Al Vorspan, a leader of the group that eventually became the Union for Reform Judaism and was lauded as the “personification of Reform Judaism’s social-justice efforts,” died Feb. 12 in New Paltz, N.Y., four days after his 95th birthday.
In the 50-plus years since Vorspan helped create the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC) and the Commission for Social Action, he encouraged the Reform movement to take stands on issues including civil rights (he was arrested alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a 1964 march in Florida), the Vietnam War, Soviet refuseniks and Israeli-Palestinian relations. He wrote that he was motivated to take up these causes because “as Jews [we] remember the millions of faceless people who stood quietly, watching the smoke rise from Hitler’s crematoria…. We know that, second only to silence, the greatest danger to man is loss of faith in man’s capacity to act.”
Vorspan established the RAC in 1953 because he believed the nearly 1 million Jews who were members of Reform congregations “could be a real force … could transform history” but needed someone or something to bring them together and mobilize them. Working with Rabbi Eugene Lipman, he traveled across the country, organizing congregations and urging them to take sides in the burgeoning civil rights movement. In the process, he attracted leaders of the community to his cause, including future Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and future Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called Vorspan “one of the towering giants of Jewish social justice,” adding that he “blazed a trail of courage and conscience that so many of us have walked…. Our Reform movement and our world are bereft, for he cannot be replaced.”
Vorspan was remembered as a man who followed his beliefs wherever they led him, and who was not afraid to speak his mind, even if it meant offending his fellow Jews. Although he was an ardent Zionist, in 1988 he wrote an article in The New York Times Magazine decrying the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. “Israelis now seem the oppressors, Palestinians the victims,” he wrote. But he also was able to defuse any situation with humor. Many of those who worked alongside him recalled him cheering up colleagues with a joke, then laughing heartily.
Born Albert Vorspan on Feb. 12, 1924, in St. Paul, Minn., he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1946, he married Shirley Nitchun. They remained married until her death this past September. Vorspan’s late brother, Max, who died in 2002, was well known in the Los Angeles Jewish community as a rabbi and a professor at American Jewish University. His nephew, Rabbi David Vorspan, is the founding rabbi of Congregation Shir Ami in Woodland Hills, and founding rabbi of de Toledo High School in West Hills.
Vorspan is survived by his four children, Chuck, Robby, Kenny and Debby; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Reports from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, ReformJudaism.com and the Union for Reform Judaism contributed to this story.
Robert Geminder had his shareof Holocaust horror stories: seeing more than half of his town’s fellow Jews shot and buried in mass graves; being spirited out of the ghetto under his mother’s skirts; being forced to hide alone at a farm; subsisting on leftover livestock feed and raw eggs; escaping from a train just outside of Auschwitz. But Geminder, who died Jan. 27 at the age of 83, is remembered by his family and friends for the joy, optimism and love of people he brought to their lives.
That’s not to say he forgot the terrors of the Holocaust. Geminder was on the board of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), a leader of Holocaust Memorial Day parades, and traveled the world telling his story, most prominently at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. His love of education was so great that after retiring, he received a teaching certificate at the age of 70 and taught math and science in Inglewood.
Geminder was born on Aug. 3, 1935, in Wroclaw, Poland, the second son of Mano and Bertl (his older brother, George, was born in 1933). The family owned apartment buildings and lived comfortably. After the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, the family was forced east to Stanislawow (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine), moving to escape the German army until being forced into the ghetto in 1941. After escaping, Geminder was hidden in a farmhouse and reunited with his family 10 weeks later. In 1944, they returned to Warsaw. They emigrated to the United States in 1947 and settled in Pittsburgh, where Geminder graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1957. A year later, he moved to Los Angeles to work in the aerospace industry. In 1959, he married Judy Strauss; they had three children: Mindy born in 1964, Ellen in 1965 and Shia in 1969.
At her father’s memorial, Ellen said she and her siblings were the “three luckiest kids in the world.” Her father insisted on celebrating all family events, no matter how small. He made their home a welcoming place for their friends — even inviting them along on family vacations — and was a generous source of support and guidance.
His influence extended far beyond his family. Among the lives he touched was that of a young Muslim boy who, after hearing Geminder speak, wrote to thank him for teaching that “it’s OK to be different,” to “love who I am and never change” and to “help my people and country.”
Widowed in 2011, three years later Geminder met Gabriella Karin, a fellow survivor. They soon became inseparable, and participated in the annual March of the Living trips, during which they told their stories. Michelle Gold, a fellow board member at LAMOTH, said the two of them became “the ultimate example of positivity, hope and dignity.” Karin called him “a beautiful miracle” who“brought great joy and happiness” into her life.
Beth Kean, LAMOTH’s executive director, remembered Geminder’s humor and vitality. Even at 80, she said, he could be seen tooling around in a Corvette, an 80th birthday present to himself. Ellen joked that her father was “busier than(her and her partner) put together.” Kean said that the museum was “grateful to have had Bob in our lives, and for everything that he did for our community,” and promised to preserve Geminder’s story and legacy. “He will be missed terribly, but his indomitable spirit will continue to live on, and his memory will always be honored at our museum.”
The Geminder family contributed to this story.
As a child growing up in New York, Naomi Goldman often heard her father’s wartime stories. A Holocaust survivor, Robert Goldman spoke to Naomi of trying times in the ghetto — in China.
The late Robert Goldman was one of the “Shanghai Jews” — one of 20,000 Jewish refugees who fled Nazi-occupied Europe in the 1930s and 1940s for Shanghai. At the time, aside from the Dominican Republic, the Republic of China was the only viable option for Jewish refugees.Robert grew up under brutal Japanese occupation in Shanghai’s Hongkou District ghetto until his teens.
“My father’s challenging past to get to this country was very formative for me,” Naomi Goldman said. “Because of that, he was someone who placed great importance on the community and was so proud to be part of his local Jewish community and all that entailed. I got that from him.”
When she was 12, her family moved to Torrance, where they became members of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach. Her mother, Faith Goldman, remains on the board to this day. The family also volunteered with local social justice causes.
“I was always taught to think about how to give my time, talent and resources to good causes and vulnerable populations, such as immigrants like my father,” Goldman said.
Today, Goldman lives in Westwood and divides time between her childhood synagogue and Sinai Temple. She began her career in talent management after graduating from UCLA.
“But I was only enjoying the part where I’d get clients connected to charities,” she said. “So I made a life change. I decided I wanted my life’s work to impact causes and communities.”
“I was always taught to think about how to give my time, talent and resources to good causes and vulnerable populations.”
Today, as the head of her own successful communications company, Goldman carries on the legacy of her parents, supporting a bevy of progressive causes. She previously ran the state of California’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Campaign for several years and shepherded faith-based partnerships and educational programs that served as models for AIDS service organizations nationwide. She currently handles strategic communications for the chief executive office of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative.
“Whatever I’ve done in my life, whether it’s around community engagement, volunteering, philanthropy, serving on boards, it comes from being raised by exceptional role models — my parents,” she said.
During the recent midterm elections, Goldman canvassed, phone banked, rallied and fundraised for local progressive candidates. Recently, she started a magazine for the Visual Effects Society called “VFX Voice,” focusing on how digital animation and special effects can merge the worlds of emerging technology and social justice.
“I’ve written about how the Shoah Foundation has been using virtual reality to share Holocaust testimony and preserve things for next generation,” she said.
Another of her deepest passions is disaster relief. For years, she has volunteered extensively with the Red Cross, providing comfort to displaced families affected by wildfires. For someone who always tries to make change and think big, those experiences have shown her that it’s often the small moments that matter most.
“I remember the Shabbat after the Woolsey Fire, sitting in a shelter with a family with four kids that had no home,” she said. “All we did was color together, read books, and they taught me about cartoon characters they loved. I also like intimate experiences like that, just being a part of a few moments of peace in that really tough time.”
Michele Rodri is a powerhouse. The 83-year-old French Holocaust and cancer survivor spends her time engaging in philanthropy, connecting teens with survivors, sharing her story and enjoying life.
Her husband of 47 years, Jack, survived Bergen-Belsen.“He and I had one policy,” Rodri told the Journal. “We were not going to be victims. We were going to be survivors. And we lived like survivors.”
When Jack died in 2004, Rodri, who already had been serving her community (she spent 30 years assisting B’nai David-Judea founding Rabbi Philip Schroit and fundraised for the Israeli Cancer Research Fund), amped up her philanthropy efforts. She started speaking about her Holocaust experiences at local schools and at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH).
“I put all of my energies into this with love,” she said, “because to me it’s not work, it’s my heart doing the right thing.”
At LAMOTH, Rodri met then-Museum Director Samara Hutman. The two became good friends. When Hutman went back to work at the Righteous Conversations Project, she asked Rodri to take part there, too. Of all the programs at the Righteous Conversations Projects, Rodri holds a special place for the Remember Us Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project.
“When the [students] have their bar or bat mitzvah, at the end of the service, they take the name that I provide from Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel) of a child that was killed,” Rodri said.
In April 1942, at the age of 7, Rodri was playing in the street with friends when Nazis threw her into a truck and took her to a selection camp. Three months later, her brother, Abel, posing as an SS officer, rescued her and hid her in a convent. She spent 14 months there and another 14 months living with a family on a farm.
Rodri, her parents and two of her three brothers survived the war. Her youngest brother, Maurice, was killed in Auschwitz when he was 17.
“I have one philosophy. If I am put against the wall, I cannot back up, so I have to go forward.”
Last year, at his bar mitzvah at Valley Outreach Synagogue, Asher Mehr memorialized Rodri’s brother and asked guests to sponsor a fundraising concert in Maurice’s name. It’s something he plans to do every year.
“Asher is a very talented young man who is a musician too,” Rodri said. “At his bar mitzvah, he [recalled] my brother. It was very moving.”
Three years ago, Rodri faced another battle when she was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. “I have one philosophy,” she said. “If I am put against the wall, I cannot back up, so I have to go forward. And this is what I did with my cancer, too.”
Rodri has been cancer-free for 18 months and said she couldn’t have done it without her friends and family. Her son Kurt, daughter-in-law Samantha and 20-year-old grandson, Jacob David, “are my rock.”
When not volunteering or speaking, Rodri runs errands, goes to theater, movies and classical music performances and reads. On Tuesdays, she attends a French poetry class and plays mah jong once a week.
“I try to do as much as I can in a day,” she said. “If you stay home, particularly at my age, you become wilted.”
Gloria Katz, Oscar-Nominated Screenwriter, 76 Gloria Katz, who partnered with husband Willard Huyck and director George Lucas to write “American Graffiti,” died Nov. 25 — her 49th wedding anniversary — at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 76. The newspaper said she had ovarian cancer.
Katz made rewrites for the character of Princess Leia for Lucas’ follow-up to “Graffiti,” “Star Wars.” In a 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she said Lucas had “a lot of reservations” about his “Star Wars” (1977) script as filming was about to begin. “He said, ‘Polish it — write anything you want and then I’ll go over it and see what I need,’ ” Katz said. “George didn’t want anyone to know we worked on the script, so we were in a cone of silence.”
Katz envisioned Princess Leia to be a woman who “can take command; she doesn’t take any s— … instead of just [being] a beautiful woman that shlepped along to be saved,” Katz said.
Katz and Huyck also co-wrote “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984), produced by Lucas from his story.
The couple shared, with Lucas, an Oscar nomination in 1974 for their “American Graffiti” script.
The couple also co-wrote the screenplays for “Lucky Lady” (1975), directed by Stanley Donen, plus “Messiah of Evil” (1973), “French Postcards” (1979), “Best Defense” (1984), “Howard the Duck” (1986) — all directed by Huyck — and “Radioland Murders” (1994).
Katz was born in Los Angeles on Oct. 25, 1942, and majored in English at UC Berkeley. She earned a master’s degree in film from UCLA, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Katz served on the board of the Writers Guild of America and was an adviser to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, slated to open in 2019.
She is survived by husband William and daughter Rebecca.
Eva Chorub, Holocaust Survivor, 92 Eva Chorub, a Holocaust survivor and co-founder of the Lodzer Organization, died Nov. 10 at her home in Beverly Hills. She was 92.
She was born in Ozorkow, Poland, on Aug. 12, 1926, one of four children. During World War II, her family was forced from its home and into the Ozorkow and Lodz ghettoes, her son, Jacob Cherub, said in a eulogy. She later was transported to Auschwitz.
After the war, Chorub returned alone to her hometown and learned that the rest of her family had been murdered by the death squads, Cherub wrote.
During her homecoming, Eva met Isaac Chorub, who also had survived the Nazi concentration camps. They wed and had son Jacob while living in a displaced persons camp in Germany.
The family immigrated to the United States in 1949. The couple’s second child, Judith, was born in the U.S.
The couple lived in Boyle Heights, where she worked as a dry cleaner, wrote Cherub (who modified of his last name). After the family moved to the Fairfax area in 1956. In the early 1960s, they opened a wholesale clothing store in downtown Los Angeles.
With other Holocaust survivors in Los Angeles, Eva and Isaac were among the founders of the Lodzer Organization in 1975.Their mission was to support Jewish organizations around the world, educating future generations.
The couple were married for 72 years.
She is survived by husband Isaac, son Jacob, daughter Judith and granddaughter Sarah Gurian.
Obituaries Nov. 30: Sister Cecylia Roszak and Ricky Jay
Dave Lux, Holocaust survivor and Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust community member, died on Oct. 29. He was 85.
Lux was born on April 12, 1933, in Negrovec, Czechoslovakia, to Mordechai and Esther Pinkasovic, and had an older brother, Yaakov. In March 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, and soldiers forced the Lux family to flee its home. The family resettled in a crowded building with other refugee families.
While living there, Lux said a woman approached the refugee parents to ask who was willing to entrust her with their children. Lux said his parents were the only ones. As he and Yaakov were led away from his parents, Lux recalled the confusion he felt as a 5-year-old, at the sight of his mother crying inconsolably.
What Lux didn’t know at the time is that he and his brother were being sent on the Kindertransport to live in England indefinitely without their parents. The brothers spent the war years in England, where, through limited correspondence, they learned that their parents had a third son, Irwin. However, all correspondence eventually stopped, and after the war ended, the brothers realized that their family had most likely perished in the Shoah.
In 1949, Dave and Yaakov moved to Israel, where Dave served in the military. In 1958, he moved to the United States, where he married Helene, and they had three children, and eventually five grandchildren.
Lux never fully understood the details of his rescue until 50 years afterward, in 1989, when he attended a Kindertransport reunion in England. At the reunion, he discovered that the woman who approached his mother in the resettlement area had been working for Nicholas Winton, the British stockbroker who arranged for the rescue of 669 children from Czechoslovakia to England.
Although Lux had few memories of his parents, and could barely even picture them, he always remembered that his mother was a strong woman, and that his father had a sharp sense of humor. In the last few years of his life, Lux frequently told his story to honor the courage and sacrifice of his brave parents.
Lux is survived by his wife, Helene; daughter Beverly; sons Steve, Danny and his wife, Andrea; and five grandchildren.
Joshua Frydenberg, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, became Australia’s new deputy prime minister and treasurer on Friday.
Frydenberg, previously the minister for Environment and Energy, will be part of the cabinet for newly elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“It is a great privilege to serve in this important position, and our job is to deliver lower taxes, more jobs, and to grow the Australian economy to create better standards of living for all Australians,” Frydenberg said.
According to Ynet News, Frydenberg’s mother was born in Hungary in 1943 and eventually moved to Australia when the war ended. Frydenberg has previously called on Jews to take part in a “Worldwide Shabbat.”
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Of the 3.3 million Jews living in Poland before World War II, only 10 percent survived the Holocaust. Photographer Hannah Kozak’s father, Sol, was one of them, and his life-altering experiences have also profoundly impacted her life.
After Sol’s death in December 2012, Kozak made multiple trips to Europe to visit the sites of the eight labor camps where he was interned from 1943-45. She also visited 10 concentration camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor and Belzec. Forty of the black-and-white photographs she took there are now on display at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in the exhibition “Survivor: My Father’s Ghosts.”
The images include remnants of barbed wire fences, train tracks and trees “that bore witness. I think they absorbed the sadness,” Kozak told the Journal. She began reading about World War II and the Holocaust as a child and felt compelled to learn more. However, she said being at the sites where her father struggled to live and members of his family were murdered was overwhelmingly difficult. “So many ghosts,” she said. But she kept going back “because to fully flesh out the project, I wanted to try to understand the breadth of [the Shoah].”
Using a 1961 Rolleiflex camera, Kozak shot on film and made 200 prints, ultimately choosing one-fifth for the exhibit. “Digital didn’t have the look I was trying to achieve,” she said. “There’s layers and depth to film, a richness that can’t be reached digitally. Shooting on film slows me down, makes me more present and gives me a tangible product. To me, a picture is not a photo unless it’s a print.”
Kozak also began shooting a film in 2009 about her father’s life, and it accompanies her photographs in the exhibition. “I’d been making a movie that I thought would be for my brothers and sister,” she said. “And then I realized the depth of the story was much bigger than a family movie.” Her film also incorporates Kozak’s visits to the camps and her father’s hometown in Poland.
Hannah and Sol c. 1970
“My father’s life is a story of tragedy and inspiration, all at once. I feel as if I was chosen to tell it. I don’t think I had a choice.” — Hannah Kozak
Kozak said her father “wouldn’t talk about his experiences during the war when we were growing up because he wanted to spare us the pain. But as he got older, the memories started to flood him and it was very important to him that I tell his story.”
Along with archival footage she shot herself, a clip from the interview Sol gave to the Shoah Foundation Project in 1995 is included in the film. Hannah believes her father survived because he never lost hope. “He had an unwavering belief in God,” she said in her narration. “I think he survived so he could give testimony.”
Guatemalan-Jewish on her mother’s side, Kozak is “on a spiritual path” that has included living on an Israeli kibbutz at 20 and having a bat mitzvah at 27. “I’m proud of being Jewish,” she said.
The middle of five children, Kozak, 57, fell in love with photography when her father gave her his Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera when she was 10. “I’d photograph our dogs, my siblings. The way I express myself is through photos,” she said. “Photography taught me to see even when I didn’t have a camera in my hand. It made me slow down, made me see minutiae.”
