Treblinka

800,000 were murdered at the Treblinka Extermination and Workers Camps. We do not have any official records of where Frieda, Otto, and Ruth were murdered. Based on historical accounts, our best guess is that they were sent to Treblinka.

Words cannot express our visit here. Below are a few pictures of the site and memorial.

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The stones represented the edge of the extermination camp.

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The railroad was removed and replaced by this memorial

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Over the pits where 800,000 are buried, are tens of thousands of stones

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This monument stood at the entrance of the camp, behind it was a pit full of black granite to represent the ashes

Otwock

“I can see my Zayda. I can see Ruth. I am happy.” Today began at Zofiowka, a hospital for mentally ill Jews built in 1908. In 1939, just months before the Nazis built a Ghetto in Otwock, a group of 65 Jewish children from Zbaszyn and other Polish towns slept here. Two weeks later they headed North an escaped Europe. My Zayda, his brother Siegfried, and his sister Ruth were among these 65.

Today, the building looks as though it hasn’t been thought about since the War. It is missing windows, walls, and is covered in graffiti.

We slowly walked around the building behind my Zayda. As we turned the corner in the back, I saw a swastica painted on the plaster. I immediately froze and grabbed my cousin’s arm. We were in the middle of the woods, at an abandoned building. Seeing the swastica filled me with anger. I didn’t want my Zayda to see it. I didn’t want my sister to see it. Without thinking I grabbed the loose plaster from the wall and pulled it down, shattering it on the ground. I walked away, my fists shaking, covered in blood. I felt no satisfaction and wished the quiet and peace could return to the building.

As we continued, my Zayda was shaky, seeing the place for the first time in 76 years. Those of you that know my Zayda won’t be surprised to hear that it took less than 5 minutes before he started climbing into a window trying to avoid nails and pieces of glass. I quickly followed him in to the dark, empty building. As I went to take my flashlight out he stopped me. “This is how my blind Zayda would have seen it.” I waited a moment, but as we stumbled on debris and walked further into the depths of the building, not knowing what was ahead, I turned on my light. The rooms were littered with dust, empty cans, and graffiti. My Zayda continued walking, unsteady, as he remembered the final time he saw his Zayda. One of the final times he saw Ruth.

We headed back outside, and my Zayda grew stronger. For the first time since we arrived, he smiled. For the last 76 years he has felt guilty that he lived and Ruth did not. As a young adult he blamed himself, thinking that he should have given her his spot on the boat and went back to Europe to stop the Holocaust.

Ruth was murdered as a teenager and my Zayda has never let her age in his mind. As he stood on the grounds where he spent his last few weeks with Ruth, he let her grow older and let go of his guilt. “Ruth would be 90 today. And I know she is smiling down on me and this family.”

Warsaw

Before World War II there were over 400 synagogues in Warsaw. Only one was left standing after the war. Last Friday, after a full day of traveling, we went to Friday night services at the Nozyk Synagogue, the only pre-war synagogue in Warsaw, a city that once boasted a population of 350,000 Jews. To our surprise, it was the Bar Mitzvah of Sean, a young man from New Jersey. His great-grandmother had escaped Warsaw during the War. She overcame a lot in her life and had a beautiful family, but in the words of her grandson, Sean’s dad, she never overcame Warsaw.

Watching Sean and his family, I was overcome with emotion. My Zayda saw himself sitting on his Zayda’s lap, 76 years ago on a train speeding away from his home. In the face of adversity, my great-great grandfather took his grandson and started singing L’cha Dodi, the prayer welcoming the Sabbath. That moment impacted the way my Zayda led the last 76 years of his life. He remembers walking through the streets of England at age 10 saying “I am a Jew.” I saw myself, 10 years ago, being Bar Mitzvahed in Israel. On that trip I met family that had moved to Israel during the Holocaust. In the following years letters from the Holocaust surfaced and helped my Zayda piece together his story. Sean’s great grandmother instilled important values in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. On Friday night, we witnessed what Sean’s great-grandmother never thought she would – her great grandchild having his Bar Mitzvah in Warsaw.

As we walked through the Warsaw Ghetto, my great-great grandfather was in my mind. In 1938 he moved into a home for the blind in Warsaw. Aside from a few letters, we know very little about his final years in Warsaw. We do know that he always has and continues to influence my Zayda and all of our family today.

I am blessed to have a strong relationship with my Zayda. My great-great grandfather, though he was blind, had a strong vision well beyond his years: one of his grandchild and great-great grandchildren standing by who they are, no matter what the circumstances. Today, that vision is true.

My Zayda also has a vision well beyond his years. It is a vision of his grandchildren and great-great grandchildren standing up for not only for who they are as individuals, but standing up for others in the world. At the onset of this odyssey it is clear that this moment will impact the way we all lead our lives.

Tomorrow we will visit Otwock, a small suburb of Warsaw where my Zayda lived for 2 weeks before escaping Europe. In Otwock, he saw his Zayda for the last time.

We Odyssey Because…

Today the odyssey begins.

It is the all too familiar chapter in an American immigrant’s life to return to their hometown, family in tow. But this trip is different. It is a story 76 years in the making.
76 years ago, in the fall of 1938, Poland decreed that all citizens living abroad had to return within 5 years or they would lose their citizenship. Germany responded by forcing an estimated 18 thousand Polish Jews living in Germany across the border. On a Thursday night in late October the police officers that once served to protect my Zayda and his family knocked on their door and ordered them to the police station. They spent the night at a jail in a bordering town and were transported to the train station the next day, on Friday, October 28. Most Jews in Unna observed the Sabbath and did not travel on the Sabbath, so the German officials waited until the sun went down, marking the start of the Sabbath, to start the train.

