The story of my life: a survivor's story
by trudy album, as told to judy berkun
My Childhood Years
I was born on August 18, 1929 in Samorin, a small town in Slovakia. In those years in that part of Europe the borders changed a lot, so when I went to school our town was actually part of Hungary. After the war, it became Slovakia. There were about 1,100 people all living in this small town – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and gypsies.
I was given the name Gertrude, but I was always called Trudy. I had two younger sisters, Hedi and Ilse. My parents were Irene and Gershon Engel. My father jointly owned a store with his brother, and they sold a variety of clothing, from shoes and boots for the family to farmer's outer garments, caps and other clothing. My father's store was in the front.
We lived in a mutli-dwelling house, which was quite modern and up-to-date, with running water in the kitchen and toilets. The house was built around a sort of indoor courtyard, although it didn't have a real garden. My aunt, uncle, and cousin lived in one apartment and we lived in the other. And my grandmother and an aunt lived in a third apartment.
I was raised in the Modern Orthodox Jewish tradition. My father went to shul twice a day and my sisters and I went to Sunday School where we learned Hebrew. We observed the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays and we all played in the temple yard.
I had a very happy childhood. I never lacked for anything and life was good in this small town. When I was very young, all of the children went to a sort of pre-kindergarten in a public school behind the church. A year later, I began attending public school in a one-room classroom located behind the synagogue. My teacher was Mr. Lampert. The Christian children went to school near their church, and I don't know where the gypsies went. As a child I thought there were two kinds of gypsies – musicians and nomads. I also took piano lessons and learned gymnastics.
When we started junior high school, all the groups were together, and I remember that spinster lady taught all the girls homemaking courses such as sewing, knitting and crochet. We attended school six days a week, but the Jewish children were excused from writing on Saturday. Once a week we would get religious instruction for an hour from Rabbi Singer, and the other children were taught by their priest or minister.
A close family
We had a large, close family. My father's parents, Adolph and Tzilie Engel, came from Duna Szerdelej, although I don't remember his father, who died when I was about a year or so. My father had four brothers – Morris, Joseph, Kalman (who became his business partner), and Nathan. A fifth brother Albert died at a young age. He also had two sisters, Rosa and Fani.
My mother's parents were named Julius and Teresa Weiss Muller. My grandfather Julius was a wheat trader. I scarcely knew him because when I was about six or seven, he died of a fatal heart attack while he was speaking on the phone. My grandmother Teresa originally from Vienna, but later lived in a large city called Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. This city was about a one-hour bus ride away from us, and the border was about midway between them.
My mother had four brothers – Robert, Karl, Frank, and Arpad – Arpad had been shell-shocked, they said, and was in a mental hospital, where I would go sometimes with my grandma to visit him. My mother also had a sister Elizabeth, whose nickname was Bozsi. One reason the families were so close: Bozsi married my father's brother Joseph!
My mother spoke predominantly German, which was the language used in her hometown. However, when she married my father, everyone spoked Hungarian, and so she did too. When I was born, since my mother spoke both Hungarian and German, I was bilingual in the two languages virtually from birth.
I spent some summers visiting my uncle Nathan and his wife Lili and their two children, Adam and Eve. Our great-aunt lived in Duna Szerdelej, and she lived to be over 100 years old. Once a year in the winter we all went to Duna where my grandfather and Albert were buried and commemorated their yahrzeit. My uncle would pick us up with a horse and sled to take us to the cemetery. I loved this day, because afterward I got to visit my aunt who had a wholesale candy store, where all the children could go and each would get to fill up a bag with candy.
My grandmother lived in Bratislava and I visited her frequently. I could communicate with her easily because I spoke German like her. She was a pretty and stylish woman, and I loved walking in the street with her because I felt everyone knew and admired her. I remember that she had a beautiful singing voice, and also made the best chocolate cake – I was a very chubby child and loved cake!