For 25 years, the Los Angeles native worked as a Hollywood stuntwoman, working on such films as “Transformers” and “Iron Man” and doubling for actresses such as Cher, Angelina Jolie and Lara Flynn Boyle. “I was scared of everything when I was little. I had a lot of anxiety. It was a way of overcoming fear,” she explained of her career choice.
For the last five years, Kozak has worked as a location manager on the TV series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and she’s also a writer, currently seeking a publisher for the book she has written about Michael Jackson, whose death, she said, deeply affected her. “Storytelling helps to process the confusion in our world and to help make sense of it,” she said.
She also wants to travel more, including returning to Israel, Eastern Europe and Berlin. “I recharge by traveling. I like to wander alone, and things come to me,” she said. Kozak also would like to get a doctorate in Holocaust studies. “It’s such a layered subject. The more I delve into it, the less I understand.”
Kozak also plans to publish a book of her “My Father’s Ghosts” photographs and take the show to other Holocaust museums. “My father’s life is a story of tragedy and inspiration, all at once,” she said. “I feel as if I was chosen to tell it. I don’t think I had a choice.”
She finds the lessons of the Holocaust especially urgent in today’s sociopolitical climate. “This is all happening again. It’s important for us to remember the past,” she said. “If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we just repeat them.”
“Survivor: My Father’s Ghosts” runs from May 20 through Aug. 30 at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.
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The Israel Bonds luncheon drew (top row, from left) Nancy Sloan, Rochelle Boren, Ambassador Danny Danon, Talie Danon, Sharona Nazarian, Daniel Nazarian and Dalia Farkas and (bottom row, from left) Ghazal Rokhsar, Vera Liebenthal, Jacqueline Burdorf, Myrtle Sitowitz and Ruth Low. Photo courtesy of Israel Bonds.
The Israel Bonds Los Angeles’ Women’s Division Council held its 2018 Golda Meir Luncheon on May 1 at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Husband-and-wife Talie and Danny Danon, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, served as the event’s guest speakers. Talie discussed “The United Nations: A Women’s Perspective.”
Gina Raphael, the Los Angeles co-chair on the Israel Bonds L.A. Women’s Division Council, led an awards presentation honoring Abigail Kedem Goldberg;Georgette Joffe; Vera Liebenthal; Jennifer Meyers; Sharona Nazarian; Hannah Niman; and Ghazal Rokhsar.
Additional speakers included Karin Eliyahu-Pery, the consul for public diplomacy and culture at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; Mark Goldenberg served as master of ceremonies; Jean Friedman, women’s division council chair, delivered welcoming remarks; Sinai Temple Cantor Marcus Feldman sang the national anthems; and Jerry Friedman led the invocation and hamotzi.
The event acknowledged Israel’s 70th anniversary since its founding in 1948.
Israel Bonds is a broker dealer that underwrites securities issued by the State of Israel. It ranks among Israel’s most valued economic and strategic resources.
Producer and talent manager George Shapiro (left) and film composer Alan Bergman attended the screening of “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast” on the closing night of the L.A. Jewish Film Festival. Photo courtesy of RozWolfPR.
“We were focusing on what the spirit of life is and what makes them live,” Gold said.
The work features more than showbiz folks. Ida Keeling, one of the individuals profiled in the film, is a 100-year-old woman who, after losing two of her sons while in her late 60s, takes up running.
Classic film and music expert Michael Schlesinger moderated the discussion, which also featured film composer Alan Bergman (“Yentl,” “Toostie”).
LAJFF Director Hilary Helstein introduced the film in front of a nearly sold-out audience. She expressed gratitude to those who had turned up throughout the week to the various films screening around the city.
Holocaust survivor Joe Alexander showed his tattoo from Auschwitz to high school students Eli Sitzman, Sara Schechter and Adora Dayani during a Witness Theater: Voices of History production. Photo by Michael Canon.
Holocaust education program Witness Theater: Voices of History staged a student-led Holocaust remembrance program on April 16 at the Norman Pattiz Concert Hall at Hamilton High School.
More than 30 students from 11 local high schools wrote, directed and acted in dramatic vignettes inspired by the stories of Holocaust survivors Mary Bauer, Eva Wartnik, Tomas Kovar and Joe Alexander. Alexander, born in Poland, survived 12 camps during the war.
Ann Noble and Talya Waldman directed the performance, which culminated with the students and survivors appearing together onstage in front of an audience of more than 500 people.
This marked the first year that Witness Theater has staged a production in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and Beth Jacob Congregation served as partners on the production.
From left: Friends of Sheba Medical Center supporter Marilyn Ziering and 2018 Marjorie Pressman Legacy Award recipient Dvorah Colker attend the Friends of Sheba Women of Achievement luncheon. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center.
Friends of Sheba Medical Center held its annual Women of Achievement Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on April 26, raising more than $350,000 to benefit Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer.
Drawing 450 attendeees, the event honored Judy Flesh Rosenberg with the Women of Achievement Award and Dvorah Colker with the Marjorie Pressman Legacy Award. Helene Boston and Parvin Djavaheri co-chaired. Lynn Ziman served as the honorary chair and Beverly Cohen the vice chair.
Serving as the emcee, Israeli-American actress Moran Atias (“Tyrant”) highlighted Sheba Medical Center’s position at the forefront of the fight against cancer. Sheba patient Tamir Gilat discussed his battle against an aggressive form of cancer under the care of Sheba Medical Center, thanking Sheba’s remarkable staff for providing world-class treatment, hope, and support to him and his entire family.
“We were very happy to welcome so many new friends to our community and together make a direct impact on cancer treatment worldwide,” Friends of Sheba Medical Center President Parham Zar aid after the event.
Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer is the largest and most comprehensive medical center in the Middle East. It combines an acute care hospital and a rehabilitation hospital on one campus, and it is at the forefront of medical treatments, patient care, cutting-edge research and education. As a university teaching hospital affiliated with the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel-Aviv University, it welcomes people from all over the world. ”
— Esther Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer
Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, and human relations consultant Lloyd Wilkey speak at the Museum of Tolerance screening of Katie Couric’s new National Geographic series. Photo courtesy of Museum of Tolerance.
The Museum of Tolerance on April 25 screened “White Anxiety,” the fourth episode of Katie Couric’s new documentary series, “America Inside Out,” which is airing on the National Geographic Channel this month.
Couric’s six-part series is about social upheaval across the United States, which is why the Museum of Tolerance was interested in screening the film for the Jewish community of Los Angeles, Museum of Tolerance communications director Michele Alkin told the Journal.
“The Museum of Tolerance plays a crucial role in bringing people together for solutions-oriented community dialogue that has a call to positive action,” Alkin said. “We are working with people with whom we have worked many times in the past on films with a social action message.”
The audience of 300 at the Museum of Tolerance enthusiastically embraced the theme of Couric’s series.
Speakers included human relations consultant Lloyd Wilkey and Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.
“White Anxiety,” which premiered on May 2, is about large numbers of immigrants pouring into small, insular communities often dominated by a single industry, and about technology taking over traditional working-class jobs. Both developments ignite social and labor upheaval.
The Couric series carries titles including “Re-Righting History” and “The Muslim Next Door.” The series’ finale, “The Age of Outrage,” will air May 16 on the National Geographic Channel.
— Ari Noonan, Contributing Writer
Red tape police seals and a photograph are seen on the front door of the appartment of Mireille Knoll in Paris, France, March 27, 2018. Mireille Knoll, 85, was found dead on Friday at her apartment in Paris's central 11th district. She had been stabbed multiple times and her flat set alight. REUTERS/Clotaire Achi
The life of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll came to an end on the evening of Mar. 23 when she was stabbed to death.
Knoll was reportedly stabbed 11 times before her Paris apartment was set on fire. Two suspects are currently in custody for the murder, one of whom was a neighbor of Knoll. She had known him since he was seven and she had frequently invited him over to her apartment despite her family warning her not to.
“My mother had a thirst for knowledge and meeting new people and talking to them and that’s what killed her,” Daniel Knoll, Knoll’s son, told the Associated Press.
However, Knoll did recently call the police on the neighbor because he had threatened to kill her.
French prosecutors are looking to charge the suspects for murdering Knoll simply because she was Jewish.
“Until now, I haven’t felt anti-Semitism in France,” Knoll told Army Radio. “Of course there were dangerous Muslim extremists, but until today I didn’t feel in danger. I work with people from all walks of French society; many are afraid of Muslim extremists, but I didn’t feel that until now.”
Jessica Knoll, Mireille Knoll’s granddaughter, told the AP, “Today it is my grandmother and tomorrow it will be a grandmother, a grandchild, someone else’s father.”
Mireille Knoll was able to flee to Canada as a child when the Nazis were rounding up Jews in Paris to Auschwitz in 1942.
Knoll’s murder comes a year after 65-year-old Jewish woman Sarah Halimi was murdered in what was deemed as an anti-Semitic act. As the AP report notes, “anti-Semitic violence increased by 26 percent, and criminal damage to Jewish places of worship and burial by 22 percent” in 2017.
“I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly,” Goldberg wrote. “But I am also predisposed to think this because I am an American Jew—which is to say, a person who exists because his ancestors made a run for it when they could.”
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It is with profound sadness, that the world has lost another Holocaust survivor, KalmanAron. Mr. Aron died in a hospice in Santa Monica, California, Feb 24th, with his son, David Aron, at his side.
I first met Kalman a little over a year ago, at his humble home and painting studio in Beverly Hills. His spirit and personality were that of a much younger man than the 93-year-old gentleman that was in front of me.
He gave me an incredible tour of his modest home, and then gave me the history of a few of the hundreds of master artworks that were all over the apartment. I felt like I was getting a tour of a miniature Louvre. Every painting was a masterpiece;It was beyond impressive.
Our first meeting was a lovely time, as lovely, as a person could have. Kalman allowed me to film him for the first two hours, and gave me the rights to his life story. We then broke bread and spent time talking about his career and his time in seven Nazi concentration camps.
“I made it through the Holocaust with a pencil,” Kalman declared, with a Cheshire cat grin.
A Nazi guard came before him with a machine gun, and he was able to draw an exact portrait of the guard in real time. The guard was so impressed that this was the beginning of a Kalman Aron seven Nazi concentration camp tour.
What makes Mr. Aron’s story so very different and unique than any other Holocaust story that one has heard, was that he was treated relatively well, during the entire four and one-half years he was interned.
“I would tell the Commandant or the guard I was painting, if I could just get a little more cheese and bread, I could paint much quicker,” he said with a smile. “This worked often,” says Kalman.
He then told me he was even able to get the Nazis guards to give him extra blankets.
“I had to always be thinking,” said Kalman.
The next time I would meet Kalman, I would bring a very special guest. Now that I had the rights to his life story, I began looking for partners and Executive Producers. I had met Norman Lear 10 years earlier, when he had written me a sizable check for my award-winning film, “Unbeaten.”
I called Norman up, and told him about this incredible man, and asked if he had time to meet him. Mr. Lear did not flinch. The meeting was set, and on a warm Tuesday morning in September 2017, I walked into Kalmans home with the greatest and kindest most iconic TV producer in the history of Television.
When these two nonagenarian’s met, it was like they had known each other all of there lives. There was laughter. There were tears, and there was great admiration for one another as artists. There was also great profoundness as Norman was a B-17 gunner and radio man, and actually dropped bombs very close to where Kalman was interned. The Nazis could not kill Kalman, and neither could Norman Lear!
The next few months, I would have dinner and lunch with Kalman a few times, and I was very fortunate to be able to have NPR do a global story on him on the program, The World, with Marco Werman. Little did I know at the time, this would be my last time seeing Kalman.
In early January, Kalman took a fall, and would be admitted to Cedars. Always the fighter, he was released in a week, and was back home painting. A month later he would take a turn for the worse, and on Feb. 24th, the world lost one of its greatest global citizens.
My time with Mr. Aron was brief, but very, very rich. He produced thousands of paintings through out his long life, including portraits of Ronald Reagan, Henry Miller and Andre Previn, just to name a few. Kalman was the father of ‘”Psychological Realism”
Kalman brought love, joy and peace to all who knew him. Mr. Aron beat the Nazis with a pencil, and he strove for greatness in everything he did. Kalman Aron was a master painter, and very great man. Kalman personified all that is good in human kind. He will be missed.
Steven C Barber is a writer ,director and producer residing in Santa Monica, California. His work can be found at www.vanillafire.com.
Writer and actor Gili Getz performs his one-man, one-act play that explores the American-Jewish community’s difficulty with discussing Israel in an honest way. A former Israeli military photographer, Getz stages his performance as part of Avi Shabbat, a Shabbat dinner held on college campuses that honors the life of Avi Schaefer, who served in the Israeli army and was struck and killed by a drunken driver in 2010. A Shabbat dinner and discussion will follow the performance. 6 p.m. Free. Loyola Marymount University, St. Roberts Auditorium. (310) 568-6131. For additional information, email email@example.com.
The Miracle Project and Valley Beth Shalom/Temple Aliyah’s OurSpace Kolot Tikva Choir, under the direction of Chazzan Mike Stein and choir leader Shahar Weiner, present a musical collaboration of prayer and spirit in observance of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month and Autism Awareness Month. Complimentary parking. Community dinner follows. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Free. Elaine Breslow Institute at Beit T’Shuvah, 8847 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 204-5200. beittshuvah.org.
Temple Isaiah puts a contemporary spin on Shabbat with a service featuring hip-hop, R&B, electronic dance music, electric guitar and samples of music by Dr. Dre, the Fugees, Usher, P. Diddy and Sia. Temple Isaiah Rabbi Joel Nickerson, Cantor Tifani Coyot and songleader Danny Rubenstein lead the eclectic, high-energy and mind-expanding service. 6:45 p.m. Free. Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772. templeisaiah.com.
SUN FEB 25
AN EVENING WITH EVA SCHLOSS
Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and stepsister of Anne Frank, discusses her wartime experiences and what we can learn from the past. Erin Gruwell, an educator focused on tolerance who inspired the film “Freedom Writers,” interviews Schloss. David Suissa, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal, emcees. Presented by the Jewish Journal, Jewish Community Center and Chabad of Downtown L.A. VIP reception 5 p.m., doors open 6 p.m., program 7 p.m. Students $10, general admission starts at $40. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or (310) 571-8264. Los Angeles Theater, 615 S. Broadway, Los Angeles. evaschloss.com.
RABBI AARON LERNER LECTURE
Rabbi Aaron Lerner discusses “The Present and Future of Jewish Life, Learning and Israel on Campus.” For the past five years, Lerner has helped expand Hillel UCLA’s leadership training program to include about 150 student leaders, who reach nearly 1,700 Jewish students annually at UCLA. Brunch 10 a.m., lecture 11 a.m., Q-and-A to follow. Free. RSVP at Kehillat Ma’arav office. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. km-synagogue.org.
“WHY HARRY MET SALLY”
Author Joshua Louis Moss discusses his 2017 book, “Why Harry Met Sally: Subversive Jewishness, Anglo-Christian Power and the Rhetoric of Modern Love,” with USC Cinema and Media Studies professor Michael Renov. The event is part of Casden Conversations, a scholarly initiative of the USC Casden Institute that brings together students, faculty and the greater Los Angeles community for discussions about Jewish life. Co-organized by IKAR. 4-5:30 p.m. Free. USC, Doheny Memorial Library, Room 240, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-1744. dornsife.usc.edu/casden-institute/events.
MON FEB 26
AN EVENING WITH LARRY ELDER
Author, radio talk show host and “The Sage From South Central” Larry Elder discusses “America in the Era of Trump” during a Jewish Republican Alliance event. Expect Elder’s take-no-prisoners style. 7:30–9:30 p.m. Advance tickets $18, tickets at the door $20. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (805) 380-7721, ext. 701. jewishrepublicanalliance.org.
TUE FEB 27
“FACES OF AMERICA”
The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Asian Jewish Initiative convenes “Faces of America: Immigrant Stories From the Diverse Asian Continent.” Panelists are Tabby Davoodi, co-founder of 30 Years After and a child refugee from post-revolutionary Iran; Halim Dhanidina, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge and the first Muslim judge in California; Karen Korematsu, daughter of civil rights activist Fred Korematsu and founding executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute; and Angela Oh, a mediator of civil rights cases and a second-generation Korean-American community advocate. ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind moderates. A light dessert reception follows. Advance registration required. Registration 6:30 p.m., program 7 p.m. Free. Democracy Center at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 446-4228. la.adl.org/event/faces-of-america.
SAT FEB 24
KOL AMI’S BEATLES PURIM
Rabbi Denise Eger and Congregation Kol Ami host a Beatles-themed Purim celebration, “Sgt. Esther’s Shushan Hearts Club Band.” The night begins with Havdalah and a free Persian dinner. Then, Kol Ami members and the house band retell the story of Purim through the music of the Beatles. All ages welcome. 7-10 p.m. Free. RSVP required for dinner. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (323) 606-0996. Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood. kol-ami.org.
SUN FEB 25
STEPHEN WISE TEMPLE PURIM
A Stephen Wise Temple carnival for all ages features games, prizes, food, rides and costumes. Admission includes all rides and games. Food not included. 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Early bird tickets for kids 4–18 are $38; on Feb. 25, $50. Parents and kids 3 and younger admitted free. On Feb. 28, the synagogue holds an evening of music, dancing, food and schmoozing for grown-ups, featuring cocktails, appetizers and hors d’oeuvresataschen. 21-and-older only. RSVP required. 7 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple, 500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561. wisela.org/purim.
WED FEB 28
“THE ROCKY HORA PURIM SCHPIEL”
An interactive Megillah experience transports the Kehillat Ma’arav sanctuary into Mordechai’s Shushan. Attendees dress in their finest traditional Purim garb and costumes. A raffle fundraiser and dairy meal top off the festivities. 5:30 pm. $10. Kehillat Ma’arav Synagogue, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566. km-synagogue.org.
IKAR invites you to its Justice Carnival and Purim celebration. Enjoy food, fellowship, a drink and a spiel. Costumes encouraged. Megillah reading 6:30 p.m., party 8:15 p.m. $15 in advance, $20 at the door (tickets not required for Megillah and spiel). Food and drink tickets separate, $5 to $15. Busby’s East, 5364 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870. ikar-la.org.
