April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

JFS Cafe Europa: A Haven for Holocaust Survivors

Sitting in the social hall of Beth Shalom on a recent Wednesday afternoon, Ruth Aach was surrounded by friends who shared a similar story. Coming to America after World War II, each had established a new life in our community, while living with reminders of their tragic past. Now, some 70 years after arriving in the U.S., these friends gather monthly at Café Europa to socialize with others who truly understand from where they come.

Run by Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, Café Europa provides a place to gather with other survivors and develop warm, supportive friendships. A kosher lunch is served, and entertainment, including speakers and musical performances, is provided. Transportation can be arranged for those who require it. With funding from Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey as well as the Claims Conference, Café Europa manages to honor the lives of Holocaust survivors while engaging them in today’s Jewish community.

On this particular Wednesday, Ruth shared part of her story. Her husband, Hans Aach, born in Germany, always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and attend rabbinical school. His father, however, seeing the drastic change in climate and rising anti-Semitism, felt that becoming a rabbi was akin to a death wish. He directed his son toward a trade instead, and sent him to work as an apprentice at a kosher bakery in Karlsruhe, Germany. After he was able to escape Germany, he came to live with relatives in New Haven, Connecticut. During the 1940s, there was little demand for fine pastry, and so, to earn a living, he learned how to cook. By 1956, he had started his own business in Westwood, NJ, Foremost Caterers.

At the next table were two women with a story of their own. Olga Jaeger was 14 when she and her family were forced to leave their home in Czechoslovakia for Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland. Jaeger and her sister survived, though her parents died in the camp’s gas chambers. She and her sister were sent to a labor camp in Germany after about six weeks in Auschwitz, and were liberated in April 1945.

Marta Felberbaum was in what is now Ukraine in 1944 when she and her family were taken to Auschwitz. Her father was separated immediately from the rest of the family when they arrived on the one-way railroad tracks. Felberbaum was clinging to her mother’s hand when they got off the cattle car. Her mother was directed to go in a different direction from Felberbaum and her sister, and Felberbaum let go. Both her parents were killed. Felberbaum was liberated by the Russians in January 1945.

Olga Jaeger and Marta Felberbaum met after the war in 1946 while in a Displaced Persons camp in Bamberg, Germany. Olga immigrated to the U.S. in 1949, going to school in Atlanta, and later following her sister to New York. Marta came to the U.S. in 1948, settling in New York as well. Amazingly, the two women, unbeknownst to each other at the time, married two men who knew each other from their own camp—Bergen Belsen.

Reunited years ago, the two have been best friends ever since. Café Europa gives them the opportunity to see each other and socialize, and to tell their story. For information on Café Europa or other JFS programs, call (201) 837-9090 or email [email protected].

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