I learned a great deal from my mother throughout my childhood. She was an avid reader and very knowledgeable. She also gave us a good example of being charitable – every Friday, she would make up packages for me and my sister to take to needy families. She even taught us to leave the package quietly on the table so as not to embarrass the poor people.
My mother was also active in Sisterhood, and both my parents were involved in our shul's Chevra Kadisha. I remember as a child, when they came home from burying a congregant, I was afraid to touch their hands. In fact, one of my greatest fears when I was a young child was that the cemetery gates would close and I would be left behind.
Growing up I never experienced any anti-Semitism, I had Jewish friends and friends of every faith. We played together, we went to school together, and we were friends. We celebrated and respected each other's holidays.
The germans changed our lives
Life was really good until in 1939 we heard rumors that the Germans were taking Jewish people into concentration camps from Poland to Czechoslovakia. My parents didn't take this too seriously – they thought that this would have to stop because one human being could not possibly allow this to happen to another. It seemed especially hard to believe in my home town because we were all such close friends. My father's best friend was the chief of police, who happened to be Catholic. A Catholic priest played tennis with the Jewish teacher. This is just a picture of how well things were going.
Around 1942 we knew that Germans had already annexed Czechoslovakia, but since at that time we were part of Hungary, we thought it wouldn't affect us. We heard from my grandmother from Bratislava that they were deporting Jews to the concentration camps. But then we got a letter, I remember, a post card from my grandmother, saying, "Do not worry about me, I am well, and when the war is over we will see each other." You can imagine how happy we were with that post card.
Sadly, that wasn't true – what really happened was that by the time we received that post card, my grandmother and thousands of people from her were taken to Terezin or Auschwitz and killed in a gas chamber. But the Germans wanted to cover their tracks and randomly asked people like my grandmother to send cards to their next of kin. My mother never lived to find out what happened to her mother, but I did.
In spring of 1944, the Germans occupied all of Slovakia, including my city. Their first order on taking over the town was that we had to wear a Jewish star on our clothing. You were forbidden to leave the house unless you wore the Jewish star. This seemed kind of ironic to me, because in my home town we all knew who each other were, we knew our names and our families. But my parents had always raised me to be very proud of who I was and to respect everybody else – this is something I told my children when they were growing up. So, I wore that star with pride.
The first day I came out of our house wearing that star on my coat, some of my Christian friends turned away from me. They didn't acknowledge me. On the other hand, some of them were very nice, so I felt if some of them didn't want to bother with me, I wouldn't bother with them.
But at that point, things started happening very quickly. One day we received an order that our radios were going to be confiscated. We didn't believe it, but the Germans did just that – they took our radios and other possessions, including jewelry, bicycles and anything valuable. We had to take these things to the center of town and turn them in. But as long as I was with my family, I was very happy.
we are sent to the ghetto
Then, right after the Easter and Passover holiday in 1944, the Germans issued orders that we would have to leave our home. Just imagine, if one day somebody told you that you had to leave your home and could never come back again. How would that feel?
They also told us that we could take some of our furniture along with us. So we were taken into a nearby small town, where other people had moved out or made room for us. This was the ghetto. And in this ghetto our family was given a three-room apartment – I shared one room with my parents and my sisters, my aunt Aranka, and uncle Kalmen, and their son Andi shared another room, and my grandmother and aunt Fani were in another room.
When we settled in this town, an order came that the young men who were of age to be eligible for the army had to report to a special army. They were drafted, but not to the regular army because the Germans said that the Jews could not be trusted. Instead, they formed a working commando. And that's where my father was drafted. He was only 44 years old and I never saw him again after he left.
Things were happening in the ghetto where we lived. The Jewish parents went about setting up home schooling and tried to have a fairly normal kind of life for the children, even though we couldn't go to regular school. The teenagers like me worked on a nearby farm, and we enjoyed the work because the boys and girls worked together.