“SHE WILL ROCK YOU”
A 1970s rock-inspired musical mashup of the story of Esther and the songs of Queen lights up Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH). Rock out like a champion with fine wine and premier beer. TEBH and Temple Isaiah clergy participate in the spiel and Megillah reading. Cocktail hour and appetizers 7 p.m., spiel 8 p.m. Cocktail event $36. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737. tebh.org.
PURIM AT PICO SHUL
Pico-Robertson congregation Pico Shul holds “Bluegrass, Moonshine, Mitzot and Megillah,” a Purim celebration featuring a speedy and fun Megillah reading. Yee-haw! Evening service 6:30 p.m., megillah and moonshine 7 p.m. Free. Pico Shul, 9116 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. On March 1, after 10 a.m. services and an 11 a.m. Megillah reading, a Purim feast will be served at 5 p.m. Dinner $36. Pico Shul, 9116 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. picoshul.org.
MISHKON TEPHILO PURIM
A Megillah reading at Mishkon Tephilo is followed by dinner and dancing. Comedian Jackie Tohn (“Glow,” “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”), poet Rachel Kann and DJ Jeremy participate. Bring your own beer. Doors and drinks 7:30 p.m. $10. Mishkon Tephilo, 206 Main St., Venice. (310) 392-3029. mishkon.org/purim.
THU MARCH 1
PURIM COMEDY AND SCREENING
Comedian and impersonator Michael Sherman tells the story of Al Jolson, a Jewish jazz singer who hid behind his identity by portraying an Old South minstrel masquerading in blackface. As with Purim, a true identity is hidden behind the persona. A screening of “The Jazz Singer,” the 1927 film starring Jolson, follows. 7-10 p.m. $8. Hollywood Temple Beth El, Sapper Hall, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 656-3150. facebook.com/htbel.
Fifteen-year-old Sonja Zyskind, dressed as a boy in pants and a shirt, her braids concealed under a cap, walked with Mrs. Novak, a former customer of her father’s textile store, toward the center of Piotrkow, Poland. As they reached the Hortensja Glassworks factory, they saw the men lining up, Jewish slave laborers, preparing to return to the ghetto. “Go,” Mrs. Novak said, pushing Sonja into the line.
Sonja had been living with Mrs. Novak, posing as a blue-eyed, blond-haired relative. And although Mrs. Novak treated her kindly, and was well paid by her parents, Sonja feared she would be caught. She planned to sneak into the ghetto, where her mother and sister were confined.
The men halted at the gate while a guard counted them, something Sonja hadn’t anticipated. “One too many,” he reported. He recounted several times, repeating, “One too many,” over and over. Sonja’s stomach hurt, but she remained silent. Finally, another guard urged, “Let them go already.”
As a young girl, Sonja had been, in her words, “a bit of a spoiled child,” beloved by her parents, grandparents and two uncles. But now she felt alone. “You got unspoiled,” Sonja said. “You had to do a lot of things.”
Sonja was born in Piotrkow Tribunalski, in central Poland, on Oct. 11, 1927, to Rachela and Shlomo Zyskind. Her sister, Itka, was born in 1930. The well-off and traditionally religious family lived in a spacious three-bedroom apartment above Shlomo’s store.
At age 7, Sonja attended public school, living mostly with her maternal grandparents, whose maid walked her to school each morning. After school, Sonja often treated friends at a candy shop, where her grandfather had arranged charging privileges.
But on Sept. 5, 1939, that life ended as Sonja watched German soldiers marching into town. “Don’t worry,” her parents said, trying to reassure her. But Sonja learned later they were already making arrangements to hide her.
Once inside the ghetto, after leaving Mrs. Novak, Sonja shed the boys clothes. Underneath was her school uniform, a black satin dress with a white detachable collar, which she wore for the duration of the war, washing the collar whenever possible.
In October 1942, before Sonja’s arrival, a great aktion had taken place in the ghetto, in which 18,000 to 22,000 Jews, including Sonja’s father, were shipped to Treblinka and murdered. About 2,500 workers remained, with special permits. This included Sonja’s mother, Rachela, who worked in the Judenrat (Jewish Council) kitchen, keeping Itka with her. Sonja, who lacked a permit, couldn’t see her. Instead, she stayed with those who had emerged from hiding, moving from place to place to avoid capture. “The less I showed my face, I was better off,” Sonja said.
“I knew I am not going to live,” she said.
But eventually the Gestapo found her — she believes she was betrayed— and she was taken to the Great Synagogue, where about 300 people were being held. “I knew I’m not going to live,” Sonja recalled. She bit her tongue, hoping it wouldn’t happen, and prayed to God to save her or take her as soon as possible.
Then one day she heard a Gestapo officer call her Yiddish name, “Sura Zyskind.” She was certain she would be the first to be killed. Instead, she was taken to the Judenrat building, where she briefly saw her mother. (Sonja later learned that Rachela had bribed someone to secure her release and that the others in the synagogue were trucked to the Rakow forest and massacred.)
Weeks later, Sonja and 29 other girls, selected for their excellent eyesight, were transported to Skarzysko-Kamienna, a labor camp about 65 miles southeast of Piotrkow.
The girls spent 12 hours a day at an ammunition factory, sitting in front of machines, three to a machine, inspecting bullets. Sonja’s job was to check each bullet through the machine’s magnifying glass as it passed on a conveyor belt, removing the defective ones. If she missed one or if she fell asleep — which sometimes happened — the female Gestapo officer, Mrs. Hirsch, or the Jewish forewoman, Lola, slapped her.
Lola, whom Sonja described as beautiful, hunchbacked and “worse than the Gestapo,” resented Sonja, and decided to have her hair cut off as punishment. Sonja was dragged to the barber and undressed. But she escaped, running through the camp naked. “Kill me,” she shouted, “but you’re not going to cut my hair.” She prevailed.
In August 1944, as the Soviet army approached, the Skarzysko prisoners were transported to a labor camp in Czestochowa, about 95 miles west. Sonja worked with the same girls on the same machines, but without Lola.
The Soviets continued their advance until one day in mid-January 1945, amid the sounds of falling bombs, the girls noticed the Germans had disappeared. “I’m going home,” Sonja announced, running out of the factory with a group of girls, joined by several young men.
The group walked and hitched rides on horse-drawn wagons whenever possible, scavenging for food in empty houses. After a month, Sonja and about six others reached her grandparents’ house, now occupied by several families. “You still alive?” one person asked her. After waiting, they were reluctantly let in.
Several days later, as the group sat in the dining room, shots were fired through the window, with one nearly grazing Sonja’s head. She fled.
At the Jewish Committee office in Piotrkow, Sonja met Bluma Rosenwald, a family acquaintance, who invited her home. Sonja became friendly with her son, Waldek (also called Israel). Together, they traveled to Prague, where they learned Rachela and Itka had survived, and then to Bergen-Belsen, where they reunited with them at the displaced persons camp. “Everybody cried,” Sonja recalled.
Sonja and Waldek married on April 2, 1946, in Bergen-Belsen. Their daughter, Jeanie, was born there in June 1948, and their son, Sam, in December 1953, in Los Angeles, where they had immigrated to two years earlier. Waldek died in 2009 and Sam in 2011. Sonja now has four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In California, Sonja and Waldek ran a chicken farm for six years in what is now Winnetka before moving to Los Angeles and buying two liquor stores, which they sold in the 1990s. The couple then managed office and apartment buildings. After Waldek’s death, Sonja continued, retiring in 2016.
Sonja previously had told her story publicly only once, to the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History Project in 1999.
“I didn’t want to tell it. What for? There were so many stories — mine was not missing,” she said. But at her daughter’s urging, she agreed to be interviewed by the Journal.
“I’m glad that I did it,” Sonja said. “I’m old. I’m 90 years old.”
Survivors Lya Frank and Elly Rubin: Former hidden children ‘have a story to tell’
Johnny Herzberg Skyping with his newfound family members (from left), Diana Keisel, Marina Krumini and Liana Nechipasa in April 2014. Photo courtesy of Johnny Herzberg
Tears streamed ivown Johnny Herzberg’s face as he stared at his computer in his Playa del Rey home on March 25, 2014. On the screen via Skype, also in tears at her home in Amatnieki, Latvia, was his first cousin, Liana Herzberg Nechipasa, then 57 years old. It didn’t matter that they both had to struggle to communicate in their respective languages. Johnny, then 65, was meeting his only living relative for the first time.
Growing up with two Holocaust survivor parents, Ure and Ilse Herzberg, now deceased, Johnny had never missed having an extended family. His parents rarely talked about their ordeals in ghettos and camps, or about their relatives, including their former spouses and children, who had all been murdered by the Nazis — although Ure never received confirmation of his younger brother Joseph’s death. And Johnny seldom asked.
“My life was full,” Johnny said. “My parents were the most incredible parents.”
But after Johnny talked with Liana and days later Skyped with her daughters — Marina Krumini, then 28, a fluent English speaker, and Diana Keisel, then 39 — something changed.
“I got emotional for the first time in my life with people,” he said.
Five months later, Johnny was on a plane to Latvia.
Johnny discovered his cousin through Restoring Family Links, a collaborative program of the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worldwide, including Magen David Adom. The service assists individuals who are seeking information about loved ones separated by armed conflict, natural disasters, migration or other humanitarian crises. For searches related to the Holocaust and World War II, the program also works in conjunction with various museums and archives, as well as the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany, which the ICRC headed from 1955 to 2012.
Those eligible to take advantage of the Holocaust and World War II tracing services include survivors seeking documentation about their own experiences and individuals searching for information about missing family members, wartime friends or rescuers.
“Family is defined very broadly,” said Kerry Khan, manager of International Services and Service to the Armed Forces for the American Red Cross Los Angeles region. But, she emphasized, the clients must have had a specific relationship with the person they are seeking to connect with — or determine the fate of — from sometime between 1933 and 1957. These are not genealogy searches.
Johnny never felt compelled to delve into his father’s history. But on a trip to Latvia in September 2013, he found himself emotionally overcome while touring the Riga ghetto, where his father had been confined and where his mother had been sent from her home in Germany. At the guide’s suggestion, he visited the Jewish Holocaust Museum Center.
“I was curious about my father’s history,” he said. “I never thought I could find anyone alive.”
Three months later, Johnny received an email stating that his father’s middle brother, Joseph, had survived.
Johnny remembered that in the early 1970s his father had unexpectedly received a letter from Joseph. It was always too dangerous for Ure to visit Latvia, but the two corresponded until early 1982, when the letters ceased and Ure assumed Joseph had died.
Johnny Herzberg’s father, Ure Herzberg, and his two brothers, Joseph and Max (from left). Photo courtesy of Johnny Herzberg
At the Center’s recommendation, Johnny contacted the Los Angeles-region headquarters office for the Red Cross in Westwood, where he met with volunteers in the Restoring Family Links program.
In February 2014, Johnny received documentation showing his parents had been confined in the Riga and Lipau ghettos in Latvia and the Fuhlsbuettel concentration camp and Kiel labor camp in Germany. Before the war’s end, they had been transported by the Red Cross to Sweden, where they married.
At home, while filing documents for the search, Johnny came across a letter he had received in 1975 — and forgotten about — from Joseph’s daughter, Liana, which a friend had translated into English. It included her address — 12 miles from Riga — through which the Latvian Red Cross located her.
By connecting with Liana and her family, Johnny was able to learn that Joseph had survived the war fighting for the Soviet Union in a Latvian army regiment. In 1947, Joseph was convicted of a political offense and exiled to Siberia. Freed upon Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, he returned to Latvia, where he married and where Liana was born in 1956.
The Herzberg cousins remain close. Johnny visited Latvia for a third time in 2015. Marina came to Los Angeles in October 2014 with her husband, Alexei. The two visited again this past September.
“It’s absolutely a miracle that at this phase in my life I have this family that I can talk to all the time,” Johnny said. “I think it’s the biggest gift.”
“It’s absolutely a miracle that at this phase in my life I have this family that I can talk to all the time.” — Johnny Herzberg
Today, more than 70 years after World War II ended, tracing requests related to the Holocaust and World War II continue to rank among the top five conflicts, countries or regions that the Restoring Family Links program receives at the national level. The others include the Somali conflict (1991 to the present), African migration, the Democratic Republic of Congo civil war and the Persian Gulf War (1990 to 1991). In the United States, according to the Restoring Family Links Holocaust and World War II national database that goes back to 1990 — although the service has been available since 1939 — official requests for searches have been submitted for 44,694 people. For the most recent fiscal year (July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017), requests for 99 people were submitted nationally. Of those, 36 came from the Los Angeles office. These searches will continue, said Los Angeles International Services manager Khan, “as long as somebody needs it.”
These days, in-person reunifications or reconnections are rare, but survivors are still seeking information on the fate of loved ones. Sometimes the results, even when expected, can be disheartening.
Susan Gati beneath two pictures that her father gave her mother as gifts. Photo by Jane Ulman
Susan Gati with her father, Imre Tandler. Photo courtesy of Susan Gati
Susan Gati — named Zsuzsanna Tandler at birth — was 4 years old when her father, Imre Tandler, left their apartment in Budapest, Hungary, in 1943 to report for forced labor. She never saw him again.
Susan survived the remainder of the war living as a non-Jew with an aunt, the aunt’s non-Jewish husband and their two children. During that time, her mother, Antonia, hid in various places. They reunited after liberation.
Susan knew her father had been interned at the Bor work camp in Yugoslavia. After the war, a friend told her and Antonia that he had been deported to Germany, where he died. “I didn’t know the details,” she said.
Growing up with no memories of her father, only a few pictures and some comments her mother, aunt and cousins occasionally offered, Susan always felt the loss. “He was a good person, a nice person, hard-working,” she was told. “That’s all I knew. I don’t have a father.”
When Susan was about 14 years old, she saw a man who resembled her father walking toward her on the street. After he passed, she ran after him, yelling his name. He didn’t respond. Overcome with embarrassment, Susan ran into a nearby building and sobbed.
In 1968, Susan immigrated to the United States, settling in Los Angeles. Her mother visited occasionally, joining her permanently in 1982.
All those years, Susan continued to think about her father, but Antonia couldn’t talk about him. “It was very painful for her,” said Susan, who keeps a photograph of her father atop her dresser.
In August 2016, 13 years after her mother’s death, Susan attended a meeting of Café Europa, a social club for survivors, in which longtime Red Cross volunteer Bob Rich presented a program about Restoring Family Links’ Holocaust and World War II tracing services.
Susan filled out a questionnaire and was soon contacted by Rich to provide whatever documents she had. Six months later, she learned that, on Nov. 9, 1944, her father had been transferred from Bor to Flossenburg, a concentration camp in northeastern Bavaria, Germany; and on Dec. 3, 1944, he was deported to Hersbruck, a subcamp of Flossenburg, where he died on Jan. 4, 1945.
“It was sadness,” she recalled when she recently looked at the documents. “And it was so close to the date of liberation.”
Susan is grateful for the work of the Red Cross in finding where her father died. Still, she said, “You cannot reverse time. I knew they couldn’t give me an answer that he was alive.”
For other survivors helped by Restoring Family Links, confirmation of a loved one’s fate can bring peace.
Max Stodel in 2013 with photographs of his father, aunt, three sisters and two brothers. He has no photograph of his sister Rachel. Photo by David Miller
Max Stodel, 94, was almost 19 when he was deported from Amsterdam on April 2, 1942, to the Kremboong labor camp in the northern Netherlands, leaving his young wife, his father and his six older siblings and their families. His mother had died in 1939.
After Kremboong, Max was sent to the Westerbork transit camp and another transit camp in Bissingen, Germany. He was interned in four concentration camps: Blechhamer, Gross-Rosen (after a two-week death march), Buchenwald and Klein Mangersdorf. He was liberated by American soldiers in the southern German village of Salach on April 30, 1945, at age 22.
Max then returned to Amsterdam. In March 1946, he received confirmation from the Office of National Security in The Hague that his father, wife, three of his four sisters and two brothers had been murdered by the Nazis. While he assumed his sister Rachel had met the same fate, he didn’t know.
Through the years, Max sometimes couldn’t sleep, worrying about what happened to Rachel, her husband and their daughters, Betty and Mina. Max remembered that Rachel was always happy. “She always visited my mother with her children,” he said. “We were a real family.”
In October 2016, after Max had submitted a search through the Red Cross office in Westwood, he learned that Rachel and her daughters were murdered at Auschwitz on July 26, 1942, as was her husband, Isidore, on Sept. 30, 1942.
“I thanked them, I thanked them,” Max said of the Red Cross.
“Before I die,” he added, “I wanted to know that my family was complete. It made me at peace. We were a very, very close family.”
For more information or to initiate a Restoring Family Links search from the Los Angeles area, call 310.477.5176 or email IntlTracing.LosAngeles.CA@redcross.org.
On Jim Bachner’s first morning in Auschwitz-Birkenau in mid-September 1943, after a sleepless night on the cold, crowded floor of an unfinished barracks, he and the other new arrivals were lined up outdoors and ordered to run about 25 yards.
An SS officer, whom Jim later learned was the infamous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele, stood on one side, chatting with an attractive woman, his arm across her shoulder. With his other arm, he waved his hand to the left or right as prisoners rushed past him, and without even glancing up, dispatching them to a waiting truck or to work.
As Jim finished his run, a kapo shoved the bewildered 21-year-old to the right, into a barracks where a prisoner grabbed his arm and pushed up his sleeve.
“Look at your friends on the truck,” he told Jim, directing him to the window. “This will be the last time you’ll see them.”
Jim was too distraught to notice that the prisoner was tattooing the number “159942” on his arm.
“My heart was working overtime and so was my mind,” Jim recalled.
Looking back, Jim, now 95, credits what he calls his “positive mind” with enabling him to rise above the confusion and fear of those times, even at Auschwitz. “I knew at some point that I will not go through the smokestacks but that I will survive,” he said.
Jim was born in Berlin on May 24, 1922, to Abraham and Esther Bachner. His brother, Fred, arrived three years later. Abraham manufactured men’s clothing, providing his family a comfortable life.
Anti-Semitism became a problem for Jim in 1934, when his non-Jewish friends at a public high school began to shun him. The following year, he was forced to leave. Anti-Jewish measures shrank Abraham’s business and restricted the family’s lives.
Early on Oct. 28, 1938, a policeman arrived at the Bachners’ apartment with a warrant for “Abraham” and “Johannes.” Because Jim’s name was incorrect, the policeman said he would return for him with a corrected document. Meanwhile, the policeman waited for Abraham to dress, unaware that he had already escaped down the back stairwell. Jim followed suit.
