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This is Home Now

This is Home Now: Kentucky's Holocaust Survivors Speak

Arwen Donahue
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Rebecca Gayle Howell
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 256
  • Book Info
    This is Home Now
    Book Description:

    The term "Holocaust survivors" is often associated with Jewish communities in New York City or along Florida's Gold Coast. Traditionally, tales of America's Holocaust survivors, in both individual and cultural histories, have focused on places where people fleeing from Nazi atrocities congregated in large numbers for comfort and community following World War II. Yet not all Jewish refugees chose to settle in heavily populated areas of the United States. In This Is Home Now: Kentucky's Holocaust Survivors Speak, oral historian Arwen Donahue and photographer Rebecca Gayle Howell focus on overlooked stories that unfold in the aftermath of the Holocaust. They present the accounts of Jewish survivors who resettled not in major metropolitan areas but in southern, often rural, communities. Many of the survivors in these smaller communities did not even seek out the few fellow Jewish residents already there. Donahue transcribes the accounts as she heard them, keeping true to the voices of those she interviewed. One of the survivors who shares her tale, Sylvia Green, describes the pain and desolation of her experiences in the Nazi death camps with a voice that reveals both her German-Polish heritage and her subsequent small-town life in Winchester, Kentucky. The Hungarian-born Paul Schlisser has an equally complex voice, a mix of phrases learned in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and regional speech patterns acquired in his adopted home near Fort Knox. Donahue's collection of voices, accompanied by Howell's poignant photographs, identifies each storyteller as an American -- and as a Kentuckian. Like many others of diverse backgrounds before them, Holocaust survivors joined the "melting pot" as a haven from the suffering in their native lands, but they eventually came to regard America as home. Although they speak of atrocities, most often experienced when they were children and unable to fully comprehend the situation, they also emphasize the comfort of acceptance -- not just by Jewish communities but also by a state that has long equated "religion" with Christianity alone. Kentucky is not known for its cultural and religious diversity, yet these stories reveal one of the many ways that the state has become home to a wide spectrum of immigrants -- people who once were strangers but now are its own.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7342-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. List of Photographs
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    James C. Klotter, Terry L. Birdwhistell and Doug Boyd

    In the field of oral history, Kentucky is a national leader. Over the past several decades, thousands of its citizens have been interviewed. The Kentucky Remembered series brings into print the most important of those collections, with each volume focusing on a particular subject.

    Oral history is, of course, only one type of source material. Yet by the very personal nature of recollection, hidden aspects of history are often disclosed. Oral sources provide a vital thread in the rich fabric that is Kentucky history.

    This volume, the seventh in the series and the first to focus on the topic of...

    (pp. XI-XIV)
    Joan Ringelheim

    After World War II, European Jews faced the daunting challenge of rebuilding their lives. In rare cases, entire families were lucky enough to survive the Holocaust, but in no cases did communities survive. The question of where to make a home—and indeed whether the word “home” had any meaning in the aftermath of such annihilation—was faced by all survivors.

    The majority of Holocaust survivors immigrated to Israel or the United States. Of the approximately 140,000 survivors who came to America, about two-thirds made their homes in the New York metropolitan area. Most of the remaining one-third settled in...

    (pp. XV-XVI)
    (pp. 1-18)

    On a hot May night in 2005, hundreds of people crowded into the former Fayette County courtroom in Lexington, Kentucky, to hear six people speak. The Lexington History Museum, which now occupies the former courthouse, had never before hosted a crowd of this size. The air conditioner was defunct, and the room’s two fans did little to ease the heat of the windless night. The old courtroom did not contain enough seats for everyone, so people sat on the open windowsills and spilled out into the hall. The crowd had come from as far as four counties over, a few...

    (pp. 19-22)
  9. Chapter 1 Sylvia Farber Green
    (pp. 23-42)
    Arwen Donahue and Sylvia Farber Green

    Sylvia Green (née Sylvia Färber) was born in Karlsruhe am Rhein, Germany, in 1924. Sylvia, as she pointed out to me, never had a teenage life, the years of the war having coincided almost exactly with her adolescence. When I met her in 1996, she had recently passed some of the milestones that are significant for many American teens—in her sixties, she had become a Bat Mitzvah and had earned her driver’s license. And she had undertaken a trip to Israel alone, one of the high points of her life.

    When I interviewed Sylvia again in 1999, her husband,...

  10. Chapter 2 Oscar Haber
    (pp. 43-60)
    Arwen Donahue and Oscar Haber

    I first visited Oscar and Fryda Haber in their Lexington home in May of 2000. On that day, I interviewed each of them, beginning with Fryda, who spoke carefully and graciously, yet somewhat reluctantly. Oscar, by contrast, was impulsive and eager to speak. Two weeks later, he and I continued our interview, and after five hours of taping, we had still barely begun to scratch the surface of his memories.¹ Oscar learned the English language relatively late in life, and sometimes his phrasing is difficult to understand. Listening to him speak is, nonetheless, a riveting experience.