My family and I stayed in this ghetto for about a month, but then the orders came for us to be taken to a nearby larger city. All the Jewish people from our town were gathered there. Everybody was told that they could pack a suitcase, an overnight case of things that we would need for a few days. They kept telling us, "We are going to take you to a settlement – you'll be very happy living there. Don't worry, we'll have everything there for you."
We realized that we didn't have a choice, and so we followed orders. But when we got into this big city we no longer had an apartment. The space where we were put was like a lumber yard, or a shelter. We slept on the floor, and ate in a sort of food kitchen. We stayed there for a short while, not much longer than a week, but we soon found out that this was the deportation center. One day, without any warning, the German soldiers marched us to the center of the train station, and shoved us into cattle cars.
It was now the start of the summer, the end of May, or the early part of June. The cars were very crowded, so some people were able to sit in the cars, and some were standing. Of course families wanted to stay together. There was very little air in the cars, and we traveled maybe a day or a day and a half, but it felt like an eternity. When we arrived at our destination and the doors opened, we were happy to have a breath of fresh air. But this is the sight I saw.
auschwitz – the horror begins
There was a big sign that said Auschwitz and there was also a sign in German – Arbeit Macht Frei, which translates into "Labor Makes Freedom." There were some officers there, German soldiers who were dressed impeccably and holding on to guard dogs and whips. They kept yelling that we should get out of the cars and line up.
My mother was holding my two sisters' hands and I, who, at the age of nearly 15 by the this time, was tall, walked next to them. We marched in front of the officers. We later found out that one of them was Doctor Mengele, who during the war did a lot of inhumane experiments on people. With a wand, he motioned people to get onto one of two lines. People who looked stronger were sent to one line, and I was taken with those people. The others were sent to the other line, mostly people who were with children or who looked elderly. My mother was not that old, only 39, very healthy looking, but she and my sisters were taken to the other line.
One other thing I cannot forget is that when we arrived in Auschwitz, we saw that it was surrounded by high barbed wire fences. Behind the barbed wire fence there were barracks and I could see people walking around who looked like skeletons. I later learned that they had been in the camp for a year or less.
Looking around, I could see that there were huge chimneys with smoke and flames coming out of them. There was a tremendous stench and I asked people, "What is that odor?" And they responded, "They are burning your families." I said, "Oh my god!" I couldn't believe it. Unfortunately it was true, because my mother and my sisters and all the people who were not put on the line with me to work were taken into a gas chamber and killed and then burnt in a crematorium. And the trains kept coming, and this went on 24 hours a day.
But at this time I couldn't believe it. I was on the line with some of my friends from my hometown who were my age, about 14 or a year younger or older. Some of their mothers who were in their forties and who did not have young children were also in our group, pulled out to go work.
We were taken into a room, and the first thing they did was cut my hair. I had long hair, two long braids, and they shaved my hair completely with clippers. They didn't just cut it short, but they shaved my hair so I was totally bald. Then we had to get undressed. They put us into a room which was about the size of a living room, about 14x16. There were spigots on the ceiling. Actually, we learned that the gas chambers looked the same so you never knew whether gas or water was going to come out of the spigots. But this time there was water and we were showered.
Then we were just thrown a garment – it didn't matter whether it fit or didn't fit, you took whatever they gave you. If you were lucky, you also got a bowl. That was our only possession. Not a toothbrush, not a towel, not a piece of soap, nothing.
There were piles of shoes in the corner and we were allowed to go and pick out a pair of shoes that were reasonably comfortable, not for our benefit but because they needed us to march to work. Then we had to stand on line and we were tattooed. I had a number – A17291. I remember that number. I no longer have a number on my arm, but that's a story for later.
