July 8, 2021
During the Three Weeks we remember and mourn the tragedies Klal Yisrael has suffered and the
lives we have lost during our long and bitter galus. One of the largest, most horrific, and most
consequential attacks on world Jewry occurred merely 75 years ago. The Holocaust was a period
of persecution and destruction on a scale the world had never seen. It changed the lives of
everyone impacted by it as well as the whole trajectory of the future of the Jewish People. As the
survivors grow older and pass away, it is imperative that we learn about the unique experiences
of each individual and community, never forget those who are gone, and learn lessons for the
In Sefer Zecharyah (3:2), Hashem calls Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol an “ud mutzal m’eish—a
“firebrand plucked from the flames,” as he miraculously survived the fires of Nevuchadnetzar
during the Churban. Commentaries explain that this metaphor extends to others who have, with
the helping Hand of Hashem, survived the inferno that threatened to consume Klal Yisrael.
The Voice of Lakewood was privileged to speak with several local survivors, shining sparks who
emerged from the darkness and continue to be a source of light.
Mrs. Raizel Tauber lived in Vienna, Austria, until she was 12 years old. A fifth-generation
descendant of the Chasam Sofer, her maternal grandfather, Rav Yosef Baumgarten, was av beis
din in the Schiffshul, the main Orthodox shul in Vienna. The third of 11 children, she says, “I had
a special place in the family. They told me things, I had responsibilities.”
Her father, Mr. Moishe Yehuda Lederer, owned a kosher bakery and was very well liked and
involved in the local frum community. He blew shofar for the shul; Mrs. Tauber relates that
“although I haven’t heard him in so long, we haven’t heard anyone blow shofar like him.” He was
the volunteer fundraiser in Vienna for Kollel Shomrei Hachomos/Rabi Meir Baal
Haness tzedakah organization which sent funds to Jews settling pre-State Eretz Yisrael. The
family still has letters from the Chafetz Chaim and the Satmar Rebbe thanking Mr. Lederer for
helping their relatives and talmidim.
Ultimately, his efforts for tzedakah helped save the lives of his entire family.
After the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, even before the official start of World War II the following
year, attacks on Jews became more common. Mrs. Tauber remembers the anti-Semitism brewing
and prevalent in her hometown. “Evil can only happen when good people do nothing,” Mrs.
Tauber asserts. “Nobody cared. No country.”
They lived above a shul, and she and her sister watched from the window as the events of
Kristallnacht unfolded before their eyes and beneath their feet. “I wanted to run down and tell
them to stop tearing the books and the Sifrei Torah. I thought, ‘You’re not allowed to do that! G-d
is going to punish you!’ My sister told me not to go, saying, ‘They’ll kill you!’ She was more
practical; I was more emotional.”
Their parents spent the night in their bakery, too afraid to walk home. They pulled down the steel
curtain to protect their business.
The family had a gentile housekeeper, and every night, Mr. Lederer brought home a fresh loaf of
bread for her. When the Nazis came upstairs to look for Jews, the woman blocked the entrance
and told them, “There are no Jews here.” “There were people like that,” Mrs. Tauber shares.
Her father was taken to Dachau, among 6,000 Austrian Jews, but for some reason, they let him
go. “It was a miracle.”
They wanted to leave Vienna but didn’t know how or where to go. Mr. Lederer wrote letters to
various offices of the Rabi Meir Baal Haness organization begging anyone who could to help
save his family. Fortuitously, Mr. Benjamin Koensigsberg, a frum lawyer from Vienna who had
relocated to New York and worked with the organization, picked up the letter and decided, “I must
save this family.” Mr. Koenigsberg corresponded with the family and worked hard to arrange
proper paperwork; at one point he spent hours on the train to Washington, DC so he could
personally request affidavits to help them leave Austria. But one day, the family received a
telegram stating that he could not obtain the visas. They were extremely disappointed.
Soon after, Mrs. Tauber’s mother was able to arrange for Raizel and several of her sisters to go
on the Kindertransport to England. But she refused to go. She said, “If I stay here with you, I
might see you again. If I go, I will never see you again.” She believed that “as long as children are
with their parents, they will manage.”
Suddenly, there was another miracle. A telegram arrived from Mr. Koensigsberg, telling them,
“Pack your passports and tickets.” The next day, the whole family left Vienna.
They traveled by train with only the clothes on their backs and crossed the border toward the port
in Genoa, Italy. They waited for the boat for about two weeks, sleeping in a hostel and subsisting
on tomato herring and bread. On the ship, since the war had already broken out, no lights were
allowed. It was very dark except for the moonlight and light from the stars. Mrs. Tauber
remembers standing with her father, leaning on the railing to alleviate her seasickness.
