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The "We Bear Witness" Holocaust Project

Stories Told by our B’nai Aviv Teens

Mrs. Susana Moore’s Story
Mr. Leon Schagrin’s Story
Mr. Bernard Igielski’s Story
Mr. Armin Krauss’s Story
Mrs. Judy Rodan’s Story
Mr. John Koenig’s Story
The Butterfly
Freedom

 

WE WILL NEVER FORGET THE TORMENT THE MILLIONS OF JEWS WENT THROUGH, NO MATTER WHAT LENGTH OF TIME PASSES.

Mrs. Susana Moore’s Story

by Adi Behar & Donna Nesselroth

Donna: “The human will to live is stronger than a lot of things that happen to you” This was quoted directly from Holocaust survivor Susanna Moore. The Holocaust was the greatest lapse of human judgement known to history and the horrors endured, not only by those sitting here with us but the millions of other whose lives were destroyed; must be acknowledged and passed down from generation to generation in order to tell the story as best we can.

Adi: Today, we get to tell the story of Susanna Moore. Although the war itself did not last long in her country, it’s effects robbed her of her family and her childhood. Susanna was born on May 16th, 1938, to a middleclass family in Hungary. For the first few years of her life, she lived comfortably with her mother, father, brother, and nanny. Once she turned six, however, Susanna’s life took a turn for the worse. Her last positive memory was going with her father to register for first grade, despite the fact that her parents knew she wouldn’t be able to attend. Susanna never saw her father again after that day.

Donna: With the outbreak of World War 2, the anti-semitism shown towards the Jewish people of Hungary became normalized. In addition to suffering taunts and teases, they faced the humiliation accompanying the mandatory placement of the infamous yellow star patch. This patch turned a bright and cheery color into a source of misery and humiliation for Susanna, and she still avoids wearing yellow to this day. After her home, her one safe haven, was destroyed by a Nazi bomb, Susanna’s mother fled to safety with her brother, leaving Susanna in the care of her Catholic aunt, Nitzi. Yet as rumors spread of Susanna’s true identity, her aunt was forced to abandon her in a nunnery. Susanna is still haunted by the horrors she faced there, describing the food as a tar-like soup with a distinct smell. But despite the hardships, it was here where Susanna reunited with her brother.

Adi: In late1944, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, signaling the end of the war. However, the newly formed socialist government confiscated the few possessions that Susanna and her family managed to hold on to, leaving them with nothing. Over the summer of 1946, Susanna and her brother found out that their mother and aunt survived the camp they had been sent to, and the family reunited in what Susanna described as the happiest moment in her childhood. But although they were physically present, Bergen- Belsen reduced her aunt and mother to unrecognizable shells of their former selves. Susanna described them as sick and lost, and both women refused to speak of the horrors they endured at the camp. With no money, education, or connections, Susanna’s mother worked constantly to support her family and readjust to society.

Donna: The rest of her childhood passed by in a cheerless blur. At eighteen, Susanna finally escaped Hungary. “When we got through to Austria it was an unbelievable happiness.” Susanna explained. “But at the same time it was sad. I didn’t know what’s going to happen. But at least we were out.” She then flew to Canada where she was shortly taken in by an elderly couple. Now, Susanna had a new goal, to work for herself and adjust to her new life. “I didn’t even know how strong I was,” Susanna told us when describing her struggle. She worked long days for minimum pay and she dedicated all of her free time to learning English.

Adi: At nineteen, Susanna met her ex-husband, an orthodox Hungarian businessman who could potentially help reunite her with her family. They married a week after they met and had their first child ten months later. Although her husband was distant and cold, Susanna loves her daughter with all her heart. “The feeling is something I couldn’t explain,” Susanna told us, “she was like the doll I never had.”

Donna: After her son was born three years later, Susanna brought her mother and brother out of Hungary. In 1969, she divorced her husband, against her mother's wishes, and went on to study at St. George University where she earned her degree in accounting and management. She was a project manager for a clothing company for women, until she moved to South Florida in 1979.

Adi: Susanna currently has 2 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren all across the United States and Israel- “I’ve done it all, I’ve traveled a lot, I just want to see my great grandkids grow up happily in a safe country.” Susanna told us this when we asked for her future goals. Susanna Moore is a determined and kindhearted woman. She understood the importance of hard work while refusing to let the bitterness of her circumstances tarnish her ability to care for others. Susanna is one of the strongest people we know and we are honored to tell you her story today.

Mr. Leon Schagrin’s Story

by Shayna Blitz & Zach Friend

1-6-1-7-4-4 I want you to take a few seconds to think of these numbers. Those are the numbers that were forever tattooed and engraved on Leon Schagrin’s arm.