The two fled to Poland, where they also held citizenship, settling in Chrzanow, in western Poland, where most of Abraham’s siblings lived and where Jim’s mother and brother joined them just before Germany attacked Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.
Under the German occupation, Jim performed menial work until early November 1940, when he was one of 800 men rounded up and sent to the Ottmuth labor camp, 75 miles northwest, to build the autobahn.
“My heart was working overtime and so was my mind.” — James Bachner
There, Jim loaded and unloaded sand by the shovelful. He also volunteered as a medic — the Nazis had quashed his dream of becoming a doctor — assisting during evenings in the infirmary.
In March 1941, the prisoners were transferred to the Gogolin labor camp, closer to the worksite, where Jim served as the resident medic.
The prisoners twice were transferred between the two camps until the fall of 1942, when they were shipped to Trzebinia, an unfinished labor camp. Food and water were scarce; prisoners slept on the floor.
One day, Jim received permission to walk 4 miles to Chrzanow, accompanied by a guard, to procure medication. While there, he managed a short visit with his parents. “It was hugs, kisses and crying,” Jim said. And it was the last time he saw his mother.
In mid-September 1943, Trzebinia was evacuated and the prisoners marched to Auschwitz-Birkenau. With sick and dying prisoners and senseless work, Jim reached a low point in December. He decided if nothing worked out in the coming days, he would throw himself against the electrified fence.
But another selection took place, and Jim found himself among 2,000 prisoners who were transported to Warsaw to tear down the facades of the burnt-out buildings in the now-deserted ghetto.
On July 29, 1944, with the Soviets approaching, the prisoners were marched to Poznan, 190 miles away, where they were loaded into cattle cars. With no food or water, the men were starving and dehydrated. Many died en route. After a two-day trip, the prisoners — about 3,500 of the original 5,500 who had departed Warsaw — arrived at Dachau on Aug. 6, 1944.
Several weeks later, they were transferred to Waldlager, a labor camp deep in the forest near Muhldorf, Germany, where the Germans were building an underground factory for the production of V1 and V2 rockets. Jim’s job was shoveling sand into trucks and carrying 100-plus- pound bags of cement.
One day, as 500 new and bedraggled prisoners limped into camp, Jim recognized his brother, Fred, among them. “The reunion was just unbelievable,” Jim said.
On April 19 or 20, 1945, prisoners were again loaded onto a train. “Things are so bad you won’t get far,” the camp commander said. “The war is coming to an end.”
Twelve miles later, at Taufkirchen, the train stopped. As Allied bombers flew overhead, the prisoners were ordered to run out and wave their uniforms. Jim, Fred and a friend, Peter, ran into an adjacent woods.
With help from a man in the French underground, they made their way to a series of safehouses, until they reached the front. There, amid the sound of bursting shells and gunfire, Jim approached a priest, who gave them a room in a silo, bringing them food and blankets.
The next morning, Jim ventured outside and saw white flags hanging from buildings. He ran back to Fred and Peter. “It’s finished. It’s gone. We’re free,” he announced. It was May 1, 1945.
Weeks later, Jim and Fred traveled to Munich, where they started a registry for displaced persons. Around August, learning that his father had survived, Jim traveled back to Berlin. When they met, the two hugged and kissed.
Jim, Fred, Abraham and Abraham’s new wife, Gusti Landerer, immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York on Jan. 16, 1947. Jim found a job as a commercial artist at an advertising agency.
While living in Queens, he met Marilyn Glassman, and they married on Sept. 3, 1955. Their son Evan was born in January 1958 and son Robert in September 1960. They now have five grandchildren.
Jim eventually became a junior partner at the agency and then, in 1976, opened his own shop, retiring in 1986 when he and Marilyn moved to Delray Beach, Fla. In June 2016, they moved to Thousand Oaks.
In 2007, Jim published a memoir, “My Darkest Years,” which is available on Amazon. In the book’s preface and in his talks to students and adults — delivered while living in Delray Beach and currently at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust — he says that people must work to prevent another Holocaust.
“You must be on your toes,” he says. “Be aware of bullies because they grow into desperate dictators.”
Hilda Eisen, who with her late husband, Harry, ran led the Lodzer Organization of Southern California for 25 years, died on Nov. 22. She was 100.
The Lodzer Organization of Southern California consisted of Holocaust survivors who donated to local causes and to Israel.
She was born Hilda Gimpel in Izbica Kujawska, Poland, on April 25, 1917, the second of seven children. Her father ran a bakery and her mother was a grain dealer. According to her testimony at the USC Shoah Foundation, recorded in the summer of 2001, her family spoke Yiddish at home, kept kosher and observed Shabbat.
Hilda, who had joined the Jewish Resistance after persuading a Nazi guard to open the Lublin ghetto gate for her in 1942, became a partisan fighter in the Parczew forest. She lost her parents and her six brothers and sisters in Nazi death camps, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Harry survived Auschwitz, where he was put to work in the coal mines, the Times reported.
“They didn’t feel comfortable burdening their children with horror stories,” her daughter, Fran Miller, told the Times in 2012. But, she said, “they were able to take their grief and become very philanthropic about it and very Zionistic and very into giving back. They felt fortunate to be on the giving end of charity rather than the receiving end.”
Hilda had gone to school with Harry and married him in Munich in 1945. When the couple immigrated to the United States in 1948, they spoke no English and had no money.
Saving enough money to buy their first 100 chickens, the Eisens launched a backyard operation in Arcadia and sold the eggs in their neighborhood. They moved their growing operation to Norco in the 1950s.
Norco Ranch Inc. in western Riverside County became one of the state’s leading egg producers, processors and distributors. By 2000, when the Eisens sold Norco Ranch Inc. to Missouri-based Moark, it had a staff of about 450 people and a list of major customers that included the Ralphs division of Kroger, the Vons division of Safeway, Albertson’s, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Jack-in-the-Box, the Times reported. Until 2005, it was the largest egg producer west of the Mississippi.
In 2016, Hilda donated an ambulance to Magen David Adom in honor of her 99th birthday and in memory of her husband, Harry, who died in 2012 at age 95.
Eisen is survived by daughters Mary Cramer, Fran Miller and Ruth Eisen; 8 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.
Phil Raucher, nearly 18 and recovering from a cold and fever, lay on a bunk in the sick block as the SS began evacuating the Funfteichen concentration camp in western Poland. It was Jan. 21, 1945, and the Russians were closing in. Naked, he rose to get a uniform and shoes, “just in case,” he recalled, but he already had resolved to stay behind.
Phil gave away his shoes to one prisoner and his uniform to another and walked into a nearby room where corpses were piled high. He lay down, pulling a few bodies over him. Sometime later, two SS soldiers entered the room, searching for strays. “Forget them,” Phil heard one of them say, “they’re not going anywhere.”
Phil credits this decision to remain behind — which, he said, “came out of the blue” — with saving his life. “You had to learn what to do and what not to do,” he said. “But luck is the main thing.”
Born Pinkus Raucher on Feb. 1, 1927, in Czeladz, Poland, to Israel and Sarah, Phil had an older sister, Rachela, born in 1924, and a younger brother, Alter, born in 1930. His father operated a business that rented horses and wagons to local peddlers, and owned a hardware store in Radzionkow, 12 miles away.
Phil attended public school and cheder and was active in the Polish Scouts, where he encountered no anti-Semitism. “We had a lot of fun,” he recalled.
But the fun ended in November 1938, around Kristallnacht, when Jewish businesses in Zaglembie, the coal mining region bordering Germany, including Czeladz, were smashed and looted. Concurrently, Phil’s once good friends became his tormentors, bullying him and other Jewish boys.
In August 1939, with war looming, Phil’s parents sent him and Alter to their grandfather in Wolbrom, 40 miles east. The boys watched German soldiers march into town on Sept. 5, but a week later, with too many relatives in the house, they returned home.
Back in Czeladz, which, as part of western Poland, had been annexed to the Third Reich, Phil worked in the police station, cleaning up and shining shoes for the German officers.
In May 1940, as the Germans confiscated the houses and businesses of the town’s Jews, the Rauchers found another apartment. Phil worked unloading sacks of potatoes. When the ghetto was established in early 1942, the family was forced to move again, and Phil worked as an apprentice in a furniture factory.
In August 1942, with a change in the work laws, Phil’s parents hired a smuggler to take him and Alter back to Wolbrom, which was not part of the Third Reich. The smuggler could take only one boy at a time, and Alter went first. On Sept. 5, 1942, a large roundup took place in Wolbrom, and both 12-year-old Alter and the boys’ grandfather were sent to the Belzec death camp and murdered.
“You had to learn what to do and what not to do. But luck is the main thing.” — Phil Raucher
Phil was picked up two months later and sent to a transit camp in nearby Sosnowiec. Knowing a selection would occur, his parents smuggled a bottle of soapy water to him to drink, assuming he would begin vomiting and be sent home. But Phil refused. He didn’t know where the Germans would send him, but he didn’t want to return home or, more likely, be killed. So Phil was trucked to the Markstadt labor camp, about 113 miles northwest of Sosnowiec.
Arriving on a cold, rainy night, the prisoners immediately were taken to unload heavy sacks of cement and carry them to a warehouse. Inside, a prisoner running the cement mixer took a liking to Phil, instructing the newcomer to request working with him.
The next day, after roll call, Phil voiced that request. “I’m the one who decides where you go,” the kapo snapped, turning on Phil. “He beat me up like crazy,” Phil recalled.
Phil then was assigned to unload 8-foot-long pieces of wood and carry them, singly, to a Krupp factory construction site. The boards were heavy, but Phil, from his furniture factory experience, knew to select the drier, lighter pieces.
Several weeks later, the prisoners in Phil’s barracks were punished after their room leader disappeared. One by one, they were strapped down to a special table where two kapos dispensed 25 lashes across their backs. Phil was too small to be properly strapped down and so he jumped around. “I got hit worse than the others, on the head, everywhere,” he said.
The next day, as Phil was recovering, his father, newly arrived at Markstadt, entered his barracks, bringing food. “If he hadn’t come in at that moment, I wouldn’t be alive now,” Phil said.
The prisoners were transferred in 1943 to nearby Funfteichen. Phil was given a uniform and wooden shoes and continued at the same job.
When Phil’s father unexpectedly died a few months later — Phil never learned the cause —Phil was allowed to carry his body to a nearby field, where he dug a grave and said prayers. (Phil later learned that his mother was murdered at Auschwitz.)
Phil then worked unloading 35-foot girders with a crowbar from a railway car, which prisoners, up to 40 at a time, carried to the work site while guards shouted and struck them with whips. The prisoners often lost their grip, causing the beams to fall and crush people. “I don’t know how many got killed every day,” Phil said.
Later, after cranes had hoisted the girders atop the factory columns, a five-story height, Phil was one of the prisoners who walked along the foot-wide planks carrying 8-foot-long joists to cross brace them. Many of the prisoners “fell like flies” and died, Phil said.
One day, the camp commandant, observing the dangerous work they were performing, ordered a week’s worth of extra food. “A few days with food revived you,” Phil said.
Two days after Phil decided to hide among the corpses, on Jan. 23, 1945, the Russians liberated the camp, and Phil soon headed back to Czeladz, which he reached in early March.
He subsequently made two long trips into Germany, searching for his sister. When he finally returned to Czeladz in April or May 1945, he found Rachela and her boyfriend. The three decided to leave, making their way to Munich, where they rented an apartment and supported themselves on the black market.
In December, Phil, then 18, arrived in New York as a refugee. (Rachela later immigrated to Brazil, where she lived until her death in 2015.) He settled in Cleveland, where he found a job assembling machines and attended night school. He also studied drafting.
Around 1956, Phil moved to Los Angeles. He worked for an air conditioning company and attended night school and later UCLA Extension. On Feb. 5, 1967, he married Virginia Rosenthal, a Cleveland native whom he met at a Jewish singles dance in Beverly Hills. Their son, Steve, was born in November 1967, and their daughter, Debbie, in May 1969. They have two granddaughters.
For the past 25 years, Phil has been employed by Air Products and Services in Van Nuys, and, at 90, occasionally goes on inspection calls. He also speaks at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and participates in the museum’s L’Dough V’Dough program, which brings together students and survivors to bake challah and share stories.
“It’s luck,” Phil tells people of his survival. “I couldn’t have planned it any other way. You didn’t know in advance what was going to happen.”
Shalom Shtanberg at his bar mitzvah in Haifa on Aug. 31. Screenshot from Ynet
Better late than never, right? A 93-year-old Holocaust survivor celebrated his bar mitzvah in the Israeli city of Haifa a mere 80 years after he was supposed to have the coming-of-age rite.
But Shalom Shtanberg, whose ceremony was Thursday, was living in the Warsaw Ghetto when he was 13, Reuters reported.
Unlike most of his family, he survived the Holocaust. His skills as an electrician made him a valuable worker.
“In the beginning I did not speak,” Shtanberg told Reuters of his time in the Warsaw Ghetto. “I said and told nothing because I stayed a child, aged 13, 14, and [living in the] Warsaw Ghetto was extremely difficult, every day.”
Local police officers brought Shtanberg and his wife to a synagogue in Haifa, where he was greeted by a cheering crowd.
As a video on Ynet News shows, Shtanberg had quite the time dancing at the ceremony after reading his Torah portion.
Last year, the then-oldest man in the world, 113-year-old Yisrael Kristal, celebrated the bar mitzvah he never had 100 years late. Kristal passed away last month.
Yisrael Kristal, a Holocaust survivor from Haifa who was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest man in the world, has died, a month before his 114th birthday.
Haaretz reported that Kristal died Friday.
Born on Sept. 15, 1903, in the town of Zarnow, Poland, Kristal moved to Lodz in 1920 to work in his family’s candy business. He continued operating the business after the Nazis forced the city’s Jews into a ghetto, where Kristal’s two children died. In 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz, where his wife, whom he had married at 25, was killed.
In 1950, he moved to Haifa with his second wife and their son, working again as a confectioner. In addition to his son and daughter, Kristal has numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Guinness recognized him as the world’s oldest living man in 2016. When asked at the time what his secret was to long life, Kristal said: “I don’t know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men than me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”
Last year, when he turned 113, about 100 family members celebrated his bar mitzvah, a century after he missed it due to the upheavals of World War I.
Researchers find Jewish headstones at the Nazi killing site of Babi Yar
Helen Freeman, Holocaust survivor and educator, dies at 95
BY SAMARA HUTMAN | PUBLISHED Aug 2, 2017 | Obituaries
Helen Freeman. Photo by David Miller
Helen Freeman, a Holocaust survivor who shared her story with thousands of students, died July 30 at 95.
Freeman (nee Chaja Borenkraut) was born in Radom, Poland, on Sept. 2, 1921, to Israel and Leja Borenkraut. Helen was the fifth of seven children and the only daughter. Her parents worked as merchants; the family was comfortable, tightknit and deeply observant.
On Sept. 8, 1939, Freeman’s young life took a dark turn as the Shoah engulfed her family.
Her journey in captivity carried her from the Radom Ghetto to Wolanow Labor Camp to Skolna Labor Camp to slave labor in the home of a Nazi squad leader, and then to Auschwitz, which she was able to leave after being selected for slave labor at the Siemens Motor Works aircraft assembly line.
Wandering the ruins of her hometown after the war in search of family, she encountered Joseph Freeman, a boyfriend from her youth. Not long afterward, they were married at Feldafing displaced persons camp. Freeman then dedicated herself to her family: two baby daughters born in Germany, Lillian and Rene, and her husband, who was just beginning to hit a professional stride after several postwar years in Germany.
Freeman waited for sponsorship to emigrate to “any place but here,” jumping at the chance to head to the United States, sponsored by the Pasadena Jewish Temple.
In a new country, and yet unable to speak English, Freeman set about creating a home and providing for her growing family that soon included son Louis and daughter Cecelia.
After years of hardship and hard work, Helen and Joe settled into the cozy Pasadena home where they would raise their family and live out their lives. On Shabbat, Joseph would drive his Cadillac to shul and Helen and the children would follow on foot.
The Freemans became known for their work in Holocaust remembrance. Joe was an advocate for critical conversations around Holocaust memory, documentation and archives. He also penned Helen’s memoir, “Kingdom of Night: The Saga of a Woman’s Struggle for Survival.”
Over the course of decades, Helen and Joe visited schools, churches, synagogues and civic groups across Los Angeles. In her Yiddish-accented English, Helen asked each student to “carry the torch “ of Holocaust memory, speak up in the face of cruelty and injustice, and stand conscious of the possibility that brutality lay nascent in society and could only be thwarted by the resistance and opposition of goodness. Helen and Joe were early supporters and docents at Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust when it was part of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and supported and attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
After Joe’s death in 2010, as she approached 90, Helen embarked on a six-year mission to share her story. With daughter Cece and granddaughter Jamie, she was a founding Advisory Board Survivor Elder of The Righteous Conversations Project, an endeavor that connected Freeman with thousands of students. Through the project, Freeman inspired students of all ages to exercise their conscience by speaking about important contemporary social justice issues through new media. She also was a participant in the UCLA Hillel Bearing Witness program.
In 2008, when Helen addressed an auditorium of students at Harvard Westlake School, the school’s paper The Chronicle quoted her as closing her talk with the plea to the young people: “Please be good to each other, help each other.” The message is deceptively simple but transformative when followed as a commandment for peace on earth.
Freeman’s legacy is deeply embedded in the hearts, minds and memories of all who heard her speak or were the lucky beneficiaries of her guidelines for healthy living (light soup for dinner and advice from Dr. Oz). and prescriptions for a rewarding life — education, hard work, family, friendship and faith as the four poles and canopy of a meaningful life.
Freeman is survived by daughters Lillian, Rene Grifka (Dan), Cece Feiler (Bill); son Louis (Peggy z”l); grandchildren Jackie, Jamie and Jake Feiler; Jen Sparks (Sam), Nikki Garber (Greg); Josh (Jenna) , Michelle and Adam Freeman; and great grandchild Riley Garber.
To make a donation in Helen’s honor, visit https://secure.jewishla.org/page/contribute/holocaust-survivors-fund.