They arrived in New York after two weeks, on the first night of Chanukah 1939. They even had a
welcoming party—at midnight Mr. and Mrs. Koensigsberg came to pick them up, carrying a dozen
red roses for Mrs. Tauber’s mother. “What they did was so miraculous, and he really deserves a
gold medal,” Mrs. Tauber reflects.
They found an apartment on the Lower East Side next to the Koensigsbergs and slept on the
floor the first few nights. The first Shabbos in New York, the Koenigsbergs hosted the new
immigrants together with their own 13 children.
Mrs. Tauber is proud to share their story because “what they did was so miraculous, and he really
deserves a gold medal.” Until this day, the families stay connected, and the Lederers call Mr.
Koenigsberg their “malach Elokim” for enabling their survival and the four doros of bnei Torah
who have followed.
Shortly after arriving in the US, Mrs. Tauber’s parents opened Lederer’s Bakery across the street,
which became well known for its challahs and pastries. The children helped at home and in the
bakery, enjoying the fragrant aromas and an occasional Napoleon. “I was the best customer,”
Mrs. Tauber jokes. Her brothers attended yeshivah on the Lower East Side and the girls attended
Eventually, Mrs. Tauber married and raised three children. After her children were grown, she
went to college to satisfy her passion for learning.
Her parents later opened Lederer’s Park House in Fleishman’s, NY. Gedolim of the previous
generation spent their summer bein hazmanim there, among them Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav
Moshe Feinstein, and the Kopicznitzer Rebbe, all of whom remained close with the family.
Though she grew up speaking German, since she left Austria Mrs. Tauber has never picked up a
German newspaper or book. She says emotionally, “When I knew it was happening, I could never
swallow what human beings could do to children. When I see the kinderlach today, I am so
happy. I know that the previous generation paid the price.”
Mrs. Necha Garberman, nee Sitkow, grew up in a small town in Poland called Drobin, 55 miles
northwest of Warsaw, where Jewish families lived for many generations. The town had a beis
midrash and a shul. The center of the town was occupied by Jews, and beyond the main road
there were non-Jews.
Her father was a tailor who made affordable suits for the local non-Jewish farmers. Her mother
was a homemaker. Before Shabbos, young Necha would bring the family’s cholent pot to the
local bakery, where it was kept overnight in the commercial oven along with other families’ pots.
She would retrieve it in time for the daytime seudah, after which her parents went to rest and she
and her siblings went to play with friends. Mrs. Garberman fondly recalls making homemade
masks and hamantashen at home and collecting pennies on Purim.
She and the other local Jewish girls were busy from morning until night. They attended public
school, and after they came home to put down their books, they went to learn about Yiddishkeit at
a satellite Bais Yaakov school where the teacher was a protégé of the legendary Frau Sarah
Schenirer from Krakow.
Most boys finished their studies after elementary school and then learned a trade. One of Mrs.
Garberman’s three brothers would sometimes miss school to accompany their father to the
weekly market to make sure no one would steal his materials. One brother was very sharp in
learning and talented in drawing, and his teacher encouraged them to continue his education, but
they could not send him, since, as Mrs. Garberman says, “we needed people to work [in order] to
She already felt the anti-Semitism increasing in the mid-1930s, and was 14 when the Germans
invaded Drobin in the first days of the war, on September 5, 1939. “The war broke out, and then
everything was gone.”
They endured persecution, humiliation, and deportation. She remembers standing and crying with
her mother and six-year-old brother, who was screaming, sensing the impending doom. She was
separated from them. Many from the town were taken to Auschwitz in late 1942, where she spent
three terrible years.
“Every time we saw them bringing in a new transport of people, we saw the smoke and knew they
were getting burned already,” she recalls. They received a food ration of watery soup and slept
five to a bed. “Sometimes I think and I don’t know how I survived. The memories come back and
don’t let me sleep at night. I imagine how my parents looked. This can never leave your mind.”
“We couldn’t go back because Germany did ‘a good job,’” Mrs. Garberman states. Of the 1,300
Jews in Drobin before the war, approximately 60 survived.
After the war, she spent some time in a DP camp and then made her way to Eretz Yisrael. Her
brothers, who had survived, arrived in America with the help of relatives who already lived there.
They wanted her to join them so they could all be together again, so they arranged for her to
immigrate to America, where she got married and raised a daughter.
“My life was too much to go through,” she says. “This place (The Lakewood Courtyard, where she
currently resides) is the best for me in all my life.”
