who's in the kitchen

Talking about ‘illegals’: Jerry’s Shoah survivors


On Erev Tisha B’Av, Jerry and I, along with another couple, were invited to Debby and Jack Shafran’s house for a pre-fast meal. Turns out all (except me) were children of survivors.

Jerry mentioned that his mother’s family was deported, in Czechoslovakia, by Hungarian troops on Tisha B’Av 1941 in what became known as the infamous Kamenetz-Podolsk massacre, where thousands of Jews were murdered by the Nazis who were awaiting them. Debby responded that members of her father’s family were among those murdered.

Some Jews, including Jerry’s mother’s family (thanks to her father’s prescient intuition), managed to escape, and lived as fugitives until they were ultimately deported to Auschwitz on the last day of Pesach in 1944.

A couple of weeks ago, Jerry and I hosted a Shabbat afternoon gathering of friends who are children of survivors.  My brother and I were the only two in a group of 14 who were not. After each story or comment courageously expressed by each of the survivors’ children, feelings of profound understanding and recollections of tragically overlapping personal experiences were met with a profound empathy and compassion that pervaded the room. They were finally home, fundamentally understood within their intimate community. They were profoundly different from children of those who were not Holocaust survivors.

My brother and I, seated near each other, looked at each other, speechless. We were shell-shocked.

At another Shabbat dinner with close friends a few weeks earlier, Jerry had spoken about his sensitivity to the separation of children from parents at our southern border. He was very concerned about the rumored inappropriate conditions at the detention centers. Jerry is not politically oriented; he expressed compassion and nothing more.

This precipitated a strong response from the other guests — and me, who distinguished Jerry’s parent’s immigration to the United States from the current wave of illegal immigrants.

Then Jerry shocked us by saying that his parents, and certain uncles, and aunts, had actually entered the US illegally too.

He explained that his parents, their surviving siblings, and a number of cousins had spent the years from 1945 to around 1952 in DP camps in Germany (Feldafing and Foehrenwald, among others). Because of the United States’ harsh immigration policies, many Jewish survivors of concentration camps languished in Germany, forlorn and often depressed as they waited to leave the country that had murdered their families and dehumanized, brutalized and starved them in Auschwitz.

Certain survivors were notified that their immigration would be expedited if they informed U.S. authorities which persons in the DP camps were communists. Some members of Jerry’s family were actively engaged in the black market, and were periodically arrested for their activities. When they attempted to immigrate to the United States, their applications were denied due to claims that they were communists and criminals.

The family procured false identities, resulting in their successful immigration. Many survivors resorted to similar strategies.

Jerry’s profound sensitivity to issues of illegal immigration stems from his family’s experiences at the DP camps, and research he has done on the Shoah.

The Harrison Report on the condition of Jewish DPs after the war, sent to President Truman, found that the former concentration camp victims were still imprisoned behind barbed wire and fed mostly bread and coffee, and that no camp permitted family groups to live together.

The report included the following paragraph: “As matters now stand, we [the U.S. Army] appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them, except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large number under our military guard instead of S.S. troops.”

Paragraph 5 of the report provides that “the most absorbing worry of these … victims concerns relatives, wives, husbands, parents and children … and they cannot understand why the liberators should  not have undertaken immediately the organized effort to reunite family groups. … Even where information has been received as to relatives in other camps … it depends on personal attitude of camp commandants … whether permission can be obtained. …

“Some camp commandants are quite rigid in this … while others lend every effort to join family groups.”


ast forward to the late 1960s.

Jerry’s parents, uncles and aunts and some of his mother’s cousins loved to spent hot days at Brighton Beach before heading up to Turkins bungalow colony in July for the summer. One Sunday afternoon in late June, his normally gentle Uncle Dovid began to angrily scream at another couple on the beach, yelling, “The moysers [traitors, informers] are here!” Then he yelled in Yiddish, “Let’s catch them and let ’em have it!”

By that time many years had passed and they were no longer youngsters. The Moysers, recognizing that they had been exposed, rapidly packed up their beach chairs, bags and lots and lots of foods (hey, they were Holocaust survivors after all) and began to run across the sand away from Jerry’s family, who packed up their beach chairs and food to chase them, creating what must have appeared to observers as a scene out of a Fiddler on the Roof version of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad world,” with an ensemble of older Shoah survivors playing the roles.

For my recipe this week, I’ve chosen Rose’s Apple Cake, by Joanne Caras, from The Holocaust Survivor’s Cookbook.

5 to 6 Granny apples (3 lbs.)

3 cups flour

3 tsp. baking powder

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup orange juice

1 stick margarine or 1/2 cup oil

1 pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 350.

Mix all ingredients except apples and knead into dough. Set aside in refrigerator.

Peel and grate apples and sprinkle with sugar, at least four Tbsp. (cinnamon optional). Set aside.

Take dough out of refrigerator and divide it into two parts. Roll out one part of dough and spread it into a greased 9 by 13 cake pan.

Spread apples evenly over dough.

Roll out remainder of dough and place it on top to cover apples. Take a dull knife and draw a brick pattern on dough. Poke holes with point of knife and sprinkle sugar on top. Bake for one hour until done.