Tova Berlinski, 102, in her house in Jerusalem. Much of her work evokes the loss and pain of a lifetime that spans the Nazi decimation of European Jewry in World War II and the foundation of modern Israel.CreditDan Balilty for The New York Times

JERUSALEM — She painted gray and black flowers, their innate beauty discernible only through hints of light.

Her Israeli landscapes are stark and desolate, punctuated by towering cypress trees and heavy rocks. Minimalist still lifes depict a pair of empty chairs. In portraits, family members appear with blurred and vanishing features or faces that fade into geometric patterns because, the artist said, “they are all gone,” murdered in the Holocaust.

The artist, Tova Berlinski, was born in 1915 in the Polish town of Oswiecim, better known by its German name — Auschwitz. Newly married, she and her husband left for what was then known as Palestine in 1938, a year before the Germans conquered Oswiecim and began building the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp on the edge of town.

Much of her work evokes the loss and pain of a lifetime that spans a century — including the Nazi decimation of European Jewry in World War II and the foundation of modern Israel, which she came to help build and where she made her home.

Yet there are also flashes of brightness and color, like an abstract painting from an early period recalling a candy and ice cream store named Posner from her youth in Oswiecim. More recent paintings, including one dated April 2017, around her 102nd birthday, depict bright, vibrant vistas — blue skies, green grass, balcony doors opening onto a rolling desert bathed in the Mediterranean sunlight.

“The color returned to me,” Ms. Berlinski said. “Not to my life, but to me. I don’t know why.”

It has been more than 20 years since her solo “Black Flowers” exhibition was held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, one of the peaks of a long career. But this month, Ms. Berlinski, now a widow, is emerging once again into the limelight, with a tribute exhibition and sale of her works at ArtSpace, a small gallery in the leafy neighborhood of German Colony in Jerusalem, where she has lived for more than 50 years.

Ms. Berlinski’s 11th-floor apartment, a short walk from the gallery, is ordinarily a quiet place, its walls lined with portraits of her vanished family and her late husband, Eliyahu Berlinski, known as Elec. But one recent weekday, it was abuzz.

Linda Zisquit, an American-born poet and the director of ArtSpace, which represents contemporary Israeli artists, was visiting to choose some pieces with the help of Orna Millo, another Israeli artist, who curated Ms. Berlinski’s last solo exhibition, in 2002, at Jerusalem Artists House.

Ms. Berlinski’s caretaker, Jenny Borjas, rushed around, helping to arrange the furniture for a photo shoot. (Ms. Borjas may also have had something to do with Ms. Berlinski’s more colorful work of late. She said she had encouraged Ms. Berlinski to return to using reds and a more cheerful palette.)

In the catalog for the 2002 exhibition, Ms. Millo wrote, “Tova Berlinski’s paintings are very personal, in the style ‘I only knew how to tell my own story. My world is as narrow as an ant’s world.’ But through her prism, we can feel also the Israeli experience, and the difficulties of our existence in this country.”

Describing what she called “My Pictorial Biography,” Ms. Berlinski wrote in the catalog: “Every portrait in the painting of my family tells a different story, but all are close to my heart with a love that time will not eradicate.”

Linda Zisquit, a curator and gallery owner, setting up an exhibition in Jerusalem of Ms. Berlinski’s work. Credit Dan Balilty for The New York Times.

Those haunting portraits — of her father, her mother, her brother — hang on the walls of her salon, resonating with memories.

Born Gusta Wolf to a Hasidic family, Ms. Berlinski has fond memories of growing up in Oswiecim, where about half the 12,000 residents were Jewish.

“I very much loved that town,” she said.

She met Elec, from nearby Sosnowiec, where her father had a furniture store, through their activities in Beitar, the right-wing Zionist youth movement. Ten days after marrying, they set off for what was then the British Mandate of Palestine, to join the pioneers working to establish Israel.

They arrived on a ship of unauthorized immigrants, landing clandestinely, at night, south of Haifa, to evade the British authorities, who had imposed restrictions on Jewish immigration.

For a while, she said, she kept contact with her family until it was no longer possible to get letters to them. According to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, the Jews of Oswiecim, whose property had been confiscated, were rounded up in 1941 and deported to ghettos, including to Sosnowiec, before being sent to the death camps. The town’s once-thriving Jewish community ceased to exist.

