In April, 1945, U.S. pilot Alan Golub performed a simple act of kindness whose long-term ramifications he could never have anticipated.
That month, Mr. Golub found himself face to face with the horrors of the Holocaust. Serving with the American forces involved in liberating Buchenwald, Mr. Golub came into contact with three dozen Hungarian Jewish women. Recently escaped from Nazi slave labor, the women had sought refuge in a school in Eschwege. When Mr. Golub found them, the survivors were in a pitiful state, their clothing little more than rags. Seeing their deplorable condition, Mr. Golub resolved to help in whatever he could. Unfortunately, there were obstacles in his way.
“I have to have it,” he insisted to a shopkeeper who refused to provide him with fabric that might clothe the women. When the shopkeeper saw Mr. Golub’s gun, however, “she changed her mind,” the 91-year-old Golub recounted last month. Mr. Golub has a copy of a 1945 photograph of the six women. For decades, their fate had been a haunting mystery to him, as had his own to them.
Last month, however, all of that changed.
Mr. Golub, a resident of Boston, began an email correspondence with the women, one that finally culminated in an emotional reunion in Brooklyn on October 26, made possible thanks to the Pesach Tikvah social service agency in Williamsburg. The event was attended not only by Mr. Golub and three of the original survivors (Sari Gruenzweig, Esther Epstein, and Lea Singer) but by a hundred plus friends and relatives as well. The reunion was distinguished by a warm atmosphere, with the attendees expressing gratitude in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.
At the event, Mr. Golub was able to personally witness the long-term effects of his compassionate gesture, including the great-great-grandchild of a survivor who had worn the original fabric he had provided so many years ago. “I sewed 16 dresses,” Sari Gruenszweig said, revealing what had become of that fabric. “The 17th dress was mine.” By her side sat her husband, Martin Gruenzweig. A survivor himself, Mr. Gruenzweig’s right hand bore the scar from a Nazi bullet, aimed at his head before being shot into a mass grave.
Despite the obvious trauma of living through the Holocaust, Sari Gruenzweig’s daughter, Betty Ungar, attested to the fact that her mother retained a positive outlook on life despite her ordeal. When “anybody needed help”, Ms. Ungar said, “they came running to my mother.”
At the reunion, a 1945 group portrait also made the rounds. Taken by an Army photographer, the photo depicted the Hungarian survivors, wearing dresses sewn from Mr. Golub’s cloth. On seeing the photo, attendees waxed nostalgic, recalling the names of long-gone villages in Hungary. Mr. Golub, for his part, was modest, shying away from any form of praise or honor.
“I’m a little embarrassed by it all, to tell you the truth,” he remarked, after being showered by praise and blessings from the crowd. “I don’t need the honor. I’m just happy that I played a very, very small part in helping unfortunate people. I felt that it was a duty that had to be done.”
The reunion might not have been possible without the efforts of Gary Sullivan, the husband of Mr. Golub’s daughter Abby. Intrigued by his father’s story, Mr. Sullivan went through a lengthy process to track down the long-lost Hungarian women. His search led him to contact a Hungarian museum expert, Anna Czekmany, who in turn reached out to a number of institutions, such as Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.
From there, Ms. Czekmany was directed to German historian Fritz Brinkmann-Frisch, and his memorial museum in Stadtallendorf for slave labor victims. It was at this camp that the Hungarian women had performed dangerous work for Dynamit Nobel, a chemical/weapons company. Mr. Frisch, who had been in contact with the women over the years, sent Mr. Sullivan decades old contact information. Using that info as a guide, Mr. Sullivan managed to contact Yiddish-speaking researchers Pearl Lam and Rivka Schiller. It was Ms. Schiller who initially suggested reaching out to Pesach Tikvah. The final breakthrough was made thanks to Sara Lichtenstadter, the agency’s volunteer coordinator. As it happened, Ms. Lichtenstadter was not only familiar with the story of the dresses: she was an in-law of the Grunzweig family as well. Following Mr. Golub’s visit to Brooklyn on Oct. 25, the dam finally burst, as Pesach Tikvah sent out countless invitations to survivors eager to attend.
“We would have had hundreds of people,” Zalman Kotzen, an executive at Pesach Tikvah said. Unfortunately, there was not enough time prepare.
The enthusiasm was captured most succinctly by Ms. Ungar. “I put all my business plans away,” she said. She was just as adamant that family members come along.
“I didn’t give them a way to say no.”
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