Abe Teitman reads from the Torah in a chapel at the Amercan Jewish University, flanked by his daughter Tova Teitman Turk (left) and Rabbi Cantor Judy Greenfeld (right), along with other members of his family. Photos by Yona Engel/Klick Photography
Abe Teitman was 6 when his father was drafted into the Soviet army, never to be seen again, and 7 when his mother died of typhus. By 1946, when he turned 13, he found himself in a home for Jewish orphans in chaotic postwar Poland. The orphanage was a hard place where “nobody thought about a bar mitzvah,” he said.
More than seven decades later, on April 22, he stood in a chapel at the American Jewish University (AJU), looking dapper in a dark suit, polka-dot bowtie and a matching pocket square, preparing to be called to the Torah, at long last.
After he read a brief passage from the week’s portion, the crowd broke out in song, “Mazel tov and siman tov!”
As custom dictates, the bar mitzvah “boy” took to the podium to share some words of wisdom with the roughly 50 people who attended — family, friends and members of the Nachshon Minyan, which meets at AJU in Bel Air.
“Better late than never,” he said.
The Saturday morning service was the culmination of a journey not just for the 84-year-old Holocaust survivor, but also for the small but spirited congregation that gathers each week at the hilltop campus.
It was the first of what the congregation hopes will be many b’nai mitzvah for older Jews whose childhood and teenage years were interrupted by the Holocaust.
The final chapter of Teitman’s bar mitzvah journey began three years ago, when Hannah Mandel, then a recent Occidental College graduate and a participant in the AmeriCorps VISTA community service program, approached the minyan.
“There was a huge need for families to come together with survivors in the community for interaction,” Mandel said.
She had a proposal for the tight-knit, nondenominational congregation: pair 15 families with 15 Holocaust survivors, who would meet regularly for shared activities based on the survivors’ interests.
“I wanted them to have human interactions,” she said. “Not just, ‘What happened to you in the past?’ ”
Teitman, a former college history professor, was matched with Yona Engel and Lilia Arbona, a married couple who regularly attend the Nachshon Minyan. Soon, they were fast friends.
“He didn’t really get out a lot,” Arbona said. “Now he calls us, he wants to go places. … He has a community now.”
Teitman began attending the Nachshon Minyan as often as he could. On one occasion, he mentioned to Rabbi Cantor Judy Greenfeld that he had never had a bar mitzvah.
“She said, ‘We’re going to make you a bar mitzvah,’ ” Teitman said. “I thought she was just saying it.”
From left: Rabbi Cantor Judy Greenfeld, Abe Teitman, Nachshon Minyan’s Holocaust Survivor Program Coordinator Hannah Mandel and Nachshon Minyan Executive Director Sandra Gelfat at Teitman’s bar mitzvah.
He kept his remarks to the congregation short and sweet, saying, “a bar mitzvah should be happy, so I don’t want to talk about history.”
He did take a moment, however, to note the historic nature of the Torah scroll from which he read, brand new to the minyan.
His reading was the first since before World War II from a scroll that rode out the war in a decrepit barn outside of Prague. It was one of 1,564 so-called Czech scrolls plundered by the Nazis and collected as part of an effort to catalog the memorabilia of what they hoped would soon be an extinct race. Ironically, the nefarious project ended up saving the Torahs, which were later rescued by a Jewish philanthropist and taken to England to be restored and distributed.
“This Torah is really a lucky Torah,” Teitman told the crowd.
The scroll’s history made the event all the more meaningful for his friends and family who attended.
“To hear him read from it, it just brings such peace to my soul,” his daughter Tova Teitman Turk said.
Greenfeld sees the April 22 celebration as the pilot for many more to come.
“I just love the idea that across the generations, this is a place of connection,” she said.
To see that idea realized, Greenfeld turned to her longtime friend, Samara Hutman, director of Remember Us, the Bnai Mitzvah Project.
Remember Us connects aspiring bar and bat mitzvah students with the memory of a child who didn’t survive the Holocaust. The deceased child figuratively comes along for the ceremony of the living one, fulfilling a coming of age interrupted during World War II.
Teitman’s bar mitzvah marks the launch of a new program under Hutman’s direction, called Honor Us. Honor Us also will complete bar and bat mitzvahs interrupted by the Holocaust — but in this case, by helping shepherd survivors through the process many decades behind schedule.
Most Holocaust survivors who are alive today were children or teens when World War II threw their lives into disarray, interrupting any possibility of the Hebrew study and practice that traditionally precedes the rites of passage. Honor Us intends to begin correcting that.
But the explicit end goal of Honor Us is not to hold bar and bat mitzvahs for survivors. Instead, it hopes “to bring survivors closer to congregational life,” Hutman said.
During Teitman’s period of study leading to his bar mitzvah, he became close with Leo Blumenfield, a Nachshon teenager who recently completed his own bar mitzvah. Honor Us will model itself on their friendship by pairing bar and bat mitzvah students in their 80s and 90s with teens who previously participated in Hutman’s Remember Us program.
“We’re sitting in this very precious and finite moment with elders who have so much to teach us,” Hutman said, adding, “We’re going to soften the generational lines during this precious time.”
I went to a $2 million bar mitzvah with DJ Khaled and the Clippers dancers
When Rachel Gastfrajnd and her older sister, Henrietta, first reached Detroit, in September 1946, Rachel was eager to write about how they survived the Warsaw Ghetto, three concentration camps and a death march. Rachel was 15, her sister, 17.
“Everything was so vivid,” Rachel recalled.
Then the nightmares set in.
Hoping to help the sisters, their maternal aunt,Bessie Partovich, who had immigrated to the United States in the 1930s, set some rules: They had to put the Holocaust behind them and stop speaking Polish.
“You’re American girls now,” she told them.
“It was all meant to forget the bad experience,” Rachel said. “And people in general didn’t want to believe it or talk about it.”
Rachel took her aunt’s words to heart. For decades. Even her two American husbands and her sons were kept in the dark. It wasn’t until more than 50 years after the war, in 1998, that she felt comfortable enough to give testimony to what is now the USC Shoah Foundation, a decision she attributes to having seen the premiere of “Schindler’s List” in Krakow, Poland, in 1994.
Then, she went another 18 years before breaking her silence again, addressing a group of B-17 Combat Crewmen and Wingmen in Long Beach last October.
“Since the soldiers came to liberate us, it just touched me,” she said.
She also spoke this year at USC Hillel’s Yom HaShoah commemoration.
Rachel was the youngest of four children born to Sara and Israel Gastfrajnd. Her father owned a mattress factory on the ground floor of their apartment building in Warsaw. The family was financially comfortable, and Rachel remembers her parents as very loving.
Life was joyful until the morning of Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany declared war on Poland. As bombs fell on Warsaw, the Gastfrajnd family huddled in the basement of their building.
Sometime after Oct. 16, 1940, the family was forced to relocate to the Warsaw Ghetto, moving the mattress factory, which then produced cots for the German army, inside their cramped quarters.All six family members helped out. “That’s why we were still alive,” Rachel said.
Rachel and her family lived in constant fear. Food was scarce, dead bodies littered the streets, and soldiers often conducted raids. “We had to hide all the time,” she said, often in large barrels placed behind a door.
While the family succeeded in staying together in the ghetto, Sara often told her children, “Whoever survives the war, we have two aunts in Michigan,” drilling their names into their heads.
On the first day of Passover in 1943, as Nazi troops were attempting to liquidate the ghetto, buildings erupted in flames. Rachel and her family were forced to abandon their apartment, clustering with others at the Umschlagplatz, the holding area near the train station, believing they would be resettled in the East.
Guarded by German soldiers with rifles and dogs, people were screaming and crying. The men and women were separated. “That’s the last time we saw our father and two brothers,” Rachel said.
After several days, Rachel, Henrietta and their mother were crammed into a cattle car and transported to Majdanek, the concentration camp outside Lublin.
Waiting in line, they approached the SS officer conducting a selection. He pointed for Rachel’s mother to go right and Henrietta to the opposite side. He then directed Rachel to follow her mother. Henrietta burst into tears. “No, no, no,” she shouted. The SS officer stared at both sisters for a good minute and then motioned for Rachel to join Henrietta. “Maybe I reminded him of a daughter or somebody,” Rachel said.
Rachel learned about the gas chambers and crematoria, realizing her mother’s fate. Hopeful their father and brothers were still alive, the sisters focused on good memories, often by singing popular Polish and Yiddish songs. “We tried to lift ourselves up,” she said.
In fall 1943, Rachel and Henrietta were transported to Skarzysko-Kamienna, then a forced labor camp in east-central Poland. They shared the same barracks, and during their 12-hour work shifts, Rachel produced ammunition while Henrietta toiled in the mines.
In late July 1944, with the sounds of Soviet gunfire in the distance, two girls whom Henrietta had befriended at work invited her to join a group planning to escape into the forest that night. Rachel, they explained, was too young. Henrietta declined their offer, refusing to abandon her sister. Those who fled that night — estimates vary from 250 to thousands — were slaughtered by the Germans.
Soon afterward, the camp was evacuated and the remaining prisoners transported by cattle car to Buchenwald, a concentration camp near Weimar, Germany.
The two girls worked in an ammunition factory where an elderly German civilian supervisor took a liking to them, often slipping them a hard-boiled egg or apple.
In early April 1945, as the Soviets were closing in, the prisoners were marched out. “It was bitter cold,” Rachel recalled. They walked for several weeks, sleeping in fields and sometimes deserted barns. “We were just starving. We were eating grass,” Rachel said. After two weeks she began hallucinating.
One day, they awoke in a barn near the Elbe River to the sounds of soldiers speaking Russian. It was late April 1945, and they had been liberated. “We were probably unconscious by then. I’m sure of it,” Rachel said.
Several weeks later, having regained some strength, they began the chaotic journey back to Warsaw, riding in jeepsdriven by Sovietsoldiersand by walking.
One night, while staying with a German family — elderly grandparents and their grandchildren — Soviet soldiers showed up. “What you have been through, we want to kill these people,” one soldier said. The sisters said no. “I was so sick of killing and death,” Rachel said.
They reached Warsaw in late June, discovering that their father’s factory had vanished and strangers inhabited their apartment. A neighbor told them that their father and older brother, Rubin, had been murdered in Treblinka. “We don’t have knowledge of Hershel,” Rachel said of her other brother.
The girls knew they didn’t belong in Poland anymore and dreamed of immigrating to the United States or Palestine.
The Jewish underground smuggled the sisters out of Poland, to the Landsberg displaced persons camp near Munich in early 1946. While there, they connected with their American relatives.
They docked in New York on Sept. 1, 1946, traveling a few weeks later to Detroit, where 40 relatives greeted them at the train station. “It was just unbelievable. My sister and I were very lucky,” Rachel said.
Initially, they lived with their Aunt Esther and Uncle Meyer Pechensky, but six months later, because of Esther’s failing vision, they moved in with Aunt Bessie and Uncle Louis Partovich.
Rachel graduated from Detroit’s Central High School in 1949. Two years later, she married Edward Schwartz. Their son Jeffrey was born in August 1953, and son Bruce in August 1957. In 1960, they moved to Los Angeles, attracted to the climate. After her first marriage ended, Rachel wed Arthur Lambert, who died in 2000.
In 1967, Rachel began working for the Feuer Corp., an air-conditioning company. Around 1991, she became a Realtor for Coldwell Banker and currently works in the company’s Santa Monica office.
In November 2012, Henrietta and Rachel spoke at the dedication of the Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg Gallery at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Mich., which Henrietta and her husband sponsored. It features a World War II-era German cattle car, which the Weisbergs purchased, and is dedicated to Sara and Israel Gastfrajnd and Rubin and Hershel Gastfrajnd.
Rachel now says that she still doesn’t want to speak regularly about her Holocaust ordeals, though she also feels a responsibility.
“In a way, maybe it’s time,” she said. “If we don’t say it, who’s going to say it?”
Saved by art: How one man’s skill got him through seven Nazi camps and the difficult years that followed
Kalman Aron is a prolific artist. Even during his internment at seven Nazi camps, he didn’t stop drawing — and his artwork saved his life.
“I probably have in Germany a hundred drawings, drawings of soldiers,” the 92-year-old artist said during a recent interview. “They wouldn’t pay me anything, but I would get a piece of bread, something to eat. Without that, I wouldn’t be here.”
Speaking in the living room of his modest Beverly Hills apartment, Aron was surrounded by his artwork, collected over decades. Paintings are stacked five and six deep against each wall, with more in his bedroom and even more in a basement storeroom.
Aron immigrated to Los Angeles in 1949 and built a life, a career and a circle of friends. They were artists and musicians. Now, apart from his wife and a part-time caretaker, it’s his paintings that keep him company.
“I don’t have anybody to talk with,” he said. “All my friends are gone. I had probably 15 friends. They were much older than me. I was the youngest one. And then suddenly, nobody here. I have drawings of them. A lot of drawings in the back there. Filled that room downstairs, filled up completely.”
Aron was born with a preternatural talent for portraiture. At 3, he was drawing likenesses of family friends in Riga, Latvia. At 7, he had a one-man show at a local gallery. At 13, he won a commission to paint the prime minister of Latvia. He was 16 years old and a student at Riga’s art academy in 1941 when the Germans occupied the country.
Seven camps, four marriages and nearly 80 years later, he’s proven to be a resourceful and dogged survivor. In the long and circuitous course of his life, art and survival have gone hand in hand.
Kalman Aron in his Beverly Hills apartment in June. Photo by Tess Cutler
It began in the ghetto in Riga, when he did a pencil drawing of a guard and showed it to him. The guard liked it enough to spread the word about his talent. The formula repeated itself over and over in the coming years of persecution and hardship.
Still, for a Jew to have writing materials in the camps was considered a risk, so German troops who wanted a likeness would hide him in a locked barrack while he drew them or worked from a photograph to draw their relatives.
“Once I did a portrait and other people liked it, they would do the same thing: lock me in the room, not let me out,” he said.
Aron managed to leverage his skill anywhere he spent a significant amount of time, particularly the Riga ghetto and the labor camps of Poperwahlen in Latvia and Rehmsdorf in Germany. In each place, he attracted a clientele of rank-and-file soldiers and high-ranking officers who rewarded him with scraps of food and pulled him out of hard labor.
What seems like lifetimes later, he believes painting still keeps him alive today.
“Friends of mine, they get old and they don’t know what to do, and they die of boredom,” he said in his dining room, his eyes widening with intensity. “Boredom! And I’ll never die of boredom, as long as I have a piece of paper.”
‘Mother and Child’
Decades before he spoke openly about what he saw during the Holocaust, Aron painted it.
Until 1994, when he was interviewed by the USC Shoah Foundation, he tended not to describe what he had seen. But during those long decades of silence, he produced a number of artworks — in oil, watercolor, pastel and charcoal — depicting his memories of that trying time.
“Mother and Child” (1951), pastel on paper on a board
There was Aron at the head of a line of inmates on a forced march. There was Aron at Buchenwald, sleeping outside with a rock for a pillow. There were haggard portraits of fellow inmates.
But the most well-known of these paintings is “Mother and Child,” which now hangs in the lobby of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.
Aron moved to Los Angeles in 1949 with a young wife, $4 in his pocket and zero English proficiency after finishing art school in Vienna. In 1951, he had a job illustrating maps in Glendale when one day, he decided to glue two city maps to a board to create an 8-foot-tall canvas.
He brought home the oversized sheet, and after four or five nights of laboring past midnight, he finished a pastel, showing a scene he had witnessed many times in the camps: a mother clutching her child tightly to her face, as if they were one, bound together no matter what abuse they might have to face.
As he worked on the painting, he recalled, “I wasn’t feeling. I saw it happening.”
He went on, “I just said, ‘I’m going to put it on paper.’ I wanted to draw them. That’s why.”
“Mother and Child” sat in his studio for nearly 60 years as he found himself unable to part with it, the glue he used to create the canvas bleeding slowly through the paper to create a brownish tint. Today, it is considered one of his masterpieces.
At the time he painted it, Aron was unable to put his trauma into words. During his later Shoah Foundation interview, as a videographer switched tapes, Aron chatted with the interviewer, a fellow survivor, apparently unaware that audio still was being recorded, and described his difficulty.
“About 30 years ago, I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I couldn’t do it. I would choke up if I did it. I’m fine now.”
Sherri Jacobs, an art therapist outside Kansas City, Mo., told the Journal that art sometimes enables survivors of trauma to express what they otherwise could not. Jacobs has conducted an art therapy workshop at a Jewish retirement home near Kansas City for 15 years, working with many Holocaust survivors. Though they rarely paint explicitly about their Holocaust experience, as Aron has, creative expression nonetheless helps put shape and form to their trauma, she said.
“They can express things in a metaphorical way,” she said, “in a way that it’s leaving their mind, leaving their body and going on paper.”
Painting men and monsters
Drawing in the camps, Aron said he was not thinking of his hatred or fear of his subjects — only of surviving.
In Poperwahlen, for instance, the camp commandant gave Aron a photograph of his parents and ordered him to draw a miniature that could fit in a locket mounted on a ring.
Aron had seen Jews randomly beaten or shot by guards at the camp. More than anything, he was thinking about his own survivalas the commandant locked him in a barrack with a pencil and paper.
“I mean, in my head is, ‘Am I going to be alive tomorrow?’ ” Aron said in his apartment nearly eight decades later. “Watching them killing the Jews was terrible, terrible, terrible. I have very bad nights sleeping here.”
The task could have taken him two days, he said. But he stretched it over more than a week for the exemption it afforded him from back-breaking labor.
It’s difficult for Aron to estimate how many portraits he drew. He knew only that the same interaction repeated itself many times with Nazi troops.
“Wherever I was, I made sure I had a piece of paper and pencil,” he said.
As the months passed, he parlayed his skill into gaining more materials, piecing together a sheaf of drawings that he carried with him. Observing his assured manner and his materials, camp guards mostly left him alone.
“When they saw that, they knew, ‘Don’t touch this guy, he’s doing something for us,’ ” he said.
By the end of the war, his skill accounted for perhaps an extra 5 pounds on his skeletal frame, he told the Shoah Foundation interviewer — a small but critical difference.
“There also were people that were tailors and shoemakers,” he said in 1994. “They would also get fed much better. They were indoors. They would sew, you know. These are the kind of people that had more of a chance of survival than a guy who was digging ditches.”
