The Shoah Remembrance Collection

Yom Hashoah 2019

“Woman of Valour”

Submitted By Gila Leipnik

“My grandmother was really beautiful.
The kind of beauty that shines through someone’s eyes and which, at the end, made her oxygen mask and the aura of confusion emulsify into the shadows.
My grandmother was the blue part of the flame, coming in contact with her made you glow. The kind of light that thrives in a storm, humming, low, and resilient.

Bubby, my mother’s mother, was born in Lublin.
She had many siblings.
She was a math whiz and laughed really fully, grabbing her collar bone and throwing her neck back to feel the force of it.
She had the most soulful, beautiful brown eyes I have ever seen. They were like tea cup saucers to me and so full of emotion.
In her youth she was vibrant, social, accomplishing things I never did, like being active in a youth group (Hashomer Hatzayir), and getting herself a serious boyfriend by the age of 17.
She also faced things I never could.
She faced the Nazis invading.
She faced the looming Russian border and the suspicions of Communism on the other side.
She faced rickets and a baby and the loss of her lover.
She faced the baby dying too.
My Bubby was lucky. She lived, her sister came with her.
They survived.
Four siblings didn’t.
Raizel, whose black and white portrait hangs on our wall, is reminiscent of an Ansel Adams model.
Miriam, whose braids were the only thing my Bubby was able to remember about her.
Bubby would tell me these stories as I sat next to her on the 70’s brown and orange sofa set in the upstairs apartment above our duplex.
I would sit with her when she needed company because I was the youngest and easiest to sway.
I liked sitting with her. I liked her energetic voice and her purple sunglasses and the violet silk scarves she wore as a mitpachat to placate my more religious grandfather.
Violet was her favourite color. Candies were her favourite food.
She’d tell me all about her siblings but I can no longer remember all their names.
I’ll never forget the story of when she was running barefoot down the hill near her house and almost lost a toe after it got caught on something sharp on the train tracks she was crossing.
That anecdote was used to guilt trip me into always wearing slippers at home (it worked).
Bubby spoke in accented English but I can’t remember her words. Every time I think of her it’s always in a trilling mishmash Yinglish. Truth be told, my memories of her are predominantly in Yiddish.
A day wouldn’t go by without her opening the door to the hall and calling down to our house, “Who is in the haym?”
And you’d have to scream up the stairs for her to hear you. When the dementia began, she’d ask repeatedly until she was sure she wasn’t alone.
When she could still walk, she would come down the stairs and look out the sliver of a window next to the front door and gaze at the lilac tree at the centre of our courtyard.
She’d unconsciously start singing.
I’ll never forget what she sang.
It was the tune always on her lips, a tick, the strongest one nestled in her subconscious.
“Zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letstn veg…”
Never say that this is the end of the road…
The Partisan Song.
My Bubby sang that all the time and I’d like to think it was because she never saw herself as a victim, but as a fighter.
I could see it in the flame that shone in her eyes and hear it in the verve of her voice as she hummed and feel it in the wind that came from the surprisingly forceful pump of her fist as she tapped her foot near that window.
That flame inside her that clung to the past.
Her name was Sarah Brana.
My grandfather called her Sonya.
Her parents were killed as were most of her sisters and brothers.
And we still don’t know how.”

Heroism During the Holocaust: The Schanzers’ Story

Submitted by: Cheryl Zeffren

I have had the unique privilege and opportunity of hearing first-hand, the story of female heroism during the harrowing time of the Holocaust. Unlike many survivors, my grandfather, Henry Schanzer shared his stories of survival with his children and grandchildren. Henry and his twin brother, Bernard were beneficiaries of the selfless courage of two amazingly resourceful and brave Christian women, Mme. Dorel and Mme. BonHomme. This mother and daughter pair defied the Nazis, and ensured the safety of the twin boys, Henry and Bernie by keeping them in plain sight as “hidden children” on their farm in France and treating them as they would their own children. After arranging for false identity papers their mother Bella, and sister Chana, for whom I am named, were hidden separately, at a convent for a short while, and in a castle in France disguised as maids. They too, were aided by brave Nuns and by the fearless Countess de Virieu who was active in the French Resistance and risked the lives of her own four small children by sheltering Jews and hiding weapons in her castle. Were it not for these heroic women, we, the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would not be here today.