Now we were taken and marched to our barracks. I was in barrack C2 in Birkenau, the women's section of the camp. The barracks were empty when we arrived, but they had triple-decker bunks. There was no lighting, or sanitary facilities. We did not have mattresses or pillows or blankets, although some had straw or something like that covered with burlap. There were three people to each of these slots, and there were three levels on each bunk.
life in the camp
They woke us up very early in the morning, and gave us some black coffee and a piece of bread. At first, we were wandering around during the day. People were hungry and a lot of people got sick. But I always tried to visualize and say to myself that someplace my parents and my sisters must be living under the same conditions, and I must live! I don't want to be the only one that doesn't survive the war. And even then we were hoping that the war eventually would come to an end.
Actually we didn't realize at the time that the camp was really primarily a killing station. They killed some of the people right away, and then the rest were sorted to go to work. When you stood on line in the morning, if they needed 200 or 300 people, they just counted off 200 people. Of course, you always tried to stay as close to your friends as possible.
I was chosen to go to work in a forced labor camp near Krakow, a big city. The camp was named Plaszow – it doesn't exist anymore but the sign is still there. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire. Every day they marched us down to the town because there were bombings going on and buildings destroyed and we had to form a human chain to clear the debris to make the streets passable for people and automobiles and bicycles.
You can visualize how it was. It was summer and very, very hot. We had no head covering at all, and very little food. A lot of people did die. Every morning before leaving for work we were counted – and the Germans kept very good records. If someone died during the night, they waited until the corpse was taken away. If one of us fainted, the others tried to take that person outside and to make them stand as much as possible so they wouldn't be taken away.
When I was working in Krakow, I developed boils all over my head and body. Luckily I didn't want to check in to the infirmary. One of my friends, a doctor from my hometown, worked in the infirmary and she told me not to come there. She warned that any of the doctors could decide that anyone, whether they had something serious or not, could be shipped back to Auschwitz to a gas chamber. She said, "Don't come in!" I answered, "Well, I have faith in God, and I'm not going to put myself in harm's way." My friend risked her life for me – she smuggled in a clean cloth and at night she would clean my boils. And I survived.
Some of the German guards were kind, and to us it was a sign of kindness if they would let us speak to each other or sing. We never showed them that we were hungry or begged for food. The only way we could fight back was our pride. But some soldiers were so cruel. They knew how hungry we were and when we were working they would sit right near us eating these huge sandwiches. Some of them would bring barrels of water, line us up, and let us dip our bowls into the water. But others would dump the water on the ground, laugh and clap and tell us to get back to work.
Now if a German soldier didn't like the way you looked, he always had a pistol in his boot and if he wanted to shoot you he could – he might have even been given a reward for killing a Jew.
LIBERATION AT LAST
At this time I was working indoors at camp, which was a factory in Augsburg, Bavaria, where I was packing nuts and bolts into crates. Early one spring morning in May, instead of being taken to work, we were marched to the train station and shoved into cattle cars. We traveled for awhile, and then the doors opened. At the far end of a field we saw several trucks with Red Cross markings on them. The Germans began to make announcements with their foghorns, "Get out, we have hot food and warm clothing for you." Everyone got out, and all the while music began to play.
But when the field was filled with people, suddenly the soldiers began firing machine guns – the trucks had been camouflage for what they intended to do. The Germans wanted to kill every single Jew.
Then, another German soldier began shouting to those of us who had survived to get back into the cars. Many people had been killed, but the rest of us climbed back into the same cars again, helping those who had been injured as best we could to get into the cars. We kept on traveling.
At one point we stopped and heard a lot of commotion. There was shooting and airplanes and people were saying that the war was probably over, but we didn't know for sure. We finally ended up in this little town, and the doors to the cars were opened. People came up to us, speaking a language we didn't understand and wearing uniforms that were very strange to us. As you can imagine, it took them a long time to convince us that the war was over and that we were liberated. This was the American army.
Now the real Red Cross came, along with representatives of HIAS who gave us some passes to help us move out of the camp. We were a group of about 15 girls who had stayed together all the time we were there. I didn't care what was happening – I just wanted to get back to my home in Samorin. We did this by hitchhiking and walking. But sadly when we got back to the town, we quickly realized that everyone was gone: of the 260 Jews in the town, only 60 of us survived. And there we were, without family and alone.
