How did your shidduch happen?
The Nazis had taken everything… our precious loved ones, our homes, our money, our food, our health, even our clothing, jewelry, pots and pans. They took our shuls, our schools, our entire way of life. They took our faith in the future, our natural confidence that tomorrow will basically be like today. They took our plans and dreams for the future, our ideas of how our lives would play out.
It was in 1946 in the D.P. camp in Ferenvald, Germany, that I married my uncle, Yaakov Kopel Schulkind, a Radomsker Chassid 18 years older than me. He had survived the war by working in Schindler’s enamel factory. Yaakov Kopel’s wife, my father’s sister Chana, had been murdered by the Nazis, along with their two children, may Hashem avenge their blood.
My husband was close with the Klausenburger Rebbe, zy”a, and they learned together every day for the four years we were in Ferenvald. The Klausenburger Rebbe would be our mesader kiddushin.
Many Yiddishe boys knew nothing about Yiddishkeit — they had spent their childhood years in the camps, without parents, without cheder. The Klausenburger Rebbe gathered them, taught them, loved them and made them into Yidden again.
The night before I got married, I smoked meat and hung it from the windows to dry. I broiled liver and chopped it. In fact, I prepared all the food for my wedding, then put on a borrowed wedding gown. The wedding was bittersweet. Yes, we had survived and were rebuilding. But I was getting married with no parents, no siblings, nobody and nothing familiar. This was not the wedding all little girls dream of.
I still remember the grammen that were sung at my wedding:
Lommer zingen heint l’chaim
Far dem leben far di nayem
Hitler ah narisher diplomat
Iz er farkrochen kein Stalingrad
Dorten hot men geshpilt de Katyushas
Dort hot er gemacht ah boireh nefushos
Although there were no musicians, everyone there tried their best to be mesamei’ach the couple who was getting married all alone.
In Ferenvald, I gave birth to a son. We named him Eliyahu, after my father. He was born ill, however, and had a pidyon haben before he had a bris. He died in Ferenvald at six months old.
When did you arrive in the U.S.?
We finally got visas to go to America and we arrived in New York in 1949.
We settled in Williamsburg and stayed there for 12 years, and later moved to Boro Park where I have lived for the past 49 years. My husband founded the Radomsker shtiebel.
The Klausenburger Rebbe settled in Union, N.J., and later in Netanya, Israel. A few times, my husband traveled to Union City for the Klausenburger Rebbe’s melaveh malkah.
I earned $15 a week working in a shoe factory. My husband worked in a jacket factory and earned $16 a week. We were paid 75 cents per hour. Our rent was $50 per month.
I scrimped and saved and put away a dollar a week, because I knew Pesach was coming and I needed to buy Pesach dishes and pots. I was very happy when I managed to do it. We even had guests for the Sedarim. Our first Pesach in the goldene medinah, like our wedding, was bittersweet. We were happy to be alive and free, but there was a coldness to our lives, without any family.
The coldness began to thaw when we were blessed with two wonderful daughters: Chaya Sarah, in 1950, and Fraidy, in 1953. They are named after my husband’s mother and my mother.
My husband and I, being greeneh, were not able to help them with their English homework but, baruch Hashem, they were bright girls and managed very well on their own.
When they were 13 and 10 years old, we wanted them to escape the hot city and go to the country, to overnight camp, so we sent them to Camp Gilah. The following year, when we went to register them again, Camp Gilah informed us that they had installed a new pool and so the price had gone up. We could not afford the new price. In fact, we could not even afford half the new price.
We did not know what to do. We did not want our daughters to spend the summer in the steaming hot apartment, but we did not have the money for Camp Gilah and we couldn’t leave the city due to our work obligations.
Someone suggested, “Call Rabbi J.J. Hecht. He has a camp, Camp Emunah, and will take your girls at whatever price you can afford.” Rabbi Hecht’s policy was, “Uhrem oder reich, du zeinen alleh gleich.” (Rich or poor, always an open door.)
So we did. And that is how our daughter Chaya Sarah made friends with Lubavitcher girls and eventually married a Lubavitcher Chassid, Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg. They are Chabad shluchim in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and some of their 10 children are shluchim as well.
Our daughter Fraidy married Mr. Shaul Eisen, a Bobover Chassid. They had a son, Yaakov Kopel, who passed away at a young age. Fraidy and Shaul find the strength to be very active in HASC and other good causes, and to provide an open, warm second home for extended family and many others.
My husband passed away in 1986. In 1988, I married Moshe Goldstein and we were married for seven years. He passed away in 1995.
What message should we pass on to your readers?
When I first came to the Jewish Committee in Cracow, trying to find a parent, sister or brother who may have survived, hoping against hope but finding none, I was given a bowl of hot soup.
I couldn’t eat it, because it was too salty from my tears.
But over the ensuing years, I slowly came to appreciate all the good in my life, and to teach my children and grandchildren not to complain about what is missing but to appreciate Hashem’s many gifts, and to greet people with a smile even when the heart is heavy.
Now, almost 80 years after losing my family, Hashem Yisborach has given me children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy. These give meaning to my life. They are what I dwell on, because to have doros, to see generations, is to proudly and happily carry on for those who were taken away.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.