwood found himself living alone for the first time in many years.

It seemed everyone he knew was trying to fix him up, and even his Rabbi gave him the number of someone he thought would make a great match for Mr. Greenwood. Eventually, he lost the number of Vera Kielsky, and forgot about calling her, never really having given it much thought in the first place.

A few months later, a good friend invited him to join her and another friend on a trip to Laughlin. That new friend turned out to be the same Vera whose number he had lost. On the drive back, she sat in the front seat part of the drive and began conversing with Mr. Greenwood. The conversation quickly became astounding. The two had an incredible amount of things in common:

  • Both had recently been widowed
  • Each had been married for nearly 40 years
  • Both had visited in Jerusalem at the same time
  • Each spouse was born in the same year and died within 5 days of one another
  • Each had two boys and one girl
  • Each had their eldest boy living in Jerusalem, and each son had 3 boys and 1 daughter
  • Each had a son living in Chandler, and both of them had 1 girl and 1 boy 1 year apart in age

Later that year, Mr. Greenwood’s daughter suggested that on New Year’s Eve, he invite several other widows and widowers to his home. Among the group was Vera. The next time Fred visited Vera at her house, he noticed that her dishes and flatware had the same pattern as his own.

It seemed inevitable that these two people would end up married. They had 120 people attend their wedding, and of those, about 110 already knew each other. They shared so many things in common even though they’d never met, that nearly all their friends turned out to be mutual to them both.

Today, Fred and Vera Greenwood make a charming and elegant couple. They both have remarkable life stories and significant tales to tell that reflect how WWII affected lives not just during the war years, but forever after.

Vera Kielsky-Greenwood

Mrs. Greenwood’s family had lived in Germany for 1000 years. Six of her uncles served in WWI, two receiving iron crosses, and one giving his life for his country. Her father, Arnold Landshut, was a successful criminal lawyer until Hitler’s laws came into effect. A Jew could no longer work for a non-Jew, and so anyone in need of criminal representation could not hire him. The stress of the new laws and national attitude took its toll beyond finances. Mrs. Greenwood’s mother had a miscarriage late in her pregnancy.

When she was just five years old, Mrs. Greenwood remembers watching what looked like a wonderful parade marching by right outside their living room window. Her mother quickly pulled her away, not wishing to expose her daughter to the sight of crowds cheering as Nazi soldiers marched smartly in step with right hands held high in praise of Hitler and the Third Reich.

Still in the early days of the Third Reich’s reign, six soldiers appeared at the family’s door, pushing their way into the apartment. They found the well-appointed library and threw the whole collection out into the street. Every book was confiscated. It was summer of 1933.

That was enough for Mr. Landshut who, the next day, applied for visas from the British consulate to Palestine. He paid £1000 so the three could leave Germany as soon as possible. At the train station, Mrs. Greenwood remembers all the extended family coming to say goodbye. Half of them said, “You’re crazy! This madness will soon pass. This is Germany.” The other half said, “Good luck. We wish we could go with you.”

Two of Mr. Landshut’s 9 siblings were in Palestine already, and as an avid Zionist, he was happy to join them. But Palestine was a harsh place, and life there for their young, slightly spoiled cosmopolitan family meant very real and not always pleasant lifestyle changes.

First they moved to Haifa where Mr. Landshut’s brother had procured a tiny apartment for them.  One brother, with his wife and children, moved next door.  The Landshut’s opened the first Jewish delicatessen in Palestine. This required that they all learn Hebrew. Though her mother was a good cook, Arnold didn’t have the temperament to serve at the counter. He often had customers waiting much too long while he measured out sliced meats to order, determined he would not go an ounce over or under what was requested. As a result, business suffered.

When young Vera began to suffer constant ear infections, their doctor recommended moving to the dryer climate of Jerusalem. Given that the deli business clearly wasn’t Arnold’s true calling, they decided to move and Mr. Landshut went into business selling office supplies. Unfortunately, his business partner defrauded him and left Arnold destitute.  After so much upheaval and hard work, he had found himself left with nothing in a land he still was not familiar with and no way to support his family. In this exhausted and depressed state, Mr. Landshut actually brought poison home for the three of them to take. Vera’s mother convinced Arnold that things were not at all that desperate, and the next day she secured a job as a cook in a restaurant. Her salary was extremely modest, but included one hot meal a day for the three of them, so at least Mrs. Landshut had been able to save her family from starvation.

