IN THE NEWS: Aging Holocaust survivors search for loved ones at Café Europa
Jun 3, 2014
Hundreds of aging Holocaust survivors looked into each other's eyes on Tuesday, hoping for a familiar face.
Leon Green, 93, searched for fellow inmates from Ebensee, the concentration camp from which he was liberated in 1945.
Viorica Weisz, 85, sought friends from her birthplace, Gradia, Romania, which her family was forced to leave in 1944. Shoshana Baradon, 87, was remembering her hometown of Saarbrucken, near the German-French border.
More than 300 searching survivors gathered at Café Europa, hoping to find friends and family they lost from their beloved birthplaces during World War II, when the Nazi regime decimated close-knit communities and sent 6 million Jews to their deaths.
Seventy years after the Allied invasion of Normandy, the average age of the survivors is 88, according to Danielle Hartman, president of Ruth and Norman Rales Jewish Family Services, an organizer of the café at B'nai Torah Congregation. Many survivors who flocked to the event in previous years are no longer alive or are growing frail, shrinking the crowd from 600 in 2007 to 344 on Tuesday.
The gathering was sponsored by the family service, Boca Home Care, the Polo Club of Boca Raton and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which negotiates with European governments to secure restitution for survivors.
Survivors were assigned to tables with former citizens of their birthplaces, such as Lithuania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Germany. An announcer offered periodic requests from survivors seeking fellow countrymen: places such as Lyon, France; Riga, Latvia; and Jhesiv, Poland.
Reunions are rare, but they do happen. In December, two survivors of the Unterluss concentration camp found each other, having lived together through typhoid fever, lice, starvation, bitter cold and forced labor. They were young teenagers the last time they saw each other, when they were liberated by British soldiers in 1945.
About 16,000 Holocaust survivors lived in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties as of about 10 years ago, the last time a survey was taken. Many thrived in the United States after World War II and need no assistance, but the Rales Family Services works with about 250 survivors in south Palm Beach County who need medical or emotional support, including visits from social workers, home health care and food deliveries.
"Their bodies are breaking down, but their minds are still sharp," Hartman said. "They are hardy, prideful people who need our services but don't want to ask for help."
Hartman said several new programs for survivors are in the works, including free dental care and friendships with students who went on the March of the Living, a popular two-week trip to Poland and Israel.
Frieda Jaffe, a Bergen-Belsen survivor from Piotrkow, Poland, said she has been to every Café Europa but is never hopeful about finding a lost friend or relative.
"I am a child survivor, so I don't expect to run into anybody," said Jaffe, 76. "For older survivors who want to reminisce, there is this lovely possibility of someone bringing up a memory."
Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services (JFS) provides help, hope and humanity through a comprehensive range of programs and services which support people of all ages and beliefs. With locations in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, JFS programs and services include food and financial assistance, senior services, career & employment services, counseling and mental health services and many volunteer opportunities. Funding is provided by private and corporate support, grants, special events and individuals who reach thousands in need each year. For more information about JFS call 561-852-3333. Learn more at www.ralesjfs.org.