Reclaiming a world of light and color
Jacobs, the art therapist, said understanding Holocaust survivors as the product of a single experience can be misleading, traumatic though it may have been. And in trying to understand Aron through his art, putting the Holocaust constantly front and center would indeed be a mistake.
Of the hundreds of paintings that line his apartment, relatively few deal with the Holocaust. More often, they are landscapes of the places he’s visited, views from his balcony looking out at downtown L.A. and portraits of the women he’s loved. Prominently displayed is a 2006 oil portrait of Miriam Sandoval Aron, his fourth and current wife, straight-backed, wearing a baseball cap during their honeymoon in Hawaii.
His earliest landscapes in Los Angeles are often devoid of color: A rambling house in Bunker Hill is rendered in shades of gray with no sign of life; a monochromatic landscape of Silver Lake shows not a single inhabitant. But soon enough, he took to painting colorful tableaus of the city at various times of day.
Eventually, he made enough money to rent a West Hollywood studio with high ceilings and northern light, where he hosted parties that lasted until sunrise. Over the years, his art has been exhibited at several museums and galleries, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Art Association and the Seattle Art Museum. He has painted a number of celebrities and public figures, including novelist Henry Miller, pianist and composer André Previn and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan of California.
For months at a time, he traveled through North America and Western Europe — though never to Germany — stopping whenever he was moved to paint.
His third wife, Tanis Furst, described one such incident to author Susan Beilby Magee for “Into the Light: The Healing Light of Kalman Aron” (2012), a book of Aron’s art, framed by interviews with the artist.
In 1969, driving through Montreal during a trip across Canada, Aron pulled over in a rundown part of town to paint a house where a woman lived with dozens of cats.
“This happened all the time on this trip,” Furst said. “He would drive along and stop: ‘Gotta paint that.’ We had a lot of fun.”
A short while later, Aron’s only son David was born.
“I was a very happy guy when my son was born,” he says in the book. “In fact, it was the happiest day of my life.”
Telling his story
Even in 2003, when Magee first set out to write “Into the Light,” she said she found Aron profoundly ambivalent about telling his story of sorrow and survival.
In an interview with the Journal, Magee said that while part of Aron seemed to be saying “It’s time to tell, the pain of not remembering is greater than the pain of remembering;” another voice was telling him “You survived because you were invisible; do not tell your story; do not be seen; to be seen is to be killed.”
Magee had spent more than a decade in Washington, D.C., working in government, before quitting in the late 1980s to pursue hypnotherapy, meditation and energy healing. One thing she was not was a writer.
But that didn’t deter Aron. Sitting down for lunch in Palm Springs in 2003 with Magee and her mother, one of his earliest and most ardent patrons, he suddenly fixed upon Magee with his blue-eyed gaze.
“Completely out of the blue,” she recalled, “he turns to me and says, ‘Susan, will you write my story?’ He is a highly intuitive man, and somehow he knew he could trust me to do it.”
“Self Portrait” (1954); “Self Portrait” (1967), oil on canvas; “Self Portrait” (1994), oil on foam core
Although he had produced numerous paintings dealing with the Holocaust, he had been hesitant to speak about it, even with those closest to him.
“Kalman shared some things about his family and the Holocaust, but not in a great deal of detail,” Furst says in the book.
Nonetheless, after his 2003 encounter with Magee, he consented to 18 hours of interviews with her. Later, she traveled to Europe to retrace his steps. Nine years after she set out, the book was published, with a release party at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
Recently, Aron agreed to be featured in an upcoming documentary about his life and art, backed by television producer Norman Lear.
“We’re going for the Oscar on this thing, and you can quote me on that,” said Edward Lozzi, Aron’s longtime publicist who introduced him to the documentary’s director and executive producer, Steven C. Barber.
Aron said he hopes the extra publicity will help him sell paintings and pay rent, which even at his advanced age continues to be a concern. But in general, he’s content to sit at home and paint.
Though Aron sometimes struggles to remember words and names, he remains spirited enough, painting for hours each day and eagerly engaging visitors in conversation. “I can manage six languages,” he said. “But I can’t remember people’s names.”
Magee said she believes that through telling his story, Aron has at long last found peace.
“His willingness to tell his story — to finally remember after suppressing it all those years — gave him that freedom to paint for the joy of it,” Magee said.
These days, his paintings are mainly non-objective rather than representative.
“I used to go to the park,” he said, sitting in an airy corner of his apartment, next to the kitchen, where he keeps his home studio. “I used to meet people. Now, I’m not allowed to drive at my age. So I’m here all the time.”
Lacking subjects for portraiture, Aron paints sheet after sheet of shapes and colors.
“I enjoy the design, the design,” he said, holding up a recent painting, a set of undulating neon waves. “Movement, movement. This moves, it doesn’t stay still.”
Aron considers himself lucky to have a gift and a passion that keeps him occupied into his old age.
“My situation may be a little bit better than some people who came out of the camps,” he told Magee during their interviews. “They may have nothing else to do but watch television and think about those bad days in the camps. I did that in the beginning, but I got away from thinking about it by doing portraits, landscapes, traveling and painting. I think that kept me away from all this agony of ‘How did I survive?’ or ‘Why did I survive?’
“I did, and that’s it.”
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Hilary Helstein (left), director of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, at the opening gala with film festival honoree Ed Asner and his daughter Liza. Photo by Tess Cutler
Ed Asner, the 87-year-old Hollywood actor and liberal activist, was the center of attention during the April 26 opening gala of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF).The event honored Asner — known for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant” on television and, more recently, the films “Elf” and “Up” — with the Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of his “commitment to Jewish values and humanitarian causes.”
“I’m always pleased to show up somewhere where there’s popcorn,” Asner said in typical curmudgeonly fashion upon receiving the award, addressing a crowd assembled in the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills. His colleagues were more traditional in their praise. “There couldn’t be anyone in Los Angeles who is more deserving of this honor than my friend Ed Asner,” said actor Matthew Modine, who directed Asner in the 2016 short film “Super Sex.” That eight-minute comedy was shown along with the 2014 documentary about Asner, “My Friend Ed.”
A red carpet event kicked off the evening. Escorted by a small group of family and friends, Asner walked with a cane along the sidewalk of Wilshire Boulevard toward a group of eager photographers waiting in front of the theater. As they snapped photos of Asner, a man in a car passing shouted, “Ed!” The actor soaked it in, telling the Journal he was proud of being honored. Asked what Jewish historical figure he’d like to play onscreen one day, Asner said the late Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky or the late Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan.
A cocktail reception in the lobby of the theater followed the red carpet arrivals, which also drew actor Ed Begley Jr.; director Aaron Wolf, whose documentary “Restoring Tomorrow” spotlights the restoration of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; Ruby Modine, Matthew Modine’s daughter and co-star of “Super Sex”; Shelley Fisher, who stars in the forthcoming theater production “The Hebrew Hillbilly”; Aimee Ginsburg Bikel, widow of the late stage actor Theodore Bikel; comedian Avi Liberman; and veteran actress and Hollywood blacklist victim Marsha Hunt. “Ed is a treasure because he cares so deeply about bringing the past into the present and keeping the values he absorbed throughout his life,” Ginsburg Bikel told the Journal.
Everyone gathered inside the theater for the award presentation, which included comments from Hilary Helstein, LAJFF director; actress Sharon Gless; Zane Buzby, actress and founder of the Survivor Mitzvah Project; director Sharon Baker; and Matthew Modine. Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz offered words of praise, as well. The speakers emphasized Asner’s longevity in an industry where staying power is a rare thing, his unique commitment to standing up for the marginalized, and his warmth — underneath all that curmudgeonliness.
“That’s quite a grope,” Matthew Modine said as Asner posed for a photo with him, the latter’s hand invisible to the audience. “I’ve just had my prostate checked.”
“He doesn’t have long,” Asner quipped.
Buzby, who works with Holocaust survivors, described Asner as a “champion of compassion.”
Skirball Cultural Center Chief Curator Erin Clancey has left the Skirball museum after 18
Erin Clancey Photo courtesy of Erin Clancey
years, having accepted a position as the director of curatorial services at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Her final day was March 24.
Clancey, with a back-ground in antiquities, joined the Skirball staff in 1999 after working at the California Science Center.
“Because of my studies and my previous background at museums, it was a good fit,” Clancey said in March, prior to her final day. “And I thought, ‘OK, I’ll do this while I’m in school for a couple of years and then I’ll move on.’ But it stuck and I’ve been here for 18 years.”
Her first temporary exhibition at the Skirball was “Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt,” in 2004.
“Our attendance was not what it is today, but that show was just phenomenal,” she said. “I still think it was one of my favorite shows.”
Her final Skirball exhibition was “Paul Simon: Words & Music,” a traveling exhibition that originated at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which will run through Sept. 3.
The Skirball Center, which describes itself as “one of the world’s most dynamic Jewish cultural institutions,” is conducting an open search for a curator, Clancey said.
Los Angeles nonprofit Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC), Tel HaShomer held its annual Women of Achievement Luncheon on April 20 at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, bringing together women dedicated to the welfare of patients at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv.
The event raised more than $375,000 for the medical center, which is the largest hospital in the Middle East, serving 945,000 outpatient visitors annually.
During the luncheon, FSMC honored Jenji Kohan, creator of the television comedy-dramas “Weeds” and “Orange Is the New Black,” with the Women of Achievement Award; and DeeDee Sussman, a volunteer with the organization for 40 years, with the Marjorie Pressman Legacy Award.
Dr. Shani Paluch-Shimon, head of the hospital’s Breast Cancer Service for Young
DeeDee Sussman (left), a volunteer with the Friends of Sheba Medical Center, and Jenji Kohan, creator of “Weeds” and “Orange Is the New Black,” attend the Women of Achievement Luncheon. Photo by Kyle Espeleta Photography
Women, the only program of its kind in Israel, served as the keynote speaker.
The event also included a fashion show presented by Maskit, the Israeli luxury women’s brand.
Cantor Gary Shapiro — who later died suddenly on April 27 (see obituary on Page 52) — sang renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Hatikvah.”
In an interview, Adina Hepner, director of development at FSMC, said the gathering was a success.
“The event was absolutely beautiful and truly showcased the unique and extraordinary ability Sheba Medical Center has, not only to care for patients, but make them feel truly at home, like they are part of a greater human family,” she said.
— Kylie Ora Lobell, Contributing Writer
Rabbi Naomi Levy and Holocaust survivor Louis Sneh
Louis Sneh, Holocaust survivor and subject of the documentary “Last Train to Seeshaupt,” and Rabbi Naomi Levy were among the attendees at the Naftali Sneh Memorial Yom HaShoah Observance at American Jewish University on April 24.
Sneh was 16 when the Nazis marched into his home country of Hungary, and he and the Jews of his village were deported to Dachau. In the final weeks of World War II, the Germans closed Sneh’s subcamp and put the thousands of surviving prisoners on a train to Bavaria. When U.S. Gen. George S. Patton’s tanks rolled in, the prisoners stepped out onto the platform at the Seeshaupt station — free.
— Jewish Journal staff
Dan Schnur has been named the new director of the American Jewish Committee Los Angeles, succeeding Janna Weinstein Smith, who held the position
since January 2016. She is moving to Washington, D.C., according to an AJCLA press release.
“Dan Schnur’s prominence in our community and his sustained history of leadership make him uniquely qualified to lead AJC in Los Angeles,” said AJCLA President Scott Edelman. “We are thrilled to welcome Dan to lead our extraordinary team of staff professionals, and grateful for the many accomplishments of his predecessor.”
Schnur, an expert in political strategy, campaign communication and government reform, has worked on four presidential campaigns and three campaigns for governor of California, according to the press release.
Dan Schnur Photo courtesy of Dan Schnur
“I am honored to head the AJC Los Angeles office, to work with leaders in our community to build and strengthen relationships with those who share our core principles,” Schnur said in a statement. “I have spent years building support for the causes and issues that are most important to me, but nothing is more vital than the values that form the pillars of the Jewish community.”
In 2014, Schnur ran for California secretary of state, finishing fourth in the primary. He is a longtime advocate for reforming the California electoral system.
Schnur is an adjunct faculty member at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the USC Marshall School of Business, and a lecturer at UC Berkeley. He has previously served as the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
He currently serves as the treasurer of the AJCLA executive committee.
A New York-based nonpartisan advocacy organization founded in 1906, AJC is focused on domestic issues and matters concerning Israel, operating 22 offices across the country.
Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email email@example.com.
Moving & Shaking: Tom Hanks reads ‘Night,’ San Fernando Valley Breakfast for Israel and more
By Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz | PUBLISHED Mar 15, 2017 | Family
Photo of Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz and her husband Fred.
Photo courtesy of Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz.
My mother-in-law, Sarah, survived Auschwitz, but at age 76, cancer of the pancreas did her in. Being a physician, I was involved, along with my husband, Fred, in her medical care during the final months. One afternoon, Fred and I attended an oncology appointment with Sarah.
“Mrs. Davidowitz, tell me, when you were in the camps, were there any toxins in the air where you worked?” Dr. Levin asked.
He threw out the question, seemingly comfortable discussing the concentration camps. The office, cluttered with books, charts and diplomas, smelled of cleaning solution. My mother-in-law, barely 5 feet tall, sat in an oversized chair across the desk from Dr. Levin.
“Oh no, the munitions factory where I worked was clean, very clean,” Sarah said. She peered at the doctor, hoping he would like her response.
“Did you smell chemicals in the air?” asked the doctor.
“No chemicals,” she said.
“Do you remember names of any materials they used in the factory?” he gently prodded.
“Names, I don’t know.But there was a guard there, one of the bosses. He let me sleep when I was sick and no one was watching. He was good to me,” she said.
“Uh-huh,” Dr. Levin said.
I was surprised that Sarah spoke kindly toward her captors at that moment. She never said much about the camps, but once in awhile something seeped out. When my husband was 11, he was profoundly disappointed when she refused to allow him to join the Boy Scouts. It was only in later years that Sarah told him the uniforms reminded her of the Hitler Youth organization.
This discussion then, was a surprise. I thought that bitterness would emerge, but Sarah chose to emphasize an act of kindness. Dr. Levin surely saw many reactions to impending death. Maybe this was one of them.
Sarah and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye. When I first met her, I was 33 years old, a professional woman, a physician.Her son Fred, born in a displaced persons camp in Bamberg, Germany, was the first child of an extended family dismantled by the Holocaust. He was the phoenix that rose from the ashes.
One Friday night back then after Shabbat dinner, we sat around Sarah and Irving’s table with Fred’s three children from his first marriage. Fred was divorced. He and I were seriously dating. I thought, as a successful Jewish doctor, I was a good catch for their son. Sarah and I cleared plates and set out teacups and pastries for coffee and dessert. Sweet smelling cookies enticed the children to sit a bit longer.
“So Sherry, how much do you work?” asked Sarah, eyeing me as she spoke.
“About 40 hours a week. It’s taken time to build up a psychiatric practice. Now it’s going well,” I said.
“Uh-huh. Do you cook?” she asked.
“Yeah, some,” I said.
“How’s your brisket recipe?” she asked.
“I don’t have one. I don’t like brisket. Too fatty,” I said.
“Oh, I see. Freddie, he loves brisket,” Sarah said.
I hadn’t planned on defending my cooking. Maybe I didn’t make a brisket but if anyone needed help with medical problems, then I was your girl. Sarah shifted her gaze to her grandchildren, who squirmed in their seats waiting for dessert.
“Here you go, bubbelehs. Rainbow cookies,” said Sarah to the children. She handed them a box of multicolored cookies, a traditional favorite among the grandchildren.
Now, nine years later, Sarah sat helplessly in her chair facing Dr. Levin and a terminal cancer diagnosis. I still believed she thought of me as a driven professional woman, capable of husband neglect. Fred and I had married and were raising our three young daughters. We shared the raising of Fred’s older children with his ex-wife.
The next time I saw her, Sarah was home under the care of hospice. It was December, the month of her death. She appeared weak, motionless under the covers. Irving slept in another room away from the IVs and the caretaker. Our oldest daughter, Andrea, having just turned 7, joined me for an overnight with Sarah, along with birds of paradise we picked from our garden.
“Bubbe, we brought flowers,” Andrea said. She placed them in Sarah’s shrunken hands.
“Beautiful,” Sarah said. “Thank you, a paradise for me. Andrea, bubbeleh, go to the kitchen. Zayde has rainbow cookies.”
Andrea hurried off, looking for Irving and the cookies. Then Sarah turned to me. She took my hand.
“Thank you for coming with Andrea,” she said.
“I’m happy to be here,” I said.
I didn’t know what else to say. We both knew that her end loomed ahead.
“Ah, me too. So Sherry, do me a favor,” she said. “See that Irving takes care of his health.”
“I will,” I said.
Then she looked me straight in the eye.
“And, I want you should have my brisket recipe. Freddie loves brisket,” Sarah said.
“Thank you, Sarah,” I said, wiping away tears.
Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz is a psychiatrist and writer who has written
for Jewish Women’s Theatre and currently iswriting a memoir.
Betty Cohen, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor, is unsure if all the time she spends telling her story has amounted to anything.
“Is it worth it, or do I make a fool of myself?” Cohen says at the conclusion of a recent interview in the apartment on Beverly Glen Boulevard that she shares with her daughter, Hedy van der Fluit, and their two dogs, Lady and Ace.
A widow, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Cohen was born in the Netherlands, interned at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and lost both of her parents to the crematoria. She said she last saw them on May 22, 1944, and has lots of questions for God.
“I ask Him all the time,” she said. “ ‘Why did it happen?’ ”
Cohen has regular speaking engagements at the Museum of Tolerance and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, where her video testimony is featured in the “Tree of Testimony” permanent exhibition.
But that’s not the half of what she’s up to these days. Despite her age, Cohen volunteers every Thursday at the UCLA Medical Center gift shop and has been volunteering at the medical center in some capacity for almost 30 years. It’s one way that she has kept busy, she said, ever since she stopped working for her son’s music retail business 33 years ago at the urging of her children.
Cohen takes Uber multiple times a day to the various routine destinations in her life, including the medical center and Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Koreatown, where she studies Torah every Saturday morning with her daughter and volunteers every Sunday for the synagogue food bank.
Her work at the hospital began with spending time with young patients. She recalls bonding with a boy with autism before she left for a visit to Holland. Upon her return, the boy was gone. He had died.