My great grandmother Bella was courageous and resourceful in her own right and managed to outwit the French police while they were trying to question her about her children’s whereabouts. After the war, my great grandmother Bella, her children and an orphaned nephew were placed in a displaced persons camp attempting in vain to locate their father Bruno Schanzer who was deported from France and taken to Auschwitz. They ultimately learned that he did not survive this brutal and notorious death camp and emigrated to America.

Being responsible for four young children in a new country where she was penniless, did not speak the language nor have a trade, was no easy task. However, Bella, was resourceful and focused her energies on building a new life for her family from nothing. She put aside the horrors they had endured, and figured out ways to earn a meager living. She bought irregular stockings, repaired them and sold them as regular, she sewed fur collars onto coats which was a fashion at the time and made clip-on-ties bringing her work home so her children could help. She impressed upon her children the importance of education, hard work and always helping those less fortunate. As her children became independent adults, she dedicated herself to her orphaned nephew who had severe psychological illness and was unable to live alone. By her example, her children have also lived lives based on morality, dedication and commitment to family.

They expressed their hakarat hatov (appreciation) to the people who were most essential to their survival and arranged for Mme. BonHomme, Mme. Dorel and the de Virieu families to receive the high honor of “Righteous among the Nations” as bestowed upon her by the Israel Government. In the spirit of giving back, my grandparents continuously send money to the family of Mme. Dorel and Mme. BonHomme and held a tree planting ceremony at Yad V’shem honoring and publicly acknowledging these two women. They have hosted the descendants of both honorable families as guests in their homes and even arranged for the great-grand-daughter of Mme. Dorel to receive an award at the NJ State House, honoring her ancestors posthumously for their acts of kindness.

My grandfather and his brother have shared their story numerous times in a public forum as a tribute to the individuals who saved them and to educate the next generation. They have spoken to audiences large and small in the US including shuls, elementary and high schools, Universities, Medical centers and even to local police detectives. Although I have heard their stories many times as a child sitting at the Shabbat table with my grandfather and Uncle, I am always filled with pride and awe when I listen to them present in public. Their Holocaust presentation is a mixed bag of emotions; sadness, pain and horror, but also of humor, naiveté and innocence. My grandfather and his brother’s story is conveyed through the lens of a child. However, the way in which they have decided to live their lives post-war is one of growth, maturity but above all, it is of pure goodness, hakarat hatov and giving back.

My Trip to Poland

Submitted by: Sharon Sturm

This past summer, I had the privilege of traveling to Poland with my husband Moish. We went to visit Dembitz, my father in law’s hometown, on the occasion of the 76th anniversary of the liquidation of the Dembitz Ghetto. Neither of us ever thought that we would visit Poland. Moish and I were in college before the start of the “March of the Living” trips. When we were in school, our parents and teachers were steadfast in their desire to protect us from the horrors they witnessed by not discussing the atrocities of the Shoah. However, Moish was determined to preserve the heroic story of my father in law and began to record his testimony. Moish interviewed his father on a regular basis and then transcribed his words for our children to treasure. We felt that the time had come to walk in the footsteps of my father in law and visit not only the ghetto, but his home, his school, and the sites of other atrocities that he experienced.

We were joined in Dembitz by other survivors as well as the children of survivors. We visited the site of the Lysa Gura massacre where my father in law’s grandfather was killed. Moish had the opportunity to say Kaddish at the mass grave for the great grandfather that he never met. As we were leaving the forest, one of the Israeli women, the daughter of a Dembitzer, held on to me and started to cry, repeating again and again how cruel this is זה כל כך אכזרי, but also telling me how fortunate my family is. I could not comprehend what she was talking about as we lost many relatives during the Shoah as well. I asked her what is “cruel?” And she put her hands on my cheeks and replied “that we did not preserve the story of my father. You are so fortunate that your husband is saving this part of history for your family.”

On the second day that we are in Poland, we visit Birkenau and Auschwitz, two of the concentration camps that my father in law survived. It is at Birkenau that the atrocities and horrors of the Holocaust overwhelm me. I am stunned to the point that I can not breathe. How could anyone have survived and how did those survivors maintain the faith needed to rebuild. As I walk by the watchtowers, I imagine the sound of bullets flying and as we approach the crematorium, it is as if I hear screaming from every direction. I turn and I look at my husband and I breathe again. I know that miraculously, my father in law survived. He chose to rebuild and I am living the fulfillment of his legacy. As we walk back from the crematorium, I not only see the barracks and the watchtowers, but this time I see the wildflowers growing in between the train tracks, the emerald green grass, and the wondrous blue sky.

