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Conversations with my Father, a Holocaust Survivor

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I asked my father how he was able to survive the horrors of everyday life in the Lodz Ghetto, Concentration Camps, Forced Labor Camps and Death March?
He answered "I wanted to survive to tell the world what happened, but after it was over I could not talk about it." He felt no one would believe what had happened. He told me he was to be shot on many occasions, but was not.
I asked my father if he had read about Hitler before things got bad and if so why did he not leave the area?
My father told me that he and his wife, child, and mother-in-law had the opportunity to leave.
His mother-in-law refused to leave when the truck to carry their belongings was at the door.
His wife refused to leave her mother behind and my father could not leave his wife and daughter.
I asked my father what happened to his first daughter?
My father told me often that if someone comes to me someday and says she is my older sister,
I must believe her. He never referred to her as my half-sister but only "my older sister". I yearned
to know what my sister looked like but remained forever silent as feared seeing the tears in his eyes.
I asked him what happened to my older sister's mother?
His eyes teared up and I became silent.
I asked my father what happened to his youngest brother?
He replied that he did not know but his youngest brother was very tall and this was a misfortune
at that time.
I asked my father if anyone ever came from the free world to see what was going on?
He responded yes, that the International Red Cross came but was fooled by the preparations
made in anticipation of their visit.
I asked him how it was possible that they missed the horrors that were going on?
He said that preparations included creating false store fronts and use of currency to
purchase products brought in to the Concentration Camp in preparation of the visit.
All the preparations in Theresienstadt were fake and those persons that were ill were
removed from the site in anticipation of the visit.
I asked my father if he would take revenge on anyone?
He responded no, only one person if he had the chance.
I asked my father if he would change his religion?
He said no he would never change his religion, although he tolerates and believes we all
have one G-d. We walked to Temple together on Saturday mornings. He often attended
Temple services with my mother on Friday nights while I took care of my youngest sister.
As a four year old, hearing about the Holocaust from neighbors who I thought were trying to scare me,
I asked my father did they really make lamp shades out of human skin?
He answered in the affirmative but did not elaborate.
I asked him did they take the gold out of people's teeth?
Once again he answered in the affirmative but did not elaborate.
I asked no further questions as was afraid of seeing his eyes tearing up.
I asked my father why he was blind in one eye?
He replied it had been injured.
When he took the bus with me and the bus driver said my father did not pay but I had seen him
pay the fare, I asked my father, why did you pay twice and not explain to the bus driver that you had paid?
My father replied that there is always "a witness". (I learned as a young child that witnesses are not always accurate).

My father told us that one who saves a life saves a world.
I asked my father what I should do with whatever he tells me?
He said that a witness to a witness becomes a witness.
I should tell the story to the children in our family and his future grandchildren so that they would remain true to their religion and never forget.
He wanted the world to know so that it would never happen again to any human being.
I asked my father if he felt the world knew what was happening?
He said that he felt they knew some things but the extent of the Holocaust was hard for humanity to
comprehend and it should never happen again.
I asked him if there was anyone he wanted to thank for helping him?
He said that after the war he searched for a baker that had helped much but could not locate the baker
after the war. My father had promised himself that he would find the caring person that helped when
help was still possible and critical to survival.
I asked my father how his extended family reacted towards one another?
He told me that they tried to cover up for my grandmother's blindness and that the family was close and
tried to help not only each other, but others. My uncle saved the children from age 10-15 years in the
Lodz Ghetto as he mentioned that they would be able to do job skills that adults could not accomplish.
Without this courageous act, the children in this age group would have perished.
I asked my father what happened to his family in Warsaw?
His father had become trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto. My father's youngest sister, her three young children and husband were transported from Warsaw and perished in Treblinka. His older sister was able to hide one of her two young daughters in a convent.

My father insisted that I never hurt a living creature and respect all life.
He suffered from nightmares, depression, and what is now called PTSD.
He mourned the loss of his wife, child, and extended family that once was.