In an astonishing turn around, Arnold not only pulled himself out of his depression but studied English (on top of having learned Hebrew) as well as the British laws so that he could pass the British law exams. After six years of working during the day selling cheese wholesale and studying at night, Mr. Landshut earned his Juris Doctorate degree. Soon after, he was hired by the British government as legal advisor to the head of price control and food rationing for Palestine.

Mrs. Landshut found a job as a secretary. However, her boss was a German businessman who eventually was imprisoned for simply being German in a state controlled by the British during a time of war. Mrs. Landshut was then hired to continue her work in Tel Aviv, and because the family relied on her income as well as her husband’s, she had no choice but to move away from her family. She would visit them on weekends for two years, until 1942.

During her time in Tel Aviv, the Germans bombed the city. Mrs. Greenwood remembers praying to G-d for her mother’s safety, promising not to go to the movies for a year if her survived. Her mother lived, and Mrs. Greenwood kept her promise.

One day, Mrs. Greenwood looked through her father’s belongings which she was not supposed to do and found some photographs under an assortment of paperwork on his desk. The photographs were of her father in a military uniform, training as a Haganah soldier. “Well,” she thought, “if he can keep secrets, so can I.” At the age of 16, Mrs. Greenwood managed to work her way into the underground forces, herself, to join the fight against the British. One of her main jobs was to keep watch on a British military camp that happened to be within perfect view from a window of an Orthodox family who cooperated with the underground. She had to record every movement, even when the soldiers went to the bathroom or to take a smoking break.

After the war, but before Israel came into being, started the Hebrew University. The Arabs were now hostile in response to the Zionists who wanted to form the State of Israel. The Arab siege of Jerusalem closed all roads leading out of the city, including the one to the university. It was dangerous to attempt any travel, and Mrs. Greenwood recalls the tragedy of a busload of 72 doctors and nurses who were murdered by the Arabs as they tried to get to Hadassah Hospital.

In 1948 Vera was 19 years old, and she became a full-time soldier. She served the Israeli army almost two years. It was a rough life being on the front lines, having no way to warm food and being given ½ gallon of water every other day for all purposes—drinking, washing, laundry and toilet.

After her service, Mrs. Greenwood finally attended university, earning a Master’s degree in sociology, economics, and statistics. She went to work as a statistician for the newly formed government’s Bureau of Statistics.

Mrs. Greenwood had met her husband, Joseph Kielsky, in Israel where he was principal of a boarding school near Be’er Sheva.  The couple had two sons and a daughter. Having a master’s degree, she wanted to pursue her studies for a PhD and was offered help by the German government to move to Germany and study at Frankfurt University. However, after beginning her studies, she decided that she didn’t want to spend so much time away from her children which her studies would require. So, the family remained in Germany, but Vera became a teacher in English, math, and social science in a kind of high school/trade school.

After 14 years in Germany, with hard work and no social life because the people were too aloof and cold, an opportunity arose for a change.  Vera was selected as an exchange teacher to the U.K.  She took her children with her, but not her husband. He was forced to commute in order to see his family. The family spent a year in the U.K., and the children adapted well. Still, her eldest son, Amnon, preferred Israel and returned to his native country after 3 years in Germany. Eventually Amnon would join the Israeli navy as a seal, and many years later his own son would also become an Israeli navy seal.

In 1978, Mrs. Greenwood applied and was selected to go to Phoenix on a Fulbright International Teacher’s Exchange. She then attended ASU for a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature. Her husband joined her in the U.S. and was able to quickly find work as an evaluator of foreign documents accredited by the U.S. government. Having lived in many places during WWII, he spoke 9 languages and became an expert in identifying documents, determining if they were real or fake.

Mr. Kielsky was a chronic smoker, and he developed lung cancer and died in January 1993. As members of Beth El, the couple had made many friends among the shul’s members. After Mr. Kielsky’s death, a friend in the congregation offered to take Mrs. Greenwood on a trip to Laughlin. It turned out that this lady friend was going to be accompanied by another gentleman friend, although the relationship was purely platonic.