When we are in Auschwitz, I am unexpectedly overwhelmed by the piles of suitcases in Block Five. I knew that the sight of the hair, the glasses, and the tallitot would be upsetting. But, I am riveted in place by the sight of the luggage. I can not stop looking at the names and addresses on each case. I think about the families who so lovingly labeled their belongings and imagined that they were moving to Auschwitz for a short time and then perished in this spot. But, why is this exhibit tearing at my heart in a way that no other one is? As I stand there crying and the image of the suitcases becomes blurred, it hits me, this pile is so similar to one I have seen dozens of times. This pile of luggage reminds me of my children leaving for camp and studying in Israel, it reminds me of my students leaving on their trips, it reminds me that the Jewish nation has survived. One of the newest exhibitions in Auschwitz is in Block 27. It focuses on Jewish life before the war. There are magnificent images of children learning and singing and of families celebrating and working. But, when you go upstairs in that particular building, you can listen to the most vile speeches of Hitler and Goebbels as they rant on wanting to wipe out Jewish culture from the entire world. Earlier in the day, when we passed through the entrance gate in Birkenau, our children in America called to speak with us. I quietly whispered that we could not talk now. It felt disrespectful to the holy martyrs that died in this place… But here, in Auschwitz, after seeing the luggage and listening to Goebbels all I could think of was that we lost so much, but Am Yisrael Chai. Our children are in school, they are in camp, they are studying in Israel. We are rebuilding. As I walk the path from Block 27, I call my children back to tell them that I love them. We can talk now, we must talk now, the Nazis did not destroy us.

The next day, we have a short flight from Krakow before we fly home from Warsaw. The flight from Krakow is so short that we fly right above the clouds for only 25 minutes. It is on this trip that we are flying over multiple rainbows. I look out the window and bless Hashem who is

זוֹכֵר הַבְּרִית וְנֶאֱמָן בִּבְרִיתוֹ וְקַיָם בְּמַאֲמָרוֹ

And for the fact that my in-laws survived the Shoah, that my husband has preserved their legacy and that together we are raising a family and rebuilding Jewish life.  

Miraculous Reunions

Submitted by: Risi Adler

As the wave of WWII was spreading throughout Europe, Leo Adler, a young German rabbinical student fled Poland with the Mir Yeshiva to Lithuania. He needed to make some money, and began tutoring a young Jewish boy, David Hamburg, in his Latin studies. David’s sister Bella had been making trips home from university to tutor her brother, and when she found out that a “yeshiva bochur” was tutoring her brother in Latin, she felt she had to meet him.

Bella was a young, intellectual Zionist – a member of HaShomer HaTzair. She never expected to fall in love with – and marry – a yeshiva student. They spent their time together in deep intellectual discussions, enjoying walks in the forest and boat rides on the river. The world around them was burning, but they were enjoying the bliss of new love.

As the situation in Europe worsened, Leo obtained Visas for himself and his wife to Kobe, Japan. Bella was a teacher and, against her husband’s wishes, wanted to finish the school year. Reluctantly, Leo made the journey alone to Japan, planning to make arrangements for Bella and their unborn child. Bella, however, never reached Japan.

As the wife of a German and therefore considered an enemy of the state, Bella was arrested in Moscow on her way to Japan. There, she gave birth to her son, Mark. Her passport and visa were confiscated, and Bella and her newborn infant were sent to a gulag in Siberia.

During Bella’s time in the camp, she did everything she could to keep herself and her baby alive. Bella quickly became a leader in the camp. She was educated, brave, and outspoken. As an educator, she was able to secure a small room for teaching the children of the camp basics such as reading and writing. On Passover, she was chosen by her fellow Jewish inmates to ask permission from the guards to bake matzah in the camp kitchen – a request that could have cost her life. It was granted, and they held a seder in the school room. Later, when the men of the camp were sent to the mines to work, which was essentially a death sentence, the women of the camp begged Bella to speak to those in charge and plead with them to spare these weak men, who surely would have died in the mines after living for years in frozen, starving conditions. Miraculously, they listened to her, and the men were spared.

Bella’s greatest fear was that she would die and her son would not know he was Jewish. She managed to save some rations of bread and traded them with other inmates for candlesticks and fabric to make Mark’s first kippa. She taught him how to say shema, and she fought every single day to keep him and herself alive.

