Randee Kissinger's mother was a cousin of Vera Frank Federman's husband. Vera was born June 27, 1924. She grew up in Debrecen, Hungary as an only child, but with a large extended family. She studied both English and German and graduated from a girls’ high school.
On March 19, 1944 the Nazis occupied Hungary and soon thereafter deprived Jews of their civil rights. The Nazis, assisted by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, forced Jews out of their homes, businesses, and schools and into ghettos. Vera and her family, including her best friend and cousin, Marika Frank, were rounded up into the Debrecen ghetto along with the remaining Jewish population of their town. After several months in the ghetto and doing forced labor in a brick factory, they boarded cattle cars to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. It was June 27th 1944, Vera’s 20th birthday.
Vera was in Auschwitz for six weeks before the Nazis sent her to a munitions factory in Allendorf, a sub camp of Buchenwald, where she was a slave laborer. American forces liberated her there on March 28th, 1945. When Vera spoke later about this factory, she said that whenever they could, she and her friends did not fill the bullets with gun powder.
Vera was the only surviving member of her immediate family. After the war, she came to Seattle on a scholarship from the Hillel Foundation to attend the University of Washington. She married Marvin Federman and had two children.
Vera was a member of the Holocaust Center’s Speakers Bureau for many years. Vera passed away in 2017.
As a relative of Vera’s husband, Randee was always interested in Vera’s story. After Vera passed away, Randee decided that she wanted to tell her cousin’s story to students in the Pacific Northwest. Utilizing two testimonies by Vera at the Holocaust Center, Randee and the Center worked to develop a presentation using Vera’s video clips. Randee is currently a teacher at Maywood Middle School in Renton, WA where she teaches the Holocaust. She became a member of the Speakers Bureau in 2018.
Michal’s father, Arieh Engelberg, was born in Tanobrezg, Poland in 1934. “I am the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. There are many and different Holocaust survivor stories. My family was expelled from their home town of Tarnobrezg, Poland where they had resided for generations. My family was expelled for one reason only – because they were Jewish. They were not alone. Thousands of Jews were expelled from Polish towns – where did they go? How did they know to go there? How did they survive? This is the story of my family.”
In 1939, when Arieh was only 5 years old, Germany invaded Poland. As part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, dividing Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union, Polish Jews living close to the dividing line with the Soviet Union in Poland were forced to leave their homes.
Arieh’s family decided that it would be safest to move east into the Soviet Union with the hope that they would be able to return to their home soon. Instead, they became part of a migrant group sent to various labor camps as far away as Siberia. When the war ended, they were loaded onto railcars and sent back to Poland. They applied for visas to Israel, which were granted in 1950.
The Engelberg family traveled over 12,000 miles between 1939 and 1950 escaping the Holocaust.
In Israel, Arieh served in the Israeli Defense Forces and became a mechanical engineer. He married Michal’s mother, Sarah, in 1964. In 1975 Arieh moved to Vancouver, BC, accepting a job as an off-shore and sub-sea engineer. In 1976 his wife and family joined him.
“My father’s family was propelled into a life they didn’t wish for and had no control over. With the help of the Holocaust Center for Humanity, my father’s oral and written testimonies and his school certificates, I was able to trace my family throughout the war. My father’s school certificates became important historical documents to unravel my family’s route as dictated by the communist regime.”
With primary sources, maps and her father’s video testimony, Michal brings life to her family history.
Bertie was born in Amsterdam, Holland in April of 1936. In January 1943, Bertie and her mother were ordered out of their home and transported to a theater that was being used as a temporary jail. Imprisoned and waiting for transport elsewhere, her mother made a phone call to Bertie’s father (they were divorced) to ask if he could help get Bertie out of jail. Through networking, her father was able to obtain help. One evening when Bertie was walking with other children in front of the theatre, she was abducted by someone from the Dutch Underground. The next morning Bertie was picked up by her non-Jewish stepmother who risked her life to take Bertie to her sister’s family in the Eastern Netherlands. She was “hidden” in their home for almost two and a half years. During that time, Bertie was not allowed to move outside of the confines of the house and hid every time company came to visit. Finally, in early April 1945, the town Bertie was living in was liberated by Canadian forces. After liberation, she returned to Amsterdam in the late spring and entered school for the first time as a fourth grader.
During the war, Bertie’s mother was sent to Westerbork (a transit camp in the eastern part of the Netherlands), and then to Vught and Theresienstadt concentration camps. Her mother survived the camps and also returned to Amsterdam in the summer of 1945.
Bertie’s father was hidden for several years in an attic room of a house in a city in the center part of the Netherlands. He was liberated by American Forces in September 1944. He was an attorney, spoke English very well, and thus served as a liaison between the American Army and the Dutch Government. Bertie finished high school and college in Holland. In 1959, she and her husband immigrated to the United States. A year later, they moved to Seattle.
Harriet Mendels was born in the Netherlands to a large Jewish family that was assimilated into Dutch society. Harriet and her brother spent their childhood in the seaside town of Scheveningen, Holland.
Her grandfather Pierre, a journalist, traveled through Germany for business in the late 1930s and witnessed the rise and adoption of Nazism along with its antisemitic propaganda. He warned his daughter and son-in-law of the impending danger, urging them to leave Holland while there was still time. Reluctantly, they decided to follow his advice.
The Mendels family – Harriet and her parents, brother, and two aunts – were able to get exit visas from Holland. They also contacted a distant relative in the United States who provided an affidavit of sponsorship for the family. They left Holland and arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, in May 1939.
Harriet grew up in New York, learning English and adjusting to a new life far from her home country. She was always aware that she was Jewish and occasionally encountered antisemitism in the United States.
Harriet is a mother and grandmother and has been a teacher, activist, local politician, and author. In 2018, aware of rising Holocaust denial, she decided to tell her story, and worked with the Holocaust Center to research her family history more in depth to become a member of the Center’s Speakers Bureau.