This isn’t a story about someone, this is a person’s life and their experiences. A story is one that describes, we aren't going to do that. We are going to live out his life, welcome to Leon Schagrins’s life.

Leon Schagrin a 6th-grade schoolboy who dreamed of becoming a veterinarian much like his father. Until the day Leon’s hometown of Grybow, Poland was invaded by the Nazi troops.

Just imagine, nearly a couple years ago when we were all 11-12 years old being held captive. This was life.

The Nazis deceived the people in Leon’s hometown, making them believe that they were there to do great things for Grybow. When the Nazis invaded Poland and the town of Grybow, the Schagrin family fled to their grandparent’s farm in Tarnow. While the majority of Leon’s family went to the farm, his father went to join up with his Polish reserve army unit.

Fighting for your country to end up being taken away, not being able to see your father.  In 1942, families from Grybow and Tarnow began to be expelled from their homes. Leaving the home that you used to live in for over 14 years. Just to vanish in a heartbeat. This isn’t a story, this actually happened. 

Leon was separated from his parents, 4 little sisters, and his brother who was born just before the war started. Imagine saying your last goodbyes to your siblings and mother, just because of your religion. Being separated and not sure where you were being taken to. When expelled from their home, people were either forced to a death camp or to be immediately assassinated by the river. Leon was sent to a death camp.

The Nazi sent up a ghetto “a” and ghetto “b.” “A” was meant to represent those that didn’t work and “B” was for those that worked. At age 16 being able to work was either life or death. While being in ghetto B he started to work for a farmer on a farm. The farmer who was German which allowed Leon to be able to be comfortable with the soldiers. This was the only way he could survive.

In 1943, at the age of 17, on horses, Leon began carrying the Jewish police throughout the ghetto. But in August 19 of 1943, this is when life began to truly change for Leon. Nazi soldiers proceeded to drag people out of their houses and shoot them. They didn’t care who they shot, they just shot for “fun”. I use the word fun due to the mental status that many Nazi soldiers were in. This includes being near blackout drunk. The feeling of numbness is what allowed for the majority of the crime. 

Not caring for the damage that was created. Leon was solely happy due to the fact of not dying. An order was issued to those that were not killed to pick up the dead and bring them to the river. Picking up what could be your neighbor or friend.

After this moment of shooting, a round-up of the remaining were to be sent to another ghetto. This one was supposedly worse. He was sent to Ukraine, a ghetto called sgbnie. As he was apart of the Nazis' horse team, he was able to be with the horses and working with the horse he was placed in a safe place with an elderly gentlemen ss-schribenton.

You always need humor in life. In order to survive life, Leon would always laugh at this: When the Kommendat of the camp wanted the horse to be clean and have a saddle. The horse didn't like to have a saddle because he never wore one. Leon got on the horse and the horse was fine.When the Kommendat attempted to get onto the horse, it started to kick.

Death marches began to occur. Leon was there for a total of 8 weeks. 8 weeks that would feel like a century full of pain and agony in order to survive. Each week, a march of executions would occur in the grasslands. At the end of the 8 weeks, Leon’s life took another turn. In October of 1943, Leon would be loaded onto a train, with the general population and they were all taken to Auschwitz. As many of you may or may not know, Auschwitz was the only concentration camp to actually tattoo the prisoner’s number. 

3,000 men were to be transported with Leon. Once arrived men and women were ordered to strip and run in circles as a check. The selection was to be fast. At the end of the night, out of all the 3,000 men, only 500 to 1,000 would make it through. The rest were to be sent to the death chambers. As part of the selection process, the only way to live was to be having a qualified job. Leon only being 17 didn’t have a job. Nor would the general population at the age of 17 in Weston. Not knowing an occupation, he just talked about his dad’s work and what he did in Ukraine. He answered with being a horse adjutant- Nazi soldiers suddenly laughed. Thinking that Leon was surely joking, they asked again and it was followed by the same answer. He went to Birkenau. He stayed there until December 1943. He considered it as if living in a zoo. A zoo. 

Food being extremely limited resulted in the death of flies, flies being people. As being from the same town as Leon, the country's prosecutor was taken as a political prisoner and was in the same camp as Leon. This allowed him to be friends with someone during his time.

As he worked with the horses, during the winter of 1944, in February he was in the youth camp and was able to receive better food. Food was key for survival. He was able to work there until being liberated on January 24, 1945.