We went to our old apartment and found that ii was empty – no one was living there any longer. After looking around the deserted apartment, I found a few things that had been left there – my piano and a few treasures that I actually brought back with me to America: my mother's hostess gown, a handkerchief, a hairpin, and my mother's ashtray, a poignant reminder of her and her heavy smoking.
At that time, I was told that the day we had arrived in Auschwitz my mother and my sisters had bene killed. I didn't know what happened to my father, so every day I would go to the station and call out his name to the people who were hanging out the windows of the trains, asking if anyone knew him. Finally, one person came to me and said he had known my father, and he remembered that about two days before the war was over, around the time of Passover, he had been on a march and was shot dead.
I decided to go back to town where my grandmother lived to see if anyone was alive. I was walking down the street when I met my uncle Frank, my mother's brother who had survived, He told me that my mother's sister, Aunt Bozsi, my father's brother and their two children had emigrated to America and were living in New York. Fortunately, they were able to obtain the necessary papers for me and I came to America in May of 1946.
Coming to America
I was about 17 years old when I arrived in New York, and I stayed with my aunt Bozsi, her husband Joe, and my cousins, Alfred and Eric. But I remember her first words to me, "Oh, you're so fat!" I had adored my aunt when I was a child, but as the years went by we didn't get along too well and our relationship deteriorated.
When I arrived in America, I didn't speak the language and I didn't have much education. So I worked in a factory, where language wasn't needed. I went to school at night and I tried to make a life for myself. It wasn't easy. My first job was working in the Breyers Ice Cream factory packing ice cream, and then I moved to the Crawford clothing factory where I sewed garments on a sewing machine. I also did some hand sewing of leather gloves for a German couple, which was easier because I could communicate with them as I spoke their language. At the same time I continued in night school to learn English.
The first summer I was in America, my cousins were working in a summer camp and they were nice enough to create a job for me, cleaning and straightening out various apartments at the camp. I also hung out with the other counselors, and I picked up a lot of English there – everyone corrected my grammar. In the fall I worked in a bakery, but continue to go to night school. After while I moved out of my aunt's house to a residence on 63rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, the Clara D. Residence Hall for Girls. This was a place where out-of-town girls could stay in those days, and it was like living in a dormitory.
The rent at the Hall was $8 a week including breakfast, and I shared a room with a girl from Syracuse. The setup of the Hall was that the first floor included a large communal kitchen and a refrigerator, where everyone had her own basket to keep her food. There was a social hall on the second floor and no visitors were allowed to the floors above that.
I had a great time int he city. I went to Central Park and rode a bike. My roommate and I went to the 92nd Street Y for dances. The boys there came from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. We also had socials at the Hall, but never above the second floor. I also started nursing school at the Mount Sinai Hospital. I paid little tuition, but I also had very little savings and no family backing, although I did earn some money by babysitting.
I Meet my husband
One day there was a Hungarian Family Ball at the Hotel Diplomat in Manhattan, and I went there with my aunt and uncle. I was supposed to work, but my aunt called up and told them I wasn't well. And it was a good thing, because that was where I met my future husband, Louis Album!
You could say it was bashert. His cousin Sol Feder had recently arrived in the United States from Poland. He was walking around Manhattan when he saw the sign advertising the Ball. He told Louis who thought, maybe Sol will meet another "greener" here.
At the dance, Louis asked me to dance. I was impressed – he was very handsome, tall, and slim. I immediately regretted that I was overweight. Before this, my aunt would send me to diet doctors, but that didn't help, because as soon as I had a few pennies I would buy candy. I immediately vowed that if Lou asked me for a date, I would go on a diet. And I did, my own diet – I ate only American cheese, celery, carrots, and hamburgers without buns. Soon I began to lose weight. And then I began to go out seriously with Lou.
