On the 19th of November 2010 my friend Malvina Burstein passed away. She was a Holocaust survivor, though she was never in the death camps but was instead someone who did some heroic things during the time when the Nazis were killing nearly every single Jew they could get their hands on. I think of her everytime I visit her wife. Her grave is near that of my wife and I always say hi to her when I visit my wife. It has no headstone. I remember where it is because her husbands grave (Max Burstein) is right next to it. I always put a stone on it when I'm visiting her. And it makes me sad that she is forgotten, apparently by her own children and friends. But I do not forget her. I don't know what day her yartzeit is but today is close enough for this year. I'd been thinking of her and then I saw a memorial to another hero of that time who died this week and it reminded me of her while I was near a computer. Gariwo net summarizes her experience:
"Malvina was from Trebisow, in Czechoslowakia. When the village was invaded by the Nazis she closed her milliner's shop and hid in a cellar for one year. In 1942 she reached Budapest thanks to forged documents. Here she met other Jews." [http://www.gariwo.net/pagina.php?id=6711]
She told me she made a living as a seamstress. I think she said she made hats. She told me other stories too, including one story of one German Nazi officer who seemed to have a crush on her and how she was able to use that to help her stay alive. As she also told me (Washington Post Reports):
"A Jew could exist in Hungary at that time," she told The Washington Post in 1981. "I had illegal papers and no visa, but I got along. You had to keep well-dressed, look clean and neat, with nail polish and everything." [Post Article]
She had to act like she wasn't afraid. She seemed a fearless person to me. She smiled for us, she and my wife got along like mother and daughter. And My wife's mother ("La Suegra") loved her too. My Mother In Law didn't want to visit the retirement home however, she didn't want to move to one and those places gave her the heebie jeebies. So we'd pick Malvina up and bring her to the house or go to a restaurant. She needed to get out of the place. My Mother in Law could speak Yiddish with her. She adored her.
"One of them managed to obtain hundreds forged work permits for non Jews by ordering them on the phone from the national printing institute, by pretending he was a prominent industrialist. [http://www.gariwo.net/pagina.php?id=6711]
He goes on:
"Malvina, who was smart and good-looking, accepted to run the risk of life to fetch these permits for three times, saying she was the secretary of the faked enterpreneur.[http://www.gariwo.net/pagina.php?id=6711]
The Nazis and their European Allies from every single country operated their project of murder by starting with dehumanizing and denying citizenship to Jewish citizens. Non citizens had nowhere to go but Gas Chambers. British, French and US colonies wouldn't take them. If they coud make it to Israel the British would put them in concentration camps on Cyprus if they captured them. Or sink their boats before they reached Israel. The Mufti of Jerusalem was in Berlin egging on Hitler to finish the job. Rommel's target was Israel. People forget this.
"Most of the people who received the permits survived and fled to Israel. After the war Malvina emigrated to the United States where she ran a quiet life in the shade. She spent the closing time of her life in a resting house in Maryland." [http://www.gariwo.net/pagina.php?id=6711]
My wife and I knew her from the Synagogue and we visited her frequently in the the retirement home she moved to when she left her house. Her house in Silver Spring was less than a mile from mine. One year we spent time during Sukkot in her Sukkose Shelter soon after we moved to Maryland from DC. My wife and I adored her.
"The woman who took 1,500 Hungarian Jews into safety during the Holocaust passed away at age 97." [http://www.gariwo.net/pagina.php?id=6711]
Malvina was also a good painter. Here she is with my wife and one of her paintings:
They sleep within feet of each other. I believe I have that painting and one other. She was a marvelous painter too.
I miss them both. I really want to get a memorial stone for Malvina however. I know she's there, but who else does? I've got more photos but I have to either scan them off of old fashioned pictures or find my backup disks. I think I'll blog on her every year til it's my turn to join my wife.
- Further reading on the "homecoming" survivors got from non-Nazi Europeans:
- Beyond Violence: Jewish Survivors in Poland and Slovakia, 1944–48
- Further Reading:
- http://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn504844 (terrible picture)
When Malvina tried to return to Trebisow after the war she was treated vilely. She never shared the details with me but with another interviewer from 2005 she said (see above Beyond Violence reference):
"After the war, I traveled to see my house. We had a big house. I came back and the woman [the maid before the war who was the caretaker] hit me" and said "why didn't you die with the rest of the people"[http://books.google.com/books?id=hem3AwAAQBAJ&dq=Malvina+Burstein
Malvina called the police and "she hit me again in front of a policeman and he didn't do anything." Malvina wasn't the kind to be intimidated. She stayed long enough to get her house back, then "sold" "cleared" her house and left the country. I don't think she looked back. The choices were the USA or Israel. And for many USA had entry barriers. She married Max Burstein. Had children and lived (more or less) happily ever after.