Ms. Berlinski was the oldest of six children. Her parents and four siblings were killed — most of them, she said, in Auschwitz. One sister survived, then moved to Germany and, eventually, to Israel. She is the one who lived to tell Ms. Berlinski that the rest of the family had perished.

“I felt great pain,” Ms. Berlinski said. “That pain I feel to this day.”

Life in the British Mandate of Palestine, carved out of the former Ottoman Empire, was hard at first. The young couple, who remained childless, lived in the mobilized units formed by Beitar. Ms. Berlinski worked in the kitchens and orchards. Elec spent a few months in a British prison camp and fought in the Negev during the 1948 war over the creation of the Israeli state.

Having left Beitar, which they found too militaristic, the couple moved to Tel Aviv. Ms. Berlinski took up acting for a while at the Cameri Theater. Mr. Berlinski had begun working for the government, and around 1950, they moved to Jerusalem. Ms. Berlinski began studying at one of the young state’s oldest institutions, the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

In the 1970s, she joined the Climate group of Israeli artists, which promoted the idea of local Israeli painting as a rejection of imported art movements, but she soon broke with them, and the group was dismantled. Ms. Berlinski moved to the left politically and became active in Peace Now, an Israeli group that advocates ending the occupation, and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ultimately, Ms. Berlinski’s life, and the tribute exhibition of her work, is a celebration of endurance and survival. But she has not shut out Poland or Oswiecim; she has been back several times. In Oswiecim, she has visited the children of a woman who had been her mother’s close friend.

She remembered her mother’s garden being full of flowers. The black flowers, she said, were for her parents, since there were no graves to visit, nothing left. She donated a painting of a black flower to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum during a visit to the former concentration camp in 2006.

On the wall of her living room, among portraits, is a framed letter in Polish. It was signed by the mayor of Oswiecim, congratulating her on reaching the age of 100.

“On this extraordinary day, I extend to you greetings from the heart, from the city of your birth, Oswiecim.”


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Poland to partially compensate for property looted under Nazis and communists, official say


Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 13, 2017.  Click for full report.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization cautiously welcomed a Polish official’s announcement of plans to offer partial compensation for property confiscated from private owners under communism.

Countless properties that belonged to Poland’s 3.3 million-strong Jewish population before the Holocaust were seized by the Nazi occupation forces and then nationalized under communism.

Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki announced plans for the legislation on Wednesday, marking a break from the government’s previous reliance on individual court rulings to determine restitution rather than through legislation.

Poland is the only major country in Europe that not passed national legislation for the restitution of property unjustly seized by the Nazis nor for property nationalized by the communist regime, according to the WJRO.

“I’m ashamed that it has taken Poland until now, 28 years after the fall of communism, to prepare such a bill. This should have been taken care of a long time ago,” the PAP news agency quoted Jaki as saying during a press conference in Warsaw Wednesday.

The law would allow for cash payments of up to 20 percent of the value of privately-owned properties at the time of their “nationalization,” Jaki told the broadcaster TVN24, adding that the bill was “absolutely fair.”

Restitution experts estimate that following the Holocaust, Jewish individuals and institutions in Poland lost property whose combined value exceeds $1 billion.

“We welcome the recognition today by Poland that national legislation is needed to address the issue of confiscated property,” Gideon Taylor, WJRO’s chair of operations, said in a statement Thursday. “However, it is essential that restitution or compensation be full and complete and that it be just and fair for all who lost property, including Polish survivors of the Holocaust and their families,” the statement read.

WJRO has joined other vocal critics of Poland over its perceived failure even by Eastern European standards to offer Jewish victims of property theft during and after the Holocaust and their descendants neither adequate restitution nor procedures to obtain it.

In July, WJRO sharply criticized a Polish court’s ruling upholding restitution legislation whose language precluded countless Jewish would-be claimants.

The law, passed last year, precludes claims in Warsaw for former owners and their families who missed the 1988 communist-era deadline for filing claims, including those who fled abroad to escape communist rule or anti-Semitism.

Poland in 1997 passed a law for restitution on communal-owned properties, but more than 15 years after the claim filing deadline, a majority of more than 5,000 claims for such property has still not been resolved and most of the resolved claims have not led to restitution or compensation, the WJRO said.

