Judy Schocken’s story is about how the Nazi rise to power affected her family in Czechoslovakia, changing their future forever.
Judy’s paternal grandfather lived in Czechoslovakia, where he had a business selling wholesale eggs. As antisemitism grew during the early 1900s, he moved his family several times within Czechoslovakia for their safety. With Hitler as chancellor of Germany since 1933, the borderlands of Germany and Czechoslovakia increasingly became a target for the Nazis’ territorial ambition. Judy’s father Frantisek “Frank” studied refrigeration in the United States in 1936, so the family could improve their egg business, but he returned to Czechoslovakia.
After several difficult moves in search of a better life, the family decided to send Frank, his wife Margaret, and their infant son, Peter, to the United States. The plan was to eventually have them send for the rest of the family. The Blochs were fortunate to have a relative in Seattle who served as a sponsor; the three obtained visas in 1938 and arrived in Seattle in January 1939, less than a year before World War II broke out.
The Bloch family changed their surname to “Block” and settled into life in Seattle. Judy and her older brother Steve were both born in the United States. Frank eventually returned to the egg business, and theBlock clan spent lots of time with other Jewish refugee families from the same part of Czechoslovakia, particularly enjoying hiking and skiing together.
Unfortunately, no other immediate family members of Judy’s parents were able to leave Europe. Judy and her father both spent time researching their relatives’ fates – information that Judy describes in her presentation. She collected additional primary sources and family photos, and, with the help of the Holocaust Cenfor Humanity, put the pieces together.
As the daughter of those lucky enough to escape the Holocaust, Judy shares her story as a member of the Cen’s Speakers Bureau to tell about the effects of bigotry, bullying, and antisemitism. Judy and her husband Joe still live in the Seattle area, and have 4 children and many grandchildren.
Josh was born in Tomaszow, Poland in 1936, where his family had lived for almost a century. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, his family was incarcerated in the Ghetto. They made their way to Siberia and Uzbekistan, where life was incredibly harsh but not as dangerous for Jews. After liberation, Josh and his family found refuge in a displaced persons (DP) camp in Berlin.
In 1951, the Gortlers came to Aica, and Josh arrived with no formal education or English skills. He persevered, graduating from a Jewish high school before earning Bachelor’s and Master's degrees in Social Work. Josh then moved to Seattle and worked at the Kline Galland Jewish nursing home for almost 50 years. He began telling his story when his grandchildren asked what happened to him during the Holocaust, and he is now an active member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity's Speakers Bureau and Board of Directors. In 2014 Josh was honored by Yeshiva Uni sity with a doctoral degree for his leadership in elder care in Seattle and on a national level.
"There’s a time to think, and there’s a time to talk. And I feel that now is the time to talk and retell these stories for the future generations to come. Because, if we don’t learn from the past, we will make the samein the future." - Josh Gortler
Survivor Encyclopedia: Washington State - Josh Gortler. Read more about Josh, view photos, and watch video clips.
Joe Lewinsohn was born in Berlinchen, Germany on May, 1937. On Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938), the family’s store was vandalized. His father Edwin and 10,000 other Jewish men were arrested and spent weeks in Buchenwald, a German concentration camp. In 1939, scared for their lives, the Lewinsohns fled Germany for Shanghai, their only option. For six years, Joe’s family shared a room with three other refugee families in the decrepit Shanghai ghetto. When the war ended, they went to Chile to live alongside over 10,000 Jews who had spent the wartime years there.
Determined to make a better life for the family, Joe’s mother Berta joined her brother Leo in Seattle in 1947. Leo had accompanied the family in 1939 when they fled to Shanghai, but he was able to continue to America. In 1949, the rest of the family joined Berta, sponsored by Seattle bakery owner Harry Lippman. Joe graduated from Garfield High School and joined the Army. Upon his discharge, he earned Bachelors and Master’s Degrees from the University of Washington and began a teaching career in the Seattle School District that would last 35 years. He married Janet Altaras in 1965, and they have two sons (Joel and Peter), numerous grandchildren, and a dog named Mollie. Since 2017, Joe has been a member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity's Speakers Bureau. As a refugee himself, Joe finds it important to reach out to students in similar situations.
Survivor Encyclopedia: Washington State - Joe Lewinsohn. about Joe and view photos of Joe and his family.
Jessica Fenton grew up in South Florida very close to her grandparents, NatalieMurray Borenstein. Jessica knew that her grandparents and their friends and neighbors were Holocaust survivors, which drove her to learn more and ensure their legacies lived on.
Murray and Natalie were both Polish Jews. Natalie was born Naska Grunwald in Sosnowiec in 1918. Natalie and her sisters, all skilled seamstresses, sewed for Nazi wives while imprisoned in the Sosnowiec ghetto. Natalie then suffered terrible conditions in several forced labor camps of the Nazis, including a sub-camp of Auschwitz. Natalie was liberated at Ravensbruck concentration camp in 1945.
Murray (originally Motek) Borenstein was born in Lublin in 1919. He survived by escaping the Nazis en route to the Majdanek concentration camp, and subsequently taking on a non-Jewish Polish identity. With his new identity, Murray was able to work for German factories and businesses until the end of the war.
The two both managed to get to a Displaced Persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany in 1945. While there, Murray taught Hebrew, and Natalie was as a student. They met in class and fell in love. The couple married in 1946, and Jessica’s mother Esther was born in Germany in 1948. The family immigrated to New York in 1949, where they raised two more children and worked hard to create their new life. La, the Borensteins retired to Florida.
As an adult, Jessica dug deeper to learn Natalie and Murray’s past. Jessica collected documents, video, and photos of her grandparents’ lives and shared twith the Holocaust Center for Humanity to create her presentation. She officially joined the Holocaust Center Speakers Bureau in 2020. Jessica and her husband live in Bellevue with their three sons.