Pearl's Story

Monday, October 21, 2013
In conjunction with our "Partners in Caring" program funded by the UJA-Federation of New York, the Y will feature interviews from six local survivors to better understand each individual's story. These interviews will be showcased at the Hebrew Tabernacle gallery "Experiencing a Time of War and Beyond: Portraits of Spirited Holocaust Survivors". The gallery will be opening on Friday November 8th.

Pearl Rosenzveig has been a member of the Y since 1998.

Pearl Rosenzveig (Photograph by Yael Ben-Zion: WWW.YAELBENZION.COM) Pearl (Friedman) Rosenzveig was born in Simleu Silvania, Romania on February 22, 1919. The Friedman’s were the only Jewish family in Simleu Silvania. Her father owned a liquor, tobacco, and grocery store. She has a sister, Esther, who was born on January 21, 1921. Her mother’s side of the family resided in a town about 3 hours away by train. Pearl remembers her mother as a loving person, who was also a business woman. She described her mother as a conservative Jew.

In Simleu Silvania, there was only one school for all the children to attend, however there was no high school. Pearl recalls attending that school until her 7th year. She was a gifted gymnast and states that gymnastics was her favorite subject in school. When asked if Pearl experienced any anti-Semitism as a child, she remembered a story from her time in school. Pearl and her sister were in a play about Romania and all of the states within the country. Each child was given a state to play, while Esther was given the part of Romania. When the class performed the play for the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister asked the teacher why a Jew was playing the part of Romania.

Even though the Friedman’s were the only Jewish family in Simleu Silvania, they still practiced Judaism. They celebrated every Jewish holiday and they kept kosher. On Friday, Pearl’s father would travel to a nearby Hungarian town where there were more Jews and would attend Shabbat services. On high holy days, Pearl and her mother would travel to a town called Silvaniei to go to synagogue.

When Pearl was 15, the Prime Minister of Romania put restrictions on Jewish owned businesses. The Friedman’s lost their business and was forced to move to Simleu Silvaniei. Pearl attended community college in Simleu Silvaniei, but was told that she failed her classes because she was a Jew. This did not make any sense to Pearl because when the gym teacher was absent, Pearl was called to replace her because she was such a talented gymnast. Even though Pearl tried to fight her way to stay in school, she did not win. By age 17, Pearl left the school. When she realized she had limited opportunities in such a small town, in her early twenties Pearl moved to Budapest where one of her uncles lived. She needed to learn a skill in order to survive so Pearl learned to sew. Pearl wanted to maximize her opportunities to make a living, which is why she decided to move to Budapest. She took great interest in sewing, but wanted to improve so she took a class in pattern making.

Pearl remembers that later on that she began sewing yellow stars onto clothing. She recalls, “When we were in the ghetto, we needed yellow stars on each item.” Pearl had been told many times that she did not look like a Jew. When Jews were unable to shop at stores, Pearl made the courageous decision to take off her yellow star and go shopping. One time she was stopped by a Hungarian police officer who asked her why sometimes he sees her with a yellow star and other times without the star. He told her, “You’re not Jewish. Take that star off forever.”

While in Budapest, Pearl was able to correspond with her parents by sending letters. However, she lost touch with her parents in the early 1940’s and Pearl knew that she had lost her parents forever. When reflecting on her feelings about the war, Pearl believes that the Hungarian government is responsible for the deaths of the Jews in Hungary.

After being in the ghetto for about two and half years, Pearl and the rest of the Jews were rounded up. She prepared by packing up her belongings. Pearl was sure to pack her mother’s jewelry and all the valuables that she had. In addition, she bought as much nonperishable food as she could so that she would not go hungry. One morning, the police came to the door and told her that she had five minutes to gather her belongings and leave. The police gathered a few thousand Jews in a lot. Pearl recalls that the police were extremely unorganized and eventually had to send all of the Jews home because they did not know what to do with all of them. She hoped that this would be the end, but it was not. In October 1943, she heard the knock on her door and once again she left the house. This time, it was for good. She remembers walking for what felt like forever. There were several thousand Jews that were forced to march day after day. When they would stop at night, Pearl remembers that they were given very little to eat. They served liquids only and she remembers the food being disgusting. She had no choice but to eat it. The Hungarian police orchestrated the march. Pearl felt disappointed, sad, and weak. She found the strength to carry on each day throughout the march. On the march, Pearl saw a woman coming out of her house. Pearl ran over to the woman and offered to give her the sweater she was wearing in exchange for any food. Pearl did not care that winter was coming. She was so hungry; all she could think about was getting food. The woman went into her house and came out with a lot of food for Pearl and she took the sweater.

Pearl recalls the march lasting from October to December. The weather got so cold, Pearl is glad that she did not lose her fingers on the march. She knew that she was walking to Germany, but she did not realize that she was walking to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She reached Bergen-Belsen in January 1944. When she got to the concentration camp, all of Pearl’s jewelry including her earrings and watch were confiscated. She was stripped of everything; including her clothes. She was given clothing that was full of lice. On the days that it would snow, Pearl would strip herself down to nothing and wash herself with soap in the snow. When she was done, she had to put her dirty clothes back on and go back to the barracks. When more people would come to the camp, Pearl would do what she could to make room for people in the barracks. This would leave her without a place to sleep. She stayed in the cold corridor and became very ill.