Honoring Mother Superior Rosalie


October 4, 2017, the village of Soreze and the Abbaye-école de Soreze held a formal ceremony unveiling a plaque in memory of Mother Superior Rosalie, who hid Jewish children, including my mother [Ruth K. Hartz]. We returned to the convent, and actually stayed there (it is now a hotel), and my mother, brother, I and Lucette Cormary (Fedou) and her descendants all participated in a formal ceremony to honor the Mother Superior at the convent.

It was a very emotional ceremony – with veteran flag bearers, including Laurent Colombera, Lucette’s grandson, who served several tours of duty in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. He is currently the president of the local veteran’s group.

My mother actually broke down when she read the plaque, which was so touching. She then called up the Fedou descendants, and then Eric and me. She made the point of saying that it is true that these people saved an entire humanity, as she now has two children (us) and seven grandchildren, who would not be here if not for the goodness of others. It was a very powerful statement – and the nearly 75 people in attendance were clearly touched.

“Here, the Mother Superior Rosalie, at the peril of her life, hid Jewish children in 1943-1944, who were innocent victims of the barbaric Nazi and Vichy France regimes. We honor her extraordinary courage with this plaque.

‘One who saves a life, saves all of humanity’

This plaque was placed on October 4, 2017 by Ruth Kapp Hartz, one of the children whom she saved, the town of Soreze, and the joint association of the Abbaye-école de Soreze.”

The mayor of Soreze, M Mamy, who was in the same school as my mother during the war, spoke eloquently about the courage of the Mother Superior, and the regional director, Mme Bonnet (like a county mayor) spoke, and she was also emotional, as her father was in the resistance and had been taken to Bergen-Belsen, which he survived.

Mme Bonnet, M Mamy and my mother.

After the ceremony, there was a reception with local sparkling wine. I chatted with some charming veterans, who had fought in Algeria, but were children during WWII.

The next day, Laurent took me on a tour of the local vineyards for some wine tasting, and to visit some of the local towns, which are beautiful. One town, Cordes, is built on the top of a hill, so you have to climb to the top to see the village:

During lunch, we talked again about the ceremony and what his great-grandparents and his grandmother did for my family. He kept saying, “it was nothing!” As if it was a totally normal thing to do, and even with the great danger involved, it was the only thing for them to do. He also told me emphatically that he would do it himself if it were required of him. It never ceases to amaze me the absolute certainty that he and his family have about what they did, and that they would do it again if presented with the need. That is true bravery in my mind. They are truly remarkable people, very special in considering themselves ordinary when they acted bravely in a time of grave danger.

Again, how can we ever repay/thank such people? I believe that if I were presented with the same choice, I would hope to act in the same way, knowing that if others hadn’t done that for my mother, I would not be here today.

Laurent tasting the Rose of Gaillac – it is serious business!

The “caves” for the wine. It smelled divine!

P.S. I will add another post when I return with more photos that I took with my other camera, but which I am unable to access while in France.

Inside the House of Zyklon B

An iconic Hamburg building, built by Jews and now a chocolate museum, once housed the distributors of one of Nazi Germany’s most gruesome inventions

Read more:

BY YULIA KOMSKA, Smithsonian Magazine, October 10, 2017

The “chocoverse” of Germany is located inside a Hamburg building that is a shade of burnt brown with a hint of cinnamon on the exterior. The material is brick, yet evocative of a deconstructed layer cake crafted by a madcap pâtissier. Halvaesque limestone, discolored from age, stands in for the fondant-like décor: the tense buttresses rise and sprawl, sinew-like, up the walls. They tether several gargoyles of austere eeriness: a scaly seal, an armored mermaid, and, near the entrance, a skeletal death.


The Messburghof in Hamburg, Germany.  (Wikimedia Commons)

On the interior is the opulent filling: chiseled railing, frosted gold-leaf doors, glossy mahogany banisters weighed down by licorice-hued concrete frogs. Here, the chocolate manufacturer Hachez tempts tourists with its ground-floor museum and store, the Chocoversum.

But the building itself carries a link to Germany’s darkest historical moment, far removed from sweetness of any sort.

