Her nametag summed it up: “Jacqueline Donnerfeld, Holocaust Survivor.”
Her diminutive figure, impeccable dress, and makeup at the Queens Jewish Link’s networking event, held at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills on February 16, belies the fact she lived in four countries to escape antisemitism. The Gestapo shot dead her uncle outside his home in Paris, France, in 1940. Her uncle’s remaining family soon went into hiding in Belgium. They survived.
“Everybody received letters of deportation” in Paris, said Jacqueline. Her parents heard about being taken “into concentration camps, in Auschwitz, and then they were going to be killed.”
Jacqueline’s mother left Paris with Jacqueline and her sister in 1940. Her father left in 1941 through Portugal. They all ended up in the Dominican Republic.
Jacqueline’s mother’s family in Poland “were all killed in the Auschwitz,” said Jacqueline. Jacqueline’s father brought his surviving family members in Romania to the Dominican Republic after World War II.
Rafael Trujillo, president of the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961, wanted to “whiten” his population.
“Trujillo wished to promote greater “Europeanism” and a kind of racial upgrading of his country, as well as to rehabilitate his dismal international reputation,” wrote Elizabeth Rosner in Hadassah Magazine, April 2016.
Trujillo also wanted Jews to work the country’s untamed jungle, which they did by starting Kibbutz-like farms in Sosua, now the center for milk and cheese in the Dominican Republic.
Jacqueline and her family were “not treated very well” because of pervasive antisemitism. They moved to Columbia in 1960, where it was less. She married and worked in a bank, until coming to America in 1985.
Coming to the United States was always the goal for Jacqueline and her family, “but they weren’t letting anybody in at that time.” Coming to America meant, “it was a free country, with no antisemitism.” “There isn’t going to be antisemitic people.”
Jacqueline earned a paralegal degree from LaGuardia Community College and a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from John Jay College. She worked as a court interpreter for a few years. After that, she interviewed crime victims and entering the information into computers for the NYPD as a public administrative aide.
She put her fluency in Spanish and English to use, translating legal documents. Yiddish was her first language.
Jacqueline owns her co-op in Flushing. She chose Flushing because her sister was attending Queens College at the time. Her husband passed away in 2007, as has a brother and a son. She has her sister, two remaining sons, and two grandsons.
Jacqueline explained the Holocaust to her children: “There was a lot of hatred.” “The Jews are people that are being hated.”
Her greatest accomplishment in life is that she “survived antisemitism.” After nearly 40 years living in America, she said, “There is not so much antisemitism like where I was.”
By David Schneier