This was after the United States bombed part of Auschwitz on December 26, 1944. During the bombing, Leon would receive shrapnel into the side of his neck, leading him to go to the infirmary. He was in the infirmary until being liberated. Due to his state in the infirmary, he was able to not walk on the death march, basically saving his life. He was eventually liberated in January.

He wanted to be like his dad and fight in the army. So he enrolled in the Polish army and remained until 1954. He eventually went to Israel and worked for a telephone company in Haifa until he met the love of his life, who was a part of Schindler’s list.  We would like to pay our condolences as she sadly passed away in November.

With his wife, he moved to NYC in 1959 and moved to sunrise Florida in 1981. He sadly had no children due to many complications. In Florida, he represented a Brazilian company until they closed due to bankruptcy. He now speaks at various schools and tells his story.

1-6-1-7-4-4  We say these numbers again, so you do not forget him or any of the holocaust survivors. These are supposed to represent what we don’t want to happen in the future and the ways we can reunite and help end anti-Semitism. We are here to celebrate life, miracles, aspiration, success, victories, family, loved ones and overall REMEMBER. Before he and his father were separated, his dad told him “If you survive, you must tell our life to the world.” DO NOT FORGET. This isn’t a story, this is someone’s life. Zach and I hope to be able to share Leon’s life with many generations to come, as the Hebrew saying goes, L’dor V’ dor. Leon shared his story with us, and it is one we will never forget and we will cherish it in our hearts.

We would also like to shed light on the Holocaust Survivors of South Florida Foundation. This is a foundation that Leon started to spread awareness. Many of the Holocaust survivors that you heard tonight are apart of this foundation. It allows the word to get out as well as support them through supplies, as food and is a way for them to pay bills. This foundation allows survivors to go and talk to many schools, sharing their stories, just like we get to share Leon’s. The opportunity to learn from a survivor is limited, and every experience is so valuable. Thank you for your support.

Mr. Bernard Igielski’s Story

by Liora Kaplan & Sasha Osnovsky

Hi my name is Sasha Osnovsky, and this past year we had the privilege to work with and learn from My. Bernard Igielski, or Bernie for short, a holocaust survivor. Hi, my name is Liora Kaplan, and we are here to share his story.

Starting from the beginning, Bernie was born on May 12, 1927, in Poland. He was one of 5 kids, and had a good childhood. His father’s side was prosperous, however, his mother’s side wasn’t. Bernie even described his mother’s family as poor. For this reason, his father’s side never came to see the mother. She was seen as an outcast. His mother however, had a “heart of gold,” as Bernie described it. Bernie never suffered because of his mother. She did everything she could for him and his 5 other siblings to make sure that they were happy. Something his mother always told him was, “We were all born with a crown over our heads... what we do with it is up to us.”

Before the war, Bernie wasn’t faced with any antisemitism. The family was “religious to an extent” as Bernie described it. He went to school and never did anything he wasn’t supposed to.

Once the Nazis came to power in Poland, school was no longer available. The first order of business was to hang 10 people for everyone to watch so the town saw what was coming in the future with the Nazis in power. A vivid memory that Bernie described was his mother holding her youngest child and the Nazis then tried to take it from her.

Everyone was put in the Lodz ghetto. Those who could work and those who couldn’t were segregated. Bernie however, was privileged in the ghetto. Most of his family was in the Jewish Administration so therefore, he didn’t suffer. In the ghetto, Bernie and his family were kept there till the ghetto was liquidated in 1941. After, they were then taken to Auschwitz, a concentration camp. In Auschwitz, the family was split up. Children were taken from their mothers and husbands were taken from their wives. They tried to take the youngest son from his mom and she refused. The Nazis beat her and killed the child right in front of her.

While in the camps, Bernie “saw people die right and left.” There were people buried alive in the camps and put in pits. In the camps, Bernies had no friends. The Kapos who were mostly criminals, were put in charge of the jews to supervise forced labor and carry out administrative tasks. In the camps, the Kapos killed people to increase the number of deaths.

After some time spent in the camp, Bernie was put in line for the gas chamber. He was next in line when Dr. Mengele’s assistant gave him a piece of paper. That piece of paper saved his life. This would be the first out of 4 times in which Dr. Mengele’s assistant, who was Jewish saved his life. (Dr. Mengele was a scientist who performed deadly experiments on Jews as well as administered the gas, if you weren’t aware). A point Bernie wanted to emphasize was that not everyone was evil in the camps. A specific instance was when the main German colonel put down a sandwich for him while nobody was looking. “It was the little things that made a difference,” Bernie explained. He loved the enemy and felt sorry for them. Bernie was in a total of eight camps. He was liberated from Dahou by the Red Cross.