On the way back from Laughlin, Mrs. Greenwood sat in the front seat and began conversing with Mr. Greenwood. The conversation quickly became astounding. The two had an incredible amount of things in common:

  • Both had recently been widowed
  • Each had been married for nearly 40 years
  • Both had visited Jerusalem at the same time that summer
  • Each spouse was born in the same year and died of cancer within 5 days of one another
  • Each had two boys and one girl
  • Each had their eldest boy living in Jerusalem, and each son had 3 boys and 1 daughter
  • Each had a son living in Chandler off the same street, and both of them had 1 girl and 1 boy 1 year apart in age
  • Each had a daughter married to a non-Jew by the name of John and had no children

After a few months, Mr. Greenwood’s daughter suggested that on New Year’s Eve, he invite several other widows and widowers to his home. Among the group was Mrs. Greenwood. When Mr. Greenwood was invited to Vera’s home, he noticed that they had the same pattern dishes and flatware.

It seemed inevitable that these two people would end up married. They had 120 people attend their wedding, and of those, about 110 already knew each other. They shared so many things in common even though they’d never met, that nearly all their friends turned out to be mutual to them both.

One person did recognize what a great couple they would make. That was Temple Beth El’s Rabbi Silberman. He had suggested Mr. Greenwood call “this lady I know you’d like” about 6 months before they met. Mr. Greenwood said that he simply forgot the number the rabbi had given him and really didn’t give it serious thought because he didn’t think the Rabbi could know how much they would have in common or be sure that they’d get along. Luckily for Mr. Greenwood, the Rabbi was right after all.

Jeanette Grunfeld Z”L

Jeannette was born on June 4, 1921, in Cologne, Germany.   An only child, she had a happy childhood, with wonderful parents and privileges that came with the wealth and status of her family.  Her parents, grandparents, even great grandparents were all college educated, and the family had roots in Cologne dating to the first century when her ancestors came with the Romans from Palestine.  Her father, who held a business degree, had a cattle ranch, but when her mother didn’t want to live on the ranch he went into the cattle insurance business, headquartered in Cologne.

At age 10, Jeannette attended Catholic school since it was the closest to her home.  However, twice a week she took lessons to learn Hebrew.  After passing her tests, she went on to study at the lyceum, a private school, where she continued the study of French, becoming fluent, and also took one year of English.  Jeannette was a good student and all went well until one day her teacher said, “All Jews are cowards.”  Jeannette, who admits to having chutzpah, ran out of school, went home and returned with framed medals and other awards of honor for services of her father, a decorated soldier in World War I.  She challenged the teacher’s claim, saying, “You are a liar, Dr. Kreitz,” and citing all of her father’s hard-won medals.  Her mother was called in and Jeannette was expelled.  She then transferred to a Hebrew Academy high school and had to commute by bike from the suburbs into the city.  Within a year, non-Jewish boys threw her off her bike.  They were the same boys she knew from public school.  Her parents sent her to France, but after nine months she chose to come home; she missed her family.

One uncle, Benno, saw the proverbial writing on the wall and urged Jeannette’s parents to flee Germany as he had to England; another uncle moved to Belgium and Aunt Hannah, to England.  But Jeannette’s father did not want to leave his business.  Sadly, in 1937, SS troops picked him up and, over the course of three days, beat him into paralysis and forced him to sign away his business.  When Jeannette and her mother were called on to pick him up they took him to the hospital but were informed that he could not be helped.

Prior to Kristallnacht, the family was given a warning by a friend and went to the Jewish Hospital to hide for three days.  They returned home only after receiving a call from that same friend.  Their synagogue, which had been largely donated by Jeannette’s maternal grandfather, had been ransacked and completely destroyed, as was their own home.  However, all her father’s WWI decorations, including the Iron Cross, were left on the wall untouched.

On Jan. 18, 1939, at age 17, Jeannette was put on the kinder transport to England.  She was placed with people her family knew, but they treated her poorly, giving her no blanket for warmth during the cold winter.  Jeannette used her vocational training and got a job as a dressmaker on Bond St. and moved into a boarding house.  However, whenever she went to the shared bathroom to wash up, men would intentionally walk in.  So she moved yet again, finding a room in a home owned by an older woman.  However, when war broke out, the woman left for the countryside; Jeannette returned from work to find her packed suitcase with the doorman.  She moved into a youth hostel and remained there until 1946.