He taught me to swim at a young age, as swimming was important to him. He encouraged me but let me proceed at my own speed to dive from the hightest diving boards. He taught me to float like a "dead man". I could float for hours, as he could, as I have my father's physical strength. He was an expert swimmer
having swam in contests with Johnny Weismuller before WWII.
I asked my father what is the best antidote for worrying?
He told me the antidote for worrying or depresson was work!
I asked my father why he was upset with me about the insects I was preparing for my school insect collection?
He said I was not permitted to hurt the insects for my 7th grade biology insect collection.
I asked him why?
I realized that he worshipped all life and healed an injured Tulip tree. At age 60 years he had his first heart attack
while tending his beloved Oak tree that was hundreds of years old.
He told me I was not permitted to suffocate any living creature or allow it to suffer. I later understood why.
I felt compelled to walk out of class when we had to kill the smallest creature.
I had tears in my eyes and could not kill a sea urchin.
I asked my father why the tomato was so important to him and why he encouraged me to plant a garden
as a young child?
Small gardens helped many to survive and the tomato was important to my father.
He grew it somewhere where organic fertilizer was plentiful when food was scarce.
The tomato in cell culture was the subject of my Master's thesis but I did not know at the time why I
selected the tomato until I was older. I remember feeling strongly that I wanted to work on the tomato
and told this to Dr. William Rodney Sharp (William Rod Sharp, William R. Sharp, William Sharp) at
The Ohio State University as a new graduate fellow in 1970.

My father was stunned to learn how much I had cried while trying to write my Master's thesis and asked me why as he was so proud of my work with the tomato?

I certainly must have been a memorable first graduate student to my adviser Dr. William Rodney Sharp,
as I did not understand why my tears would not stop. My father had built two greenhouses for tomato
plants in his backyard to help me with my research. My father died shortly after I left The Ohio State
University. It was a great disappointment to my father that I did not continue improving the tomato or
other food crops. My father had hoped I would accompany my adviser, Rod Sharp, to advance my research projects for part of the year in Brazil.

My mother and relatives did not tell me until I was in my 5th decade that my father talked about my going to Brazil with Dr. William Rodney "Rod" Sharp to continue intensive studies on the tomato and other plants that could prevent starvation. A few seeds from one tomato would grow well in decaying grass and areas rich in organic matter.

I assume that my father's heirloom tomato bred true. He told me the tomatoes were very large.

The tomato represented survival for a time to our family and others that lived through the Shoah.
It was my father's dream that I would identify a tomato that would breed true and thrive in all climates including the desert.

Per his interests in green plants, I had no idea that my father had attended medical school as his mother had wanted, until he was stoned, injured, and not permitted to continue in medical school.
I asked my father why I was not allowed to cry under any circumstances?
He told me he could not see tears or handle crying.
He told my mother not to force us as children and we were not disciplined until we came to the U.S.A.
I asked my father if he could tell me more about my older sister?
He replied that she would look out a window and wait for him to come home each evening.
He told me that my older sister was very affectionate.
My father told me he wetted a blanket and climbed through a window or hole to bring it to my sister to suck on for water.
I asked my father the age of my older sister when things got bad?
He told me she was five years old.
I asked my father if anyone in our family resisted?
He answered that they resisted as much as they could, surviving was one way to resist as well as being
true to their faith. He mentioned that some went further. One first cousin tried to sabotage the fittings
of casings for bullets that she was working on as a forced laborer.

My father told me that while looking for better conditions, his father was locked in the Warsaw Ghetto
while his mother was in the Lodz Ghetto.
I asked my father who I was named after?
My father told me that I was named after his beloved mother and that as her namesake I should know
what happened to her.
He told me that my grandmother, with a small group of women, founded a hospital.
My grandmother volunteered for many charitable organizations.
My father told me that she became a gourmet cook when the family lived in France and joined the French
chefs in their kitchen to learn the art of French cooking as her husband loved it.
My grandmother loved to read all kinds of books including the writtings of Spinoza and others.