Bella and Mark survived the war, and the prisoners of the gulag began to be released. A Finnish prisoner, released before Bella, approached her and explained that she was instrumental in her survival, and it was because of Bella that her daughter knows how to read and write and will be able to enter school. She then said, “Others have asked me to smuggle out letters for them, but I refused. Out of gratitude to you, I will take one letter for you and mail it anywhere in the world.”

Bella sent a letter to her cousin in Connecticut. This letter reunited Bella with her husband Leo, who had also miraculously survived the war. After being apart for over seven years, they were reunited in NY where Mark met his father for the first time. They had two more sons, many grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. They had won.

Bella and Mark Adler

Life in the Ghetto, Camps, and Liberation

Submitted by: Tamara Schachter

Frieda Gola-Weinreich was born in Lodz, Poland in July of 1924. She grew up in an observant and loving household as the youngest of 6 children. Frieda enjoyed a normal and happy childhood in Lodz where she attended a Jewish all-girls public school and dreamed of one day continuing her studies to pursue accounting. It was only months after her fifteenth birthday that the security she formerly knew was shattered as Poland was invaded by the Nazis and her neighborhood in Lodz which boasted a large and thriving Jewish population was quickly transformed into the Lodz Ghetto. Frieda along with the Jews of her city watched in fear as their beautiful synagogues were burned and other establishments destroyed.

Life in the ghetto was cramped and primitive at best with limited food and no coal for heat. The Nazis made sure to keep the Jews in the ghetto as cut off from the outside world as possible. There were curfews and many strict rules the Jews had to abide by. Jews did not have radios as they had been forced to turn them in and no one had as much as a calendar, yet somehow they managed to keep track of Jewish holidays and observed them along with the Sabbath in whatever ways they could. They would save potatoes throughout the year so that on Passover they could go without bread and still survive.

Everyone living in the ghetto had to make themselves useful in order to receive food rations and many died from hunger. Frieda was put to work making shoes from straw that provided the Germans an extra protective layer against the cold. It wasn’t long that she lost her own father to starvation. After her father passed away, Frieda remained alone with her mother as her siblings had previously left to seek refuge in other towns where they had other relatives, though ultimately they learned it was no safer there than in Lodz.

In August of 1944 as the Soviet troops were continuing their advance into Poland, the Lodz Ghetto was liquidated by the Nazis and Frieda along with her mother and the other Jews of the ghetto was transported to Auschwitz. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by Joseph Mengele who quickly determined the fate of all those who arrived in the camp as they stood before his eyes, sending them either to the right or the left. Frieda’s mother was sent to the left. Not knowing what this fate meant, Frieda pleaded with Mengele to be able to stay with her mother. Before Mengele had the chance to decide her own fate, a couple of prisoners who worked by the transports with understanding of what was transpiring quickly pulled Frieda away from her mother, sending her to the right. That was the last time Frieda ever saw her mother as she was unknowingly bound for the gas chambers. She never had the chance to learn the names of her fellow prisoners, but to this very day she insists they were two angels that saved her life.

Fortunately, Frieda did not spend longer than 3 days in Auschwitz before being transported to a labor camp called Kristianstad which was close to Berlin. Here, Frieda was a bricklayer where every day she helped construct a wall and every night would have to take it down as part of training. Every day before work, everyone stood at attention while being counted. Sometimes there were miscounts or someone would be missing and everyone was then forced to stand outside for hours without food as punishment. One day, Frieda happened upon a potato that fell from a nearby truck. Unsure what else to do with it as there were no means of cooking, she intended to eat it raw, but did not get the chance as she was spotted by a female German officer who took away the potato and punished Frieda by making her stand alone at attention. Another officer upon seeing Frieda stand as she was told approached her and asked her name which she took down.

Shortly after, Frieda learned she was included on a list of 20 girls that were being sent to another labor camp in Czechoslovakia called Parschnitz. Here, quality of life drastically improved under much better conditions. Frieda worked in a factory that produced gas masks and was able to use her knitting abilities to knit herself socks and scarves to help her keep warm during the brutal winter. She learned that “stolen” potato helped save her by causing her to be transferred to Parschnitz while many of those who had remained in Kirstianstad died on a forced march to Bergen-Belsen as the Russian troops were advancing.