My Zayda, only 6 at the time, remembers sitting on his Zayda’s lap in a train full of frightened people. In the midst of the chaos, his Zayda started singing L’cha Dodi, a Jewish prayer that welcomes the Sabbath. This moment stuck with my Zayda, and for the next 76 years, perhaps home would be found in his Jewish identity.

When the train arrived in Neu Bentschen, a station on the border of Germany and Poland, thousands of men, women, and children were forced to walk 9 km across the border to Zbaszyn.

They spent 10 months in Zbaszyn. His mother, Frieda, and sister, Ruth, helped distribute food and worked to keep their family and community alive. After 10 months his mother took action and brought her family to the train station to head to Northeastern Poland. As they waited for the train to come a man ran up, out of breath, saying he could get the kids on the Kindertransport – a series of boats that took 10,000 children to England. My great grandparents had minutes to decide what to do. They made the sacrifice to part with their children, ultimately saving their lives.

My Zayda was mad at his parents for leaving him and hid, refusing to get on the boat. His sister, Ruth found him and convinced him to get on the boat. She was told she would get on the next boat. There was never another boat. That was the last time my Zayda saw his sister. This moment stuck with my Zayda, and for the next 76 years, perhaps home would be found in the memory of his sister.

It took my Zayda over 50 years to tell this story. Today he shares it with anyone who will listen. He does not tell it because it highlights the darkest evils that exist, those that separated him from his family. He does not tell it because he thinks it is an extraordinary tale. He tells it so that he can take the experience and make a positive difference in the world.

It is the all too familiar chapter in an American immigrant’s life to return to his hometown, family in tow. But this trip is different.

My Zayda, his brother Siegfried, and his sister Ruth were refugee children. Manfred and Siegfried were given a chance to live while Ruth was not. My Zayda has never come to terms with the fact that she was murdered while he survived. But he chooses to celebrate her life and her memory instead of filling himself with hatred towards those that killed her. He has managed to take the darkest parts of his life and turn them into a deep seeded need to do ma’aseem tovim (good deeds). He has bestowed upon me, my brother my sister, my cousins, and my parents a huge burden: to make the world a better place.

In 1941 it was HIAS that helped my Great Uncle immigrate to the United States from Europe and eventually take in my Zayda and his brother. Today, HIAS is working to help over 130,000 children refugees in Chad. We Odyssey for Ruth, for Frieda, for Otto, and for the 6 million others that were murdered in the Holocaust. We odyssey for modern day refugee children to ensure that they are given a chance to live their lives.

It is the all too familiar chapter in an American immigrant’s life to return to his hometown, family in tow. But this trip is different.

It is different in many ways. It is different because we are returning to celebrate the life and family of Manfred Lindenbaum. Manfred will be surrounded by his children, their spouses, seven of his grandchildren, and friends.

It is different because this Odyssey is just as much for refugee children today as it is for refugee children 76 years ago. On International Refugee Day, we will cross back into Germany at the point where, 76 years ago, my Zayda first became a refugee. This odyssey focuses on helping modern day refugee children.

It is different because on this trip, Manfred’s family will not be in tow. They will be holding his hands, working together to make the world a better place.

 

 

A Return to Poland — Manfred’s Odyssey

Like most Holocaust survivors, I did not speak much about my past until my first granddaughter was born.

Just days before the outbreak of World War II, I fled Poland with my brother, Siegfried, who was 10 at the time, on the last Kindertransport train to England – our path to safety. It was 1939, and I was 7. We said goodbye to my parents, who made the difficult decision to part with us. My 14-year-old sister, Ruth, was supposed to get on the next boat, but was left behind. She was murdered with our parents in Auschwitz.

My sister never got to have a life. I think of her every day, and her memory inspires me, so she lives through me. I try to make a difference, to do things that eliminate the hate and indifference that led to the murder of my family and the continued persecution of people around the world

I want my grandchildren to really understand the consequences of not only hate but also of indifference. This month, I will return to Germany and Poland to retrace my journey with three of my children and seven of my nine grandchildren. We’ll begin on June 16 in Warsaw and travel to Augustow, Gdansk, Zbaszynek, and Frankfurt, visiting the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Treblinka death camp, and the Kindertransport Memorial in Gdansk.

We’ll do the last 200 miles by bicycle, crossing the old border between Germany and Poland on June 20, on our way to my hometown of Unna, Germany. That day wasn’t chosen by coincidence. June 20 is World Refugee Day.

Because my hope for this trip was to honor my sister, I’ve decided to use this opportunity to raise funds to help children who have survived genocide. HIAS, the global Jewish organization that helped my brother and I find and reach family in the United States, today helps children and other victims from the Darfur region of Sudan who are fleeing to camps in Chad. Many are separated from their families, or have become orphans. HIAS provides trauma counseling, protection from further exploitation, and facilitates foster care. Those motivated by the story of my sister, Ruth, and my attempt to bring some meaning to her death can make a donation in her name to HIAS to support their work.

 

Please follow our blog and join me as I share this experience with my family and friends.

 

I believe that when we stand by and listen as others are put down, we start to become part of the problem. When we speak out against hatred, we become part of the solution.