“He was a sick boy,” she said. Afterward, she decided she did not want to volunteer with child patients anymore, so she started visiting patients just out of surgery. As she grew older, she felt the need to do simpler work, and today she helps in the gift shop.
Among her responsibilities for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple food bank are picking up day-old bagels from Noah’s Bagels on Larchmont Boulevard — her Uber driver always waits while she retrieves them — and helping to distribute fresh vegetables, potatoes, bread and yogurt to food bank visitors. She said she is grateful to have somewhere to go every Sunday morning and enjoys her relationship with the other volunteers as well as the regular guests at the food bank.
She goes most places by Uber and sits in the front passenger seat, a chance to get to know her drivers. Just back from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where she related her survivor story to a group of 35 law enforcement officials, she said the Uber driver who brought her home was a young Israeli man who wanted to take her to Las Vegas.
The sprightly Cohen exercises regularly at the senior center in Culver City, despite having a pacemaker, hearing aids and two new hips. She calls herself the “bionic woman” and says she talks to God every night — that she is ready to go as soon as He’ll have her.
Her daughter and roommate, who is a high school teacher, says no one is more deserving than her mother of being recognized for good deeds in the local community.
Eighteen-year-old Amrom Deutsch stood in line with his parents and five of his siblings as the Jews of Sighet, then part of Hungary, were evacuated from the ghetto and crammed into a string of waiting cattle cars, more than 80 in each wagon. There was room only to stand — even for sleeping — and no food or water. Two barrels served as toilets.
“To describe the stench, there are no words,” Amrom said. By the third day, babies and young children were choking to death from the vile odor.
Eventually, passengers had little choice but to begin sitting on the dead bodies. “To tell the truth, nobody had a mind,” Amrom recalled. After 4 1/2 days, sometime during the third week of May 1944, the train arrived at Auschwitz. A third of the Jews in Amrom’s car were dead already.
Amrom was born Adolf Deutsch on Aug. 8, 1925, in Sighet — at the time a part of Romania, in Northern Transylvania — to Mindel and Jacob Deutsch. He was the eighth of 11 children.
The family, who were very observant, lived in a three-room house, consisting of a large kitchen and two bedrooms. Outside, Mindel raised vegetables in a backyard garden.
Jacob originally ran a yard goods store, but the family was plunged into poverty after World War I, when customers were unable to repay the credit Jacob had extended to them. By the early 1930s, unable to make a living, Jacob left for Constanta, on the Black Sea coast, where he sold kosher milk to Jewish families. He returned home once a year, for Passover or Yom Kippur.
Amrom remembers often going to bed hungry, sometimes crying himself to sleep. By age 5, he was sneaking out of the house in the early morning and gorging himself on the fruit from neighbors’ trees, until his mother found out.
At age 9, Amrom began earning money by going door to door to cut people’s hair. At 14, he bought two Angora rabbits, breeding them and selling their sought-after fur. He accumulated more than a thousand rabbits, which he kept in hand-built crates.
In August 1940, when the Romanians were forced to cede Northern Transylvania back to Hungary (which had controlled it before World War I), Hungarian soldiers marched into Sighet shouting, “Piszkos Zsido” (Dirty Jew). Amrom’s family, including Jacob, who was home at the time, hid behind the fence that enclosed their property. This was the first time Amrom, who had grown up among Hungarians, was exposed to anti-Semitic taunts.
Jacob remained in Sighet, leasing and managing a bathhouse, which was open to the community.
But Amrom’s relatively normal life came to an end when Germany invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944. The following month, at the end of Passover, a Hungarian official knocked on the family’s door. “You are now occupied by Germany,” he said.
A few days later, another official came for Amrom, then 18, escorting him to the military garrison where about 400 young men had been assembled. The next day, they were marched to the small mountain town of Kobylecka Polana, about a four-hour trek, where they were housed in the empty synagogue, sleeping on the floor.
In the mornings, they were marched up the mountain, where they chipped thick ice off tepee-shaped piles of hay, then bundled the hay with wire and carted it to waiting boxcars. Though they worked seven days a week from morning to night, Amrom said, they enjoyed regular food and no beatings.
After five weeks, the boys were marched back to Sighet, where they were reunited with their families, now living in the ghetto. “Everyone was crying,” Amrom said. The Jews learned they would be evacuated soon.
The train pulled up to the Auschwitz platform at night. “Get off quick or the dogs will bite you,” men in striped uniforms warned the prisoners. Amrom was sent off with a group of younger men. “We just thought they were taking us to work,” he said.
The prisoners were disinfected and shaved and then taken to shower, waiting naked outdoors until everyone finished. They then were tattooed, with Amrom becoming A3146, and afterward given striped uniforms and metal bowls. Finally, they were assigned to a barracks.
On the second day, Amrom and others began to ask questions. “We started to wake up,” he said, learning that his parents and youngest sister had been murdered in the gas chamber.
In Auschwitz, the prisoners endured twice-daily roll calls but otherwise could roam around. After Amrom found his brother Sruli, then 16, he sold his shoes for a box of 50 cigarettes, giving it to Sruli to help him survive. But two days later, Sruli disappeared.
After nine days, Amrom and others were sent to Buna-Monowitz, the third concentration camp in the Auschwitz complex. There, like most prisoners, he worked making synthetic rubber. Additionally, every Saturday and Sunday, he and two others cut the hair of all 90 prisoners in their barracks, entitling them to extra rations.
By December 1944, Russian troops were advancing, and American and British aircraft were dropping bombs on the camp. Then, on Jan. 18, 1945, the prisoners were evacuated, forced to walk in their thin uniforms in freezing weather. After four days, sleeping in various camps at night, Amrom’s group was given blankets and loaded into open cattle cars, where they ate falling snow to survive.
After several days, they arrived at Bergen-Belsen, in Lower Saxony, Germany, where they found the streets of the severely overcrowded concentration camp littered with dead and dying prisoners, victims of starvation and rampant diseases. Amrom’s group was ordered to collect the dead bodies, dragging each corpse, in groups of four, to a special barracks.
Some weeks later, Amrom and other barely ambulatory prisoners were transported in open cattle cars to Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg, a concentration camp 22 miles north of Berlin. They were housed in a large hangar on the grounds of an aircraft plant, where Polish prisoners threatened them.
A couple of weeks later, they were again packed into open cattle cars, again in the snow, and returned to Bergen-Belsen. By this time, there was little supervision and no work. “We were in such bad condition, we already were dead bodies,” Amrom said.
A large bonfire roared day and night in the middle of the camp. “I don’t like to talk about that,” Amrom said, explaining that starving prisoners put pieces of dead bodies on the fire, pulling off whatever meat they could find. Amrom himself wore down his teeth trying to suck marrow out of a bone. “We had to do it to survive,” he said. But finally, with no more energy to keep himself alive, he crawled into a barracks and lay down among the dead bodies.
British soldiers found him there, semiconscious, on April 15, dispatching him to a hospital in the nearby town of Celle. Nuns removed his clothes, which he had not taken off in almost a year. They placed him in water every day for four days to loosen the caked-on dirt and fed him only drops of milk at a time. Slowly, he began to recover.
Four months later, Amrom was discharged, making his way back to Bergen-Belsen after learning that a cousin, Adjud Deutsch, was in the women’s camp. He found her, ill, in a room she shared with three women.
Amrom stayed in the men’s camp. During the day, Amrom and Hershey Friedman, the brother of Adjud’s roommates, rode the trains, stealing suitcases from German passengers. They found food and clothing, as well as a piece of material large enough for Amrom to commission a coat for Adjud. Six weeks later, when German police began riding the trains, Amrom and Hershey switched to buying coffee from the British and selling it in small towns.
When Adjud recovered, she and Amrom became the first couple in Bergen-Belsen to get married. In borrowed clothes, they stood before a British rabbi on Jan. 1, 1946, with the entire camp as their guests.
A few months later, Amrom and Adjud visited Sighet, where Amrom learned that eight of his siblings, all except Sruli and his youngest sister, Perela, had survived.
Amrom and Adjud’s daughter, Mindy, was born in January 1947, in Bergen-Belsen, where the family remained until they immigrated to New York, arriving on Aug. 29, 1949.
Amrom worked as a baker, and in 1951, he and a cousin opened the Carmel Bakery in Bensonhurst. A son, Jack, was born in January 1953.
In 1957, suffering from asthma, Amrom moved his family to Los Angeles. He worked at several bakeries before buying Valley Bakery in North Hollywood in 1959. In 1970, Amrom sold the bakery and built two retirement hotels, Valley View Retirement in Panorama City and, a few years later, Valley View Retirement North in Arleta. He retired from both in 1990.
Since 1991, Amrom has served as gabbai of Congregation Bais Naftoli in Los Angeles, assisting in the running of services.
Adjud died in early 1995, and on June 11, 1995, Amrom married Dita Sidlow. Now 92, Amrom is the grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of 17.
Since 2015, Amrom has volunteered as a speaker at the Museum of Tolerance.
“I never gave up the belief that I would survive,” Amrom said. “I am grateful for every day I am here.”
Charles Selarz, then Chaim Szklarz, was standing outside with a few friends in early September 1939 when German aircraft suddenly attacked their town of Wohyn, Poland, firebombing the small houses clustered within a two-block area, where the town’s approximately 1,000 Jews lived.
“Everyone ran in different directions,” said Charles, then 20. He and his friends fled to the fields across a small river, where they hid, watching the flames. “We couldn’t go back. The house was burned up,” he said.
Charles was born in Wohyn on Nov. 1, 1918, to Sara and Mendel Szklarz. His brother Yitzchak followed in 1920. Their youngest brother, Aron, born two years later, died at age 7 of a ruptured appendix.
Mendel bought and sold grain, and Sara worked as a seamstress. It was a hard life for the traditionally religious family, but, Charles said, “if you have enough bread, you’re not poor.”
Charles and his family maintained good relationships with their Christian neighbors. Charles, in fact, was the only Jew invited to play volleyball with the local boys, as the setter. He also made their only ball by stitching together rags, though the school also owned one ball.
At 7, Charles entered public school. He liked learning, and he especially enjoyed reading. “No telephone. Nothing. You had only a book,” he explained. After school he did homework and then attended cheder.
After graduating from high school at 16 and unable to afford college, Charles began working at a bank. He also joined a Zionist youth group, where he befriended Miriam Gryka, a girl he had known since childhood.
After the Germans firebombed the Jewish homes, one of Charles’ uncles found a poor Polish woman — “a kind lady,” Charles recalled — who rented a room to their extended family, totaling about 20. “You put your kop (head) wherever you could,” Charles said.
Life under the German occupation became more restrictive and more dangerous, with the SS often arbitrarily shooting Jews on the street. One day, Charles was ordered to go to the cemetery to help bury people.
“I was looking at the dead people, and I couldn’t take it,” he said. He returned home, taking the back streets. After he left, the SS visited the cemetery, Charles later learned, shooting all the workers.
Charles, along with other young people, was soon working as a forced laborer six days a week on a large estate just outside Wohyn, digging up potatoes and picking corn. He received no food but stole whatever he could.
He and others were then transferred to the Miedzyrzec ghetto, 17 miles away. While there, Charles learned that his parents and grandparents, along with all of Wohyn’s Jewish elders who had earlier been evacuated to the Parczew ghetto, had been murdered in the Treblinka extermination camp.
After a short time in Miedzyrzec, in the fall of 1942, Charles found himself standing in line as several SS from Suchowola selected workers for what had been one of Poland’s largest estates and was now a forced labor camp.
“What kind of work do you do?” a man known as Oberscharfuhrer Schultz asked Charles, who replied that he was a shoemaker, knowing that the Germans despised intellectuals. He was assigned to clean the officers’ quarters at Suchowola.
About six months later, on May 3, 1943, the Suchowola prisoners were awakened at 2 a.m. and ordered to dress and line up outside. Charles stood in front, his head down. Schultz approached him. “Raise your head,” he told him. “Working people we always need.”
The prisoners were trucked to Majdanek, the concentration camp outside of Lublin, where they worked mostly carrying rocks from one area to another.
One day, Charles was standing in line for his portion of watery soup when a Nazi unexpectedly slammed a rifle butt into the back of his head, causing him to collapse and creating a permanent indentation. For three days, his vision was blurred, and he was able to work only by holding onto his brother Yitzchak. “I don’t know how I survived that,” Charles said.
In July 1943, Charles overheard people talking about a transport to Auschwitz. “Let’s go. It cannot be worse,” he said to people around him, not knowing what Auschwitz was. Discreetly, through the wire fence, he let Miriam Gryka and her sister Eva know of his plan.
Once the cattle train reached Auschwitz, the young people were processed, tattooed — Charles became 128268 — and assigned to barracks. Charles saw Yitzchak on one of his first nights there. Then, he said, “I never saw him again.”
Charles worked in a food warehouse where, one day, he was caught hiding a few pieces of cabbage in the waistband of his pants. Guards then strapped him upright into a special contraption and pummeled him, mostly on his back. “I can still feel it today,” he said.
Around September 1943, Charles was transferred to Janinagrube, an Auschwitz subcamp at the Janina coal mine. He drilled holes in the mine walls and inserted sticks of dynamite. After the explosions cleared, he helped gather the coal, loading it onto carts. After one afternoon-to-midnight shift, however, Charles’ group didn’t adequately clean up. The SS marched the workers back to their barracks area, where they were ordered to perform calisthenics in the snow for an hour.
At some point, Charles became ill and was transferred to a medical barracks at Birkenau. There, he recognized a prisoner he knew from Majdanek, working as a janitor. “Don’t stay here,” the man told him. “From here they take you straight to the gas chamber.” Charles promptly reported for work and was transferred to Block 16.
Miriam was in Auschwitz then, working as a maid for her blockalteste (barracks leader), a young woman from Czechoslovakia. Unbeknownst to Charles, she asked the blockalteste if the woman’s boyfriend, a kapo who worked in the camp’s shoe repair, could help her husband, which is how she referred to Charles.
About a month later, the kapo entered Block 16. “128268,” he called out. When Charles answered, he ordered, “You stay here and wait for me.”
As the other prisoners left for work, Charles sat with his arms crossed, certain he was destined for the gas chamber. But the kapo instead escorted Charles to the shoe-repair quarters, where he instructed that Charles be given as much soup as he wanted. “If you give me a million dollars, it doesn’t mean as much as that soup,” Charles said. He continued working there.
In mid-January 1945, the camp was evacuated. Charles was loaded onto a cattle train and eventually taken to Kaufering XI, a subcamp of Dachau in the woods near Landsberg, Germany, where airplanes were being assembled in large underground concrete bunkers. Charles worked unloading truckloads of lumber and heavy bags of cement.
In late April, the prisoners were evacuated, forced to walk in the bitter cold in only their striped uniforms and to sleep on snow-covered ground. Then on April 30, the Germans placed the surviving prisoners in a small house in Buchberg, Germany.
“The war is finished, but don’t go out. They’re still shooting,” a soldier warned them.
By morning, the Germans had disappeared, and around noon, an American tank rolled down the street, followed by truckloads of American soldiers. “This was a holiday,” Charles said. “You cannot even describe it.”
Eight days later, hearing that a women’s camp had opened at Bergen-Belsen and hoping he might find Miriam there, he set off in that direction. Once inside the camp, he learned that she had survived and was out walking with some friends. Charles waited in her room, in a former SS barracks. When Miriam came in, both were too overwhelmed to even say hello.
Charles and Miriam married on Aug. 14, 1945. “I didn’t even have a suit,” Charles said. A few months later, when Miriam’s sister Eva married Mendel Kohan, Miriam and Charles borrowed their wedding attire for their own formal portrait.
The couple lived in Pfaffenberg, Germany, where their daughter, Etta, was born in August 1948. A year later, they immigrated to the United States, settling in Providence, R.I. Their son, Murray, was born in March 1952.
Charles immediately found a job making women’s handbags, for 65 cents an hour. Within a year, speaking limited English, he took over the foreman’s job. Then, in the summer of 1954, for the sake of Miriam’s health, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Eva and Mendel were living.
Charles began working at Theodor of California, again making women’s handbags. He also took English classes four nights a week at Fairfax High School.
About a year later, Charles and Mendel bought a liquor store, which they named K&S Liquor, in downtown Los Angeles near the Produce Market. Charles retired in 1982.
After Miriam died in 1995, Charles began volunteering in the mailroom at Cedars-Sinai, which he’s continued to do every Monday morning for 21 years.
Looking back, Charles, who turns 98 next month and is a grandfather of six and great-grandfather of three, believes that his willingness to work hard and obey orders may have contributed to his survival. But this was not a conscious strategy.
“You didn’t have time to even think about it,” he said. “No, the only thing you think about is to get a slice of bread.”
On the morning of Nov. 10, 1938, a date that would come to be known as Kristallnacht, 14-year-old Lore Rosen (nee Baron) left for school from the fifth-floor, walk-up apartment where she lived with her mother in Mannheim, Germany. Just outside, the owner of the small grocery next door suddenly intercepted her. “Go to the Jewish old-age home and stay with your mother,” the woman instructed. Lore asked her why. “Just run and go,” she replied.
Lore took off, noticing flags emblazoned with swastikas fluttering from neighborhood buildings, and found her apron-clad mother in the kitchen of the old-age home serving food. Nearby she saw Jewish men concealed in a large coal bin and under potato sacks and heard rumors of other men being rounded up and sent to Dachau. “We spent a terrible day hiding,” she recalled.
When Lore and her mother finally returned home, their next-door neighbor, Frau Munch, met them, explaining that brownshirts had come to search their apartment. Munch had unlocked the door to prevent the men from breaking it down, and watched as they opened every drawer and closet, tossing the contents on the floor. “They left a mess,” Lore said.
Lore was born July 15, 1924, in Mannheim to Paula and Bernard Baron. When she was 4, her father left for New York, returning only for a few weeks in 1932 and never sending for her and her mother, as he had promised. Paula divorced him in 1937.
Lore and Paula lived in a small apartment in a mixed middle-class neighborhood. Lore felt adored by her mother and considered herself “a precocious spoiled brat,” surrounded by friends, toys and laughter. She believes the Jewish old-age home and hospital, where her mother volunteered, helped support them financially.
