Dr. Sema Bank Goldstein, Teaneck resident; her sister Sara Bank Wolf of Beit Shemesh and brother Eliot Bank of West Orange; together with their mother, Edith Bank of Teaneck, marked the recent International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a miraculous moment in their family’s history. On the evening of January 27, the siblings and their mother were on a Zoom call with callers from London, New Zealand and Washington, DC, connecting with Emilia Blaustein-Dragunsky in Hollywood, Florida, whose mother, Regina; father, Tobias Czuper; and Great Uncle Meyer Dornbush had been hidden underground in the home of a Ukrainian Christian man for two years, from 1942 until their liberation in 1944. Among the 16 Jews, hidden only 150 yards from the ghetto in Przemysl in the Western Ukraine by Wladimir Riszko, were Chaim and Sara Feingold Bank, paternal grandparents of Goldstein, Wolf and Bank.
The youngest member of the rescued group, their 3-year-old son Dov, was to become the beloved husband of Edith and father of Sema, Sara and Eliot. Today, Dov, who later became known as Bruno, is the blessed grandfather of 15 grandchildren all living full Jewish lives, two having served in the IDF. Adding to the jubilation of finding Emilia was the in-person visit paid by Sema to Emilia in Florida during yeshiva week.
The search for the rescuer of their grandparents and father had been ongoing for many years. The mission was to locate Riszko or his relatives and nominate him for inclusion among the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, an honor they felt he so deserved for having saved 16 Jewish lives. Their previous searches had always resulted in dead ends until this past January.
Wolf utilized the down time of the coronavirus pandemic to sign up for a course offered by JRoots. The November-to-May course prepares English-speaking educational guides to accompany groups to Europe on heritage trips tracing their roots. On the night of January 17, after her course concluded, and newly inspired to pursue her personal search, Wolf felt the need to once again ask her mother about her father’s rescuer. Edith repeated a fact that she had heard in the past but had forgotten, that the rescuer had relocated to New Zealand shortly after liberation. Wolf then texted an acquaintance whom she knew was from New Zealand who suggested that she be in touch with the local Holocaust museum. Sure enough, through the scant information she was able to provide, the next morning she was greeted with emotional emails from Riszko’s son George in Australia and daughter Eva in New Zealand. The son responded: “Dear Sara, I have just received the news of your inquiry about my father. I am so happy. I am crying as I write. May I write to you in more detail? Best wishes, George Riszko.”
Dov/Bruno Feingold Bank was born to Sara Feingold Bank on January 15, 1939, in his mother’s town of Przemysl, where she lived near her siblings and parents, the Sperling family. When their child was only 8 months old, Chaim Feingold Bank, who had been drafted to the Polish army, was taken as a prisoner of war. He managed to escape along with other Polish Jewish soldiers and eventually managed to move his young family to Lvov, which was then under Russian rule.
But conditions worsened in Lvov when the Germans took over, and they returned to Przemysl. Not long after, the Jews of Przemysl, now also under German rule, were forced into a ghetto. All of the Sperlings met their deaths in the Belzec Extermination Camp in 1942. Chaim was fortunate to find a hiding place for his wife and young son with the kind Christian Wladimir Riszko and sent them ahead while he worked to save Jewish lives. He joined his wife and child six months later and they spent the another 1 1/2 years in hiding.
Before returning to the hiding place, Feingold Bank was able to save a young Jewish girl, Rivka Schildkraut, by getting her off a list of 100 Jews who were slated for death. He then brought her to the hiding place as she was all alone, having lost all of her family. When Wladimir Riszko asked her to marry him, she accepted. After liberation, they trekked through Europe but eventually settled in New Zealand. Life for the family was not easy, as Rivka had been traumatized by her wartime experiences. Fortunately, as the New Zealand Jewish community is so tiny, Rivka was able to be identified by the Holocaust museum in New Zealand and subsequently to Wolf. Rescuer Wladimir Riszko died 40 years ago. Rivka passed away 13 years ago. Their children, George and Eva, married and have their own families.