After being liberated, Bernie didn’t speak about the Holocaust for the first 15 years; he had survivor’s guilt. The millions of people killed was what caused Bernie to start speaking about his story. He didn’t want another Holocaust to happen. He never talked poorly about the Germans though. He always put them in a good light. Bernie had good memories of the Germans but he was criticized because of how nicely he spoke of the Germans. Bernie

described walking the streets disoriented after being liberated because he didn’t have anywhere to go. For the next three years, he stayed with a German because “they had more to give.” “I was eating fast and a woman said slow down, there’s more where that came from,” Bernie said. He loved where he lived in Germany, he was treated royally, but he also described it as being treated “too nicely” and “materialistically.” The Germans wanted to give him “blood money.” Bernie however, still had so much hate towards everyone.

After the three years spent in Germany, Bernie was supposed to go to Israel to fight in the army but found out his brother and sister survived so he went to the United States instead in 1948. Bernie hated it in the United States but his brother wanted him here.

In the United States, Bernie became “very patriotic.” He received an invitation to serve in the army for the Korean War. Bernie became the highest ranking military man in the United States. He stood guard at the Pentagon as well as the White House and received many privileges. He also had the highest clearance in the US. “Shorty” was what he was called in the army. Later on, Bernie was taken off the list to go to Korea and put to work in Walter Reed Hospital.

One of Bernie’s favorite memories was when the secretary of the army took him fishing. He remembers that as a high point in his life and says “it keeps him alive.”

Bernie met his wife in Israel, and they have been married for 60 years. He has 2 children, a son and a daughter as well as 4 grandkids. He occasionally sings Polish and German songs which bring him back to his childhood.

This amazing story of My. Bernard Igielski shows us there is always a light at the end of the tunnel; to never lose hope and make the best out of what you have.

Mr. Armin Krauss’ Story

by Rachel Becker & Alexa Morcheilies

Alexa: Shalom, my name is Alexa Morchelies. My sophomore year in high school, I took holocaust history at Cypress Bay High School. I had the privilege of learning from the amazing Ms. Leslie Rheingold. While taking her class I had the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust so much deeper, but it wasn’t until I sat down with Armin Krauss and truly soaked in his story was I able to even begin to understand how someone who was the same age as me at the time had to go through what he did.

Armin Krauss lived a normal life as a child like everyone else before the war. His childhood wasn’t much different from mine. He enjoyed playing soccer and being with his family and friends. Armin enjoyed watching the stock market and learning from the news. While learning about his story, I noticed that Armin and I had similarities, one being that at a young age we both had the goal of becoming a politician.

Armin’s childhood came to a stark and rapid end, something that is difficult to imagine. In 1943, Jews were not allowed to go school anymore. This affected Armin and many other young Jewish kids' lives, and he had to join his father working at the market carrying potato sacks. On March 18, 1944 Germany invaded Hungary, and he and every other Jew in Hungary was forced to wear a yellow star.

Rachel will speak about Armin’s life during the war in a few minutes, but I was really struck by two things Armin shared with us. Unlike many survivors, Armin had many photos of his family before the war in his apartment. He showed them to us with pride and he knew how rare it was that he had them and how unlike many Holocaust survivors he was in having them. As he walked us through his gallery on his walls and dresser, it could have been me sharing photos of my family and friends. We are unaware how he was able to have them knowing that the Nazi’s destroyed almost everything Jews owned, but we assume that he got them from his family in Hungary when he got back from the war.

Also, family heirlooms aren’t something you hear much about from Holocaust survivors, unless it’s to tell of them being lost or stolen. Armin also had a very valuable family heirloom, a pocket watch. Before he was forced from his home, he buried it under the sidewalk in front of his house in Hungary. After the war, when he went back home, he dug it up. When speaking to us he mentioned that he would never sell it, and planned on passing it to his son.

Seeing the pictures he had and knowing that he had something passed down to him from his parents made me feel very fortunate because few to no survivors have any photos or mementos of their lives before the war.

Rachel: Over 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. To individually honor each life lost for an entire day would take more than 16,000 years. Yet I still couldn't wrap my head around the immensity of this horror. Not after discussing it in school. Not after watching Schindler’s list in Hebew school. Not after standing on this bima having my Bat Mitzvah in honor of one of those 6 million Jews. Not even after visiting Yad Vashem in Israel. I couldn't possibly fathom the magnitude of the Holocaust. Not until I met Armin Krauss.