The landmark exemplifies the ways in which architecture conceals—and reveals—disparate histories. The question here becomes: how to make them visible all at once?

Sifting through piles of sketches, the building’s architects, brothers Hans and Oscar Gerson, were blissfully unaware of this remote challenge. In the comfort of their homes, the two relished the bourgeois coziness of Germany under the rule of Wilhelm II. Away from this full-bodied domesticity, the rising stars of the Roaring Twenties and scions of an established Jewish family took joy in making brick sing entirely new harmonies. Their odes to humble burnt clay suited the taste—and the bill—of Hamburg’s chief urban planner Fritz Schumacher.

Completed between 1923 in 1924, the structure was the latest architectural fancy of northern Modernism; even the fastidious critic Werner Hegemann lauded its unfussy, “American” lines. It helped shape Hamburg’s striking commercial district, replacing the torn-down tenements that had incubated the city’s horrific cholera epidemic in 1892.


This memorial plaque commemorates Jews who were killed with Zyklon B gas supplied by Tesch and Statenow.  (Wikimedia Commons)

Hamburg, located along the Elbe River not far from where it empties into the North Sea, was Germany’s future “gate to the world.” A hub of commerce and banking, it had reared generations of Jewish entrepreneurs. From 1899 to 1918, Jewish shipping executive Albert Ballin oversaw the world’s largest passenger and trade fleet for the Hamburg-America Line (now HAPAG), dispatching goods and over 5.5 million hopeful immigrants overseas. An avowed opponent of World War I—trade blockades and military requisitioning of ships were no friends of maritime commerce—he took a deadly dose of sedative on November 9, 1918, the day when the Germany that he had known collapsed. The Gersons named their building Ballinhaus as a monument to the country’s late cosmopolite-in-chief. Outside, a relief captured Ballin’s profile, and on the second floor, the company Albert Ballin Maritime Equipment opened a new office.

Another early tenant was the bank M. B. Frank & Co. The Great Depression had hit the company so hard that the founder’s heir, Edgar Frank, a onetime World War I volunteer and a patriotic “German citizen of Jewish faith,” carried on with only three employees and an income so negligible that it would go untaxed for several years. Alas, even a quick look outside made clear that finances were not his only problem. Hamburg and its suburbs were fast becoming battlegrounds for the emboldened Nazis and their only forceful opponents—Communists. As the two camps slugged it out on the streets—the Nazis would quickly begin winning most of the clashes—dark clouds gathered over the building’s Jewish owners and tenants.

Soon after the Nazis seized power in 1933, Max Warburg, offspring of the extended Jewish banker clan soon to preside over New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the American Ballet Company, resigned from the joint-stock enterprise in control of the building. Frank was intimidated into selling his business and all real estate. Unable to emigrate, he would be deported to Minsk, in the newly created Reichskommissariat Ostland, where he would die on March 8, 1942. In 1938 Ballin’s smashed relief landed in a garbage pile. Fully “Aryanized,” Ballinhaus was now Messberghof.

Designed by Jews, once named after a prominent Jew, and owned by Jews, the Gersons’ brick concoction was on its way to becoming a hub for facilitating the industrial murder of Jews.

Beginning in 1928, insecticide retailer Tesch & Stabenow took over the building step by step. First a modest neighbor of Albert Ballin Maritime Equipment, it slowly squeezed out the Jewish tenants, establishing itself as the largest distributor of the gas Zyklon B east of the Elbe. Between January 1, 1941, and March 31, 1945, according to the protocol of the British Military Court in Hamburg, company leaders, including its gassing technician, supplied “poison gas used for the extermination of allied nationals interned in concentration camps well knowing that the said gas was to be so used.” 79,069 kilograms of the substance were required in 1942 alone, 9,132 of them slated specifically to kill humans in Sachsenhausen, outside Berlin, its subcamp Neuengamme, near Hamburg, and Auschwitz. In 1943, the demand rose to 12,174 kilograms, and by early 1944, nearly two tons arrived in Auschwitz alone monthly.