Before the rise of the Nazis, Lore said, she never experienced anti-Semitism. “I wasn’t even aware sometimes that I was Jewish,” she said, though her mother lit candles every Shabbat and they celebrated Jewish holidays.
But after Hitler came to power in 1933, Lore, then 9, remembers standing in the street watching the brownshirts marching and singing. She wanted to join in until she realized they were singing, “When the Jewish blood flows from the knife, we’ll all be better off.”
Soon after, children shouted, “Dirty Jew, go back home,” and tried to hit her. But Lore swung the loaf of bread she was carrying in a net sack at her tormentors. “They left me alone,” she said.
Around 1934, the Jewish students in Lore’s public school were relegated to the back of the classroom and mostly ignored. By November 1936, they were allowed to attend only Jewish schools, which, for Lore, consisted of two rooms in an old house but with, she said, “wonderful teachers.”
After Kristallnacht, Paula managed to secure a spot for Lore on a Kindertransport, a rescue operation in which Great Britain agreed to take in thousands of Jewish children.
Paula packed a small suitcase for Lore with new clothes and shoes, among which she hid some valuable postage stamps and a couple of pieces of jewelry. Additionally, she gave Lore a gold Star of David necklace to wear.
In February 1939, Paula and her boyfriend, Friedrich (Jacques) Hirsch, accompanied Lore, then 14, to the train station, placing her in a compartment with other children. That was when Lore realized her mother wasn’t traveling with her. “I’ll see you soon,” Paula told her. There were too many children around for Lore to cry. Plus, she said, “I was one of the older ones. We didn’t cry.”
The children traveled to the Hook of Holland, then across the English Channel by ferry, and on to London, arriving on Feb. 6, 1939. They then waited in what Lore remembers as a large hall for their foster families to pick them up. Eventually, only Lore remained, sitting on her suitcase. Finally a man — whose name Lore cannot recall — approached her. “You’re coming with me to join my family,” he said. They drove to Leeds, a four-hour trip during which little was said.
Lore was distraught by the time they reached her foster home, where the mother and two daughters, both much older than Lore, barely greeted her. And for the first couple of nights — “much to my disgust,” Lore said — she had to share a bed with one of them. “Then I did cry,” she said. “I think I cried for a whole year.”
The father was a government employee, and Lore thinks he took her in for political reasons, as he was eyeing a run for the Parliament. “I am sure they were good people and did the best they knew how,” she said. Still, she found the household exceptionally dark and dreary, and she and the two daughters shared a mutual dislike of one another.
In school, however, Lore made friends and excelled. But at 16, with no money to pay high-school tuition, she was forced to drop out. She was apprenticed to a hairdresser and hated the work, which included cleaning out the basins and sweeping the street.
A friend, Ann, soon landed her a job as a nurse’s assistant in a private clinic, which provided living quarters and a uniform. Lore enjoyed working there, but to continue, she needed an alien registration card. When her foster family refused to accompany her to the police station to obtain one, she had to quit and return to their house.
Then, on a day when no one else was home, Lore packed her suitcase, wrote the family a goodbye note and left.
She found a job through another friend, Gita, sewing uniforms in the Burton factory, founded by Montague Burton, one of Britain’s leading clothing retailers. She learned to sew, she said, “after I sewed my finger so many times,” earning enough money to support herself.
Around this time, she sold the stamps and jewelry her mother had given her, and was renting a room she shared with another girl. By now, her clothes were rags — her foster parents had never purchased anything new for her — and she had to line her worn-out shoes with newspaper whenever it rained. But a friend’s foster mother, a woman named Mrs. Denkinson, sewed a new dress for her. And though it was “pretty awful,” Lore said, “It was the first nice thing anyone did for me.”
At 18, wanting to pay back some of her debt to England, Lore enlisted in the British army. Additionally, she said, “I just wanted to belong someplace.”
She was accepted on Dec. 13, 1942, and was stationed at a training camp in Wales, working as a cook — as an alien her options were limited — at the sergeants’ mess hall for the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Lore wore a uniform, making her and her many new friends — all refugees serving as Allied volunteers — equal to everyone else. “That was the best time of my life,” she said. “I had a family again.”
The war in Europe ended May 8, 1945; several months later, Lore learned that her mother was alive and residing in France.
Paula and Jacques had escaped to Brussels in May 1939, but were arrested a year later and imprisoned. Paula was sent to the Gurs internment camp in France, from which she twice escaped and twice was recaptured. Finally, Paula’s sister and brother-in-law bribed a guard to release her.
Paula found work near Brive-la-Gaillarde, where, through a woman she befriended, she was helped by the Canadian Red Cross. She also obtained a certificate of citizenship, dated Sept. 16, 1942, from El Salvador.
With permission from the army, Lore traveled to Brive-la-Gaillarde, where she and her mother, both in tears, were reunited, spending a couple of weeks together.
Lore, a lance corporal, was discharged from the army in early 1946. She returned to Leeds, where she again went to work sewing at Burton’s.
Later that year, she met Sammy Rosen, who had fought in the British army and was working as a cutter at Burton’s. They married on Sept. 3, 1947, and, in the fall of 1948, they left for Israel to serve in the War of Independence.
In Marseille, they boarded an old U.S. Coast Guard Cutter flying a Panamanian flag, but a huge storm struck in the Strait of Messina and the engines died. They drifted for about four weeks, with little food, until a Dutch tugboat picked them up near Tobruk, Libya, towing them to Crete for repairs. They then proceeded to Haifa, Israel.
In Israel, Lore and Sammy worked for the Israeli Air Force at an abandoned British airfield near Haifa. Sammy was a communications operator, while Lore performed office work.
A year or so later, they purchased a condominium in Hadar Yosef. Meanwhile, Paula had immigrated to Palestine in 1947, had remarried and was living in Tel Aviv.
In October 1954, Lore and Sammy moved to Toronto, where their first son, Peter, was born that December. A second son, Joel, arrived in July 1958.
The family moved to Rochester, N.Y., in October 1963, and in the summer of 1967 to Los Angeles, to fulfill a dream for Sammy, who worked as a cutter for Hollywood Clothes, which produced custom suits for men. He died unexpectedly in 1976. Lore worked for more than 20 years as a secretary in insurance brokerage firms, including MDM Insurance Associates and Barry Kaye Associates, retiring in the late 1990s.
Lore, now 92 and a grandmother of three, believes everyone must learn as much as possible about the Holocaust. “It was a horrible time,” she said. “God forbid it should happen again.”
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When a Jewish Holocaust survivor ‘pissed’ on Hitler’s henchman
by Andrew Tobin | PUBLISHED Aug 29, 2016 | Culture
It sounds like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino film.
A Holocaust survivor, whose mother and sister were killed in the genocide, said he locked a powerful Nazi prisoner in a shed for three days, made him strip naked and “pissed” on his face, “This American Life,” the weekly public radio show, reported Sunday.
“I told him, from now on, you sleep naked on this cold floor. You will not move,” Werner Meritz said.
“And with that, I pissed all over him. Terrible thing to tell you. His head and everywhere. … I said, you’re just to lie there to get some sense of what you Nazis did to the Jews.”
The captured Nazi was Julius Streicher, a friend and protégé of Adolf Hitler and the publisher of the notorious anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer. His tormentor was one of a number of Jewish refugees from Europe who were recruited by the American military to interrogate Nazi prisoners during World War II.
Meritz recalled his actions to rangers from Fort Hunt Park in Virginia, who in 2006 discovered that their national park was once the location for the secret military interrogation project, code-named P.O. Box 1142.
“These men were specifically recruited because they spoke German and because they understood the nuances of German culture and psychology, slang, cultural references, small details that an American would miss,” explained radio producer Karen Duffin.
After spending three months at Buchenwald in 1938, Meritz came to the United States and worked on the project,for two years. He then travelled to Europe near the end of the war to track down and interrogate Nazis there.
When he captured Streicher, Meritz “flipped out,” in the words of radio producer Karen Duffin.
Trembling and crying with rage, Werner said he took told his fellow soldiers he was going to exact vengeance.
“I was enraged. I was trembling. There were tears in my eyes that I had captured this guy. I had him to myself,” he said.
“I explained to the MPs, I’m gonna do things, you probably think I’m crazy. And you wanna know something? I am crazy. I’m crazed. I captured a Nazi of unbelievable mischief. … I’m gonna do what I have to do.”
After three days of feeding Streicher only potato skins that he had also urinated on, Mertiz handed his prisoner off to American officers. Streicher was later one of 11 Nazis sentenced to death in the Nuremberg Trials. Meritz went on to start his own textile business. He died in 2010. His daughter described him as a sharp dresser with a well-trimmed mustache and strong opinions.
Duffin said the records of Streicher’s capture are “spotty and contradictory,” and usually someone else is credited with capturing him. But an expert at the National Archives told her he thought Werner could have done what he said he did.
If true, Merlitz’s account would be an exception to the norm at P.O. Box 1142. The military trained the men to use nonviolent and even friendly interrogation tactics, according to Duffin, who reviewed 70 interviews the rangers conducted with former interrogators and interviewed 10 of the interrogators or their families herself. She also obtained over 1,000 pages of previously classified files about the program.
“Try to make the prisoner feel that you’re his friend, the first one he’s met since his capture. All are human underneath. Our interrogator’s job is to play upon those weaknesses to help make up the complete intelligence picture,” a World War II interrogation training film featured in the report instructs.
While many of the Jewish former interrogators were happy to help the U.S. defeat the Nazis, some struggled with the policy of being chummy with the prisoners, who had just help drive them out of their countries and in some cases kill their loved ones.
Having signed a secrecy agreement with the army, most of the former interrogators did not speak about their work for more than 60 years, even to their wives and children. Then, in 2006, army intelligence cleared them to talk to the park rangers.
P.O. Box 1142 was the first strategic American effort at interrogation, and it worked.
“By the end of the war, they’d extracted a ton of really important intelligence about where the allies should bomb, about German weapons still being developed, about the structure of the German army. One of the Enigma machines was captured using intel discovered at P.O. Box 1142,” Duffin said, referring to the
At the end of the war, the program’s mission changed from interrogating Nazis to wining and dining them in an attempt to recruit them to the American side, especially scientists who could also be valuable to the Russians.
Arno Mayer, 88, who escaped the Nazi occupation of Luxembourg and went on to become a history professor at Princeton University, was tasked with charming Wernher von Braun, the famed Nazi rocket scientists who later helped the U.S. get to the moon, appeared on the cover of Time magazine and befriended President John F. Kennedy. Mayer recalled taking Nazis shopping at a Jewish department stores in Washington, D.C. on a lark, but told Duffin he regretted not being more subversive.
“I should have told them to go to hell, but I didn’t do it. I was a coward. I mean I only exploded once. I could have exploded many other times,” he said.
The men who participated in P.O. Box 1142 went on to become lawyers, a CIA agent, an ambassador, head of the Culinary Institute of America, conductor of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra and the richest man in America in the 1980s, John Kluge.
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“Give us your jewelry.” The two Hungarian men startled Magda Kahan — then Meisels — and her mother, who were standing in the kitchen of a small house they shared with another family in the Munkacs ghetto. It was a late morning in April 1944, and they had been living in the ghetto only a day or two. Magda, then 18, handed over her small diamond ring, and the men led her and her mother outside to a horse-drawn carriage. They rode in silence, unaware of their destination.
“It was just terrible,” Magda recalled. Plus, she knew her mother was worried about her older brother. They pulled up to the Great Beit Midrash, and the two women were taken to the basement, where Magda saw shoes and clothing strewn everywhere, and splattered with dried blood. The Hungarians locked them in the basement and left them alone with no bathroom and no food. “It was so frightening. We didn’t know what was going on,” Magda recalled.
Magda was born on Feb. 9, 1926, in Munkacs, Czechoslovakia (now Mukacheve, Ukraine), to Helen and Isidore Meisels. Her older brother, David, was born in 1923.
Isidore ran the family business, which sold Persian carpets and some fabrics. The family was comfortable, moving into a new and larger apartment when Magda was 12. “I had everything,” Magda said. “I was spoiled.”
The family was conventionally Orthodox, celebrating Shabbat and Jewish holidays. “We had the beautiful-est family. We were very, very close with all the aunts and uncles and cousins,” Magda said.
She attended Czech public schools and then Hungarian schools after November 1938, when the Hungarians occupied Munkacs. Her father soon had to relinquish his business to a non-Jewish friend, though he continued working there. Other restrictions followed.
Then, on March 19, 1944, Germany occupied Hungary, entering Munkacs the following day. Isidore, who had always been a community leader, was appointed to the Judenrat, the Jewish Council.
Soon after, two German soldiers moved into the Meisels’ apartment, the officer taking over the living room while his assistant took the maid’s room. “They were gentlemen,” Magda said. Still, when the family conducted a seder in the bedroom on the evening of April 7, they had to be very quiet. “It was very short and very sad,” Magda said.
On April 19, Magda and the other Munkacs Jews were relocated to the ghetto, and a day or so later, she and her mother were kidnapped.
But after spending less than an hour in the temple basement, they saw Isidore at a window. “David is hiding. They didn’t get him,” he told them. “And don’t worry. Wherever they take you, you won’t be there long.”
An hour or two later, the Hungarians returned, transferring Magda and Helen to the Kallus brick factory. There they met three women whose husbands were also members of the Judenrat. Magda learned that they were all being held hostage until the wall around the ghetto, which ghetto residents had been ordered to construct, was completed.
Three or four days later, they returned to the ghetto.
Then, on May 17, the ghetto was liquidated and the Jews were marched to the Sajovits brick factory, a two-hour walk. “That was a horrible thing,” said Magda, who recalls sleeping on the ground in an open shed.
Finally, on May 23, 1944, the extended Meisels family was loaded onto the last transport leaving Munkacs. Because Isidore was in the Judenrat and another cousin was a pharmacist with some influence, the 32 relatives were allotted half a cattle car. Three very pregnant women occupied the other half.
On May 26, the train arrived at Auschwitz. “Heraus, heraus” (out, out), men in striped uniforms shouted, ordering the prisoners to line up, men on one side and women and children on the other. As the Munkacs Jews hurried out into the cold morning air, Magda was holding her mother’s hand. Then she dropped it. “I’ll see you later,” she said, running to catch up with her cousins and young aunts who, she figured, were headed to work. “I didn’t even kiss her,” Magda recalled.
The young women were taken to a huge room, where they were ordered to undress and then shower. Afterward, they entered another room, where they were shaved. “When will I see my parents?” Magda asked the man shaving her. “If you’re lucky, tonight,” he said.
The women then stood naked for several hours before being given dresses. Finally, late in the afternoon, they were taken to Lager 24, where they slept on wooden planks with no blankets.
Two days later, Magda lay in her barracks. She knew it was Shavuot, and the enormity of her circumstances hit her. “I started to cry and cry and cry, and that’s when I knew I lost everybody,” she said.
Meanwhile, Magda, her two aunts — her father’s younger sisters, Petyu and Serene —- and her two cousins — Maca and Petyu’s daughter, Baba — made a pact to stick together. “I think that’s what saved me, because I had somebody,” Magda recalled. They also decided that they had to leave Auschwitz or they would die.
Sometime in August, the five women volunteered for a work detail. They were taken to a building where they changed into pajama tops and skirts. They then waited and waited while rumors circulated that no trains were available, and the kapos finally ordered them to again undress. “We figured we are going to the crematorium if we are naked. We were just very sad. It was too late to cry,” Magda said. But soon they were handed striped uniforms and loaded into open cattle cars.
After a two-day ride, on Aug. 21, the women arrived at Unterluss, a subcamp of Bergen-Belsen that held about 600 women. They slept on bunk beds with a blanket, and each received a small dish and spoon.
Once, suffering from a cough, Magda was told to stand on the sideline during appel (roll call). A female guard came by, a woman Magda described as “so mean and so beautiful.” “What are you doing here?” the woman demanded. She then slapped Magda across the face. “Go back to work,” she ordered. That was the only time, Magda said, that she was struck.
In Unterluss, Magda worked cutting down trees, which she and three other women had to carry to a designated spot. Other days, she moved large rocks from one place to another, or pounded wood into smaller pieces with a mallet. “For nothing,” Magda said. “Meaningless work.”
Whenever the prisoners heard airplanes overhead, which happened occasionally, the Germans locked prisoners in their barracks and fled to their bunkers. “We were happy. We were begging God to send the bomb here,” Magda said.
Then, on the morning of April 12, 1945, they heard a big explosion. A prisoner’s German boyfriend unlocked their barracks door, and they were liberated. But after celebrating only a few hours of freedom, German civilians from the village approached with rifles. “You are liberated, but we can’t leave you here,” they said, cramming the approximately 500 women into trucks.
Arriving at Bergen-Belsen — “a place no one should know about,” Magda said — they saw dead bodies lying everywhere, which they were ordered to remove. The women refused, knowing that the corpses were disease-ridden. They were then put in a barracks where people were dying all around them and where Magda’s stockings immediately filled with lice. “This is it. I’m just dead,” she told herself.
But on Sunday morning, April 15, Magda was outside the barracks when she heard loudspeakers announcing, “You are liberated.” The British army had freed them.
That first night, Magda and her cousins slept in a clean German barracks, and her aunts, who had contracted typhus, were hospitalized. A month later, the five of them traveled to Prague.
At one point, Serene and Maca decided to go back to Munkacs. Magda declined to join them. “I had such a beautiful memory of my hometown. I just didn’t want to lose that,” she said.
Magda went to Sighet, where most of her surviving relatives convened. (Of Magda’s 32 relatives who boarded the train to Auschwitz, 12 first cousins and two aunts survived.) But after seven months, she returned to Prague in preparation for moving to the United States, where three uncles and one aunt had immigrated before the war.
Magda arrived in New York on March 24, 1947. She attended school in Williamsburg to learn English and also worked in a candy shop owned by her mother’s brother.
In April 1948, Magda met Jerry Kahan on a blind date, and they married on Dec. 5, 1948. Then, in January 1951, they moved to Los Angeles, where Jerry had a cousin.
Magda and Jerry had three daughters: Monica, born in February 1951; Susie, in November 1953; and Debbie, in October 1955. Jerry died in January 2011. Magda now has five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“I always knew I’m going to be liberated. I just felt it,” Magda said. “Only in Bergen-Belsen for two days, did I think I’m going to die.”