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May 19, 2017     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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May 19, 2017

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PAGE 8A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 19, 2017 By Gloria Green confiscated, limiting informa- tion; in 1941--citizenship of About two years ago, I Jewswas revoked;in 1942"It flew to Israel for the annual got really bad" with the begin- conference of the Interna- ningofthetransport of Jews. tional Association of Jewish Followingtheannouncement Genealogical Societies, held that Jews would have to help that year in Jerusalem.While with the war effort, the Ge- in Jerusalem, I toured Yad stapo first rounded up 1,000 Vashem, Israel's memorial to young Jewish girls and sent Holocaustvictims. One of the them to Auschwitz." very powerful exhibits honors In the process of rounding "The Righteous Among the them up, Jewish men were Nations"--thatsmall minor- "enlisted" to renovate two ity who at great risk managed abandoned buildings into torescueJewishpeopleduring holding places for those to be the Holocaust. YadVashem. deported.Asaformerwrestler, org identifies the four major Eckstein must have been a kinds of help that were pro- natural for the task. vided by those few: Hiding The leaders of the Jewish Jews in the rescuers' home or community in Bratislava ob- ontheir property; Smuggling tained permission for kosher and assisting Jews to escape; food to be brought to the two The rescue of children; Pro- "assembly" points--Goring riding false papers and false Lager and Patronka--for identities, those being deported to Aus- I then travelled to Haifa chwitz. Eckstein, as a grocer, to visit with Yosie and Tova and his brother, Shumel, Teitelbaum, with whom I had both active in the Jewish become acquainted with via community, were allowed to email through an Orlando bring food to the two loca- connection. Early on in our tions. Under pain of death, relationship, I had learned the Eckstein brothers were from Tova the extraordinary notto talk/communicatewith story of her father, Jonas Eck- the prisoners in any way--no stein who did all of the above letters, notes, addresses to be and more to help what turned exchanged. Many years later, out to be over 2,000 Jewish Tova met a woman who had men, women and children in been kidnapped off the street Bratislava, Czechoslovakia in Bratislava at the age of 16 (now the capital of Slova- andbroughttooneofthetwo kia). Prior to the Holocaust, assembly points. The woman BratislavahadthelargestJew- never forgot. Eckstein was ishcommunityinthecountry, able to sneak word to her Eckstein was the owner of family and they were able a grocery store, an amateur to ransom her the next day. wrestler in the Hakoach Sport Unfortunately, Eckstein's Organization, and a corn- brother was caught bringing munity leader in Bratislava. out a note. "He and his family All three roles helped him were arrested and taken to in the difficult years ahead, Auschwitz because he did the including having excellent most terrible thing, he tried contactswith the local police, to help someone else." As a result, he was able to help Eckstein determined several thousand to survive things were in a downward after the Nazis arrived. Tova spiral, as people were being relayed some of her father's kidnapped off the streets. As story to me in an email soon Tova described, "He rescued after we became acquainted: many Jews, not by provid- "The dark clouds began in ing them with visas, but by 1939 when Jews were ordered physically hiding them in topaybacktaxes, anexcuseto a bunker under our house. confiscateJewishvaluablesat There were always 50 or 60 thattime;in1940radioswere people living there at any Tova Teitelbaum in a portrait taken after being reunited with her parents at the end of World War II. Tova was hidden in plain sight on a train travelling the Czech countryside in the care of a Christian teenage girl--daughter of the engineer--during the war. one time He provided them with food and water and other necessities of life at a daily, hourly, minute-by- minute risk to his life. He did this rescue operation for a good many months. Besides bringing the physical neces- sities, he always had a good word, a joke, and most im- portant, news from outside. I also was informed that there were bunkers in other parts of Bratislava, including one under the main synagogue." While Eckstein wasn't re- sponsible for those bunkers, he took it on himself to bring food to the occupants, again at great risk. After Tova, the Eckstein's first child, was born in a Jewish hospital in Bratislava in 1942, her mother, Valerie (nicknamed Wally), worried for their safety and fled with newborn Tova before night fell. "I don't know where my mother went when she fled the hospital. She later often said that of those who stayed overnight no one survived." In 1943, leaders of Bratisla- va's Jewish community were brought together and cau- tioned that they had to avoid the fate of Jews in Poland. Word was "leaking" to the Jewish Underground in Slova- kia from concentration camp escapees describing the mass exterminations. Under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Weissmandl, $50,000 was "scraped" together from the Jewish community, includ- ing about $25,000 given by Shlomo Stern of Bratislava. Tova learned from later tes- timonies that it was actually her father who was sent alone, with great trepidation, to hand over the bribe (untraceable cash) to German and Slovak officials. And, she learned, "The deportations did not stop, but it did become easier to walk on the streets