Tesch & Stabenow did not actually produce Zyklon B or other gases widely used for disinfection. A subsidiary of the chemical company Degesch, with the nauseatingly saccharine name Dessau Sugar Refinery Works Ltd., made and packaged the goods in Germany’s east. Tesch & Stabenow then oversaw the shipping of the product and equipment to SS and Wehrmacht barracks, instructing the personnel about use on the proper enemy: lice, the main carriers of typhus. When asked for advice on mass extermination of Jews by the Nazi state, the company’s head Bruno Tesch suggested treating them like vermin by spraying prussic acid, the active ingredient in Zyklon B, into a sealed space. According to court testimony of his company’s various employees, from stenographers to accountants, Tesch proceeded to share the know-how in a hands-on manner.

According to the United States Holocaust Museum, at Auschwitz alone during the height of the deportations, up to 6,000 Jews were killed each day in the gas chambers.

Most of the Gersons were lucky to have escaped the Holocaust. Hans died of a heart attack in 1931. Oscar was excluded from the German Association of Architects and barred from practice in October 1933. His teenage daughter Elisabeth, intent on following in her father’s footsteps, kept changing schools as the discriminatory laws and regulations multiplied. In September 1938, the last school pressured her to drop out, recording her departure as voluntary.

The family fled to California, losing nearly everything to Germany’s extortionist Jewish Capital Levy, which taxed the Jewish immigrants’ assets at up to 90 per cent. In Berkeley, Oscar was eventually able to secure several residential commissions, and the town’s plaque speaks of a fulfilling career stateside. And yet, the restitution records filed between 1957 and 1966 show that the American projects were no match for his potential—or for Elisabeth’s, who had to make do vocational training, paying her way through a Californian community college and resigning herself to the commercial artist jobs that would leave her talents untapped for life.

Nothing around Hamburg’s Messberghof today tells these stories. Of course, this isn’t to say that the building goes unmarked: it boasts two different plaques. Tellingly, they appear on its two different sides, as if history’s chapters did not belong in the same continuous narrative. Neither can a visitor spot them from the entrance to Chocoversum’s sweet-tooth paradise. Instead, the vicissitudes of modern-day remembrance err helplessly between death and death by chocolate.

The first plaque describes Messberghof’s architectural merits, as befits a Unesco World Heritage Site, which the entire commercial district became in 2015. The second records Tesch & Stabenow’s crime and punishment and recalls its victims, among them the poet Itzhak Katzenelson, murdered in Auschwitz. “Destroy not the villains in the world,” a quote from him reads in transliterated Yiddish, “let them destroy themselves.”


Sculptures at Messberghof in Hamburg, Germany.  (Wikimedia Commons)

Taking notes for his recent book about postwar Allied tribunals, the author A. T. Williams shuffled off unimpressed by this “paltry memorial.” The storm preceding its dedication in June 1997 may have escaped him. All through the early 1990s, local history preservation activists fought the German Real Estate Investment Co., which managed the building and worried that the footnote to its historical burden would scare away potential renters. The administrators vehemently opposed the design with an image of a Zyklon B container. Too reminiscent of Warhol’s Campbell Soup can, they sanctimoniously pronounced, appearing to sidestep probing questions about historical memory. The building’s owner, Deutsche Bank, weighed in. “Your suggestion to picture the Zyklon B container on a plaque,” its senior vice president Siegfried Guterman responded to the activists in the spring of 1996, “has something macabre about it.” What if, he feared, it “elevate[s] the thing to the status of an art object”? The activists’ bitter quip that nothing could be more macabre than the Holocaust fell on deaf ears, as did the plea to restore the original name, Ballinhaus. These memory wars, too, go unrecorded for the tourist.

The death gargoyle at the entrance to the Gersons’ “American” edifice has turned out to be uncannily prescient. Peering at it in the knowledge of the layered history did more than simply give goosebumps; it suffocated. The effects seemed almost physical. I was in Hamburg to research the early life of Margret and H. A. Rey, the famous children’s book authors and the Gersons’ relatives and close friends. Already a few days in, the archival forays revealed every anticipated shade of darkness. By day, I would peruse the extended family’s restitution files—the postwar West German government’s complicated and sluggish payouts for the Nazi wrongs and, tragically, the most extensive source of knowledge about Germany’s Jews under and after Nazism.