Mrs. Shoshana Opoczinski, who still has a sparkle in her eye, grew up in a small town on the
Czechoslovakian-Hungarian border, the middle of three connected towns. People in neighboring
towns spoke Russian and Romanian, while her family and schoolmates spoke Hungarian. Her
mother, after being raised by an unkind stepmother, got married at 17 and had 10 children.
Shoshana was the oldest; only she and the sister right after her, Yenty, survived the war.
A very clever student at her public school, her classmates called her the “alter kop.” But after the
Hungarians took over the area, “everything was tense.” It wasn’t long until her family was
deported, along with thousands of other Hungarian Jews, to the largest and most nefarious death
She recalls the selection process. “My mother was holding a baby in her hands. I wanted to take
the baby. Somebody came and said, ‘Don’t take it.’ I said, ‘I want to help my mother.’ He said,
‘Now you don’t help her.’ I said, ‘Now I want to help. She needs help.’ He took me away. A man
took me away from my mother.”
She arrived with her sister Yenty, and they wanted to stay together, but the Nazis forced them to
separate. “She wanted to be with me. She started crying. But they took her away. They didn’t
want sisters together.”
Numbers were tattooed on their arms. “It hurt. A lot,” she remembers. Her number is now a faded
and illegible blue smear, but she says that when tallied up, the digits equal 18, chai, life.
With her knack for languages, she quickly learned German, which “was a very big help.” She
could understand what the Nazis were saying and was able to respond. On one occasion when
she was threatened by a female commandant, she says, “I told her in Deutsch (German), ‘Don’t
touch me; go away from me.’ She asked me, ‘How do you know Deutsch?’ I said, ‘I know it better
than you. If you touch me, I will kill you right now. Just go away!’” The woman was shocked and
left her alone.
In Auschwitz, she was forced to carry heavy materials and even dead bodies. “It was hard, but I
knew I didn’t have a choice.” There were corpses all around. “They put fire on them. I brought
them to that point, but I didn’t want to put the fire. I didn’t want to do [what I did] either, but they
tortured me. I told her (the female commandant), ‘The same that you wish upon me is going to be
on you! You can’t tell me what to do! I will tell you what to do!’” The lady was infuriated. “She
wanted to kill me. Even now I have the chills. I told her, ‘I see you are burning up like fire. I hope it
won’t be so long until you really burn.’”
How did she have the courage to confront her oppressor so brazenly? “I was worried for [myself].
I wanted to survive. So I didn’t care. If she’d get me, I’d get her back. I told her, ‘If you hit me, I’ll
She recalls the sounds of people in the camp screaming, crying, and running. “They didn’t like
where they were. They felt they didn’t belong there.”
Later, she was taken to Bergen-Belsen. “I had no choice.”
At the end of the war, she was sick (“Who wasn’t sick?”) and bone skinny, “like a finger.” At
liberation, they were given some drinks and a little food. “The minute we were free, it picked us up
Some girls were given the opportunity to go to Sweden, and she chose to join them. When she
arrived, someone brought her to the doorstep of a kind gentile woman, who took care of her for
some time. “She was very nice; she gave everything to me”—including a piano. “She was like my
mother.” Still, Mrs. Opoczinski says, “I did not want to say there,” explaining, “She could not do
everything. She will always be a goy. I was born a Yiddishe tochter and I wanted to remain [that
way], for better or worse. It’s the only thing you can take with you.”
Early one morning, “a malach” picked her up and drove her to Lidingo, the well-known school and
orphanage for Jewish girls who had survived the war. Later, with the help of an uncle, she moved
to Eretz Yisrael, where she got married. Eventually, the couple moved to Boro Park, where they
raised their two children. Approximately 18 years after the war, she was reunited with her sister.
When asked if she thinks about her deceased relatives, Mrs. Opoczinski responds, “If you think, it
just makes the heart hurt. You don’t see them. You know where they are.
“I went through a milchamah. I lost too much in my life. We had a big loss. I just have to go on.
How can I complain? Look where I am now, baruch Hashem.” She points to the heavens. “I didn’t
do it by myself. I always thanked Him. He helped me. I can see clearly that He helped. We can’t
go anywhere without Him. I believe, so if you really believe, He helps you.”
May these and all other survivors enjoy gezunt and Yiddishe nachas as they continue to inspire
us with their bitachon, tenacity, and resilience. May Klal Yisrael merit to see the end of all tzaros
with the final geulah, b’meheirah b’yameinu.
Thank you to the staff of The Lakewood Courtyard and the families of the residents for graciously
facilitating these interviews.