At age 18, Jeannette had to appear in front of a judge because she was an alien.  As fate would have it, the judge had been stationed in Cologne with the English Army of Occupation after WWI.  He knew her parents well, had bought horses from her father, and had even bounced baby Jeannette on his knees.  She was granted permission to stay in England.  In 1941, Jeannette quit her job as dressmaker and joined the ranks of the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service.  Having once wanted to be a doctor, she became a medic instead.  She learned how to drive an ambulance during blackouts and made runs to the hospital and morgue during air raids.  Her years of studying French paid off as the Aussies in her unit called her ‘Frenchy’ to avoid saying she was a German Jew.  While her work was dangerous (2 of the 14 drivers were killed) she was determined to help the world.  Besides, she “wanted to get back at Hitler.”

At the end of the war, Jeannette hoped to return to Cologne, but a letter from her boyfriend advised her to stay away as nothing was there anymore.  Jeannette’s mother perished in Auschwitz; her father was deceased as well, although Jeannette has never been able to ascertain when, where or how he passed away.  In 1946, Jeannette received an affidavit of sponsorship from a cousin in New York and made her way to Washington Heights.  She got a room with a German Jewish family, applied for a social security card and found a sewing job.  She was introduced to a house painter, Ted Grunfeld, from Hungary and they were married six weeks later.  They had a son, Stephen, and a daughter, Bunny, later married to Gene Cole.  Jeannette is very proud of her two grandsons: Adam is a Lieutenant Public Affairs Officer serving in the Navy and is currently (2012) in the Mideast on the USS Eisenhower; the other, Josh, is living in Melbourne, Australia, where he is on a three-year assignment for the Zionist Federation of Australia. These grandsons are proof that Jeannette has met her goal ~ she did get back at Hitler by ensuring that the Jewish race would live on.

Julie Gutfreund

Julie was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1931. Her father, an attorney, was from Tarnapol, Poland; her mother, from Vishnitz, Romania. The family was well-off and Julie was a self-admitted “spoiled only child.” The family owned a house and had both a maid and nanny for Julie. Julie attended kindergarten and then had a private tutor at home for first grade. However, all that changed in the spring of 1938 when Hitler entered Austria and Jews experienced changes in lifestyles. They were no longer permitted to go to the park or shop in certain stores. A great many restrictions were placed on them.

On Kristalnacht, Julie and her mother were home alone. The maid’s German boyfriend came to the house and banged incessantly at the door while Julie and her mother hid in the closet. Her father, meanwhile, had chosen to ride a streetcar all night. What he observed convinced him that the family needed to flee the area. The next morning he moved the family into the home of a Gentile friend and plans were made to leave. Because of the family’s wealth, they were able to give bribes of money and gold coins to consulates. However, Julie’s dad lost his position as lawyer at a bank for no reason other than he was Jewish.

Six months later, in the spring of 1939, the family received permission to go to Antwerp. Jews were not permitted to travel by train so they flew in a non-pressurized old plane, holding oxygen masks to their faces for the duration of the flight. Once in Belgium, they were aided by HIAS and Julie was placed in first grade. She should have been in second grade, but since she spoke neither French nor Flemish, she was behind in school.

Further plans were made, with a goal of going to Shanghai. However, Julie’s father knew a doctor in Chicago who was also from Tarnapol. Dr. Davidson provided papers for the family. However, since Jews could not get into the U.S., the family had to pretend to be farmers as there was a need for that. The trans-Atlantic trip was made on the Holland-American ship Penland. Although the two-week voyage experienced rough seas, Julie remembers being “happy, running all over.”

Again, HIAS aided the family, finding them an apartment on the lower East Side of New York.  The adjustment was difficult for Julie and she was often sick, missing a great deal of school.  In the spring of 1940, Dr. Davidson arranged for the family to move to Chicago, where Julie’s dad found work selling silk ties door to door. However, his accent had him pronouncing pure silk as poor silk and he did not find success in this position. He later became a bookkeeper for a tavern and attended school to become an accountant. It was in this capacity that he later worked for the Board of Education. Her mother, who had moved to Vienna to attend culinary school, became a cook in the Curtis Candy Company’s cafeteria. Julie found it difficult to transition to a new lifestyle in the U.S. However, she persevered, attending summer school to make up for her lost second grade education. She later attended college and became a medical technician. She met her husband, also a survivor, on a blind date. They married in 1954 and had three children, one of whom lives in Phoenix.

George

George Kalman Z"L

George Kalman was born in October 1934 in Szeghalom, a village in southeastern Hungary. Houses in the farming village were built with mud bricks, no running water and no indoor bathrooms. 

Hungary was an ally of Germany during WWII and military-aged Jewish men, including his father and two uncles, were conscripted by the Hungarian army into slave labor.  George last saw his father when he was just seven years old.