At this time, I want to mention Asher Ferko Goldstein, the man I thought I would marry before I met Lou. It's ironic that I was the only one of my hometown friends to go to America. The rest all went to Palestine on the Exodus. I continued to correspond with my friends, many of whom married each other there and all became like one family. And after being in the United States for some time, I wasn't happy here. I missed my friends and wasn't getting along with my aunt. In fact, I actually had a plane ticket to go to Palestine.
But, although I had thought I would marry Asher, I fell in love with Lou and soon felt it was destined that we would be married. In many ways we were very different. He had been born in the United States after his parents emigrated here years earlier. When I met him, he had just graduated with a degree in accounting from City College of New York, which he attended on the GI Bill, having served in the army. When we started going together, I left nursing school because I felt that he might find another girl if I wasn't available. I never regretted this choice, but I did stay in my job at the hospital as a radiology technician.
In 1949, while I was working at Mount Sinai hospital, there was a team of plastic surgeons there who were doing reconstructive work on victims of the Hiroshima bombing. One of the surgeons noticed the numbers on my arm and said to me, "If you like, I can take that off your arm for you." At that moment I felt, why not! I have a name, I have an identity, I am a person, and I don't have to go through life being branded like an animal. So I asked him to do it. But although the number is no longer on my arm, it is still engraved on my heart.
As things went on, Lou and I became engaged in the summer of 1949. I convinced a friend to share a rented apartment with me in Far Rockaway that summer, since that also happened to be where Lou and his brother took a room. For the sake of being proper, we would never rent a room even on the same block.
We are married
Then on November 5, 1950, we were married. We had very little money at the time, and I remember how much our wedding cost: $1,000. My aunt and Lou's parents, Yetta and Hyam Album, each contributed $500, and the cost per guest was $10. Each guest gave us a gift of $10, and that was how we started married life.
After we were married, my in-laws were very supportive and loving. Although they did not replace my family who had been lost in the Holocaust, they became my new family and we were very close, especially later when we had our children.
At that time, we were sharing a car, a Hudson, with Lou's brother Willie. The arrangement was that Willie had the car on the weekends and we had it during the week. After the wedding, for our honeymoon, we drove down to Atlantic City, which was where Lou had been stationed when he was in the Coast Guard during the war. Atlantic City was pretty much undeveloped, nothing like what it is now. On the way down, we stopped and a few bed-and-breakfast places, and on the way back we went through Lakewood, New Jersey, where we stopped at a chicken farm and as a gift bought a dozen eggs for everyone in the family. We had to return by November 11th for the birthday party of Lou's nephew's one-year-old son.
So life continued. I was working at Mount Sinai Hospital as a radiology technician and Lou was working for an accountant. Together our two salaries amounted to $60 a week. Since our monthly rent was $50, that left little money for anything else. So we lived without a checking account – checks would have cost ten cents apiece. Instead, each week we would divide our money up into little envelopes, and every week we would also put a little into a bank account.
After awhile we moved into a larger apartment on Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica, near a train station. The apartment was in back behind a photo studio, and Lou hung out a sign advertising that he could prepare taxes for people who needed it. I would type the forms, although I wasn't the best typist! Soon I changed jobs and went to work at Beth Israel Hospital on 14th Street in Manhattan.
Because we had so little money, we couldn't really afford a lot furniture. So I got some little cartons from the A&P and covered them with cloth. For our one-month anniversary, Lou bought me a ceramic planter, a dog pulling a cart, complete with a philodendron plant.
We start a family
We both agreed that we wanted a family, and when I became pregnant we were very happy. We were praying for a girl – we didn't have the money for a bris or a pidyon-ha-ben – and when our daughter Irene was born on August 4, 1952 we were ecstatic. She was a very good baby, and I stayed home to care for her. Lou, to earn some additional money, had acquired some clients and was doing the books for a drug store.
