Hunter College H.S. Holocaust Survivors

Rescue via the Dominican Republic

- Jeanette Isenberg Bersh ‘60

I was born in Sosua in 1942. I don’t know many details about my parents’ life in Europe during the Holocaust. I wish I had asked them more questions, when they were alive. Both were German speaking; my mother came from Vienna and my father came from Frankfurt an Main, Germany. They met in Luxembourg in 1938 and married there, but had to flee and ended up in France. While there my father was arrested and spent time in a labor camp. I have no idea how or why he was released. My mother, who was a seamstress, was asked to make uniforms for the German soldiers, which she refused to do, and my parents went back to Luxembourg. There they received visas for the Dominican Republic and were among the few Jews who were settled in the town of Sousa. After four years there we came to New York in 1946.

My Americanization was immediate. I was only allowed to speak English. We had no TV, so my parents listened to the radio in order to pick up the language. My aunt, my father’s sister, had fled to England and came to the U.S. in 1948 two years after we did, and she spoke what I called Ginglish, a mixture of German and English until she died. My parents rarely discussed Sousa, but for many years I went to summer camp in New Jersey with friends from Sousa. It was a camp for Jewish refugees that was sponsored by the Workmen’s Benefit Fund. We reunited in the last few years and are now in constant email contact.

My aunt, who lived to be 97, never talked about the fact that the family came from Tarnow, Poland, and neither did my dad. My mother who had always claimed that she was born in Vienna was originally from a small town in either Galicia or the Bukovina; none of the cousins know which, and there are no records left. I learned all this when I started genealogy at 60. I am trying to do history backwards.

At Hunter, I never said a word about my foreign birth or history to anyone unless asked. Perhaps it was because it was the time of the McCarthy witch hunt. I know now that there are perhaps half a dozen members of the class of 1960 who were born abroad during World War II and are survivors of the Holocaust.

- August, 2011

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