By Deborah Vietor
Some may believe we live in a time when people are considered self-absorbed, consumed by electronics, and inhabiting a world which appears uncertain and chaotic. This is a story of four women who lived in very different times, both in Europe and the United States. There were no cell phones, televisions, microwaves or any of the modern conveniences we enjoy today. There was, however a World War and a Great Depression.
Growing up in the 1920s under a variety of circumstances, these women are unique, yet similar in their faith, kindness toward humanity and determination to survive, under even the most unimaginable conditions. Each woman believes the world can change for the better as we all work together to achieve harmony and peace.
It was an honor and a privilege interviewing and getting to know these remarkable women. They are each a source of strength, inspiration, compassion and humility to be passed on to the world and to future generations.
Fanny Krasner-Lebovits will be 95-years-old on October 27. Born in Liepagh, Latvia, her parents were in business and ran a shoe store. There were three girls in the family. Her sisters were Jenny and Liebele Fanny was the oldest. She shared that she had a happy childhood until the war.
“My life is an absolute miracle,” she said after lighting a candle for Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. “I’m obliged to see myself in every generation, as a survivor of the Holocaust, to the end of time.”
Nazi soldiers invaded the Lebovits home in 1941 when she was 19. They killed her father and all the healthy Jewish men in the neighborhood. She was to lose 32 family members, along the way being placed in four different concentration camps over the years, with only her sister Jenny and herself surviving.
Lebovits became a nurse and worked for UNNRA, (The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) Medical Services for the United Nations. Her job involved giving medical attention to displaced persons. While in Sweden, she was employed at the World Jewish Congress in Stockholm and lobbied for Israel, working behind the scenes prior to Israel becoming a state.
She has remained a strong supporter of Israel for many years and mentioned that when Israel was declared a State, they all cried in the streets.
Fanny travelled to South Africa, where she met her husband, Louis Krasner, a jeweler. They lived in Johannesberg for 31 years, raising a family while Fanny volunteered for several Jewish organizations.
Fanny is past President of the Pacific Southwest Region of Hadassah and has been a member for years. She has received the Woman of Distinction Honor for her many years of service. City Council Member Barbara Bry has presented Fanny with a “Woman Of Valor” plaque as well. She has received other numerous awards for her dedication to charitable Jewish organizations and is a member of Temple Beth El in La Jolla.
“It’s the mutual obligation of our survivors and national leaders to instill in the current and future generation the understanding of what happens when hatred and injustice is allowed to flourish,” Lebovits has said of the importance of speaking about the events of the Holocaust and supporting Zionist organizations.
Recently, she spoke at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla for the “Stand Up Against Hate” event. Fanny reminds us to teach future generations consequences of hate and to build bridges with others. She is currently writing her memoir.
Malka Freidenreich Kempner
Malka Freidenreich Kempner was born in Radom, Poland August 28, 1922. Malka means “Queen”, and in German Freidenreich means happy and rich, something Malka is proud of. She is the youngest of four children. Her siblings were David, Frances and Hannah. Her father, Icek was from Warsaw and owned a store which was named for her mother, Terca. The store provided custom leather shoes and also sold chocolates, nuts and candies. Icek was a man of faith and taught his family that no matter what happened to pray and believe in G-d.
In November of 1938, during Kristal Nacht, Malka was only 16 years old. The family’s store was taken away and they were forced to move from their home to a nearby ghetto. A salesman who was 12 years older than Malka, named David Kempner, visited Malka’s parents to locate a friend. Later, Kempner would sneak into the women’s barracks at Auschwitz, and told Malka that if they survived the war, that he would marry her.
In 1945, along with 800 Jews, Malka was marched through the snow by the Germans and huddled in a garage, covered in snow and mud. They marched through the snow and at one point, were ordered to lie down on top of one another. Thinking they would be shot and killed, no one moved until the Americans came and liberated them.
Unbeknownst to Malka, David Kempner had sent 14 letters from Italy searching for her after the war ended. She finally received one and arranged for David to come back to Germany to find her. In 1948, they were married in Stutgard and then came to the United States via Ellis Island.
Malka’s son Irv was born in 1950 and her daughter, Tes, was born in 1960. She has three married grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren with one more on the way.
“Never say never, be strong, continue on as things will change and you will be happy,” Malka said; reiterating the teachings her father once told her.
Five years ago, she wrote a book called Good With a Needle, From Radom to Redemption, which can be purchased through Amazon with 100% of the proceeds funding a scholarship for the March of the Living.
Hinda Simons Robinson
Hinda Simons Robinson was born October 31, 1925 in Paterson, New Jersey. She was the youngest of three children and lived with her parents, grandfather “Zeda”, brother Myron and sister Bernice in a town where everyone watched out for each other.
During World War II, Hinda worked for the Cloak and Suiter, a company making women’s suits. This quickly changed to a company making uniforms for the army on the second floor of an older building.
Hinda’s future husband, Herman attended college in North Carolina, where he sent her a poem every day they were apart. They were married June 14, 1947. They had four children, and now Hinda has eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, with one more on the way.
Over the years, Hinda developed a love of writing children’s books and managed the Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Association (YMYWHA) in Paterson, New Jersey. Today, she is a member of the B’Nai Tikvah Congregation in Carlsbad, where she occasionally teaches Yiddish classes. She is affectionately and respectfully referred to as one of the three matriarchs of the temple.
Asked what is most important to her, Hinda replied that helping one another is the most important thing in life and she quoted her favorite saying as, “This too shall pass.”
“If I did not have G-d in my life, I don’t know how I would make out,” she said. “I am one with G-d and when called to the bimah, I feel closer to what I am born to do.”
Jane Osser Katz
Jane Osser Katz is also a matriarch of the B’Nai Tikvah Synagogue. She was born November 24, 1923, and is originally from Manistique, Mich., where she was raised with her sisters Bernice and Ada Fay. Katz met and married her husband, Rabbi Samuel H. Katz, an Orthodox Rabbi, when she was 23. Together, they raised four children and Jane later became a school teacher.
The family moved to Los Angeles, where Jane continued teaching elementary school and did so for 30 years. Her husband became the Rabbi for a congregation in the Fairfax area called Ohev Shalom. They built a house for their family near third and Fairfax close to the Farmer’s Market. Her children are Susan, Shalom, Ethel and Ira. Today, she has five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Katz said some of the best advice her mother gave her was, “No matter what, don’t ever let ever let others know they upset you.” She recommends to the youth of today to love their spouse, always to treat others well, to have a job whenever possible and to save their money. She has a great smile and a twinkle in her eye.