In commemoration of Yom HaShoah, the Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center hosted a special program for their residents on Monday, May 1, at their facility. Rabbi Zavel Perlman, Rabbi at Margaret Tietz, and Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky, the Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Queens, each spoke at the beginning of the program.
Rabbi Perlman shared a d’var Torah that taught that Hashem didn’t have a nechamah even though B’nei Yisrael left Egypt. Hashem refused to be comforted for their suffering there. This teaches us that we must remember the suffering of others. We have to remember and to be inspired by their ability to continue to build Jewish homes and to build klal Yisrael despite their suffering. Rabbi Perlman shared that when Holocaust survivors in the nursing home start losing their sense of time and place, they become paranoid, and terrible memories of what they experienced resurface. When they see someone like Rabbi Perlman, who they know is Jewish, it calms them.
Rabbi Blesofsky shared that though the Holocaust ended, we are still under siege. He pointed to the recent shooting in San Diego. Jew-hatred never ends. We have to remember.
Maragaret Tietz was originally founded for Holocaust survivors, and it provides a special service for the Orthodox community as it is a nursing home that is under the Vaad Harabonim of Queens with services, shiurim, and Shabbos and holiday programs, and maintains a full-time rabbi on the premises. We are fortunate to have this facility in our community.
Mrs. Bertha Strauss then spoke about her experiences as a hidden child during the Holocaust. She shared her story in a matter-of-fact way, but it is still unfathomable to believe the incredible inhumanity of people towards other people and towards young children. She was born in Karlsruhe, Germany. She, along with her parents and brother, were deported from Germany to France in 1940 along with all the people in her city. Her family was sent to internment camps in southwestern France. The first camp was Gurs and then they were sent to Rivesaltes. She shared that she has little memory of this. The camps were not extermination camps, but the conditions were terrible. People were crowded into a barracks with straw mats on which to sleep. Men and women were separated, and young children lived with their mothers. The weather was very cold, and 20 to 50 people died daily. Her grandfather died this way. Her mother wrote of how they were given a starvation diet of 200 grams of bread and turnips, and that her children were constantly hungry.
Meanwhile, her aunt in the United States was trying to obtain visas for her and her brother. Twice they got very close to obtaining the visas, but were ultimately unsuccessful. She learned about these details from letters from her parents. The letters were full of desperation. They wrote about conditions of sickness, hunger, and death in these internment camps.
She and her brother were taken out of Rivesaltes (according to records she received from archives in France) in October 1941 and cared for by the Jewish organization Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE). This was an organization originally founded in Russia in 1912. She expressed her hakaras ha’tov to this organization and said that she is still involved in supporting it. From October 1941 until 1944, she and her brother were hidden in OSE homes and with farmers. They were moved to seven or eight different homes. “Every time the Nazis came close, we were moved again.” She said, “Our names had been changed – I did not know it then, but later learned it was Breyfis (real name Dreyfuss). At one point we were returned to Rivesaltes to be deported with our mother, but the OSE smuggled us out of the camp – that was in the summer of 1942. I remember being smuggled out of the camp in a truck and my mother saying to me, ‘Always take care of your brother.’ That was the last time I saw my mother. I was six years old; my brother four years old.”
She shared, “The last home we were in, we were hidden by a French family without meal tickets, where we were so badly abused that the OSE took us out and then we were smuggled into Switzerland by the OSE in April 1944 with a group of children.” She remembers it was scary and they had to be very quiet. They were sent to a children’s home in Geneva and then to an aunt in Switzerland. Her father was sent to Auschwitz on September 9, 1942. She described how so many children were gassed on arrival in Auschwitz. Her mother was transported to Auschwitz on September 16, 1942. She noted that 800 children were gassed then. She and her brother eventually came to the United States in 1946, to an aunt who was her mother’s sister.
She concluded by saying that she has a good life in the United States. In the beginning, she had terrible nightmares. “Sometimes I still do.” She shared that her children and grandchildren are all involved in supporting Israel and making sure people don’t forget the Holocaust.
When this writer asked Mrs. Strauss what the main message she wants people to learn from her experience, she said the following: “I want them to know the importance of Eretz Yisrael. Know what happened in the Holocaust and support Israel because had Israel existed at that time, so many deaths would not have happened!”
Mrs. Senta Baum, a survivor, lit a candle at the event.
By Susie Garber