Hunter College H.S. Holocaust Survivors

The Second Generation

- Mary-Anne Fisher Ross ‘67

Mary-Anne Fisher Ross' parents emigrated to Canada after surviving the Holocaust. She was born in Montreal and the family moved to New York when she was eight.

Mary-Anne:

Both my parents are survivors of the Holocaust. My mother is from Budapest, Hungary, and my father is from Romania. My mother came from a wealthy family and had actually finished college when the war broke out. My father’s family was middle class, but I don’t know much more. Although my father is well read and quite book smart, I do not think he finished even the equivalent of high school.

My mother’s family was not taken to the camps until 1945. Prior to that time they were in a ghetto in Hungary. She was liberated with her sisters from Bergen Belsen, but her parents died in the camp.

During the war my father spent much of the time working in the Underground, but I know little of his experiences.

After the war my parents were in a DP [displaced persons] Camp in Germany, awaiting entry to the United States. As this was not forthcoming after two years in the DP camp, and as a Jewish agency was willing to pay their passage to Canada in return for work to pay off their “debt,” Canada was where they went in 1948. I really don’t have any more information about this. I do not like to engage with my mother concerning these subjects. To this day she remains bitter about this.

My younger sister and I were both born in Canada, Montreal to be exact. My parents first became Canadian citizens and then were sponsored by my father’s uncle for legal residency in the U. S. We arrived in New York in 1957, when I was eight. Eventually, we all became citizens of the United States.

After our family came to the United States from Canada, my mother took courses in English and became a bookkeeper. She worked until she was almost 80 years old. My father worked in the construction trades. I have not had any contact with him in 30 years.

I think my sister and I were brought up by “different” parents. I was born in 1949, only a year after my parents arrived in Canada. My sister was born in 1952, and I think that since some time had passed, my parents might have been on a more even keel. Throughout our lives as children, I was the one with the responsibilities and the object of any anger in our home.

I knew in elementary school that my parents were perceived as different by other parents. As I look back, I still feel the stares. I did not understand what this was all about until probably my teens. I remember that my parents used to have us watch documentaries that told about the Holocaust and the atrocities of the camps, but I think we were too young to absorb their meaning. I felt as if watching these shows was a punishment of some kind.

I remember my parents talking about their experiences in Hungarian with other survivors. I understood Hungarian, but the word “camps” was always spoken in English. It was many years before I understood that they weren’t talking about summer camp.

When we came to the U.S. we lived in Yorkville, on the Eastside of Manhattan. I was one of only two Jewish children in my class. I think feeling different at that time was more about being Jewish than about being the child of survivors. I also think being the children of immigrants had more impact than the legacy of the Holocaust.

I don’t think my parents were reticent to talk about their history. It was more that I didn’t want to hear about it. I avoided any contact with my father. My mother never progressed, and to this day her sole identity is that of being a Holocaust survivor. She tells people at every opportunity. I have encountered many survivors who have moved on to have rich lives, but I don’t think either of my parents have had much happiness.

I seem to remember the envy I felt toward American-born children. They described fun holidays with lots of people. Our holidays consisted of just the four of us, sitting at the table, each unhappy in his or her own way. And they had grandparents!

My parents knew nothing about how to navigate the system. At eight years old, I knew how to call the phone company or a department store if there was a mistake on a bill. In this sense many second generation children became caretakers at much too early an age.

I don’t remember sharing much about my experiences with my friends at Hunter. I would guess that there were others in my class that I never realized had similar backgrounds. While I went to Hunter, my family lived in Queens. That put me in a different category from the “Manhattan” girls. I was never part of the “core” of my class or truly connected to the Hunter experience. There were many girls who would have gone to private schools, had it not been for acceptance to Hunter. They were focused on the “right” college. I knew only that I would go to college, but had no role model, goals or any understanding with which to proceed.

After graduating from Hunter, I attended Queens College and majored in Sociology. I graduated in three years, easy to do after attending Hunter. I married my wonderful husband of 37, almost 38 years midway through my third year. It was an exciting time to be in College. It was when the 1968 Democratic Convention and all the Viet Nam war protests took place. The Mets won the World Series and the Jets won the Super Bowl. Sadly, Martin Luther King was assassinated, as was Bobby Kennedy. I lived at home and commuted to school, but my life was not at home.

After college, I became involved in health care and completed a Masters degree in Health Care Administration. I have had many administrative roles in the health care field, but now work supporting computer applications at The Mount Sinai Hospital, just a few blocks from Hunter. My husband and I have two grown children. Our son has a Masters degree in Information Architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and is the technology director for a major newspaper, and our daughter is finishing her dissertation at Harvard, expecting to continue her career as a college professor.

In my early thirties, I belonged to a Second Generation [2G] group. Our children were very young at the time, and there were many Second Generation people living on Long Island. I found that I was very comfortable with them, as we could laugh and cry together at what we had gone through with our parents. One year we decided to make a Chanukah party and invite our parents and our own children. Three generations together! Well, there weren’t enough corners in the room for each of our parents to have a place to hide. I still have friends among this group of Second Generation “cousins,” people you don’t see that often but who are part of your life. But I try not to get too involved in Holocaust subjects. It is painful. And although being 2G is part of who I am, I don’t want it to be all of who I am.

I strongly believe that the lessons of the Holocaust cannot be ignored. I’ve always made sure that our passports were up to date. We sent our children to Israel, Jewish summer camps and Hebrew School. While we are basically secular Jews, being Jewish has always been an important part of my life. I wanted our children to have that identity and to clearly understand that no matter how they see themselves, this is how they would be regarded by others. I DO think I have been overly suspicious of non-Jews as to their motives and their potential for anti-Semitic views, but my upbringing was to be cautious.

I have always been fearful of what is going on in the Middle East. I remember Mrs. Greenspan, a Hunter legend, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, still trying to teach us that the Middle East was the hotbed of the problems in the world and where the greatest dangers lay. Little has changed since 1961.

My husband and I have had fortunate and happy lives, and I think our children are intelligent and compassionate people. I am not sure if they think often of their legacy of survival. Writing this testimony has led me to feel that this is a subject I need to explore with them. I do know that they take pride in the strength of my mother and their other grandmother’s husband in surviving the Holocaust.

- January 2008

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