The Passover service and meal was so long that all the grandchildren slept together at my grandparent's house. All of her children and their families would join my grandmother and grandfather for a special Sabbath dinner each Friday night. My father said his mother rarely sat down to eat a meal but tasted everything as she was cooking to ensure that all was the most flavorful, nutritious and delicious.
I asked my father if he could tell me more about my grandmother, his beloved mother?
My grandmother wanted my father to become a doctor or a Rabbi as he was extremely intelligent.
My father told me that my grandmother encouraged him much and although she had many children
and often moved when pregnant or when her husband needed to work in another city, she organized the
move, continued her volunteer activities and always had time for her large family of three boys and
three girls. She had lost one baby girl, Hannah, in the 1918 influenza epidemic while living in Karlsruhe,
I asked my father what happened to my grandmother?
In the Concentration Camp, Stutthof, my grandmother was blind, beaten, and died alone with no other family member with her. It was close to the holiday of Hanukah.
The members of the family remaining alive at the time of my grandmother's death were slave laborers in a factory in Dresden. The name of the cigarette factory that my father used was Zigarettenfabrik Jasmatzi. This is the factory where my cousin started smoking as a forced laborer making munitions for the western front. At this factory, my female, teenage, first cousin tried to sabatoge the work to make the parts not fit. Observing her as an excellent seamtress when much older, I understand that she knew how to put parts together and succeeded in her courageous goal. My grandmother was to go with the family to this factory but it was not to be. A line was placed through her name, she was crossed off the list of the living. Why? Did she know that her young grandsons had been sent back to Auschwitz from Stutthof on a transport? My father said that my first cousin and her mother were with my grandmother when she was taken from the family. I heard discussion that she was beaten after protesting when children were taken away? Did they mean her children, her grandchildren or both?

When I light the Hanukah candles, I think of my dear grandmother and her devotion to her family, religion and community.

I am lucky to have a treasure, a picture of my grandmother at the wedding of my aunt, her firstborn. My grandmother has always served as my role model.
I asked my father why he was born in Lodz as his parents were living in France at the time of his birth?
He told me that his mother always traveled to Lodz, Poland from wherever they were living so that her mother, my great, grandmother would be in charge of the birth. My great grandmother believed in sterile technique and used it in the delivery of her grandchildren.
I was trained in and used sterile technique in animal and plant cell culture. Dr. William Rodney Sharp taught me the technique when I was 22 years old at The Ohio State University.
My great grandmother would always have candy in her deep pockets for my father and told him that her grandmother had told her our family left Spain in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition.
I asked my father if he knew what happened to my grandfather?
My father told me that my grandfather, his father, died in the Warsaw Ghetto shortly before the uprising.
My father also mentioned that my grandfather was orphaned at the age of 12 years, invented the commercial dishwasher, made the stained glass windows in the churches and temples throughout Europe and created Coats of Arms. He was a great inventor and metalurgist and taught this skill to all of his children. The ability to work with metals and metalworking machinery was the skill that ultimately increased chances for survival during the Holocaust.
I asked my father what happened to his sisters?
He told me that two sisters survived and that his beloved younger sister perished with her young husband and several children. I saw the tears in his eyes and remained silent.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The conversations with my father occurred before the Holocaust was discussed in public and before it appeared in textbooks.

I was born in southern Germany in what is now considered the northern most portion of the Black Forest. My introduction to botany and to ornithology was from my family but I had no idea as a young child that this information was related to survival.

I remember the displaced persons' camp (DP camp) in Northern Germany Vegesack, a city in the suburb of Bremen, that we lived in while waiting to immigrate to the United States. We were lucky to have a needed sponsor in the United States and were counted in a quota that was in effect for displaced persons wishing to come to the United States of America. I remember my mother mentioning the UNRRA. My father was uncomfortable in Camp Vegesack and anxious for our name to appear on a list that he checked each day. I don't know how long he could have waited to leave the camp but having two small children motivated him to wait for our turn as we had a sponsor and were part of a quota signed by the President of the United States.

One day my father told my mother that our name was finally on the list to leave the DP camp and proceed eventually to the USS General William C. Langfitt troop carrier. The ship had belonged to the Navy, then the army, and returned to the navy in the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS). I was 3 1/2 years old and my younger sister was 2 years old. I remember details as if it were yesterday. The men were separated from the women and children on the three week stormy voyage. The men painted the ship on the passage from Germany to the U.S.A. We had safety drills where I put on a life saving jacket in case we had to go swimming in the ocean. I once saw a huge whale and insist to this day that I almost fell in the ocean but my parents always insisted this was not possible.

