Portraits of strength: Minnesota's Holocaust survivors


Esther Begam, left, and Leo Weiss, right
1 Esther Begam, born July 2, 1928, Chrzanow, Poland, left. When the German army entered Poland in 1939 Esther Reicher was only 11 years old. Her father Mordechai, a well-respected rabbi, was away serving as a chaplain in the Polish army. Esther, her mother, older sister and little brother were caught by the tightening grip of the Nazi war machine. Esther was the only member of her family to survive. Leo Weiss, Dec. 6, 1924 - Sept. 30, 2015, Drohobycz, Poland, right. Leo was about to be shipped out to what he knew would be certain death. He bravely told the commanding officer that he wouldn't leave without his wife, who was in the next cell. Leo wasn't married, but his schoolmate, a beautiful young girl was in the next cell. Surprisingly, the officer let them both stay behind, thereby escaping death. 
Eva Gross and Ella Weiss, left, and Max and Edith Goodman, right
2 Eva Gross, born Dec. 6, 1927, and Ella Weiss, March 3, 1910 - Jan. 20, 2011, from Hungary, left. The story of Ella Weiss and her daughter, Eva Gross, is a tale of the devotion of a mother and daughter who together survived deportation from their small Hungarian town, six concentration camps including Auschwitz, forced labor, death marches, and finally liberation. Max Goodman, born Nov. 23, 1923, Radautz, Romania and Edith Goodman, born Sept. 11, 1931, Krischatik, Romania. In 1939 when the war between Poland and Germany began, bombs fell on Edith Goodman's hometown. At first her parents thought that they should stay, but a Romanian official who knew the family warned them to leave. "He said, 'I don't care where, just go!'" 
Fanni and Eli Kamlot
3 Fanni Kamlot, Feb. 29, 1920 - Feb. 12, 2013, and Eli Kamlot, Dec. 23, 1919 - Oct. 24, 2012, Vienna, Austria. Vienna erupted in anti-Semitic violence immediately after the Nazi takeover on March 12, 1938. In the first three months of occupation 18,000 Jews left the country, among them, Eli Kamlot. Fanni Kamlot and her father were arrested by the Viennese police and held in prison for days without food. 
Adam Han-Gorski, left, and Joe Grosnacht, right
4 Adam Han-Gorski, born March 26, 1940, Lvov, Poland. With family trapped out of the country or deported, a Christian friend came to his rescue. Adam's safety demanded strict secrecy and this friend spent the next three years hiding him as her own son. Joe Grosnacht, born Dec. 15, 1923, Pilica, Poland. The oldest of six boys, he was the only member of his family to survive. Joe was sent to Auschwitz with his family and was there for 17 months before being sent to several other camps and escaping from the infamous Plasow camp near Cracow. He was liberated from Buchenwald in 1945 by American troops. 
Mary Ackos Calof and Esther Ackos Winthrop
5 Mary Ackos Calof, May 21, 1939 - Nov. 24, 2015, Athens, Greece, and Esther Ackos Winthrop, March 15, 1935 - Sept. 20, 2016, Preveza, Greece. Mary and Esther Ackos are remnants of an ancient community, the Romaniote Jews. From the time the Nazis invaded Greece in 1941, until the end of the war, it would take the generosity of a Christian neighbor, their father's foresight and brother's ingenuity and determination to save the family from the crematorium of Auschwitz. 
Lucy Smith, left and Manfred (Manny) Sigmund Gabler, right
6 Lucy Smith, born June 15, 1933, Cracow, Poland. Lucy was 6 years old in 1939. She and her mother were in the countryside when the Nazis marched into Poland and her world unraveled. First they fled to Tarnow, Poland. When it was no longer safe there, they moved on to Warsaw hiding as Catholics and then fled again back to Tarnow before finally being liberated by the Russians. Manfred (Manny) Sigmund Gabler, born Feb. 18, 1938, Milan, Italy. As Hitler's plans to make Germany judenrein "cleansed of Jews" progressed, Manny's parents knew that they would either have to leave the country. So their journey began. From Chemnitz, Germany to Milan, Italy, where baby Manny was born, on to Genoa and finally to the only escape possible for refugees without travel documents — Shanghai. 