His story amazed me, but more than that, a single man was able to imprint the reality of the Holocaust on me in a way that nothing before had. Armin is not only a survivor, he’s a warrior. By his own description, Armin was always small in stature, but he is large in spirit and determination. He’s proof that mighty things can come in small packages.

There are so many facets to Armin’s story that astound me, particularly when I think about the fact that he was my exact age when he left Hungary and was in the camps. He traveled by train to Poland, shoved into a crowded train car with 60 other people. They closed the door and didn’t open it again until the end of the journey. It’s hard to imagine being locked in a dark, moving cabin, crammed with many other people with no food and no bathroom and no idea where you were going. At the camp, some people went right some went left. The people who went the other direction from Armin didn’t survive, including his mother. He never saw her again.

Survival in the camps - and he was in several - was undoubtedly difficult. Armin told us of hard labor during the days and sneaking out at night to scavenge potato peels from the SS’s garbage. He wasn’t sure why he survived when others didn’t. He thought maybe because he was short and skinny and didn’t need as much food. He doesn’t know, but he knew “God was with him”. This alone is wondrous to me. To be in a camp, where people are dying all around him and not question God and how this nightmare was happening, but to believe God was with him truly amazes me. And he told the story so matter of factly, but I can imagine the fear and the consequences had he been caught on his nightly forage.

Armin told us of the factory he worked in being bombed and of another lucky circumstance where an SS member turned a blind eye to let him go into a hole where he found more potatoes and once again had nourishment to survive. He then feared for his life, but came upon a ditch where he found the mangled bodies of French soldiers, dismembered, with no arms and no legs. Just thinking about that is sickening, but Armin shared his story almost without emotion. And he didn’t just come upon those bodies. He laid down with them and stayed there for two days, hiding among the dead so no one would know he was alive.

Then two days later, he saw the tanks coming. It was the Americans. He was liberated.

I thought that would be the end, but what came next was almost more sad. Armin found his way back to Hungary, only to learn that his family who ran a business with his father didn’t want Armin to be a part of it.  After the war, discovering that the life he thought he was going back to did not have a place for him almost broke Armin. He cried for 6 months. Eventually, being the fighter he is, Armin made his way to Toronto. He was given newspapers and put on a ship from Europe, with 800 other kids. Even though he was 20, his new papers said he was 16. Also, his name wasn’t originally Armin, but he kept it because that’s what his papers said.

In Toronto, they tried to make him go to school, because they thought he was 16, but he wanted to work. He got a job in a butcher shop and after 3 weeks, he became a manager, making $75/week. Armin made a point of sharing with us that when he came to the US after he married his wife who lived in New York, he had to sign a paper saying he will never collect anything from the United States government. Armin is proud of what he accomplished, and I’m in awe. He went from earning $75 a week, to buying a house in Queens with a rental unit so he could live in one and earn income on the other, to ultimately owning a butcher shop to raising a family and have 2 sons go on to college and graduate school to finally retiring to Florida. Of all he accomplished, Armin was most proud of his sons and his grandson who is graduating from UT soon. It would be inspiring for anyone coming from limited means to build such a life. It’s even more incredible to consider how easy it would have been to curl up and continue crying and to blame others for his lot in life after the war.

I want to thank Armin. He not only brought the stark reality of the Holocaust into focus, but he’s shown me how you can overcome tremendous hardship to not only survive, but thrive. I promise to continue telling his story, so that those who didn’t have the chance to meet him can understand and remember the Holocaust; because in remembering the past, we honor those who did not survive, admire those who did, and most of all, ensure it never happens again.

This is more important to me now than it was throughout this past year since our project was delayed because of COVID. I kept in touch with Armin, wrote him a couple of letters, and my mom called to check on him and see if he needed anything. He celebrated his 92nd birthday in January. Two weeks later, sitting in a chair, looking out at the beautiful ocean view, Armin passed away. We couldn’t reach him, so my mom got in touch with Armin’s son who lives in Boca who shared the news. Michael told us to not be sad. He said Armin lived 76 years longer than he was supposed to. Armin surely touched many lives in those 76 years. I know he touched mine.

 

Mrs. Judy Rodan’s Story

by Allison Comite & Jayden Friend

We had the privilege and honor to meet, interview and spend time with Judy Rodan. Judy is a survivor of the holocaust. She frequently speaks about her time spent in hiding to different groups. Previously she spoke to Christian churches and ministries as well as intervention programs for girls who had suffered trauma, are failing at school, or at risk for becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. Judy has a message which became clear in our discussions. There is a resurgence of hatred and intolerance. She cautioned against remaining indifferent. The word itself, anti-Semitism means against. Why are we against anything?