My father's oldest brother, the one that saved the children aged 10-15 years in the Lodz Ghetto from extermination, and my cousin's husband met us in New York City.

General William C. Langfitt troop carrier
USS General W. C. Langfitt (AP-151), General G. O. Squier-class transport ship for the U.S. Navy in World War II.
photo contributed to the U.S. navsource.org web site by Gerhard Mueller-Debus

My parents arrived in the United States with my younger sister, two years old and me. I remember the camp, much of the trip and especially how excited my parents were on seeing the Statue of Liberty.

On a foggy morning of September 4, 1951, my father held me up high so that I could see her, the Statue of Liberty!

After departing the ship, I stood on the dock looking up at a very black ship, the part that was under the water, smelling coffee and spicy donuts. The Salvation Army offered us spicy donuts and coffee but we declined as we were still a bit sea sick.

The stressful voyage was not yet to end. Neither my younger sister or I could be convinced to eat properly on the voyage. The ship's dining staff tried to help to distract me and showed me the coast of Ireland via a portal window but I could not eat. I was vomiting along with my mother and many others on the ship. Although I passed the entrance exams, my sister almost did not but in the last moment, she cleared the examinations and we did not have to return to Germany. My mother told me that her heart was racing and it was the most traumatic part of the journey for her. We had to take what seemed to me to be an endless number of x-rays, shots and physical examinations.

One summer evening in his basement shortly before he died, my father gave me a painting of the city I was born in, Karlsruhe, Germany.

I asked him why he was giving me his beloved picture?

He responded that it was because I would always remember him giving me the picture of the city of my birth, Karlsruhe, Germany. He was correct. The picture of the pre-war city hangs in my dining room and often brings tears to my eyes.
When I saw the city as a child it was black and damaged. On visiting in 1972, the palace was no longer black but repaired and painted light yellow.

When I asked my father to tell us a story . . .
When we were ill and had to stay in bed, we waited impatiently until our father would come home from work as we knew he would tell us wonderful stories if we asked him. He would test our math ability with what he called "smartness" questions and loved to tell jokes. Having experienced the Holocaust it is a miracle that my father retained his sense of humor and love of telling jokes. From the age of 18 months, my youngest sister would sit on his lap and identify characters in the comic strips to our father, repeating what he had taught her. It is not a surprise to me that my youngest sister, Maria, is a creative writer, patient teacher, Professor of English and accomplished journalist.

My father died in 1974, and left a yard full of tomato plants and the two greenhouses that brought tears to my eyes. My father had been trained as were all his siblings, by his father, in metalurgy. My father invented machines to simplify tasks such as building his own paint mixer. Neighbors would marvel and come over to watch as he painted a 4 story house without using a ladder. He had invented a series of pullies that painted every inch of each shingle of the house. He taught my middle sister and I to paint each brick and the mortar around it.

Our father loved animals. We were a home for stray cats, kittens, turtles, and adopted several dogs. He took me to greenhouses, aquariums and felt at peace in or near bodies of water.

I continue to search for my older sister. Per Bad Arolsen, and the Museum at Stutthof, my sister was last documented on arrival from a transport from Auschwitz to Stutthof on September 3, 1944. She was nine years old at that time.

My older sister is not listed as being transported back to Auschwitz once again with her three male cousins of the same age, although my uncle believed she was on that transport to her death.

A memoir published in 2007, citing much about the Lodz Ghetto without references, states that my baby cousin (Isak) was separated from his siblings at Auschwitz and taken from his mother's arms to the Auschwitz nursery. Per the official documented records I received to date, this is not accurate. All three cousins were in Auschwitz for a few days, sent to Concentration Camp Stutthof (arrived at Stutthof on September 3, 1944) and then sent back again on another transport to Auschwitz on September 10, 1944.