Murray Brandys, left, and Robert Fisch, right
7 Murray Brandys, June 12, 1925 - Sept. 22, 2011, Sosnowiec, Poland. As a youngster, Murray, a talented musician, dreamed of becoming a cantor or conductor. Those dreams abruptly ended when at 14, he was captured by the Nazis. He endured five years in Nazi labor and concentration camps. Robert Fisch, born June 12, 1925, Budapest, Hungary. World renowned for his work in pediatrics, Dr. Robert Fisch is an artist as well as a noted author. As a young man he dreamed of being an artist or an architect, but when the war ended he enrolled in medical school. Dr. Fisch survived not only the Holocaust, but also the dark days of Communism in Hungary. 
Manya Kaplan-Sherman and Max Sherman
8 Max Sherman, July 4, 1919 - April 15, 2013, and Manya Kaplan-Sherman, born Nov. 20, 1922, of Zwolen, Poland. The couple was married in the Kaplan family home on Erev Shabbat, in April 1940. The world around them was unraveling. On Sept. 6, 1939, Zwolen was heavily attacked by the German air force. Almost 80 percent of the town was destroyed. Eventually Sherman and Kaplan-Sherman were sent to different concentration and labor camps. 
Charles Fodor, left, and Margot Dewilde, right
9 Charles Fodor, born July 14, 1936, Budapest, Hungary. Charles Fodor was 8 years old in 1944 when he and his grandmother were trying to find their way to an international safe house. Suddenly, a man grabbed his grandmother and took her and Charles out to the street. He told them, "You don't belong here, get lost." It was later they learned that all those in that building were taken out and murdered on the banks of the Danube River. Margot Dewilde, July 18, 1921 - May 1, 2014, Berlin. When the Germans invaded Holland in 1940, life for the Jews became very dangerous. Margot worked with the underground, producing forged ID papers. In 1942 she and her husband were ready to leave for Switzerland, but instead were sent to Auschwitz. 
Siblings Anne Ptaszek, Reva and husband Ben Kibort, and Mark Mandel
10 Anne Ptaszek, Oct. 10, 1924 - Jan. 24, 2017, Warsaw, Poland. Ben Kibort, Dec. 26, 1921 - Feb. 9, 2012, Siauliai, Lithuania, Reva Kibort, born March 4, 1933, Warsaw, Poland and Mark Mandel, born (Moshe Mandelbaum) April 5, 1930, Warsaw, Poland. "At the age of 9 I became an orphan. I was fortunate to survive the Holocaust with my four sisters." With these words Mark Mandel begins his tale and recounts the pact that he made with his sisters to reunite in Israel after the war. Unfortunately, fate took them in different directions. Eventually, they reunited in the United States, settling in Minneapolis together. 
Paula Rubin, left, and Sam Saide, right
11 Paula Rubin, March 29, 1923 - Jan. 4, 2016, Lodz, Poland. When Chaim Rumkowski, the Jewish leader of the ghetto, placed her name on the deportation list, she knew it meant certain death. Unsure of what to do, she ran away and hid, saving her life. When the ghetto was finally liquidated Rubin was deported to Auschwitz. Sam Saide, June 26, 1927 - Sept. 17, 2016, Lentza, Poland. When the Nazis invaded Saide's hometown he was only 13 years old. All Jews were forced to register with the Reich and wear the yellow star. As an act of defiance, Saide removed his star. But it wasn't long before neighbors identified Saide as a Jew and he was sent to the Posen concentration camp. 