Born in a small community in Czechoslovakia. When she was a young child, her mother was a concert pianist, and her father was in Paris studying Agriculture. He was then drafted into the army to fight the Axis Powers in 1942, so Judy does not have many memories of her father. Her mother stayed home with the family, as she did not like to go out into the city where her father worked. Judy and her little brother were born.

Their house became the first house of the ghetto. This house, typically fun and bursting with life, was somber and silent. Men wore suits and hats, and they were shushed by her grandmother, aware of what was going on around them. She had already sent away some children in order to save them. She made wooden barrels to help the Nazis, who needed those for ammunition and storage, in order to keep her and her family safe. She was promised to be exempt from the ghetto. Her grandmother introduced her to a non-Jewish lady named Mrs. Variash. She was the person that ultimately saved Judy’s life. The grandmother tried to bring Judy’s mother with her, but she refused, as she was waiting on her husband to return from war. Though the grandmother secretly knew that her husband had died in combat, she couldn’t tell her and break the mother’s heart. The next day, Judy’s family was taken to Auschwitz. Her family, including her mother and her baby brother, was killed. Judy was on her way to Budapest.

When she arrived, she had to follow strict orders in order to stay alive. No questions were to be asked. She was given a new identity Jaidu, Catalina. She had to memorize a fictitious family life. Judy was brought to a cold, dark basement with other children in hiding. Mrs. Variash helped her through this, quieting her down. Mrs. Variash, realizing her own life was in danger for hiding a Jew, then brought her to a school. It wasn’t a traditional school; it was a convent.

Judy had never interacted with nuns in her life. She grew up around Jewish people; she had never experienced anything like this. She missed her family, the hugging, the closeness. Nuns don’t hug each other and Judy felt a sort of deprivation of this warmth and love. She had to become an entirely new person in the convent she had to memorize the Catholicism. She even had to have her first communion. In the convent, with no one else quite like her, she felt alone and became rebellious. She couldn’t sleep and tried to talk to the girls by crawling under their beds.

At home, Judy mostly spoke Hungarian. In the convent, she had to learn and speak an entirely new language. Though she was tough and disciplinary, Mother Superior helped her throughout the process. One day, German Officers came to inspect the convent. Everyone had to rush out

and line up in attention for questioning. They would point a stick at each child and they had the answer their name, siblings, parents, and where they came from. Mother Superior knew in advance when the Officers would arrive so she gave Judy candy to help her gain the confidence needed to reiterate her new identity.

Judy participated in her First Communion. During the process, she was required to write down her sins on a slip of paper but she was unable to do that because her lying about her Jewish identity was the sin. Her piece of paper was left blank. Judy was afraid to speak to the Priest at her Confession; however, when she met with him, rather than asking for her sins, he asked about her favorite sports. She realized that he was aware of her identity and that she was being hidden in the Convent.

Every Sunday the Convent would put on a play for visitors and the parents of the other girls. Of course, Judy never had any visitors. Nevertheless, she was always the lead in the play. The nuns taught her singing, dancing and about having stage presence. She practiced the piano every day for two hours. Judy expressed that she was very grateful for all the people who helped her along.

In 1945 the war ended. Judy had visitors, her Aunt Susan and Uncle Eugene. Judy could only recognize her aunt from her big eyes. Her Aunt was very skinny, didn’t have any hair, and had large bruises all over her legs. Judy was taken out of the convent and brought to her uncle’s girlfriend’s house. Her aunt needed to rebuild herself. Judy helped to massage her legs, just as she used to massage her grandma’s, but no one could fix the bruises left behind.

Judy was then taken to her uncle’s apartment in Budapest. There was only one bed. Judy had to put two chairs together to sleep on. She was not able to go back to her home town. Her uncle, however, went home secretly, only to find that all the houses had been robbed of everything. They couldn’t leave, as none of them had any papers. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, her aunt Susan met a man named Leslie and they got married. They sent word to put Judy on a train to meet them in Paris. She went to live with her aunt and new uncle. Leslie was very attentive to Judy. He gave her three toothbrushes and spoke French with her. Aunt Susan and Uncle Leslie became her pseudo-parents.

They found that Venezuela was one of the only countries that were admitting survivors. They had no money, as Aunt Susan used her jewels to help Uncle Eugene get released from labor camp. Judy also had no papers. Instead, they went to the port in order to receive a document to travel, which was called titre de voyage, from the Venezuelen consul. This consul was a light hearted man that was very kind to Judy and her family. As part of the process, he asked for their religion. They responded by saying Catholic. This turned out to be a good answer, as Venezuela was only accepting people who were Catholic. At some point, her aunt started bleeding, and she lost consciousness. She was carried to the hospital. Leslie stayed at the boat in order to ensure that they would make the ship together. The consul stayed with them the entire time.