Among the 16 Jews in hiding was an uncle and niece, Meyer Dornbush and his 20-year-old niece Regina. Meyer was the oldest of the survivors, born in 1900. After liberation, Regina married one of her fellow survivors, Tobias Czuper. They eventually changed their name to Cooper when arriving in the U.S. in 1969. The family settled in Chicago with their daughter Emilia, who is the mother of two, Ron Blaustein and Lynn Weinstein Weiss. Once again, through connections in Chicago, Wolf tracked down the Coopers’ grandchildren who put her in touch with their grandmother Emilia in Florida.
Just three years ago, the family visited the archives at YIVO, which brought to life the lengthy process that went into sponsoring the Feingold Bank family by their Aunt Regina and Uncle Herman Sperling. Cousin David Sperling, grandson of Regina and Herman, now living in Washington, DC, teamed up with Wolf in finding the Dornbushes and the Coopers. In the affadavit submitted, the Sperlings sadly commented, “They are our only surviving relatives.”
Until their acceptance into the U.S., the young Feingold Bank family was constantly on the run through Satmar in Transylvania, Vienna and Italy, where they ended up in a displaced person’s camp called Santa Maria di Lucia. There Feingold Bank headed the Jewish refugee committee. The family lived for a short time in Bari and then in Rome. It was during those years that little Bruno actually began his life, attending school and being exposed to the arts and sports.
Upon arrival in the U.S., the family settled in the Bronx. Bruno attended high school and college. He found work with the water department of the city of New York. Eventually, he met his future wife, Edith Schmitz, at an evening Hebrew school where they had both enrolled in order to learn the language of the new state of Israel. They established their home in New Rochelle, where they raised their three children, providing them with a superior Jewish education.
Chaim Feingold Bank lived with son Bruno and family for 10 years before passing away in December of 1994. His wife, Sara, predeceased him in 1964. Wolf was named for her grandmother Sara. Wolf and her siblings have fond memories of the unforgettable trips they took with their zeide to Israel. Wolf vividly remembers one trip during which they were invited to dinner at the Knesset, where Menachem Begin, her zeide’s hero, addressed them.
Wolf remembers that her zeide did not elaborate on his wartime experiences. However, he did speak about his vibrant Jewish life before the war. During the 1980s, he was instrumental in bringing to light the memorial book of his home shtetl, Brzozow. He provided many entries in which he recalled the people who had perished.
Feingold Bank was an ardent Zionist, a follower of Zev Jabotinsky. He read the Yiddish newspapers regularly and was current with all the news about Israel. Only a few years ago the family learned that he was involved in the smuggling of Czechoslovakian weapons to the fledging state of Israel.
Zeide Bank loved to blast the Yiddish radio station. He enthusiastically joined the family in Friday night zemirot. When questioned about the double surname Feingold Bank, Zeide explained that the addition of Bank was most likely an acronym for “bnei kedoshim,” sons of kohanim.
To date, seven of the 16 Jews rescued by Wladimir Riszko have been traced to their locations and families. Through continuing personal connections, social media and museum records, the hope of the newly created Riszko WhatsApp group is to discover all 16 and how their lives proceeded after liberation. They hope that their mission to have Wladimir Riszko recognized as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem will serve as an inspiration to others who may be trying to locate their rescuers.
Greatly inspired by their recent discoveries and connections, the Wolfs, Goldsteins and Banks are determined to urge others to pursue their searches: “As the worldwide numbers of survivors decreases and the children of survivors are also aging, perseverance and the inspiration to continue to search for rescuers should be encouraged. As a result of the goodness and compassion of Wladimir Riszko the world was blessed so far with three generations of committed Jewish families. It is only fitting that we remember the kindness and valiance of these heroic rescuers.”
If this account sounds familiar to any readers who may want, or have, additional
information, please contact Sara Bank Wolf at [email protected], or see her Facebook post at https://www.facebook.com/sara.wolf.39/posts/10159030907474322.
By Pearl Markovitz