without fear of being kidnapped off the street." The mass deportations of Jews abated for two years-- from 1942-1944. And, im- portant to note, it was only after the bribe had been given that it became possible to rescue children from Poland. At that time, Jews were safer in Slovakia than in Poland, where only 10 percent of the Jews survived the genocide. Between a number of dedi- cated Slovak and Polish Jews, Polish Jewish children were smuggled into Slovakia and then on to Hungary/Rumania and eventually to Palestine. As Tova later learned from survivor testimonies, "Most of the children were brought to our house to recuperate till it was possible to move them on." Once Eckstenwas picked up and jailed because the Gestapo suspected that he knew the whereabouts of four Polish refugees who had crossed into Slovakia. Eckstein was beaten and put in solitary confine- ment. After a couple of days they arrested his wife, Wally. She was also beaten and put into solitary confinement. Both kept silent. Eckstein was let out by concocting a ruse to help them catch the escapees--saying they stole from him and he wanted to catch them, too. Eventually both were released. Jonas Ecsktein delivering kosher food to Jews being deported to Auschwitz. At some point, Eckstein re- alized that it was too danger- ous for anyone, including the family, to stay in the bunker because of frequent patrols by the Gestapo. Eckstein with Wally, Tova and another cousin, Ester Eckstein, sought refuge with the Payankos, a Christian family living in Lamec, a small village outside Bratislava. Because it was difficult to hide a child in a confined space, the Payankos eldest daughter, Manya, took Tova out of the house. As a train engineer, Payanko was able to provide Manya with a free pass on the Czech railroad. Manya spent days travelling around the country with little Tova. "Manya made me lie down and pretend that I was asleep so that people shouldn't both- er us. In retrospect--how long can you ask a two-year-old to pretend to be asleep? Manya did this for weeks." Manya then returned to Lamac and told the neighbors that she had come home with her illegitimate child. Around Oct/Nov 1944, Eckstein and Wally left their hiding place somewhere in Lamac because there had been a rumor that the war was coming to an end and it was safe to return to Bratislava. It turned out not to be true. "A Nazi called Alois Brun- ner named my father on a personal list as someone who had to be found and sent to a concentration camp." Her parents were picked up and taken to Theresienstadt, which was a "camp-ghetto" where Czech Jews were in- terned pending transport to killing centers in Germany, Poland, etc. It also served as a ghetto-labor camp which was used for propaganda purposes as a place where certain Jews, based on their celebrity or skills, were presented to the outside world as a part of a "model Jewish settlement" where Jews were deployed for productive labor. Being a former wrestling champ may once again have paid off for Eckstein. "My parents were in There- sienstadt the last six months of the war in a special section where couples were allowed to stay together as husband and wife. One of my father's cousins was with them as well. This was very important and considered a privilege. To be Jonas Eckstein as part of the forced labor force when the Jews were compelled to enlarge and renovate Patronka, an abandoned factory in Bratislava. separated would have been "Jews Saving Jews" about six very demoralizing, because years ago, Tova again discov- you didn't know what had ered attendees who could say happened to your family and that they or their parents usually lost the will to live." had been saved by her father. Tova's parents remained Tova"convinced" some of the in Theresienstadt until lib- survivors to talk to her by eration by the Russians in asking, "Is it right that there May 1945. They returned to was nowritten record of what Bratislava and then went to my father had done?" LamectoretrieveTova. While "Yad Vashem was most the family had hoped to move unhelpful and I can say totally to Israel from Bratislava, they uninterested.Asmallinterest- were unable to get the proper ing place called Haginzah in documents and so moved Bnei Brak was very helpful. to Australia in 1948, where They even had a file on my Eckstein opened a poultry father. Oneperson seemedto store. Tova eventuallywent to lead to another." college and married in Israel, After being contacted last and now lives in Haifa. year by the U.S. Holocaust While Tova's father had Memorial Museum, Tova written a partial autobiogra- provided them with pictures phy, her mother had told her and information on her family not to read it. to include in their large col- "My mother said 'I don't lection, all available on their want you to know, you won't website. be able to sleep.'" After decades of discover- In 1966, the Czechoslova- ies, "What I learned above kia Olim organization held a all: My father himself often large event in Tel Aviv with didn't know how much and hundreds of people attend- what his next portion of food ing. Eckstein flew in from wouldbe, butwhateverhehad Australia to attend. This was he was willing to give away to the first time Tova began to someone in greater need. I understand the breadth of have tears in my eyes as I am what her father had done. writing this, my father was an "Many left testimonies and incredible person!" letters of thanks, so I started If you would like/or have looking for these people, more information on this There were also a number of rescue effort in Bratislava, articles in the newspapers at please write Tova at teitel_j@ the time. During aconference