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Born in Czechoslovakia, David Mermelstein saw the occupation of his homeland by the Germans and then by the Hungarians in just a few short years. David and his family became victims of the Holocaust when Germany occupied Hungary in 1944. As a fifteen-year-old boy, David experienced deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was separated from his parents forever. An older brother encouraged him to survive and to never give up hope. His survival and now his work for Holocaust survivors in the Miami area are a testimony to the miracle keeping power of God. We are honored to call David and his wife Irene our friends!
Dr. Susan Spatz
“If we forget the past we are condemned to repeat it…” This is the reason Dr. Susan Spatz shares her story of survival during the Holocaust. Born in Austria, Susan, along with her parents, fled from the Nazis in an attempt to find refuge in Czechoslovakia and then Poland just when World War II began. Before long, Susan was separated from her parents and eventually ended up in Auschwitz where she was able to obtain adequate food and clothing in the Canada commando where she worked for almost two years. “It was easy to die in Auschwitz,” she said. “You had to want to live.
“There was a time when the world stood by and did nothing.” Irving Roth remembers that world as a ten year old boy when he no longer lived in Czechoslovakia, but in a country called Slovokia where the government did not “like” him because he was a Jew. Life for the young boy and his family suddenly changed when separation and persecution began in his hometown of about 7,000 people. Life for Irving Roth was never the same again, as he suffered tremendous loss at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
When the Nazis invaded Hungary in March 1944, Kate was only 12 years old. She remembers the laws enforced by the Nazis that restricted life for all the Jews of Hungary. However, what stands out most in her mind is the day that Raoul Wallenberg came to Budapest, July 9, 1944, to save the persecuted Jews of her nation. She and her family lived in a Swedish protective house and received Swedish passports from Raoul Wallenberg. Kate says, “For me, Raoul Wallenberg is not only a hero, but a person who I saw personally and who saved so many thousands of lives.”
Nina is the step-sister of Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish diplomat sent to Hungary in 1944 with a mission to save Hungarian Jews from the Nazi regime. Nina shares her personal memories of Raoul as a young boy and the training he received from his paternal grandfather who greatly influenced his life. She also shares the heart-wrenching story of her family’s life-long quest to find Raoul after he was taken to the Soviet Union in 1945. The year 2012 marks the 100th year commemoration of Raoul Wallenberg, who sacrificed his life to save the Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.
Hungarian Holocaust survivor Jack Gluck’s testimony is very touching as he recounts the many miracles that saved his life and the lives of his family members. Jack was two years old when his family was liberated by the Russians from a Jewish safe house established by Raoul Wallenberg. They had lived there after Raoul gave them Schutz passes at the railway station in Budapest, enabling them to be seen as Swedish citizens. In his testimony, Jack expresses his deep gratitude for the many righteous Christians who hid and aided his family from April 1944 on, knowing that if they were caught, they would be shot. He knows that God will truly bless everyone who risked his life for the Jews. Jack is compelled to share his story so that the generations to come may understand and never forget the reality of the Holocaust.
Ivan Gabor, born Alfred Grossman, recounts the story of his remarkable rescue by Raoul Wallenberg and Ivan’s uncle who worked alongside Raoul. When Ivan’s family was forced by the Nazis to march from a Jewish house in Budapest, his uncle and Raoul drove up in a limousine and stopped the march; they issued protective letters and escorted Ivan and other Jews to the safe haven of the Swedish embassy. Ivan relates other memories of witnessing the horrific shootings on the banks of the icy Danube River. Ivan’s great desire is that Raoul will always be remembered in history, and that he may understand “what moved him” to do the wonderful things he did for the Jewish people at the cost of his own life.
Livia Frankel recounts the steps of horrendous suffering that she and her family endured during the Holocaust. She was born in Transylvania, which was then a part of Romania. She had a happy childhood until she started school and was treated terribly because she was a Jew. Livia heard Hitler’s words of hatred toward the Jews over the radio, and this hatred very quickly became reality for her and her family. Livia remembers when her area was placed under Hungarian rule, and then under German rule; very quickly she had to give up her treasured bicycle, and then had to leave her home to live in a crowded ghetto. Her family was trapped in the first Hungarian transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944. Upon arrival and selection, Livia and her sister were separated from both of their parents, who immediately met their deaths in the gas chambers. Livia and her sister endured cruel slave labor and survived.
Tobias’ first memory as a child was when he and his family moved to the Lodz ghetto in Poland where he lived the next four years of his life. He recollects the rationing of bread that his family received that barely kept them alive, and the 49 days he was in hiding at the age of 8 before his father obtained a false birth certificate documenting his new age as 12. Years later, Tobias learned more about his experience when he returned to Ravensbruck concentration camp where he and his mother had been taken by the Nazis in 1944 before being liberated in April 1945..
Persecution of the Jews extends back for centuries. Walter Ziffer tells his story as a persecuted Jewish boy in Poland during the 20th century. Raised in an upper middle class family, with his father a well-respected lawyer in the community, Walter’s life changed beginning September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Upon sunrise on the morning of September 2, Mr. Ziffer said to his son, “Yes Walter, its sunrise; but I think for us, sunset has begun.”