When the camp was liberated, Pearl saw British soldiers coming to the camp. She recalls them intimidating the German soldiers. After a week, Pearl was moved from Bergen-Belsen to a better facility in Germany. She remembers being fed a little better. Everyone was still very sick from the filth of the camp. A nurse came to help the refugees including Pearl who had come down with shingles. Eventually the Swedish came and opened their borders to the refugees and offered assistance to them. In 1945, Pearl decided that she wanted to go to Sweden. She was taken there along with other refugees. The refugees were taken care of by doctors and admitted to hospitals if they needed extra medical attention.

The refugees were put into Swedish summer homes outside of Stockholm. She recalls being placed with Czech, Hungarian, and Romanian refugees. She stayed there for two years. Pearl was very happy when she was there. She was given new clothes every season so she could be comfortable. After several years in Sweden, Pearl wrote to an uncle she found in New York. Her uncle immediately sent her $100. She used this money to buy herself a watch and to get her teeth fixed since they had been damaged from the war. Once she got herself fixed up, Pearl asked her uncle to help her come to America. Even though Pearl loved her life in Sweden, she wanted to be in New York with her family. She thought she would have to wait years to get to America because the Romanian quota was so small, but she and her uncle were able to work out a way to get Pearl to America as quickly as possible. The first affidavit that her uncle was able to get for her was not enough to get her into the country so her uncle asked a friend of his for help. This friend helped get Pearl an adequate affidavit to come to America.

On June 14, 1948, Pearl arrived in New York City. Her aunt was at the harbor waiting for her. She recognized Pearl by the pictures she had sent. She then lived with her aunt and uncle, and worked as a seamstress.

Pearl never imagined that she would marry an American man. She recalls that she met her husband when she was visiting a friend. She married Max Rosenzveig and they had 2 daughters. Pearl has six grandchildren.

This interview was transcribed (from a previoulsy recorded interview) by Halley Goldberg of the Y's Partners in Caring initiative and belongs to the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood. The use of this material without written consent from both the Y and the interviewee is strictly prohibited. Find out more about the Partners in Caring program here.

Hebrew Tabernacle’s Armin and Estelle Gold Wing Gallery in proud partnership with the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood invites you to our November/December, 2013 Exhibit "Experiencing a Time of War and Beyond: Portraits of Spirited Holocaust Survivors" with photographs and sculpture by: YAEL BEN-ZION, PETER BULOW and ROJ RODRIGUEZ. In conjunction with a special Service in memory of the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht -the Night of Broken Glass Services and Artist’s Opening Reception, Friday, November 8th, 2013 7:30 p.m.

A statement from the Y : "For decades the Washington Heights/Inwood Y has been, and continues to be, a haven for those seeking refuge, respect and understanding. Many who enter our doors and participate in our programs have lived through trials and tribulations that we cannot even begin to imagine. For some, who will be part of this exhibit, one such horror has come to be known to the world simply as “The Holocaust” - the systematic murder of six million Jews of Europe.

We at the Y remember the past, honor those who lived and died during that time, and safeguard the truth for future generations. For the sake of ourselves and our children, we must pass down the stories of those who have experienced the evils of war. There are lessons to be learned for the future. The interviews are documented by Halley Goldberg, a “Partners in Caring” program supervisor. This vital program was made possible through a generous grant from the UJA-Federation of New York, designed to enhance relationships with synagogues in Washington Heights and Inwood."

Our joint art exhibit features portraits and interviews of survivors of the Holocaust, Hannah Eisner, Charlie and Lilli Friedman, Pearl Rosenzveig, Fredy Seidel and Ruth Wertheimer, all of whom are members of the The Hebrew Tabernacle, a Jewish congregation that many German Jews fleeing the Nazis and lucky enough to come to America, joined in the late 1930’s. In addition we will also honor Holocaust survivor Gizelle Schwartz Bulow- mother of our artist Peter Bulow and WWII survivor Yan Neznanskiy – father of the Y’s Chief Program Officer, Victoria Neznansky.

A special Sabbath Service, with speakers, in memory of the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) precedes the opening of the Gold Gallery/Y exhibit: Services begin promptly at 7:30 pm. All are invited to attend.

For gallery open hours or for further information please call the synagogue at 212-568-8304 or see WWW.HEBREWTABERNACLE.ORG

Artist’s Statement: Yael Ben-Zion WWW.YAELBENZION.COM

Yael Ben-Zion was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Israel. She is a graduate of the International Center of Photography’s General Studies Program. Ben-Zion is the recipient of various grants and awards, most recently from the Puffin Foundation and from NoMAA, and her work has been exhibited in the United States and in Europe. She has published two monographs of her work. She lives in Washington Heights with her husband, and their twin boys.

Artist’s Statement: Peter Bulow: WWW.PETERBULOW.COM
My mother as a child, had been in hiding during the Holocaust. Over the years, her experience, or what I imagined to have been her experience, has had a large influence on me. This influence is reflected both in my personal and in my artistic life. I was born in India, lived as a young child in Berlin and emigrated to the US with my parents at age 8. I have a Masters in Fine Arts in sculpture. I am also the recipient of a grant that will allow me to make a limited number of bronze busts of Holocaust survivors. Please let me know if you are interested in being part of this project.

Artist’s Statement :Roj Rodriguez: WWW.ROJRODRIGUEZ.COM My body of work reflects my journey from Houston, TX – where I was born and raised – to New York – where, exposed to its ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic diversity and its unique view on immigrants - I found a renewed respect for everyone’s culture. I’ve apprenticed with well-established photographers, traveled the world extensively and collaborated with many top professionals in the field. Since January, 2006, my career as an independent photographer has become a process of taking on personal photography projects that emerge from my own understanding of the way we share the world and exercise our creativity as a whole.