George Elbaum was born in Warsaw, Poland on August 20, 1938, one year before Hitler invaded Poland and spurred the outbreak of World War II. Within weeks, George's father was called to serve in the army and never returned. Acutely aware of the danger she and her son were in, George's mom dyed her hair blonde and purchased the identification documents of a Catholic woman who had died. In 1942, she smuggled George out of the Warsaw ghetto before paying various Polish Catholic families to hide and raise him. In 1945, George was reunited with his mother, the only other surviving member of his family. They immigrated to America in 1949.
For 60 years, George was reluctant to share his story with anyone. He worked towards an engineering career, earning an undergraduate degree, two Master's Degrees, and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 2009, upon viewing "Paper Clips," a documentary chronicling a Tennessee middle school's unique attempt to honor Holocaust victims, George was moved to share his story with the world. He and his wife Mimi Jensen live in San Francisco, but George makes frequent trips to Seattle to visit his children and grandchildren. George is a member of the Holocaust Center's Speakers Bureau.
- More About This Survivor:
Transcripts for Video Clips — George Elbaum
Full Testimony - George Elbaum (2018, 3:20:46)
Sharing a Story - From the Forum for Dialogue, Poland (3:46)
Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows - Memoir by George Elbaum
In 2009, upon viewing "Paper Clips," George was moved to share his story with the world.
Born in Aschaffenburg, Germany in 1928, Charlotte was the youngest daughter of Fritz and Lucie Levy. Her family belonged to the local Jewish congregation where her father, a menswear salesman and World War I veteran, was the treasurer. Charlotte remembers having a happy childhood.
This began to change when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. Hitler Youth paraded down the street, singing songs, and some Jewish students in Aschaffenburg were attacked. The ideals of the Nazi Party began to invade everyday life.
It wasn’t until the arrest of Charlotte’s father in 1936, however, that her happy childhood screeched to a halt. After the Nazi Party sent notice that all synagogue funds would be confiscated, Charlotte’s father distributed all of the money to the poorest members of the congregation and burned the books. The incident, and his subsequent arrest, convinced him that the time for Jews to live in Germany had ended.
While her father looked for a sponsor so they could immigrate to the United States, Charlotte and her sister were sent to the Esslingen Jewish Orphanage, run by a family friend. Very frightened, she realized that there are some things even parents do not have control over: “I had to take care of myself; I realized I am the only person who is always going to be with me.”
In 1938, the family secured sponsorship from a relative that had earlier immigrated to the U.S. On their way to leave the country, they stopped in Koblenz to see her grandfather. On the night of November 9th, their grandfather’s home was vandalized in what would later be known as Kristallnacht. While reporting this crime to the police, her father was arrested again. He was released when he showed proof they were leaving the country.
On December 25th, 1938, Charlotte and her family arrived in New York, where she spent the rest of her childhood. She raised three sons with her first husband Harry Sprung and second husband Norbert Wollheim (the two were also Holocaust survivors who had met in Auschwitz). In 1988 Charlotte met Holocaust educator Vladka Meed and became her assistant. They organized summer trips to Poland for teachers to learn about the Holocaust. In 2000, Charlotte moved to Seattle to be closer to her son Jeff. She now volunteers to read with elementary school children, and is an active member of the Holocaust Center Speakers Bureau.
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.
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.