Abe Stein - WWII LIberator
Abe Stein was born into a Jewish Family from Pennsylvania, but later moved to Florida. On November 2, 1940, Abe joined the US Army and was trained to aid in medical services. Stationed in Hawaii, he was eyewitness to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and was responsible for caring for the wounded and victims of the bombing. “Pearl Harbor to me is like yesterday,” Abe said, as he recounts the events of the day. Abe also shares in his testimony the discrimination he experienced as a Jew serving in the US military.
Bill was born in Poland in 1925 and moved to America with his family at the age of four. He joined the Army when he was eighteen and began training at Texas A and M, in preparation for end of war development in Europe. The severity of the war required that he be sent to the front lines as an infantry man. His troop was sent to France to begin their mission into Germany, Austria and Italy. During his time in Europe, he and his unit were responsible for liberating a labor camp in Landsberg, Germany.
Norman’s Jewish ancestors were from Turkey, but he was born in Berlin, Germany in 1920. His family suffered great personal loss on November 7, 1948, Kristallnacht. Immediately, his father made arrangements to leave Germany for Havanna, Cuba. In 1940, they eventually made their way to America. Norman joined the US Army in 1942 to aid in the interrogation of German soldiers. In 1943 he joined General Eisenhower in Algiers to help encode and decode messages for the American military. Proud to be an American, Norman shares his interesting story with great enthusiasm.
Joining the army in 1942 and serving until 1946, Vincenzo briefly tells his story. He went to serve his country “with all his heart.” Under General Patton during his military service, he said, “Patton, in my opinion was one of the best generals we ever had!” He was also present at the Nuremburg Trials. Vincenzo says he would gladly go back if his country needed him again, if just “to peel potatoes.”
Interviewed in front of a painting from the Auschwitz Album Collection, Rachel explains how she and her family were treated upon arriving at Auschwitz. Together with her mother and sister, they stood before Dr. Mengele, where he pointed for her mother to go to the right; forever to be separated from Rachel and her sister. Rachel still suffers the pain of the separation saying she will always remember seeing her mother waving bye to the girls.
Sam Wertheim, a Polish Jew, speaks of his personal friend and rescuer, Oscar Schindler. Sam explains how Schindler came into Krakow, Poland, not to save Jews, but to make money. However, this testimony speaks of the man who became a personal friend to 800 Jewish men and 300 Jewish women whom he put to work in order to save their lives. Sam’s fondness and gratitude toward Oscar Schindler is clearly communicated in this heartwarming testimony.
Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff
Dr. Kassenoff is the Holocaust Educator for the Miami/Dade Public Schools, responsible for educating 400,000 students in Holocaust Studies. Dr. Kassenoff tells of her relationship with Karel Reynolds and Connie Davies, that began at Appalachian State University in 2006. Dr. Kassenoff then shares her personal story of how she and her family fled Europe during the Holocaust, passing through seven countries before embarking on a journey to the United States.
Second generation survivor, Rachel Dagan, tells the story of her Jewish family from Belarus, that had been placed on a train to be taken to the death camp, Madanek, in 1943. Family members jumped from the train into the forest at the risk of their lives. There they joined the partisan group led by the Bieleski Brothers where they stayed for eleven months. Rachel’s grandfather, a chemist, developed a soap to help clean the wounds of survivors who found refuge in the Ukranian forest.
Sabine comes from a French Jewish family. In the summer of 1976, after taking a family vacation to Israel, their plane was high jacked by terrorists and flown to Uganda. Sabine shares her memories as a 3 ½ year old child, as well as the stories she was told by her parents and other survivors about the incident that came to be known as the Entebbe rescue of 1976. After the rescue, Sabine’s family made Aliyah, moving to Israel to become Israeli citizens.
Mark Newman was born in the Carpathian region of Czechoslovakia, which later became Hungary. After Nazi occupation, life for the Newman family became unbearable. Mark and his brother were selected to work in a labor camp; their family sent to their death. Mark shares with us his unbelievable story of survival. His entire story can be read in a book entitled, A Survivor’s Memories: A Test of Everlasting Survival, as his memoires left for future generations.
Kitty was 11 years old when she was taken from Germany into Poland. She survived five long years in Nazi concentration and labor camps. She remembers the day she no longer had a name, only a number. She remembers the day when every 10th girl in a line up was shot, because one girl was missing in the barracks. She remembers the day when her long hair was cut, along with 10 other of her friends. She also remembers the day when she was liberated by the Russians.
Herbie Karliner was born in Germany and as a Jewish child witnessed and experienced the devastation of Kristallnacht. Herbie and his family sought refuge in Cuba when in 1939 they boarded the ship, St. Louis, in hopes of finding a better life. Being turned away on the coast of Cuba, as well as the shores of Miami, Herbie tells of his family’s experiences in trying to flee Europe during the Nazi regime. Herbie’s dream came true when in 1947 he returned to Miami and eventually became an American citizen.