At the age of nine, in the early summer of 1944, he along with his mother, grandfather, and 80 other Jews from the village, were crammed into a railway cattle car and deported. George was lucky that he, his mother, and grandfather remained together, and they ended up in a village in Austria, called Neudorf, in a small agricultural slave labor concentration camp. Only 35 Jewish prisoners were in this small camp.

After Liberation by the Russian Red Army on April 2, 1945, they returned to the village.

There they reunited with one of his uncles who survived the military camp. His father and other uncle had been murdered.

Soon after the end of the war, Hungary – like most countries of Eastern Europe – became a communist dictatorship, part of the Soviet Block. It was not possible to escape from there. In 1956 there was a revolution in Hungary against the communist system. Because of the revolution, the border guards and police were gone, and there was a chance to escape. George managed to escape.

George emigrated to Canada in 1957 where he worked at any job he could get.  Eventually he learned English, finished university, and married in 1965.  He moved to the United States in 1968 when he received a job offer from Westinghouse Electric to do semiconductor research.

Retired, George lives in Phoenix and supports Holocaust education.  He speaks frequently to students and teachers.  His son and daughter live in Colorado Springs.

Oskar by Sydney Bradley 4_02

Oskar Knoblauch

Oskar Knoblauch was born on November 27, 1925 in Leipzig Germany. He was in third grade when the 1935 Nazi Nuremburg laws forbid Jewish children from attending school. Because his parents were Polish citizens, the family, including sister, Ilse, and brother Siegmund, were forced to leave Germany in 1936. They settled in Krakow, Poland, where Oskar continued his education until September 1, 1939 when Germany occupied Poland and World War II broke out.  The Nazis soon imposed new laws and restrictions against the Jews, who were ordered to wear the Star of David.

In March 1941, a 9-foot walled ghetto was established, and Oskar’s family was assigned to one room in a building on Ulica Benedikta. By mid-1941 the Nazis began deporting Jews to various forced-labor and killing camps. With deadly intensity, the deportations continued until the ghetto’s liquidation on March 13, 1943. Oskar’s mother was sent to slave labor at Camp Plaszow.

Oskar, with his father and siblings, along with 116 skilled ghetto Jews—tailors, shoemakers, seamstresses—were taken to Gestapo headquarters on Pomarska Street. Their assignment: to service 500 top German officers. Oskar shoveled coal in the boiler room, which provided hot water and heat for the gigantic Nazi complex. Ilse knitted dresses for Nazi wives. Oskar’s father, however, was murdered while working at slave labor.

By 1945 the Germans realized the Russians were nearby. On January 17, 1945 Oskar, Ilse, and Siegmund escaped, luckily missing a deportation to the Matthausen concentration camp, from which few survived. The very next day the young Knoblauchs were liberated by advance Soviet troops.

In May 1945 the war ended and Oskar, like many surviving Jews, did not want to live in post-war Europe, which still resented Jews. Ilse married and with her husband joined a kibbutz in the Negev Desert, Siegmund moved to the British-occupied sector, and after four years in Feldafing, a DP camp, Oskar, his mother, and a cousin were sponsored by a Canadian uncle. The Knoblauchs arrived in Halifax, Canada on June 11, 1949. Oskar and his wife, Lila, 24, moved to the USA in 1953.  The couple had three children. Oskar lost his wife and a daughter to cancer.  An Arizona Holocaust speaker, Oskar is author of A Boy’s Story, a Man’s Memory: Surviving the Holocaust 1933-1945.

Stephen Lerman Z”L

When Stephen Lerman was born in 1927 in Zambrov, Poland, he was the youngest of six siblings, including two married sisters with children. He grew up in a two-room house with a dirt floor, and the family lived in one room. Stephen’s father, a WWI prisoner of war in France, was a wood turner, and his workshop was in the second room.

Stephen remembers many anti-Semitic incidents, fights with Polish boys, and the town’s gentiles, urging boycotts of Jewish stores. In 1941 Germany, breaking its pact with Russia, invaded Poland. Nazis ordered all Jews to assemble in the marketplace, but Stephen, 14, refused, remaining home with his paternal grandmother, in her 90s. His parents and a brother were among the 1500 Jews murdered that day.