    Oscar Haber was born...

  11. Chapter 3 Robert Holczer
    (pp. 61-80)
    Arwen Donahue and Robert Holczer

    Robert Holczer was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1929. Soon after the German invasion of Hungary in March of 1944, the country’s Jews began to be deported to Nazi camps. Robert and his mother ultimately managed to avoid deportation by moving into an apartment building that served, during siege of Budapest, as a clinic for wounded Hungarian Arrow Cross soldiers, who were Nazi allies. Meanwhile, with the secret help of an Arrow Cross officer, the clinic saved the lives of the four hundred Jews who lived in the building.

    In the years following the war, Robert lived in Israel and...

  12. Chapter 4 Abram Jakubowicz
    (pp. 81-96)
    Arwen Donahue and Abram Jakubowicz

    Abe Jakubowicz lives in a well-kept ranch-style house on the outskirts of Louisville with his wife, Frieda. At the time of this interview, in 1999, Abe still helped to manage his family’s five 20/20 Eye Care stores in central Kentucky, although at age seventy-five he had begun to pass the reins to his children.

    Abe was born in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland, on September 24, 1924. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Abe and his family—his mother, father, and younger brother—were living in the town of Grodzisk Mazowiecki. There, his father worked as a dealer in leather by-products. In...

  13. Chapter 5 Ann Klein
    (pp. 97-112)
    Arwen Donahue and Ann Klein

    This interview was conducted in Ann Klein’s Louisville home in July of 1999. Ann was the youngest of three children, born in Eger, Hungary, in 1921. Her father was a prominent banker in the town, and her mother was the president of a Jewish charity organization. In March of 1944, Germany invaded Hungary. By May, Eger’s Jews were forced to live in a ghetto. Weeks later, Ann and the ghetto’s other inhabitants were loaded onto cattle cars and deported to Auschwitz, where Ann’s parents were both killed.

    AK: And you know, I hear stories of people when they arrived and...

  14. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  15. Chapter 6 Justine Lerner
    (pp. 113-128)
    Arwen Donahue and Justine Lerner

    Justine Lerner was born in Biłystok, Poland, in 1923, one of eight children in a close-knit family. Justine was the only member of her family who survived the Holocaust. This interview took place on May 5, 1999, in Justine’s home in Louisville. She had moved to Kentucky only two years before, to be near her son, after she’d been brutally attacked by a robber in her Brooklyn apartment. Justine had always rejected being interviewed, but now that she was growing older, she felt that it was time to record her story.

    JL: My father, may he rest in peace, was...

  16. Chapter 7 Alexander Rosenberg
    (pp. 129-148)
    Arwen Donahue and Alexander Rosenberg

    Alexander Rosenberg lives with his wife, Alice, in a handsome house on a quiet cul-de-sac in Louisville. He is an avid gardener of both flowers and vegetables—when I visited in June of 2000, I was treated to a tour of his well-kept garden beds. Our interview was punctuated by the chiming of his wall-clock, which features a different birdsong each hour.

    Alexander was born in 1927 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In 1933, the family—Alexander, his father, mother, and younger brother—moved to Berlin. By 1937, many German businesses were being purged of Jewish workers, and Alexander’s father...

  17. Chapter 8 John Rosenberg
    (pp. 149-170)
    Arwen Donahue and John Rosenberg

    This interview, which spanned three days in 1999 and 2000, was conducted in John Rosenberg’s Prestonsburg office. By then, John had lived and worked in the Eastern Kentucky town for thirty years. As the director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund—also known as AppalReD—John oversaw the operations of eleven offices around Kentucky. AppalReD is a public interest law firm that focuses on systemic issues of poverty in Appalachia.

    John retired from AppalReD in 2001, but remains highly active in his community. He spearheaded, for example, the establishment of the Eastern Kentucky Science Center in Prestonsburg, which opened...

  18. Chapter 9 Paul Schlisser
    (pp. 171-192)
    Arwen Donahue and Paul Schlisser

    Paul Schlisser lives in a subdivision near Fort Knox, outside of Louisville. When I visited in June of 2000, Paul’s patriotism was in evidence throughout his home, from the flagpole in his front yard to the photographs of himself in uniform on the walls. Paul is a man of perfect posture and authoritative voice—“My voice carries, I can assure you of that,” he said as I set up my recording equipment—and would seem the stereotypical U.S. Army master sergeant, were it not for his small stature and Hungarian accent.

    Paul was born in Álmosd, Hungary, in 1935, the...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 193-200)
    (pp. 201-204)
  21. Index
    (pp. 205-216)