My Surviving Menorah: A Survivor’s Tale

Sol Goldberg, a Sheepshead Bay resident, is a client of Caring Professionals under its special survivor program. Caring Professionals provides many hours of home care to Sol and his wife through funding provided by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany through the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island which provides many services to the Goldbergs. These services allow them to stay home in comfort and independence. I met him at a recent Thanksgiving event and he was willing to share his compelling story with our readers.

Shlomo Zalman as he was called, was born into a family of Gerrer Chassidim in the town of Djunsko Volo, Poland. All the town’s Jews were devout Yidden. His grandfather owned a wholesale grocery business, and three generations lived comfortably in apartments above the retail store in the front. The wholesale division was in the back.

Two days after the Germans invaded Poland, they marched into Djunsko Volo. Although they only took 20 Jews at first, they destroyed the main town shul in the square and burned the sifrei Torah. They appropriated 50 houses and took the Goldberg family home because it was spacious. They stomped on Sol’s tefillin, perhaps suspecting that jewelry was hidden in the leather boxes. All four Goldberg families were relocated to an apartment in the town ghetto; each family was allotted one room.

Before the war, Djunsko Volo’s mayor was a customer of the family business. He bought the chemicals for his leather business from them. When the Nazis came in, he made the Goldbergs the distributors of the biweekly potato rations for the Jews, and gave them extra rations.

After Shavuos, when news of the impending liquidation of the ghetto spread, the Goldbergs dug a hole in the ground and hid two bags of silver items, where they remained throughout the war.

Sol, now 17 years old, was sent to the Lodz ghetto, where he performed forced labor in a factory that produced uniforms for German soldiers. From there he was deported to Auschwitz for several months. When the Russians came closer, he was sent on a death march to another camp.

In July of 1945, after liberation, he returned to Djunsko Volo with surviving friends. He sought his family, but found no one. There, he learned from a local non-Jew of the fate of his parents and sisters. They had been shot and buried in a mass grave.

He said a heartbroken Kaddish and made the decision to move on.

There was no reason to remain. The local Poles had broken the windows of the lodging where they were staying and committed other acts of violence against the returning Jews, who now feared for their lives.

Before leaving, Sol dug up his family treasures, but could not take all the items with him; he would be traveling without papers. He took his mother’s silver pocketbook because it fit in his pocket. The rest he gave to a relative of his late brother-in-law, who would bring them to a trusted Pole in nearby Lask.

Sol met the woman who would become his wife. She was a survivor from Vilna. They made their way from one displaced persons camp to another, and spent more than six years in Fernwald before heading to America. “My grandson once asked me why I didn’t go to Israel. My reason was that I was the sole survivor of my family. I couldn’t risk being killed in Israel during the wars and violence. I had an obligation to build a family that would continue our family’s name and traditions.”

The Goldbergs have two sons and several grandchildren, and have lived in their Sheepshead Bay apartment for 43 years. Mama’s silver pocketbook hangs in a frame on the living room wall. Some photos of his parents and siblings survived, because wedding photos were sent to family members in Israel when his sister married, before the war.

In 1995, Sol heard that a delegation of American Jews was planning to travel to Poland to deal with the government authorities in Lask, and that this delegation included his fourth cousin. The purpose of this mission was to prevent the erection of a building on the site of the cemetery there. Sol asked his cousin to go to the woman to whom his family’s treasures had been entrusted fifty years earlier, and try to reclaim them on his behalf.

“I sold them to eat,” she told the cousin. “This is the last piece.” It was Zeide Leib Goldberg’s silver Chanukah menorah.

For Sol, the menorah’s restoration is a visible reminder of the survival of the Goldberg family of Djunsko Volo, Poland, a survival against all odds.

“I want people to know my story, the story of families destroyed by wicked people, the near-destruction of our people. There is no explanation for what happened. But we need to remember.”