When her aunt was released from the hospital, they rushed back to the pier, only to find that the ship had left. The consul continued to help, getting them a small boat to take them to the ship. When she got to the ship, her uncle grabbed her hand to pull her up. For the first time in a long time, she felt secure and safe.

They finally arrived in Venezuela, and the people of Venezuela were very open to Judy and her family, as they were provided by the government with shelter at a bed-and-breakfast. This was all paid by the government, as they knew Judy’s family did not have any money. Her uncle found a job as an agronomist in the interior, but they soon realized that the area her uncle was working in did not have any nearby schools. This led to Judy being placed in a convent in Caracas, and shortly after, it was discovered Judy was not actually Catholic, but Jewish. She was then given to a Jewish family and was enrolled in Jewish Day School in 1947. She would speak Spanish, but never told anyone that she was an orphan. She always wanted to be a part of “the group” and wanted to have friends, and not be “pobrecita” or being sympathized with, which ultimately led to her silence.

While at her Jewish Day School, Judy listened to a speech by David Ben Gurion around the independence times, and he said “to all the survivors, I plead with you, I beg with you, study, work, and forget the past.” Judy would live by these words, as she believed this was the way out of the trauma experienced. She started to make very close friends who showed her lots of love and compassion.

Judy had lived in 18 homes before she got married, and these homes spanned across four different countries. Wherever Judy went, the people in these homes treated her well. The Jewish people helped pay for Judy’s schooling and upkeep, and in return, when she was able to raise the money, Judy would participate in drives that benefited the Jewish community, as well as give scholarships to children to her school that could not afford it. While in Jewish Day school, Judy also had to learn about Judaism and Hebrew, forgetting the Catholicism that she learned all those years prior.

Soon enough, Judy’s aunt and uncle were able to raise enough money to get visas for the United States, however, Judy’s visa for the United States took five years. Even though Judy loved the United States, her love for Venezuela was even greater. Her Uncle Eugene appeared in the United States. He was sought out by the Communists after the war, and they threatened to put him in jail simply because he was a hard worker. One night, his friend at the factory warned Eugene that the Communists were pursuing him and that he needed to escape. This led to Eugene fleeing Hungary and making his way to Cuba. However, from Cuba, he was able to get onto a ship that took him to Ellis Island in New York City. He was a prisoner at Ellis Island for nine months because he arrived in America without a visa. It was in America where Eugene met a paralegal secretary who worked for his lawyer, and they ended up falling in love and getting married. This gave Judy the chance to live with her Uncle Eugene because he was married.

Eugene was a lumber expert, and one day, he came home telling Judy about a job opportunity he received in Venezuela, which involved managing a lumber yard. Judy instantly told him that she was ready to go back. Although Judy’s aunt was a little hesitant to make the trip since she could not speak Spanish and had never left the country, Judy convinced her, and the three made their way to Venezuela. It was then that at age 17, Judy would meet her husband. They would marry a year later when Judy was 18. Even though this marriage was stressful for her aunt and uncle who viewed Judy as their child, she was deeply in love with her husband and nothing would stop that love. Judy wanted six children to care for but stopped when she got to her third child because of their mischievousness. Today, Judy has seven grandchildren and spends time telling her story to different groups to help endorse the saying of Never Again. It was an absolute privilege to listen to and get to know Judy.

Mr. John Koenig’s Story

by Kayla Alhadeff & Chelsea Horowitz

When my partner Kayla and I met Mr. John Koenig for the first time, this was the first thing John said to us: “Be grateful for all of the privileges you have in your beautiful life.”

As we sat down with John and got to know him, we learned about the amazing life he lives now. John is in his 90s, retired from a successful life of business and traveling. He lives in Weston, FL with his wife and beloved dachshund, Shayna. John has nurtured a loving and supportive family, that resides all over the country, and even the world.

After hearing about John’s remarkable adult life, you would never be able to tell of the horrors that John encountered as a child.  John was born in May 1929 in Budapest, Hungary as Koenivg Yanoosh. He was an only child, living with his hardworking mother and father in a Jewish part of town. His father owned a fabric importation company, where he sold his goods to retail shops and garment manufacturers. He went to a Jewish school in Budapest, where he studied the Torah alongside all of his friends. John did not keep kosher as a child, but he remembers going to synagogue every Friday night. He lived a simple life, until 1939- when the Nürnberg laws came into affect .

