Monday, March 12, 2012

In Honor of Mrs. Chana Lorber a'h

Mrs. Chana Lorber a’h
One of the Women of BCMH

When we speak about the happiest moments that we have ever experienced, though they are generally significant uplifting moving milestones - none can really ever compare to Mrs. Lorber’s response to the question; what was the happiest moment of your life?

It is an answer that puts into perspective the degree to which we take so much in our lives for granted. In Mrs. Lorber’s case, it is an answer that she offers without hesitation. Her response stands forever as a sobering reminder in the grand sweep of Jewish history.

What was Mrs. Chana Lorber’s happiest moment in life? - The moment that she was liberated from work camp in Germany, on April 28, 1945. The answer speaks volumes.

What does it mean to sit together with a Jew from Warsaw, to spend time with a woman who lived through the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, Majdanek and Ravensbruch? It is to sit in awe and to attempt to understand the immensity of Chana Lorber’s perseverance, strength and accomplishments.

Chana Rosensweig Lorber was born in Warsaw the youngest of seven children. Her Father owned a butcher store. The family’s home was the two-bedroom living quarters behind the store. Mrs. Lorber went to Talmud Torah learned Hebrew and how to daven, later with the closing of Jewish schools she had no choice but to attend Catholic school, where she was mistreated as a Jewish girl. In 1940 the family was forced to leave their home and business and move into the Warsaw Ghetto where they would live for the next three years until it was liquidated.
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the Jewish ghettos established by Nazi Germany in General Government during the Holocaust in World War II. In the three years of its existence, starvation, disease and deportations to concentration camps and extermination camps dropped the population of the ghetto from an estimated 450,000 to 37,000. The Warsaw Ghetto was the scene of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one of the first mass uprisings against Nazi occupation in Europe.
Mrs. Lorber’s life has been shared with the Seattle community in several different publications and though I had the honor to speak with Mrs Lorber in great length on a grey rainy Seattle Sunday afternoon, I draw on those materials here to reconstruct parts of Mrs. Lorber’s life.

Life in Poland was never easy for Jews according to Mrs. Lorber; this was a country with much anti-Semitism and though she and her sister tried to escape from Poland their plan was viciously foiled by a Polish boy who betrayed them and turned them over to the authorities.

Life in the ghetto meant miniscule rations and overwhelming starvation. Mrs. Lorber was one of those brave ones that you and I read about; she would sneak out of the ghetto through the Jewish cemetery, which was one of the Ghettos’ boundaries, and smuggle food back into the Ghetto. And yes, once she was caught taken to jail and brutally beaten.

Mrs. Lorber is a witness to history, watching from her attic as a hundred or so brave Jews launched what would be known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. She vividly remembers the sounds of the explosions and the Molotov cocktails being thrown. She watched as the Germans brutally set the ghetto on fire on the last day of Pesach April 25th and with power of scores of tanks eventually put an end to the Jewish community in Warsaw.

The duration of the war slowly and painfully took a toll on Mrs. Lorber’ family with two of her brothers and one sister were taken from the ghetto in the first year never to be seen again. Her Mother died in the Ghetto and by the time of the ghetto’s liquidation there remained only her father, sister, brother and five year old niece. They were transported by cattle car to Majdanek. Upon arrival to the death camp, her little niece was taken to the gas chambers, her father murdered before her eyes. Eventually, her sister lost all will to live. It was then just Mrs. Lorber a brother and a sister. In Majdanek, Mrs. Lorber was forced to work brutal hours and was on one occasion viciously beaten with twenty five lashes by a female SS officer.

People were moved around by the Nazis and after being in Majdanek, Mrs. Lorber and her sister were transferred to Auschwitz where the inhumane treatment continued; her head was shaved, poorly fitting shoes and clothing were doled out to her and a number was burned on to her arm, 47259. There Mrs. Lorber saw and smelled the crematoria ashen smoke pumping out day and night.

After a year they were transferred to Ravensbruch a labor camp and then eventually to Malchow Germany to work in a munitions factory. It was there that liberation finally came to Chana Rosensweig. The young girl found by the English and American liberators was a very different person than the one who entered the Warsaw Ghetto five years earlier. Now she was all skin and bones. It took several years in Sweden for Mrs. Lorber to regain her health and humanity.

It was from Sweden that Mrs. Lorber and her sister made their way to New York and then on to Seattle. There Mrs. Lorber met Dovid Lorber, a very strong Zionist and a Partisan fighter. They married in 1952.

Mrs. Lorber’s relatives through her Mother’s side were the Walters and they were living in Seattle; that drew the young couple to the Pacific Northwest. Once in Seattle together they opened a men’s clothing shop in Pike Place Market at 1215 First Avenue. For forty-five years worked hard and long hours to make a living a selling clothes and for a time uniforms to sailors.

Here in Seattle the Lorbers became part of BCMH and Mrs. Lorber became a member of the sisterhood, cooking and baking and making lunches.

In those early years she found that most folks here were not interested in the experiences of Holocaust survivors – but that has changed.

The Lorbers had one daughter, Rosalie, who went to Hebrew School and spent a year in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. One can see Rosalie sitting together with Mrs Lorber most Shabbosim in shul. Rosalie is a successful accountant and an active member of BCMH.

Mrs. Lorber remembers the shul when it was still on 17th and Yesler. She recalls going to a packed shul on Rosh Hashanah. Mrs. Lorber still enjoys attending shul and if I may add always looks beautiful and stylishly dressed! Mrs. Lorber has a lovely countenance; she is not a tall person of great build but rather quite frail, in spite of this there is an aura of strength and determination in her bearing.

Each Shabbos I make sure to say Good Shabbos to Mrs. Lorber. She is an inspirational person, a delicate but very strong woman. Each week she expresses gratitude for being able to be in shul despite her health constraints. We are honored by her presence and truly sanctified to have her sitting with us.

There are new people in our shul, like myself for but thirteen years. I learned that if you want to understand who we are spend some time Mrs. Lorber.
We forget so quickly those who came before us and what true hardship really looks like. We do them great disrespect by allowing our petty differences to divide us when we are but a generation away from each of us being equally discriminated against and persecuted.
We only have a limited amount of years to get to know, to honor and to pay tribute to those giants of people who preceded us; Jews who are truly holy, “brands plucked out of the fire”. Take advantage; there are compelling lessons to be learned. If not, for what is this project?