Three years later I became pregnant again. By this time we had bought a small car, a Henry J, and whenever we could we'd put Irene in the back seat and go out for a drive. Lou loved playing handball and going to the beach at Far Rockaway. We didn't have much money, but we loved each other and were very happy. Around this time, Lou changed jobs and went to work for the Internal Revenue Service, a supervising group that handled large insurance companies. We moved to a new apartment, the Briarwood in Jamaica. On April 4, 1955, our son Glenn was born.
The rent in our new apartment was higher, and to increase our income Lou took a second job proctoring tests for the Practicing Law Institute, working part-time, evenings, and weekends. He also worked at the Brooklyn Community College, teaching business and business math in the evenings.
During the summer, we took a cottage at a bungalow cottage near Laurels Country Club in Sackett Lake, and we enjoyed the country with Irene and Glenn. The next year, we went to a different bungalow colony in Monticello, New York. Here we befriended a family with three children, and that gave us the incentive to have a third child and a larger family. And so our son Keith was born on October 17, 1957.
In 1960 we decided it was time to move from the apartment to our own house. Lou's sister was selling her house on Coolidge Avenue in Queens and building a new house, so we bought the old house and moved in. Since construction on his sister's house was still not complete, we all lived in the Queens house together with their two children, Norman and Elaine, for nearly a year. This was the happiest time for our children – they loved living with their cousins.
By this time Irene was starting kindergarten and we joined the synagogue in Jamaica – we both felt it was very important to belong to the Jewish community. Although the neighborhood in Jamaica was beginning to change, all the children started school and Hebrew school, and also were involved in Little League and other similar activities.
In the summers, we continued to go to the country, to a bungalow colony in White Lake called Kauneonga Park. Here I started playing tennis, and Lou and I continued to play at a tennis court in Cunningham Park in Queens.
We move to pomona
As the neighborhood continued to decline, and there was racial unrest, our children were growing up. By 1973 Irene was attending college at Hofstra and Glenn was at SUNY in Rochester, although Keith was still in high school. Because of the changing neighborhood, Lou and I decided we wanted to sell our house and move. We rode up to Pomona and bought a house in the Redwoods there. But since the house still had to be constructed, in the fall of 1973, we (and our dog Lucky), moved in with Lou's sister Diane and her husband Sol Himmelfarb to their house in Roslyn, New York.
Finally, in April 1974, the house was ready and we moved to Pomona. This was a different routine for us. Lou was commuting to the city. I had learned to drive when Irene was a year old, and I would drive him to the train station in Suffern. From there he would take the train to Hoboken and switch to the shuttle to Manhattan. He worked on Chambers Street, and was still teaching at night, so he was doing a lot of commuting!
We were still going to the bungalow colony during the summers, but because of the dog we switched to a different place in Swan Lake, called Schreiberville Colony. Lou had three sisters: Lena, who was 16 years older than him, Barbara, and Diane. We were especially close to Lena, who had a grocery store which the children were always happy to visit.
We quickly settled into our new home in Pomona and got involved in many activities. We joined the Pomona Jewish Center, and I began taking classes at Rockland Community College. I was active in the temple, worked for Meals On Wheels, joined the National Council of Jewish Women. I took yoga classes at the local high school and Lou and I continued to play tennis and also learned to play bride. I also began during real estate, working for Weichert Realty.
For our 18th anniversary, Lou and I traveled to Israel. I had family in Israel, my mother's three brothers who had emigrated there. We had always wanted to take this trip together, even talked about going as volunteers, but this was not to be.
Life without my husband
Sadly in 1990, this happy life came to an end. Lou was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and within ten weeks he passed away. The temple was very supportive through this devastating time. I decided to stay in the house. By this time, the children were all married and we had one grandchild, Erica Leigh, the daughter of our daughter Irene and her husband Howard Silbert. This child made Lou very happy, especially in his last day.s
When Lou was diagnosed, Glenn who had married a lovely girl Lia, decided to have a child, which they hoped would make Lou happy. Unfortunately Lou died before the child, a daughter Hannah Rachel, was born.
