Forest Hills and Long Beach Hold Joint Remembrance for Yom HaShoah

Working as a slave laborer in Berlin, Ruth Abraham was naturally afraid of the woman following her. Ruth did not know this woman would save her and her family’s lives during the Holocaust.

Ruth Abraham’s daughter, Reha Sokolow, was the featured speaker on April 8 at the Young Israel of Forest Hills’ 58th Annual Holocaust Remembrance.

Reha Sokolow is a teacher and author of “Defying the Tide: An Account of Authentic Compassion During the Holocaust.”

With the passing of Rabbi Dr. Chaim Wakslak of the Young Israel of Long Beach, Forest Hills and Long Beach decided to have the remembrance together, said Steven Schwartz, moderator and an organizer of the event, in a private interview. The Zoom event was attended by more than 100 people.

“My parents never knew whether they would see each other at the end of the day,” said Sokolow. “They saw the trains.” Four grandparents were taken to various concentration camps. None survived.

Forced laborers went home after work in Berlin in 1942. The German housewife following Sokolow’s mother, Ruth, did not understand how Ruth looked Aryan, with blonde hair and blue eyes, but wore a yellow Jewish star.

Ruth ran away, saying, “Please don’t talk to me.” Ruth was afraid the woman would report her to the German police. Germans and Jews weren’t even allowed to talk to one another, according to the Nuremburg Laws.

 “I want to help you. Come with me,” said Maria, the woman following Ruth.

Ruth was pregnant with Reha at the time. Ruth “embraced spiritual resistance, the same way our ancestors in Egypt did during the period of Moshe Rabbeinu,” said Reha. Pharaoh decreed death to all first-born Jewish boys, but Jewish women continued to procreate.

Maria took Ruth to a covenant. A nun would not endanger the lives of the nuns there by taking in the pregnant Ruth.

A few days later, Maria went to where Ruth worked. Taken to the manager’s office, Maria said, “I cannot have Christmas knowing that you have nothing to eat.” Maria gave Ruth a basket of food. They also exchanged each other’s addresses.

Maria showed up with a bouquet of flowers a few days later at Ruth’s work. “What can I do to help you? What is it that you need?” asked Maria. “At that point, my parents understood that this was a type of miracle from Hashem,” said Reha.

Reha’s parents had planned beforehand to go into hiding. What they needed was identification papers without a “J” on it. Maria told the post office in Berlin how her identification papers were destroyed in an Allied bombing. Ruth got a new German ID saying her name was Maria, “A lifesaving document,” said her daughter Reha. Maria’s husband, William, gave his driver’s license to Ruth’s husband, Walter.

Walter got a birth certificate from the German police in January 1943 after Reha was born. Reha’s parents paid an egg farmer to take them in. They went by train to a “peasant farmhouse” four hours away from Berlin. They spent several months there.

 Nazis showed up at the farm house one day, asking for identification papers. Ruth and Walter didn’t even know the birthdates on the fake documents with Maria and Wilhelm’s names. The Nazis told the couple “to stay put” while they looked into it.

Ruth and Walter had to get to Berlin to warn Maria and Wilhelm. The two met at the local train station. Only one train went every day to Berlin from that small town. The train was completely full. The only room was in the cattle car, which they took.

Getting to Berlin, Maria said, “We were already interrogated by the Gestapo. We’re okay.” Maria got her husband Wilhelm drunk “so he really wouldn’t say anything of importance.”

Reha stayed with Maria and Wilhelm for a while. Reha’s parents slept in parks and in telephone booths while Berlin was bombed by the Allies. “My parents had to separate to find different hiding places.”

“My mother found a hiding place with an avid Nazi” who loved reading Der Sturmer, a virulently anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper. Walter stayed with an old German couple whom he had known before, “and they had offered him refuge.”

Ruth, Walter, and Reha were liberated in Berlin in 1945 by the Soviet Union. Of the 7,000 Jews hiding in Berlin during World War II, just 1,700 survived. Maria is among the 27,712 recognized by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, as “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Rabbi Ashie Schreier of the Young Israel of Forest Hills spoke about honoring those who have passed away. On Yom Kippur, we read about the period after Aharon’s two sons died.

“When people pass away, it’s a kaparah (atonement) for the entire world. So, too, is Yom Kippur an atonement,” said Rabbi Schreier, quoting Chazal.

“It’s not the death itself that is an atonement,” said Rabbi Schreier. “Rather, it’s the reaction that comes from it.” “It’s when we bring kavod (respect) and honor to those who’ve sacrificed.”

“We make sure to remember those who came before us and that from which we come. And remember the greatness from which we are a part of. That’s what brings upon us the kaparah.

Kinos (Lamentations) were read by Rabbi Judah Kerbel of the Queens Jewish Center and Rabbi Elly Krimsky of the Lido Beach Synagogue.

Rabbi David Algaze of Havurat Yisrael read T’hilim (Psalms) 130 and Rabbi Yaniv Meirov of Chazaq read T’hilim 22.

“Ani Maamin” (I believe the Mashiach will come) was sung by Steven Bernstein, a member of the Young Israel of Long Beach.

Seymour Kaplan of Forest Hills closed the night with Kaddish.

 By David Schneier