In January of 1945, Frieda was finally liberated. Along with some friends, she made her way back to Poland in search of any living family. When she learned there were no other survivors among her immediate family, she had no wish to remain in Poland. She with her friends then set out to Germany and ultimately arrived in Landsberg where a displaced persons camp had been established. The camp functioned like a community where life slowly began to normalize for all the survivors there. Here she met her future husband, Sam Weinreich who also happened to be a native of Lodz, though their paths had never before crossed. As the sole survivors of their families, they married in September of 1946 and together began to rebuild their lives.

In 1949, Sam and Frieda received their papers to leave to America. They assumed they would settle somewhere familiar sounding such as New York or California, but had never heard of Memphis, Tennessee, the place they landed due to Sam’s background in the furniture finishing industry. 70 years after arriving in Memphis and having built a beautiful life and family there, Frieda and Sam still remain there as active members of the Jewish community and are among the city’s very last few Holocaust survivors. Together they continue to publicly share their stories. This summer, they will (please g-d) celebrate their 95th and 100th birthdays along with their 73rd wedding anniversary.

Never Forget

Submitted by: Sefira Lightstone

Today I am walking
Of the holocaust. 
Closing my eyes as I step
Too afraid 
To look down
Who will see us?
Who will acknowledge our fears?
Who will help our people as
The temperature warms?
As the 
As the layer beneath my feet 
To nothingness. 
The history of our people is ancient. 
The repetitive pattern of hate is a cycle. 
It comes. It goes. It comes. 
Like the waves of a tide. 
Our patterns behave the same way. 
We survive. We forget. Survive and forget. 
How is this pattern to be broken? How is it to end?
From the depths of hell. 
To an empty planet that 
pretended to once Be our friend. 
And we screamed to God. 
That for a time seemed to judge us. 
Grasping onto
The flower of hope in our minds, 
that glittered when all else was ashes. 
Eventually we were redeemed
Too late to save the many. 
Spring finally came. 
The fields blossomed in flowers. 
We carried on. We rebuilt. We reorganized. 
Slowly. Painfully. 
The fragments
Of our souls 
Slowly put back together. 
Promising to never forget, to always remember. 
Never again will we go through that darkness. 
Never again. 
We say. 
To a world who quickly forgot. 
Trauma turned into shadows,
fading into the night. 
Never again. 
Never forget.

Escape and Kindnesses

Submitted by: Michal Fromowitz

Masha Ruzansky Frumovitz was born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1939. Among the very few memories Masha retained from her early childhood home, was of her mother, Rachel, lighting shabbat candles every week. Her parents were secular Jews, who held tradition dear to their hearts. In 1941, the Kovno Ghetto was established and inhabited. The conditions were unfathomable. Masha and her parents were forced to live together with other families in a cramped basement apartment. One night, soon after their arrival in the ghetto, Masha awoke to pounding on the door. Moments later she witnessed her father, Chaim, being dragged up the basement stairs and outside. She later understood that he had been taken on the first transport, together with 500 other men, out of the ghetto.

A few days later, her mother, along with her three brothers, realized they had no choice but to smuggle their children out of the ghetto. In the middle of the night, the devastated parents helped the children climb into sacks and heaved them onto a wagon piled high with sacks of potatoes headed to the outside world. Masha was hidden on a non-Jewish family’s farm for the remainder of the war. While they saved her life, her time with them was most unpleasant. She slept in the barn,  which was infested with mice and insects. They didn’t provide her with proper nourishment, leaving her to drink directly out of the goat’s udder. On one unfortunate occasion, the family’s son saw her and she was beaten for her transgression. The family brought her with them to church each Sunday. Despite Masha’s young and impressionable age, she felt something was not right.

At the end of the war, Masha’s only surviving aunt came to collect all four cousins from their respective hiding places across Lithuania. After a brief stay with their aunt, the children were brought to the Ulm DP camp in Germany and then to the Bergen Belsen DP camp. During her time in Bergen Belsen, she met a kind-hearted woman named Basi who took a liking to Masha. Shortly thereafter, Masha, together with hundreds of other new orphans, was sent to Israel through Aliyat Ha’Noar. Upon their arrival in 1947, eight-year-old Masha was placed in an orphanage located in Katamon, Jerusalem. Masha was raised there by a warm and loving couple, Mr. and Mrs. Fridner, who took a special liking to the youngest of the orphans. She was a warm and likable child by nature, and the Fridners took her under their wing, many times inviting her to spend the night in their apartment. She attended the local elementary school, Chorev, and slowly began to adjust to her new reality.

