On April 20, the Riverdale community gathered virtually to commemorate Yom HaShoah. This event was coordinated by the Riverdale Partnership and the Riverdale Y.
The first speaker was Kathy Schriner, whose father was born in Austria, and her mother in Germany. They met in Switzerland in shul on a Friday night. Schriner’s parents left Europe and went to the Dominican Republic, one of the only countries to open its doors to the Jewish people. Upon arrival in the Dominican Republic, they settled in a small town in the northern part of the island called Sosua.
When her father arrived in 1940, he was sent to work in the fields with a machete to clear the land. “By end of the first day, my father had enough. He explained that in Vienna he was studying to be an engineer. By that afternoon, my father had his own sheet metal shop where he made products that they could not get on the island.”
Schriner’s paternal grandparents perished in Europe, but her maternal grandparents, in 1942, were on the last ship, which traveled to the Dominican Republic before Hitler stopped Jews from traveling to the island.
“My mother explained how everyone brought their own skills to become teachers, doctors and nurses, all contributing what they could to develop a new Jewish life in the safe haven in the Caribbean,” Schriner explained. “Even after they became American citizens her parents would spend their winters in Sosua reuniting with their friends.”
The next speaker was Samuel Marder, who spoke of his life in the camps and the winter when his father died. “He came to me in a dream, as I did not want to live anymore without my father,” said Marder. “My father appeared in Shabbos clothing with a happy smile on his face. I started yelling in my dream, ‘Father is alive!’ My father motioned to me not to be so excited. He took a piece of shmurah matzah and helped me put it in my mouth, and told me don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
Marder explained that he was in a deep state of desperation, and his father gave him hope. “I have spoken in the past 10 years in schools and colleges and I realize there is a reason for hope. Recently I visited Berlin and it was one of the most important trips of my life. Without that trip I would have never dreamt that I could have such hope. My experience in Germany showed me that there is humanity after total inhumanity in the new generation.”
Steven Schwartz spoke next, as a child of survivors. “When we are little children and our parents have been through something which is so different then our friends’ parents, we really don’t pay it much attention. Then we become teenagers and we understand a little better, but we really can’t, with our souls and hearts, really express that which our parents may have gone through. Then we become adults, and we look at our parents not just as parents, but as fellow adults, and it is astounding what they went through.”
His father survived Auschwitz and Dachau, from where he was liberated. After liberation he settled in Munich. He became friendly with an American soldier who explained that to go to America he needed a sponsor. His father had a first cousin in America, but he could not find her. When the soldier’s tour returned to America he began the search for this cousin. For months he could not find this woman. Schwartz’s father was offered the opportunity to go to Australia; he was a few days away from leaving Germany when he received a letter from that soldier that he had located the cousin for him. His father then had to wait an additional six to eight months before he could leave for America.
Schwartz then described that when his mother was liberated, she was very ill and was taken to France for medical treatment. When she recovered, the rest of her family who survived went to Israel, but she found a cousin in Philadelphia who sponsored her. She would shop at a kosher butcher whose owner was a distant cousin of Schwartz’s father. They were introduced and married after a year of courting.
Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn of Congregation Tehillah in Riverdale summarized the evening: “May we find strength in the resilience of those who came before us and tell their story and find strength and remember that we are always stronger together then we are individually.”