Stephen, the grandmother, and several siblings remained in the wire-surrounded Zambrov ghetto until a freezing January 1943 when the Nazis had farmers with wagons bring ghetto survivors to cattle trains bound for Auschwitz. Although sixteen, Steven was small, skinny, and ‘selected’ to die in the crematorium along with his family, but he remarkably saved himself by sneaking into the younger, able-bodied group that was marched to Birkenau. There his arm was tattooed with number 88,647.

As a slave-prisoner, his first job was sweeping the barracks, inside work that enabled him to survive the bitter cold winter. Later, Nazis had him dynamite houses to prevent people from hiding. Once, when Stephen was sick, a kind SS officer gave him pills and later reassigned him to less heavy work.

After Auschwitz was liquidated in summer 1944, prisoners were sent to Orandenburg near Berlin, then to Sachsenhausen, Dachau, and finally to Kaufering, a camp deep in the woods. There Germans had a camouflaged factory huge enough for trains to go through, especially those filled with deported Jews.

By late April 1945 the Germans, losing the war, closed the camp, forcing prisoners on a death march while fearful SS guards disappeared nightly. On the main highway, Stephen witnessed surrendering Germans in trucks and tanks walking one way and Americans in green uniforms walking the other way, so he slipped in among the American liberators.

Not finding any family survivors, Stephen eventually connected with a Philadelphia uncle. At twenty-two, he arrived in America in August 1949 without a penny in his pocket, only three years of grammar school, and barely any English. He stayed with the uncle and aunt, owners of a meat and grocery store. Stephen—skilled with his hands–became a butcher.

The Lermans married in 1952 and moved to Arizona in 1987. Stephen passed away in June of 2010. He has four children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Stephen was the sole survivor of his family and spoke to various organizations about his Holocaust experiences.

rise2

Rise Stillman

Rise Stillman born in 1930 and lived in Velke Komyaty, a small village with her parents in what was then Czechoslovakia. She was the fourth child in a family of six children.  There were about 25 Jewish families in the village, allOrthodox and most of them were quite poor. The town was at the base of the Carpathian Mountains and most inhabitantswere small farmers. In 1942, a while after Hungary took over the area, life became more difficult.

During October or November of 1943, one of Rise’s relatives who she called “Aunt Pepe” needed assistance. She had broken her hip and her daughter, Emma, needed help caring for her. They lived in a town a few kilometers away and Rise, who was 13 at the time, was sent to help. After a few weeks, she missed her family and wanted to return to her home. Emma thought it would be too dangerous to travel so she stayed. She did not see most of her family again.

Germany occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944. About a month later, on the day after Passover in April, two soldiers knocked on their door and demanded that they immediately leave their house and move to the ghetto. By May, the vast majority of the Jews in the area had been relocated to the ghettos and the mass deportations began. Early one morning they were taken to the train station and packed into cattle cars.  It was too dark in the car to see very well and there was no room to move. She was on that train for three days without much food or water. When the car doors were opened, she heard men shouting, dogs barking and loud music blaring. She had arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. She was separated from her relatives through the “selection” process. She never saw them again.

Rise was herded into a large hall and had her hair shaved off, a tattooed number was affixed to her arm, and she was given a prison uniform. Shortly afterwards she was selected as part of a group of prisoners to be taken daily to Krakow to dig trenches. In October 1944, she was taken to Bergen Belsen. There she worked in a potato field gleaning any leftover potatoes after the harvest. They were warned not to take any produce for themselves. By that afternoon they were gathered up and taken to the farmhouse area. There, they were forced to watch an SS officer beat a man to death because he had stolen a potato. One of her last assignments was working in an underground munitions factory that was located in a salt mine. The food, working and sleeping conditions were always abysmal.

When the war was over in May of 1945, Rise was taken to Sweden to recuperate from her malnutrition and experiences in the various camps. She was able to emigrate to the US in February 1948. She went to Ohio to live with relatives who had come to the US before the war. In Ohio, she married an American whom she knew from work. They had a son who eventually relocated to Arizona for employment. After her husband died, Rise moved to Arizona as well. In addition to her son, she also has a granddaughter. It is only very recently that Rise has begun to tell her story of life during the Holocaust.

Marion

Marion Weinzweig

Marion Weinzweig (Mania Sztajman) was born in Opatow, Poland on January 3, 1941. When she was just 18 months old, her heroic young parents realized that the only way to save Mania’s life was to hide her as a non-Jew.  A Polish landowner’s wife agreed to take Mania until it was safe to return her.