Inna Turina, left, and Leah Pobiel, right
12 Inna Turina, born Feb. 2, 1941, Leningrad, Russia. The siege began on Sept. 8, 1941 when the German troops encircled Leningrad. It lasted for 900 days. Hunger and cold became the city's greatest enemies. In 1942 Inna and her mother received permission to leave Leningrad to stay with her grandmother in the Urals. With her father conscripted into the Russian army, the women waited until they could return to the city. Leah Pobiel, born May 20, 1935, Suchava, Bukovina, Romania. Leah was 7 years old when Nazi Army invaded Bukovina in the summer of 1941. Within the first days of occupation the Nazis and their Romanian collaborators killed 50,000 Jews. Although Leah and her family survived the invasion, they were soon forced on an epic journey across the Ukraine to a concentration camp in Transnistria. 
Jerry Valfer, left, and Trudy Rappaport, right
13 Jerry Valfer, born Sept. 10, 1924, Mannheim, Germany. Valfer was one of only 500 children granted papers to enter Denmark. Rather than being deported to a concentration camp with his parents, Valfer was sent to freedom in the Danish countryside. At the age of 15, Valfer found himself working at a windmill. His sanctuary came to an end when a spy turned him and nearly 200 other teens over to the invading German army. Trudy Rappaport, born Feb. 21, 1918, Koblenz on Rien, Germany. Early in 1940, Rappaport had planned to join her parents in Shanghai but her passport never arrived, and she was stranded in Stuttgart with no escape route. "I was arrested by the Gestapo like a criminal and sent to the ghetto in Riga, Latvia." It was the start of a journey that took her through 10 different concentration camps. 
Walter Schwarz, left, and Victor Vital, right
14 Walter Schwarz, born May 28, 1921, Timisorara, Romania. Although he was never incarcerated in a camp, Schwarz's story is unique because he experienced the war years both as a victim of the Nazis and as a liberator. In 1940 the family obtained visas and left on the last ship leaving Italy for the U.S. In 1942 following the invasion of Pearl Harbor, Schwarz was drafted into the U.S. Army. Victor Vital, born Feb. 6, 1932, Patra, Greece. When the Nazis invaded Greece in 1941, word spread to Patra that Victor's entire maternal family of 90 had been murdered in Salonica. Friends urged Victor's father to take his family and flee before the Nazis entered Patra. With the help of his father's friend, the chief of police, the family obtained Christian IDs and escaped to hide in a series of mountain villages. 
Sam Rafowitz, left, and Regina Kugler, right
15 Sam Rafowitz, born May 22, 1925, Warsaw, Poland. In October 1940 the Nazis established the Warsaw Ghetto, forcing 400,000 Jews into a small area of the city. At 15, Rafowitz was assigned to a work detail. He was picked up by the SS and began an ordeal that spanned five years through five different camps. Regina Kugler, July 15, 1928 - Oct. 25, 2014, Siemiatycze, Poland. Kugler and her family boarded trains for what they were told were "labor camps." But as the train pulled from the station her father recognized that the route led to the Treblinka extermination camp. As word of their destination spread throughout the train, the passengers had only one chance to survive; to jump out a window of the moving train. At the urging of her father, Kugler joined 12 others and jumped from the train. She made it to safety in the dense forest but the rest of her family died in the crematorium of Treblinka. 
Curtis Hort, left, and Alix Kowler, right
16 Curtis Hort, May 3, 1921 - Aug. 18, 2015, Berlin-Kaulsdors, Germany. In 1939 they were unable to obtain papers to enter the U.S., so Hort and his family fled to Shanghai. Between 1938 and 1941 thousands of refugees found temporary refuge in this Japanese occupied Chinese city. Alix Kowler, Oct. 30, 1924 - Dec. 12, 2016, Vienna, Austria. Kowler was happily living in Vienna when in 1938 German troops marched into Austria and the country became a part of Hitler's Third Reich. The persecution of Austria's Jews began almost immediately and many Jews fled the country. Although Kowler begged her parents to leave, they had no intention of doing so. Finally in 1940 she was allowed to join friends in Antwerp. At the age of 14 Kowler began a solo journey that would not end until her liberation in 1944.