No one can prove that my sister was killed or shot at Stutthof as no one witnessed this and it is not documented in any records I have found to date. We do not know if my sister was on the transport back to Auschwitz with her three male first cousins. Her mother is not listed as returning back to Auschwitz from Stutthof. The fathers including my father and his two brothers, my father's sister and an older daughter, one brother's wife and three older cousins, the remainder of what once was a huge family, were transferred from Stutthof to the Flossenberg Labor Camp. Final destination was a former cigarette factory scheduled to make munitions in Dresden with the newly arrived converted metal machinery originally belonging to my grandfather for making stained glass windows and Coats of Arms in Lodz.

My uncle, the one that saved the children aged 10-15 years old in the Lodz Ghetto, thought that my older sister may have been transported from Stutthof, back to Auschwitz, with her three male first cousins.

My father believed his wife was gone but felt no closure concerning his first born daughter.

Although my father had three more daughters, he never forgot his blond and blue-eyed angelic child.

In memory of my father, for my mother who is 90 years young, and the children in our family, I continue the search for truth and my father's first born daughter, my older sister, who my mother considers one of her own.
There is no one to answer all of my questions or wipe my tears.

I dedicate these conversations with my father to my mother of 90 years, a Jew by choice that experienced my father's pain, and remains a witness to what my father and his family endured. My mother was close to and had many personal conversations with numerous survivors including my father, my uncle, my aunt and two first cousins that were in their midteens during the Shoah (Holocaust).

I want to acknowledge the detailed work of my nephew, Andrew, whose family tree inspired me to gather documentation from family members and official sources for a future book. I grew up with survivor families and friends and have a collection of official documents. Andrew's excellent research, use of current databases and thoughtful insights, taught me much I did not know. Andrew's work answered questions regarding the fate of members of our family and inspired me to document historical conversations with my father. Andrew gave me the courage to continue to document conversations with my mother, Andrew's maternal grandmother. Andrew started what my father, Andrew's grandfather, wanted to accomplish yet my father died many years before Andrew was born to my youngest sister. I feel the pride my father would have for Andrew's continued accomplishments.

My father wanted to write a book detailing the story of his experiences and the 500 laborers that journeyed from the close of the Lodz Ghetto, to Concentration Camp Auschwitz in cattle cars, continued after several days in Auschwitz to Concentraion Camp Sutthof. Their journey continued to Flossenberg and the Slave Labor Factory in Dresden from which they had to proceed on the Death March, eventually arrived at Theresienstadt from where they were released. After release by the Russians, my father traveled to a hospital in Vienna, Austria and then west to the family's designated meeting place, Karlsruhe, Germany.

My mother's memoirs are documented and will be included in the true story about our family.

A recent memoir was written and published in 2007 by a resident in London that includes much about my family that I am sorry to say is in error. Our family was not contacted and the memoir leaves us with more questions than answers. It has caused much pain for our extended family and especially our mother.

In the Spring of 2007, my youngest sister and I visited the author in London, but unfortunately, the information included in the memoir is not documented. As my father said "there is always a witness" and I add that such a witness, may in fact be in error and cause much pain to the family of the survivor.

The London author and his family were shocked that we are members of the second generation and that our father and uncle survived. The author did not know that one of my father's sisters and her daughter were also part of the group of 500, survived the Holocaust and imigrated to Israel.

I had many conversations with my father and will include all original, official documents obtained from third parties to validate what my father, uncle and first cousin, all Holocaust survivors told me in our conversations through the years.

I challenge all that read undocumented memoirs to continue to search for the truth and seek references and documentaton from multiple sources. I am willing to share my challenging search for the truth with anyone needing help. I have documents from Stutthof, Bad Arolsen, Germany, Poland, Israel and am in communication with the Amercian Red Cross to seek information from the Polish Red Cross.

As an information professional, researcher, scientist and member of the second generation, I have been blessed with the skills to continue the search dedicated to finding the truth. Many in my community have encouraged me to continue Rosa's journey in the memory of those that perished and for the benefit of future generations. Some say the second generation may have scars, we attempt to use those scars for the betterment of humanity.

With much love and respect to my mother, a true witness.
Your daughter, Rosa

Blessings and many thanks to Rabbi Arturo L. Kalfus for encouraging me in this project.

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