In her early teenage years, Masha and Basi reconnected. Basi took her in, providing her with a tiny room outside their cramped Me’ah She’arim apartment. Masha spent most of her free time with Basi’s family. She and Basi grew extremely close, and considered each other family. Basi’s single brother-in-law, Israel, would often come to Basi and her husband Kopel’s home for shabbatot and chagim. He quickly became fond of the young woman he met there.

One day, Israel- who had left Hasidism after the devastation of the war, and adopted a more modern lifestyle- asked Kopel for his approval to marry Masha. Kopel, who came from a long line of a Viznitz Hasidic family, was disappointed by his brother’s request. Masha, having come from a Lithuanian home, was not an appropriate match for a Hasidic descendant, thought Kopel. After much persuasion, Kopel left to request the Rebbe’s blessing and approval for the unlikely match.

Masha and Israel were married in 1956. Masha was escorted down the aisle by Mr. and Mrs. Fridner. They lived in a modest apartment in Bnei Brak, which Israel was proud to call his own. Israel worked for a tiling company, helping construct new Israeli homes. Masha worked as a caretaker for the neighborhood children. Within the next 5 years, Masha and Israel would welcome to the world two children of their own. They raised them with endless love, warmth, sensitivity, and generosity, despite their humble circumstances. From the devastation her early years provided, Masha managed to become an extraordinarily sensitive and loving woman. She was always ready to assist and was constantly giving. In time, Masha built intimate and deep relationships with her children, children-in-law and all eight of her grandchildren.

Masha passed away at the age of 74, after an ongoing battle with cancer. She is remembered by her warm heart, her loving smile, and her deep sincerity to all.

Second Generation Observations

Written by: Jeannette Friedman / Drawn by: Avital Weisinger

We can dump apathy and indifference. We can remember the past, and teach its lessons to our children and friends, while honoring the memory of those who suffered by turning them into a blessing and defending democracy together.

When I moved to the Poconos, I caught hatred aimed at me from the left and the right, because I am a Jew. As a daughter and daughter-in-law of Holocaust survivors, it started before I was born.

I was born in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, to parents who had overstayed their tourist visas—and my twin brother and I were anchor babies, born in poverty. My parents became citizens in 1952 and my father started a factory that made plastic tablecloths.

We didn’t know much about our parents, because when our parents did not want us to understand what they were talking about, they spoke Hungarian, and they would speak late into the night about “lager”—the camps. We thought they were summer camps. Little did we know.

When I was a tween, I learned about the Holocaust through osmosis because my parents didn’t much talk about it, except on Pesach at the Seder table, when my mom talked about the bird who was God’s messenger and saved her, and my dad talked about jumping from a death train and didn’t know whether to say Viduy or make a bracha on the sawdust bread in his hand. I never did get his whole story—he died at 66. My mom, on the other hand, wrote a book when she was in her 70s.

My dad, a Hungarian, helped my mom escape from the Warsaw Ghetto and smuggled her to Munkacs. He had proposed before the war and during the war, and she turned him down, so he married another woman and lost his wife and baby son in Auschwitz. My mom lost sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, and nephews, and left one brother and her mother behind in the ghetto. The others all fled Poland or had been taken prisoner by the Soviets. She was eventually a passenger on the Kasztner train. My parents found each other after the war and married in Paris in 1947. Then they came to the US for a conference.

I knew nothing about this until I was in my high school senior year play, The Wall, which described the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I played the role of a partisan fighter. When it was over, my mom told me I had played the role of my uncle. He died on the first night of the Uprising, fighting the fascist and racist Nazis. His name was Yaakov. And that was it.
Fourteen years later, I found his name in a footnote of Emmanuel Ringleblum’s diary of the Warsaw Ghetto, the diary found in milk cans in the bunkers, and called her. Yes, that was her brother. With further research, I discovered Yaakov was able to escape from the death camp Treblinka by dragging his feet. Because he was slow, he was ordered to load the clothes—neatly folded by the victims in the dressing room in front of the gas chamber—into the cattle cars that brought them to their deaths.

When a Polish worker told him that no one leaves Treblinka alive, he jumped into the clothes, and somehow managed to avoid being stabbed by the bayonets being thrust into the piles of clothing by the Nazis hunting him. When they gave up and the train pulled out, he jumped and made his way back to the ghetto to warn people and help plan the Uprising. He died on the wall, first Seder Night, April 19, 1943, with a rifle in his hands.