Over the years, as our children had children, our family grew. After Hannah, Irene had a son named Logan, a brother for their daughter Erica. Keith had two children, Sam Louis and Rae Sarah, and Glenn had two more children, Zoe and Louis Max. Since all the children were pretty close in age, they stayed friendly with one another.
my work as a survivor
In 1992, I went to Israel as a volunteer for a three-week program. I was stationed at an army base called Julia, near Ashkelon, and there I did painting and worked on the carburetors and truck parts. Here I learned something interesting about the Israelis: they didn't have much in those years, so if a part didn't fit, they took a hammer and made it fit!
I enjoyed it so much I continued this for four years, until 1995. This was the beginning of my deeper involvement as a survivor of the Holocaust. A few years later, in 2006, I heard a friend, Anita Thalmus, at the JCC talking about a program her husband David was involved in called Volunteers for Israel. My ears perked up, so I went and talked to him about it. He invited me to come along and join the group. So I became part of the Kaufman group and traveled to Israel where I worked on helmets. I worked at the Matzap camp, where we packaged medications that had passed their expiration dates but were still effective, for shipment to third world countries. David and I developed such a close relationship that everyone, including his wife, called him my "Israeli husband."
The next year, in 2007, I returned to Israel and this time was stationed at the Matzrah army base, near Ramlay. Here I worked on advanced communications phones that fit into the pilots' helmets to test whether they were still good. In 2008 I went back to the Matzap camp where we were packing emergency medical kits for the Israeli medics. They were so meticulous – if even a band-aid was left out after we had completed the packing, we had to pull apart every knapsack to find out where the missing item belonged.
the march of the living
My granddaughter Hannah, as a teen, was very active with B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO). In 2009, she was planning to go on the March of the Living, a two-week international experience where teens from around the world would come together annually to bear witness in Poland to commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. It involves marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau and also traveling to Israel to commemorate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, with dancing in the streets of Jerusalem.
Hannah said her group needed a survivor of the concentration camps to go along with the group, so I volunteered to go. This was such an amazing experience that I continued to go on the March for the next seven years.
I am still very involved with BBYO, and did a video describing my experience at Auschwitz for them, which can be seen on Facebook. I also attended their conventions and seminar programs.
Around 1988, I saw an item in the Journal News from a Dr. Siegelbaum announcing the plans to create a Holocaust Center and looking for survivors to participate in the project. Because I recognized the importance of telling my story, I became involved in the Holocaust Center in Spring Valley. With some encouragement for Paul Galan, I became active on their Speakers Bureau. Starting with my first talk at Ramapo High School, this program has enabled me to visit various schools – even including Catholic schools – to tell their children of my experience as a survivor so they can understand through my first-hand testimony what the Nazis did to the Jews in Europe. Paul also created a video of my presentation, which has been widely viewed on YouTube.
My life continued to be very busy, but with no children at home, I felt I no longer needed a big house. In 2004, I decided to sell my house and move to an apartment in Montebello Commons, and lovely and comfortable space. Besides all my other activities, I became a world traveler! After Lou died, I befriended two retired teachers, Helen and Beverly, and we have traveled together all over the world – to Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Panama Canal, India, Egypt, and Spain.
Looking back, I had many years of happiness with Lou. And now I have great happiness with my children, Irene, Glenn and Lia, and Keith, and my grandchildren, Erica, Hannah, Logan, Sam, Zoe, Rae, and Max. In many ways their love will compensate for the painful years in the past.
In my advancing years, aside from my arthritis, I am grateful for my health. In my home-away-from-home, the JCC, I take study classes, aerobics, zumba, mahjong, and bridge. And I'm always finding a familiar person to schmooze with over a cup of coffee.