Grandma Rosa was born in Lodz, Poland in 1925. She had 8 siblings. The family had a very comfortable upbringing. Her father was a successful businessman and served as an arbiter for the local Jewish community. Her mother was a homemaker. The family traveled to the countryside for vacations during the summer. That is where they were on Sept 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.
The family was rounded up from the Polish countryside and brought to the Lodz ghetto, where she witnessed unspeakable horrors. She saw her father beaten to death with the butt of a gun in their home. She saw her sister succumb to disease, most likely typhus. Grandma herself was forced into slave labor, making clothing in factories. One brother managed to escape into the woods of north Poland, only to be murdered in Lithuania. When the ghetto was closed in 1944, Grandma and her remaining siblings were transported by wagon to Auschwitz. She later found out that her mother and three younger brothers were sent to the crematoria as soon as they arrived. Satan himself, Joseph Mengele, placed Grandma Rosa in line for the crematorium. She remained in Auschwitz for two months. Her hunger was so severe that when she happened upon a patch of wild mushrooms sprouting from the ground, she devoured them. The violent illness that followed convinced her that she was going to die.
From Auschwitz, she was transferred to a working camp near Breslow, where she remained for a year and dug ditches in the woods. Grandma spoke of the extreme cold during that time: many of the camp’s inmates froze to death, and many were shot. She then marched from that camp barefoot to Bergen Belsen. On the march, she saw a young woman with an infant. It was the middle of winter, they had little food, and slept on the side of the road. Grandma heard the infant scream and cry all night. The next morning, the mother and child were dead. Grandma estimates that half the people on that march died. Eventually, she reached Bergen Belsen, where she remained for two months, and from there she was finally liberated. At liberation, she was 20 years old and weighed roughly 65 pounds. She was transported by ambulance and then by boat to a Red Cross Hospital in Sweden. She gradually found her way to recovery in the hospital, and met our grandfather, Mike. She later found out that her entire family had been murdered, except for her brother, who had managed to escape the ghetto, and a sister.
Grandma Rosa statistically was not supposed to survive her childhood. Virtually no one in her position did. She survived the deliberate attempt of a nation to destroy her, and our people’s, existence. Undoubtedly, this survival was in part due to luck, but equally as certain because of deeply ingrained qualities that she possessed: specifically, the strength of her thoughts, the strength of her will, and the strength of her love. Moreover, through all she experienced, Grandma Rosa never lost her sense of humor. She had an infectious laugh that brightened the day of anyone who was lucky enough to hear it. All of us in the family saw these qualities in Grandma Rosa and will always be privileged to share them with those who did not know her.
Grandma Rosa always thought deep and hard about making a decision—but when she arrived at an answer she was firm and did not waiver. She taught all of us that family and friends were all that truly mattered in the world, and any roadblocks we might come across were just nonsense not to be bothered with. When it came to the love she expressed for her family—our grandfather Mike, her daughters, her sons-in-law, and all of her grandchildren—she would make any sacrifice to make sure that we were happy. Part of that love meant she would always tell us what she truly thought; even if that meant telling us that we were wrong, so all of us knew that when we received praise from Grandma Rosa, we had truly earned it.
We will deeply miss the personal strength and love that Grandma Rosa imparted, but are equally inspired by knowing that this is a woman who we will always have the honor of calling our grandmother.