He has been my inspiration for forty long years.

My Dear Grandchildren

Submitted by: Melissa Rosmarin Ciner / Written by: Leo Rosmarin

Dear Melissa,

The reason I am writing this to all of you is that, in coming years, you should never forget what happened to your grandparents and their families during World War II during the Nazi Occupation.

Now, I will write about our experiences during the Holocaust

I will start with your Grandma, Nana Manya.

Nana was born Manya Silberberg, her father’s name was Liepa, and her mother’s name was Sarah. She had six brothers whose names were: Schlomo, Mendel, Menachem, Kalman, Moishe, and Anshel. In 1939, when the war broke out, Nana was 14 years old, and her brother Anshel, at 8 years of age, was the youngest child in the family.

I always wondered what harm an 8-year-old boy could do to the German army.

In 1941 or 1942, Nana was forced to work for The Held Company, a German firm that manufactured uniforms for the German army.

In 1942, her parents and 6 brothers were taken from their home in Sosnowiecz. Poland, and sent by cattle train to the death camp Auschwitz, where they all perished. Now left alone, at the age of 16, Nana had to fight to stay alive. She was sent to 7 different Concentration Camps. Their names were: Auschwitz/Babicz, Tzerbinia, Gogolin, Neuschtaht, Blechammer, Gerlitz, and Ludwigsdorf. I would like to mention one camp in particular, Ludwigsdorf, where Nana was forced to work outside the camp, along with many other women, at an ammunition factory.

The women had to very carefully measure the gunpowder that went into the bullets and shell casings. It was a very dangerous job, many women died from inhaling the poison gunpowder because the Nazis did not allow them to wear masks.

Nana went through hell, but thank G-D she was able to survive.

In 1945, she was liberated from the concentration camp, Gerlitz. She was sickly and weak and made her way to Landsberg near Munich, where she ended up in a displaced persons camp.

In Straubing, I met Nana. We were married in August of 1946. It was a double wedding with another couple, because we couldn’t afford our own wedding.

So, my grandchildren, as you can see, Hitler’s aim was to destroy and liquidate the Jewish race. He may have burned the forest, but he couldn’t burn the roots, and from those roots new branches came out, and three children were born.

On July 23rd 1947, our first son, your father was born. In 1948, we emigrated to Israel after it won its’ independence from the British. I worked for two years as a driver for a large trucking company. Then I had to report for duty in the Israeli Army, where I served for 18 months. Life in Israel was very hard, and after 4 years, we returned to Straubing, Germany. The reason that we returned to Germany was because we were told that if we wanted to immigrate to the United States, it would be easier to get a visa from Germany, than it would from Israel. We were in Germany for another 4 years waiting for a visa to go to the U.S.

On July 26th 1956, our second son, Sam was born. That winter we finally received our visa, and we arrived in the United States on January 7th 1957.

On July 18th 1964 our daughter, Sherry was born, and the branches that Hitler couldn’t destroy, continued to blossom.

In 1977, your father met your mother, and they were married in 1978, and you were born on July 29th 1980.

It is impossible to describe how happy I was when you were born. You were my first granddaughter, the first beautiful blossom on those branches that survived the Nazis. Then came more blossoms, and Max, Lee, Julia, Jordan, and Jenna were born.

G-D blessed us with six wonderful grandchildren, and I consider myself the richest man in the world.

Melissa, it has been 57 years since our liberation from the camps, and we are constantly reminded not to forget. The Hebrew word leezkor means; to remember, but how can we possibly forget? How can Nana forget that she lost her whole family?

How can I forget that I lost my parents and my two sisters?

That is what I am asking you to do. I am asking you to remember what Hitler did to the Jewish people. His aim was to liquidate the whole Jewish race, and he came close to achieving his goal. More than six million Jews perished in the Holocaust, and if we let ourselves forget, then they will have died in vain.


I am asking you to, never forget, and don’t let your children and grandchildren forget what happened to our parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts. Whole families were destroyed, and countless lives were changed forever.

You, my grandchildren will be the witnesses that will carry our memories to your future generations.

Melissa, I will always love you, you have made me so proud of you, and I know that you will accomplish many good things in your life.

Love, Grandpa

Posted in

Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism.

She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community.

She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience.

Shira made aliyah with her family two years ago to Jerusalem.

Headshot taken by Tzipora Lifchitz.