Three weeks later, Germans and Ukrainians surrounded the ghetto. Mania’s mother, 25, and most of the extended family were sent by cattle cars to Treblinka, where they were murdered. Mania’s father was a slave laborer in Starhovitz, and then was taken to Auschwitz finally ending up in Buchenwald, another concentration camp.

The Polish farmer’s wife claimed Mania (renamed “Marisha Repolefska”) was her niece. But after the Gestapo visited her home, prompted by rumors that she was harboring a child, she told her carriage-driver to leave the child on the doorstep of a convent. There, Mania soon developed a keen sense of survival by responding chameleon-like to her drastic life changes. Always hungry and scared, for three years she remained in a dark, gloomy convent until it was bombed in 1945. Amid many dead bodies, Mania ran for her life and was transferred to a second convent.

Her father survived and was liberated from Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. He went back to Poland and located the convent Mania was in. The nuns refused to give Mania to a Jew without demanding an impossible ransom of 5000 zlotys. Desperate, he begged the money from an aide agency, possibly the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Mania at first refused to go with him, having been taught that Jews were the Devil and they had killed Christ.

In 1946, father and daughter fled ongoing pogroms in Poland’s Russian sector, dodging bullets at border crossings. Reaching Bavaria, they lived with her paternal uncle and aunt, also survivors. Bloated from malnutrition, Mania’s lice-infested head was shaved. In late-1948 the four relatives immigrated to Toronto, Canada.  Mania, 9, spoke Polish, German, and Yiddish but no English; she was placed in kindergarten. 

After years of painstaking and emotionally difficult research in Poland, Marion pieced together the history of her life, and she celebrates her survival with her three incredible children and five grandchildren.

Alex

Alexander White, M.D.

Born Alexander Bialywlos in 1923, Alex White grew up in the town of Krosno, Poland with his parents and three siblings. Both his secular and religious schooling ended abruptly on September 1, 1939 when Nazis invaded Poland and occupied Krosno.

As German dive-bombers strafed roads clogged with retreating Polish soldiers, terrified refugees clutched their few, hastily grabbed possessions. Alex’s family found temporary refuge in Dynow, a crossroads city, but the SS took all Jewish males between 16 and 60 and shot them in a forested ravine. His father was spared at this time because he had returned to Krosno to rescue some family possessions; Alex’s mother when asked by an armed SS man how old he was, bravely answered 14, thus sparing Alex’s life.  

In the Krosno ghetto, Alex and his family endured two years of forced labor, starvation, poverty, curfews, and shootings. On December 3, 1942, the order for liquidation and “resettlement” of those of us in the ghetto was issued by the Gestapo. There were dead bodies lying on the cobbled ground and latecomers entering the ghetto were summarily shot on the spot. There were 24 Jews that were assigned to the airbase to work for the Luftwaffe in an enclosed and guarded Labor camp. The remainder of his family including cousins, aunts, uncles and his brother were killed.

In May 1944, his father was sent to the gas chamber, leaving Alex the sole survivor of his immediate family.

As Soviets approached, the Nazis tried to hide evidence of their atrocities. Alex was ordered to open the mass graves in Krakow-Plaszow Camp and burn the corpses. Next, he was taken to Gross Rosen, the most brutal of the camps he experienced. Then he worked in a munitions factory, protected by Oskar Schindler, until he was liberated on May 8, 1945. Alex was number 269 on Schindler’s List which was made famous by the Steven Spielberg film, Schindler’s List.

After the war, Alex hitchhiked to Krakow, where he discovered that the returning Jews—who had survived the Hitler era—were being killed by Poles. In Krosno, Alex found an uncle survivor who came from the American zone with a rucksack filled with chocolate, coffee, and cigarettes. Using these luxuries, the two bribed their way back to the American zone, where Jewish refugees were able to find help.

Aided by several Jewish organizations, Alex studied medicine in Munich and came to the United States in 1950 where he continued his medical training. In Chicago, Alex met his wife, Inez, and he joined the U.S. Army serving during the Korean War.

Now a retired internist, Dr. White has two daughters and a son and lives in Arizona. He frequently speaks about his experiences during the Holocaust to students, teaching them not to be indifferent, to get an education, and to be a mensch (Yiddish word for a person of integrity and honor). Dr. White has devoted his life to fulfilling his father’s last wish. His father asked him to promise that should Alex survive that he would be a mensch.