At night, by an odd coincidence, I would lay sleepless across the street from the building where the British Military Court had sentenced Bruno Tesch to death on March 8, 1946, making him the only German industrialist to be executed. Sprawled in the once predominantly Jewish quarter Eimsbüttel, the art noveau gem stood just around the corner from where H. A. Rey had gone to school. In front of the school, now the university library, was the square where the Nazis rounded up Hamburg’s Jews, banker Edgar Frank among them, for deportations starting October 1941. In the pavement, multiples of Stolpersteine, the bronze cobblestone-sized mini-monuments with the names and fates of the perished residents, gave off threnodial glimmer. The city seemed haunted by the ghosts of those whom it had rejected and sent to die. Someday, they will return to claim their share of Messberghof’s memories.


The Messburghof is now home to a museum and factory devoted to chocolate. (

“Mr. Tuck had my son thinking all day about what he heard in school. He told me later that night about his one piece of bread in the morning and night. I am thankful for the hand out that was brought home, so I can read his story. This has been a priceless experience for my son, and I am so thankful that Mr. Tuck was able to visit. ~ A Perkiomen Valley HS parent

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Annual Dinner – November 2017

56th Annual Fundraising Dinner and Silent Auction

Saturday, November 11, 2017, 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Philmont Country Club, 301 Tomlinson Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006

Honoring Deanne S. Comer for her lifelong commitment to the creation and implementation of quality Holocaust education, incorporating accurate history, and appropriate classroom strategies
and celebrating the legacy of our Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center.

$95 per individual; $175 per couple – A portion of the proceeds is a tax-deductible
donation to the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center.

For reservations, or 215.464.4701

RSVP by before October 27, 2017

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Nashville Holocaust survivor finally forgives her mom for doing the right thing


Holocaust survivor Frances Cutler Hahn talks about difficult decisions her parents made to keep her safe before the Nazis killed her parents during WWII Larry McCormack / The Tennessean


As a girl, Frances Cutler Hahn thought her mom abandoned her by taking her to a children’s home when the Nazis occupied their home country of France


She was only five years old when the Nazis killed her mother in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Frances Cutler Hahn remembers feeling really, really angry – at her mother.

The way she saw it then, her mom dumped her in a children’s home in Paris, abandoned her, left her sitting on a cold floor, confused, alone and scared.

The painfully shy little Jewish kid was surrounded by a bunch of children who crossed themselves during prayers each night in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, stealing glances at the new girl and wondering why she wasn’t doing the same.

The girl cried often. Her mother – in the months before the Nazis shipped her to Germany – would visit her baby at the children’s home, visits that became harder and harder.

The sobbing girl would latch on to her mom and beg her to take her back. The girl became so hysterical that the home’s leaders limited the visits to once a week.

“One of the things I had to deal with as an adult, I understand what my parents did was for my benefit,” said Hahn, 79, one of only a handful of Holocaust survivors living in Middle Tennessee.

“But the feelings I had as a three-year-old and four-year-old was anger. And it took me a long time to let go of that.”

Hahn – set to speak Sunday, Oct. 8 at the 10th anniversary ceremony for the Nashville Holocaust Memorial – has come to realize child survivors of the Holocaust also suffered real trauma.

Many avoided concentration camps or torture, but those children, too, carry deep scars from World War II.

Hahn was 48 years old when she finally, and fully, forgave her mom. That’s when she saw the translation of a postcard her mom had written to her family about her little girl, Fanny.

Father and daughter go into hiding

Hahn’s parents – Cyla Lindenberg and Shlomo Kahane – grew up lower-middle class in the same town of Ciechanów in north-central Poland, where her dad became a resistance fighter against the country’s fascist regime.

After he was arrested several times, the family moved to join relatives in Paris in the late 1930s, where the father became a tailor – and a member of the French Resistance, battling against Nazi occupation of France.


Hahn was born March 16, 1938 at Fanny Lindenberg.

Her only memory of her parents together is of her crying in her crib, and her mom and dad, in bed, arguing over who would get up to comfort the child.

Hahn was 3 when her parents – in their early 20s – took her to La Maison des Petits Enfants (House of Small Children) to hide the girl from the Nazis. Her father went into hiding to work fulltime for the Resistance.

A year or so later, the children’s home wrote to the girl’s father to say it was no longer safe for her to be there.