The Nuremberg laws made it harder and harder for Jews to live peacefully in Budapest. Jews began being discriminated against,. John never recalled facing anti-Semitism until The Nuremberg laws were put into play.

As things got worse in Hungary, John’s father was drafted into the Hungarian labor brigade. John didn’t think he would ever see him again, but he luckily was sent home after six weeks due to medical conditions. this was comforting to John, but he knew the the worst was coming. The next time John began feeling unsafe was when John was 15: when the Germans occupied hungry in March 1944.

At this time Jews had to follow a very strict set of laws, and rumors of Jewish people in the Hungarian countryside being deported started spreading around Budapest. The Hungarian Jews living in the countryside, including John’s cousins on his mother side, were all sent to Auschwitz and murdered. Jews now had to wear yellow stars, and were required to turn in all of their technological devices and not return to work and school. Jews were basically being cut off from the world around them, and John’s life as he knew it would never be the same again.

in April of 1944, Jews in Budapest we’re beginning to be deported to extermination camps such as Auschwitz and Treblinka. John’s father became increasingly nervous about the fate of John and his family. John’s father purchased a Swedish flag to put in front of their home, hoping to trick the Germans into thinking they were Swedish and hopefully leave them alone. this bought the family some time to make further arrangements, to avoid Auschwitz or any other concentration camp.

still confused on how God could allow such a terrible thing to happen, John and his family we’re put in an apartment complex across from the Hungarian SS headquarters. The apartment complex, which once housed all Jewish people (who were deported), was converted into a workplace. John and his family and hundreds of other Jews crammed in a small space and had to do treacherous labor to benefit the SS and the Nazis. John remembers having to clean out belongings of deported Jews and throwing them into the river or even into the fires. John was grateful to still be with his parents, but he still never understood why such a terrible thing was happening to the Jews. Food was scarce, and living conditions in the apartment complex we’re not satisfactory. hardly weighing anything and having multiple health defects , cause John’s malnourishment, exhaustion, and made John feel defeated.

in December of 1947, after Hitler’s defeat, John was able to get a visa and immigrate to North America. he made a difficult choice to leave his parents behind, but he was only 17 and was able to get a visa a lot easier. due to a health problem, however, he was not able to make it into the United States. with nowhere to go, 17-year-old John didn’t know what would happen to him. he remembers being so weak mentally and physically. After about a year and a half, John was able to immigrate to Canada where he Learned English and got a job at a button factory. Eventually, he Met his wife Cynthia and they moved to New York. He went on to fight in the American Army in the Korean War, and work in the trade industry like his father. John and Cynthia had three kids and now they have numerous grandchildren together.

John did not start speaking about his experience in the holocaust until about 10 years ago. He quotes “It is hard for me to talk about my dark teenage years, but if I don’t, history will repeat itself, and I want my story to continue after my time on this beautiful Earth.”

Though I can go on and on about John’s remarkable life experiences, he has taught Kayla and I how important it is to keep our Jewish values close And to not take her Jewish privilege in the United States for granted. He urges us to speak up for the Jewish people for the rest of our lives and not to take advantage of the privileges we have living in the USA.

John’s impact will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life. Todah rabah.

 The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
Against the white stone…

Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished to
Kiss the world goodbye.

For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.

The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
In the ghetto.

- Pavel Friedman

 Freedom

 

The story must be told.
The content may be considered old.
It is a tale of dreams come true
For the U.S. soldiers in red, white and blue
The rescue they planned showed that they were brave.
By saving all the prisoners from meeting their grave.
Nameless skeletons in Pajamas with stripes,
Numbers beaten down with whips and pipes.
Waiting for sign of hope,
Not complaining but trying to cope.

Arebeit Macht Frei “work sets one free.”
Auschwitz is not the place to be.
It is a concentration camp that is clear.
Fun has no place, only fear.
Choices weren’t given there.
Take a shower, shave your hair.
Go right or left fate is your guide.
The gulf between is deadly wide.
Loved ones lost in a puff of smoke.
They cried until they can barely croak.

This home is filthy, cruel and mean,
The light of freedom cannot be seen.
But still, they wait for the angel of life,
To free them from this hellish strife.

The sound of guns from the heavens above.
A caring safe with eyes of love.
We are here, the gentle hands reach out,
It’s time to leave there is no doubt.
As the U.S. soldiers arrived in Poland to free
The victims of Auschwitz shouted with glee.

Remember my story; remember it well,
No more will people suffer such hell.
For those of us who know their plight
We’ll lead the world and do what’s right.

 - Tal Alboukrek

 

Sun, May 9 2021 27 Iyyar 5781