Monday, October 1, 2012

To Tell At Last: Survival under False Identity 1941-1945 by Blanca Rosenberg 1995

Winner of the Jacob and Clara Egit Foundation Award for Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Literature.

The author of this memoir, born Blanca Nebenzahl in 1913 in Gorlice, Poland saw a bright future ahead of her. But once her teenage years were over, life as a Jew in Poland became difficult, then just about impossible. Determined to get an education often denied daughters, she first went to private school and then applied to medical school at the University of Warsaw. When admission was denied because of a quota on Jewish students, she switched to law and went to school in Krakow until harassment of Jews made it too difficult to stay. An early marriage produced a son. When war broke out, her husband enlisted in the Soviet Army and she remained with her baby in Kolomyja, Poland, her husband’s hometown.

Rosenberg narrates a harrowing story in which we witness through her experience the ever-increasing restrictions on Jews, first with the Nazis enacting laws that introduced armbands and curfews. They also forced Jews to hand over money and valuables, then put them in ghettos, then conducted aktions – roundups of Jews, often on Jewish holidays. Those in hiding were often literally smoked out when the Nazis set fires. Those not killed in the ghettos were sent to slave labor camps or concentration camps (in this case Belzec) or were shot and buried in fields and forests outside of the ghettos.

What saved Blanca Rosenberg was luck, her blond hair and blue eyes, the ability she had to speak a number of languages, her wits, and the willingness of several Poles to risk their lives to help Jews survive. Through her brother, she met a woman whose brother, a priest, was able to supply her with an authentic birth certificate of a dead Ukranian woman. She escaped from the ghetto and took on the identity of a Polish peasant and tried to melt into the world outside the ghetto.

But the author becomes wary because there were a lot of Jews with false papers and anyone turning in such a Jew received a bounty. She describes people posing as helpers, even members of the Resistance, who are suspected of being double agents. Police who suspect and often confirm false identities demand higher and higher blackmail fees to forestall arrest. Friends, though well-meaning, are often indiscreet and careless. Soon, her identity suspected, she escapes to Lwow, then has to flee to Warsaw where she ends up living directly outside the Warsaw ghetto during the uprising. In danger, again, she flees back to Lwow.

Eventually she ends up in Heidelberg, working in the home of a wealthy German when the Americans liberate the city and with the help of the American Joint Distribution Committee she travels to find out if family members survived. In 1949 she immigrated to the United States and eventually settled in New York and became a social worker and psychotherapist.

Although many readers will have read accounts of surviving the Holocaust that are similar to this one written by Blanca Rosenberg, her story has its own contours and is particularly valuable for its wealth of detail about her ghetto experience in Kolomyja, and the intricacies of obtaining and living as a Jew with a false identity. The author elaborates on her title, To Tell At Last, in her epilogue where she writes about how getting the story down has helped her to finally confront much of her past. It is clear she suffers from survivor’s guilt, a common attribute of Holocaust survivors. Then again, maybe “guilt” isn’t quite right; maybe “remorse” is more accurate. She says she never stops thinking about those she lost.

This memoir includes a map, photos, and an index.

To read about the Kolomyja ghetto, click here.

People
Family
David and Rachel Ehrenreich
 Elenore Ehrenreich – daughter of David and Rachel; married Eli Nebenzahl
    Blanca Nebenzahl – daughter of Eli and Elenore – married Wolf Rosencranz; 2nd marriage to Samuel Rosenthal
        Zygmund Rosencranz – son of Blanca and Wolf
        Alexander Rosenberg – son of Blanca and Sam; married Merle
Adrianne Rosenberg – daughter of Alexander and Merle
Eugene Rosenberg – son of Alexander and Merle
        Mark Rosenberg – son of Blanca and Sam
        Romek Nebenzahl – son of Eli and Elenore
        Bernie and Izak  Nebenzahl – twin sons of Eli and Elenore
   
        Max Rosencranz – brother of Wulf (see above)
        Gina Niederhoffer – first wife of Sam Rosenberg
            Anna Rosenberg – daughter of Gina and Sam
Paula Korzenik Bergman – cousin of author from Zablotow
Josef Korzenik – cousin of author; brother of Paula

Friends and Acquaintances
Frania Gitterman– sister of Mati
    Leszek (Alex) Gitterman – son of Frania
Helen – Frania’s sister-in-law
Cyla Goldstein – sister of Mati
    Menek Goldstein – son of Cyla
Michal and Lodzia (Rose) Klepfisz
    Irena Klepfisz – daughter of Michal and Lodzia
Herman Kramer
Anthony Leiberman
Henry Mashler
Pan Mieczyslaw
Nunek and Mati (Maria) Rosenbloom Najder
Celek Najder – brother of Nunek
Cesia Osenton
Lonek and Celia Rothenberg
Edward Rothman
Joasia Singer
Bernie Stern
Jacob Trobe
David Wodlinger
Schmuel Zygielbaum

Places
Gorlice, Poland
Nowy Sacz, Poland
Kolomyja, Poland
Warsaw, Poland
Lowow, Poland
Heidelberg, Germany
Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany
Krakow-Plaszow, Poland labor camp

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