So Hahn was taken to a farm outside the city, to be raised by a strict couple with their own children who had taken in 10 or so other children.

Bomb raid drills

Feeling sad and abandoned, Hahn often wet the bed, infuriating her caretakers, who once stripped her of her pants outside so the geese could bite the girl’s buttocks. Hahn said she remembers running around screaming in hopes of scaring away the geese.

“The child rearing attitude was very strict,” she said. “I didn’t feel loved. They fed me, but it was a discipline type of environment.”

The caretakers often ran bomb raid drills for the children, who were taught to run into the basement if the village came under attack.

Hahn later learned her mother had been killed during that time, and her father had gotten sick and moved into a sanitarium.

When the war ended, a woman with a purse hanging from her forearm came to get Hahn and take her to an orphanage in Paris, closer to her surviving relatives.

The caretakers and some of the other children shouted at the little girl to come back and visit, and Hahn remembers smiling and waving.

As soon as she and the woman were out of earshot, Hahn, then 7, insisted she would never ever go back to that farm.

The little girl saw her father twice at the sanitarium before he died. Her father told her at the second visit that he was dying, but it didn’t register with her.

“Right after,” Hahn said, “I was picking my nose and he told me not to pick my nose. ‘Aren’t you going to come with me?’ I asked. He said no. I didn’t really understand what he meant by ‘dying.’”

She kept talking to her father after he died

She ended up on a boat to live with relatives in Philadelphia shortly thereafter.

In America, Hahn kept saying aloud and in her head where she was in hopes that her father would find her and come get her.

Meanwhile, Hahn’s great uncle and aunt – owners of a Kosher butcher shop – eventually adopted this angry 12-year-old girl, enrolled her in school and helped her learn English.

Part of what made the girl angry was legally changing her last name, which she felt was a betrayal of the father she still thought maybe, possibly, just might come get her.

And the girl still couldn’t shake the feeling that her parents had abandoned her.

Slowly, in pieces, Hahn began to accept her parents were dead, and she learned more and more about them and the Holocaust. At 16, she spent lots of times with her mom’s sisters, who told her a little about what happens in concentration camps. The images of gas showers stuck with the girl.

By 19, Hahn started looking away from pictures from concentration camps, afraid she might see her mother’s face.

‘I didn’t feel so weird or different’

She ended up working at University of Miami, getting married at age 30 and going to therapy. Hahn had her one child, a daughter, Cynthia Cutler Moon, now a lawyer in Goodlettsville.

Hahn took her biggest steps toward wellness in her late 40s when she joined a Holocaust children’s survivors support group.

“This group was a very healing experience because I didn’t feel so weird or different. This group understood what feeling abandonment was like, and that we were feeling guilty about this anger,” she said.

“And it was safe to say you had these feelings.”

With help from the group, Hahn reached out to the American Red Cross to see what documents she might find about her mom.

The letter she got Oct. 23, 1997, hit her hard.

“The attached document from the French Red Cross Society informs us of the following: Mrs. Cyrla (sic) Lindenberg, born May 15, 1914 of Polish nationality, resided at 19 Cite Dupont in Paris and was deported to the Concentration Camp Auschwitz on July 27, 1942 on Convoy No. 11.”

Again, with the group’s support, Hahn decided to decipher one more document, one that she had been holding onto for more than 30 years.

The postcard

She had a postcard translated into English that her mother had written to her family back in Poland in 1941, shortly after she brought her daughter to the children’s home in Paris.

“Now Fanny is three years old,” the postcard says.

“I’m meeting her every week because today she is close and by Metro I can be with her. It was very difficult for me not to be with her every day…

“She speaks so nice. She speaks like an adult. It is really nice to talk to her…

“I am terribly sad without Fanny.”

Hahn, reading the translation for the first time in her late 40s, started to cry.

“It was so devastating,” she said, tearing up at the memory. “I think I was able to put myself in her place and feel how painful it was for her. It’s very sad to do that.”

From the sadness emerged joy – Hahn also realized fully for the first time how much her parents loved her.

“I really feel whatever strength I have and whatever made me endure or cope, I feel I could because of this love from my parents,” she said.

“I had no parents, but I had their love.”

Reach Brad Schmitt at or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.

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