Shortly after the death of Roosevelt, the war ended, and soon thereafter I found myself in Rabbi Bamberger’s orphanage for Jewish boys. However, before that happened, I spent a great deal of time greeting and meeting the people who came to my aunt’s apartment, some of whom became important people in my story. Jack Fertig, no relation to Ferdi, someone none of us had ever met before, showed up one day with a man named Leo Fingerhut, whose brother, Max, had been Ferdi’s best friend. We had known Leo as a friend of the family before he was deported. Both Leo and Jack had somehow survived at Auschwitz, which was not only a death factory but also a slave labor camp. Those who wound up as slave laborers were the lucky ones because although many of them died, as they were intended to, some of them survived under appalling conditions. The ones who were considered unfit for labor were dead in the gas chamber a couple of hours after they arrived.
I don’t know what Jack and Leo did for a living in Germany before the Nazis, but I think they were some kind of business people, Jack dealing in furs and Leo in the so-called “shmata” (the Yiddish for “rags”) business, or buying and selling of second-hand clothing. Both of them were fated to fall in love with my cousin Hella, but Leo never had a chance. He longed for her for the rest of his life, while Jack married her, and had two sons with her. He also established a couple of businesses in Brussels (he spoke French, as well as German) and wound up living happily ever after.
My mother, on the other hand, continued her streak of bad luck. Some time after Ferdi had been taken by the Nazis my mother developed a relationship with a handsome young man named Poldi. Besides being handsome and a generally good man who loved my mother dearly, Poldi had spent part of the war faking madness and spending time in a psychiatric facility. He often complained of various ailments of which there were no visible signs and which no one took too seriously. In any case, one day Poldi dropped dead of a heart attack.
After the war was over, my mother developed another relationship, this time with a returnee from one of the camps, I just don’t remember which one or his name. He was a goldsmith and made my mother some beautiful rings. However, I don’t think he ever recovered from his experiences with the Nazis. He was often depressed and one day, committed suicide by jumping from a window. He wasn’t the only one to commit suicide.
Another returnee was Max Gringer. Like the others, he just appeared at my aunt’s apartment, but he had been known to the family in Germany. He too had spent time in Auschwitz, was in terrible physical shape, and seemed to have suffered a broken nose. He looked somewhat like a starved prize fighter. In one respect he was luckier than most others. After a few days his wife also returned from Auschwitz. However, a couple of years later, she also was a suicide, and there was speculation as to whether her death was related to Auschwitz or to the card debts she accumulated after her return. The suicides of the returnees always struck me as especially sad, because after having endured what they had, they would only have cause for celebration. Yet, that wasn’t the case.
AboutAlex Levy was born in Berlin, Germany in 1936. He escaped in his mother's arms on Kristallnacht and spent the War years in hiding under an assumed identity in a Catholic orphanage. This blog chronicles that experience and what happened next.