By Miriam Edelstein
On Thursday, May 28, 2020, President Trump signed the Never Again Education Act which recently passed the U.S. Senate and House without much wrangling. The purpose of this legislation is to teach more and properly about the Holocaust. There are children who don’t even know what it is. Children are not born with hate in their hearts, they have to be taught. Adults are forgetting. Survivors are dying. $2 million would be allocated annually for this year and the next four years.
Hadassah women have been pushing for this legislation for several years. Finally, it is coming to fruition. Advocacy is among the many wonderful things Hadassah does besides fundraising for the two hospitals in Israel, youth villages, and on and on. Advocating for Hadassah has given me a sense of purpose, a sense of mission and the satisfaction of a job well done.
When we speak of survivors, it does not necessarily have to be a person who survived a concentration camp. Anyone, especially Jews, who survived by any means, while under occupation, are survivors. Possible examples are hidden children who were hidden by a family or church, underground fighters of every variety, people who were deported by the Russians to the Soviet Union, children who were sent to England and never saw their birth parents again. They are all survivors. And they are all getting old. Following are some examples of survivor stories:
Charles Srebnik was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1934. Both his parents were from Shedlitz, Poland, but moved to Belgium and married there. Charles’ father had his own store which made knit sweaters and scarves and was a leading activist for social change. In 1940, the family planned to move to Switzerland, but his mother got very sick. By the time she recovered, the border to Switzerland was closed. Under the occupation, at first, they had to report once a week; then it was twice a week. Things got tough. They rented a bungalow in Gerval, a few miles from Brussels. One day his father saved a drowning man. That man turned out to be the local priest.
Charles’ father disappeared via a German interrogation in 1940 and was never heard from again. The priest, however, showed up at the house and offered to shelter Charles and his mother. Charles had to be baptized and received a new name. Both he and his mother stayed at the same orphanage. His mother was the seamstress at the orphanage, making cloth shoes for the children. Father Andre changed his orphanage, while his mother remained at the old one. The new orphanage happened to be in the same building as the local underground. December 4, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, Charles delivered messages to the soldiers. Soon after, they were freed and left for the US in 1946.
His American achievements were even more impressive. Charles came to the US with a recommendation from two generals. He and his mom settled in New York. He worked in the city as a deliverer of indoor plants, a film editor for Universal Films, an usher—whatever work he could get. He was offered a track scholarship to Michigan State University. He did not accept it, because he did not want to leave his mother alone in Manhattan. Two weeks before graduation, his mother’s friend found him a job on Wall Street, which started his career.
He also served 2 terms (6 years) in the National Guard as a dental assistant and spot shooter and was supposed to be sent to Korea one week before that war ended.
He met his wife Jo Ann in 1963 and 6 months later they were married. At that time, he became the President of the Maine State Potato Company and they moved to Presque Isle, Maine. There, he also built one of the first truck stops, Delta Truck Brokers. They left after 4 years and after the birth of their first 3 children ( Aimee, Lee, and Allison). The next 2 children were born in Nyack. That’s 5 children in 6 years!
Charles continued his work as an investment banker on Wall Street until he met some scientists, raised $3.5 million dollars and started General Engineering, Inc. as the Chairman of the Board. This company was the first in the world to start doing embryo transfers with cows, sending embryos all over the US and the world. After a devastating heart attack in 1984, Charles came home and worked for himself in investment banking. Lately, Charles has been helping survivors of the Holocaust to get pensions. All this without a college degree!
Mina Katz’s story is short, because Mina is 96, hard of hearing and gets short of breath when speaking. She needs oxygen to breathe. She was born in Rowno, Poland and had a large family: father who was a rabbi ( Rabbi Rabin), one mother who gave birth to her and then another mother after the first one died. There were many relatives from both mothers and the father. Almost every single one was killed, mostly in concentration camps.
Mina escaped into the woods and fought with the partisans throughout the war. She used a rifle, grenades, just like the men. They ate and slept in the woods. She was the only survivor of that whole family. After the war she lived in a DP (displaced persons) camp in Linz, Austria where she got married and had two children. She arrived in the US in 1949, where she had another child. Altogether she had three children, two sons and a daughter. Now she is a great great grandmother, a matriarch of five generations! They are all well-educated, attractive and loving to her.
In addition to that, she put herself through college and was a manager of an adult home. To quote her son Steven (Simcha):“she always worked hard.” More quotes from Simcha: When asked how many children there are in the family, she said “not enough.” Once, at a wedding, she whispered in his ear: “now I know why I survived.” Now she lives in the Fountain View in Monsey, NJ. It’s a home with assisted living. Her aide, Stella is a marvel. Mina is a gracious lady, very hospitable with a lovely singing voice.
Susan and Leo Karpfen: Susan was born in Skale, Poland. (in Galicia) in 1931. Her father and 3 of the children were killed in 1943. The rest of the family, including her sister Betka, were gassed in a concentration camp. It happened so fast that she doesn’t even know the name of the camp. She is one of 6 children. Her mother and she, plus a cousin survived. Later she found her brother, who is still alive. She is thankful to God that she had a mother for as long as she did. Many of the stories were told to her by her mother. Now she is passing them on to her daughter, Robin. The other offspring is her son Michael. Both are married with families.
During the war, they were hidden by Christian neighbors and in bunkers; sometimes in attics, sometimes in other hiding places. After that she stayed in a DP camp near Munich. In 1948 she came to the US. They settled in Williamsburg where she had two uncles and two aunts. Later, after marrying Leo in 1952, they bought a house in Long Island, where they lived for 45 years. They bought the house in 1958. Then they moved to Nanuet, since their daughter lives in Rockland County. After arriving in the US, Susan studied accounting. Now she lives with an aide in a condo in Treetops, New York.
Leo was born in Klausenberg, Romania. September15, 1929 was his date of birth. Sadly, he passed away on March 18, 2020. Susan is not even sure how or where it happened. She was just notified to make arrangements for the burial.
During the war Leo was a teenager. Rather than send him to a concentration camp, he and his older brother were sent to a labor camp. There was a lot of marching involved. He kept slowing down ever so slightly, so that ultimately, he ended up at the end of the line. At that point he disappeared into the woods and lost track of his brother. Soon after the war ended, he too ended up in a DP camp. Everyone was searching for relatives. Somehow, by word of mouth, he reconnected with his brother.
As a youngster, at 16, he was sent to a sleep away yeshiva. That is where his love and ability as a Torah reader stems from. In the Nanuet Hebrew Center, he was the most dependable Torah reader and the most loved one, certainly. He was always smiling and friendly. Upon arrival in the US he also settled in Williamsburg. He met Susan on a double date. Each one was dating the other person, but somehow love finds a way. The rest, as they say, is history…
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. HWZOA was the chief NGO behind the passage of the Never Again Act. Hadassah held meetings and symposiums on Capitol Hill, lobbied members of Congress, mobilized thousands of volunteers in every congressional district in the country to pass this legislation to educate future generations so they would not have to endure what Mina Katz, Charles Srebnik and Susan and Leo Karpfen endured.