Saturday, April 26, 2003

Kaltmans tell tales of survival



By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Sandy and Roma Kaltman found working together a bonding experience.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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For close to 20 years, her mother has told the story.

That Sam and Roma Kaltman survived the Holocaust is as much a part of this family's history as the life they built in Cincinnati after arriving in 1950. Recounting that past has served to convey history, promote tolerance and to educate the community.

But it wasn't until last summer that Sandy Kaltman began to intimately learn the details of her mother's life.

As if magnifying fine print that had always been there, for nearly a year the two compiled the elder woman's experience for a traveling exhibit called "Her Story Must Be Told: Women's Voices from the Holocaust."

It aims to educate students in grades 6-12 about what Jews experienced during World War II, as well as highlight the stories of bravery, choice, determination and adaptability of 15 Cincinnati women, including Roma, who survived.

On the eve of Holocaust Awareness Weeks 2003, mother and daughter are embarking on a new chapter in that story, one that underscores the strength and conviction of women across two generations.

Coordinating school programs for the two-week series of events is one way that Sandy can ensure her mother's tale is never forgotten.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE
The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion will host the third annual Holocaust Awareness Weeks April 27-May 11.

Among a variety of speakers, plays and musical presentations will be a traveling exhibit called "Her Story Must Be Told: Women's Voices from the Holocaust.'' The exhibit, targeted to students in grades 6-12, tells the personal testimonies of women who experienced the Holocaust.

In this exhibit, the stories of 15 Cincinnati women are told through attributes credited with saving their lives. Read their stories.

Schools can reserve a day for the exhibit by calling the center. It will be available both during and after awareness weeks. A copy will also be shown in Gallagher Student Center at Xavier University during the month of May.

UPCOMING EVENTS
Holocaust Awareness Weeks 2003: Women and the Holocaust

The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion hosts the third annual Holocaust Awareness Weeks (April 27-May 11). The theme is women's experiences. Events include:

• Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati production of Lift Her Voice From the Darkness, based on first-person Holocaust testimonies of women writers. Performances: 2 p.m. April 30-May 1 and 7:30 p.m. May 5-6. 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. Tickets: $10. (513) 421-3555.

• Dr. Karen Mock, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in Toronto, lectures on "The Hate Hunter: A Woman Battles Intolerance'' at 7 p.m. April 28 at Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine. Free. Information: (513) 744-3344.

• Faye Schulman lectures on "Out of the Fire: A Partisan's Memoir,'' 7:30 p.m. April 30 in Lecture Hall at the Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive. Schulman will tell the story of her life in the resistance and show slides of the photographs she took that helped save her life. Free. (513) 721-2787.

• Yom HaShoah, a communitywide commemoration, 2 p.m. May 4 at Adath Israel Synagogue, 3201 Galbraith Road, Amberley Village. Features author Yaffa Eliach, a Holocaust survivor who helped develop the first Holocaust memorial museum in the United States in Brooklyn 40 years ago. Free. (513) 793-1800.

• "Music Saved Her Life,'' a program celebrating the musical legacy of cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a survivor of the Auschwitz women's orchestra, 2 p.m. May 11, Robert Werner Recital Hall, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Cost is $18. Reception follows. It is a tribute to Henry Meyer, a Holocaust survivor and violinist who was critically injured by a car as he left a concert at Memorial Hall in March. He remains at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Reservations: (513) 221-1875, ext. 355.

"It has been a bonding experience," says the 47-year-old lawyer from Amberley Village. "We are both at points in our lives that it's easier to talk about now than it was when we were both younger.''

The Kaltman women's descriptions, overtures and interjections link past and present to create a living memoir that will be passed on.

"I think it's a miracle that I'm here and that, with my husband, we could start a family,'' says 76-year-old Roma, her Polish accent permeating the English. "This is what really sweetens my life, that we have a family and that after I am gone there is still going to be another generation and another generation."

For those descendants, the account will commence the same way, with the life Roma knew before Germany invaded Poland in 1939. It will weave through the years during which she and her own mother and siblings were confined to the Lodz Ghetto and to her brave escape from the Nazi death camps.

It will peak just after the war in a joyous reunion with the young man she fell in love with in the ghetto, the man who would become a father to Sandy and brother Jerry.

Soon, it will be 8-year-old Sam's turn to carry on the story the same way he carries on the name of his grandfather, who died in 1990.

"He knows we have many relatives who were killed by the Nazis," Sandy says of her son. "I want him to be proud of his Nanna and what she has been able to do. I would like him to have a sense, as a Jew, of our common history.

"I want him to know that, in spite of all she went through, she became a very productive member of society and a great parent. She and other women survived because they had the will to survive, the will to live and, in part, that was to tell their stories."

The story begins

The Kaltman family story began in the large, industrial city of Lodz, Poland, where a thriving Jewish community was filled with musicians, novelists and philosophers. The youngest of five children in a middle-class home, Roma was 13, looking forward to Sept. 1, 1939, the time for her to enter high school. But instead, the Nazis marched into Poland, triggering the start of World War II.

Her family was forced into what would eventually become the country's longest existing ghetto, where thousands of Jews were sent to work for no more than bread and soup. More than 204,000 people passed through the barbed wire gates. More than 20 percent died from starvation, cold and disease. Even more were sent to Auschwitz and Stutthof concentration camps to be exterminated.

"I'm sure she suffered constant humiliation and abuse, but the thing that affected her the most was losing her mother in the ghetto,'' Sandy says. "She was maybe 46 when she died. My mother said she died of a broken heart and stress, that she just could not tolerate the conditions in the ghetto."

One poignant excerpt from the traveling exhibit shares a moment when Roma decided to give up her food ration for a day for the chance to read. The choice proved she was a human being.

Fortuitous events

Roma stayed in the ghetto until 1944, making boxes to hold the German army's ammunition until one day in August, when she and her sister, Rose, heard the boots of German soldiers. Roma, Rose and their friend, Danka Joskowicz, were taken to Auschwitz.

[IMAGE] Roma Kaltman before leaving Germany for the United States in 1950.
(Courtesy Roma Kaltman)
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"The barbaric slaughter during the second World War is haunting me till now," says Roma of Kennedy Heights. "I was a young girl when I saw the children taken away from the mothers. The screams sound in my ears because the children were crying. It gives me bad dreams. They wanted to go to their parents. The mothers wanted to go with the children and they had no way of doing it because a machine gun was standing over their heads.

"So I don't want any repetition of it. I don't want my grandchildren to have to live through what I did."

A series of fortuitous events may have aided the three in their survival. The first began at Auschwitz.

"They were in the lines to get tattoos," Sandy explains. "And her sister had an idea that it wasn't a good thing to get a tattoo. They'd stand in this line where they were supposed to get their tattoos, and as they would get toward the front, they would go around to the end of the line again."

By the end of the day, the three girls were without tattoos. They were transferred to the Stutthof concentration camp in February 1945. Soon the Russian army would advance, forcing the Germans to begin the infamous death marches of the prisoners.

After seven days of marching, Rose was too sick to go on from field to farm in the Polish countryside.

"We just hid and we did not join the rest of the group," Roma says. "We were just on our own."

[IMAGE] Sam and Roma Kaltman on the General Sturgis headed for the U.S.
(Courtesy Roma Kaltman)
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They arrived at the doorstep of a stranger, who fed the girls, drew them a bath and let them sleep in a real bed. They told the woman they were Polish peasants and needed a place to stay.

"She had a kitchen full of food and they were starving," Sandy says.

The woman was having a party that night, but the young girls slept so soundly they didn't realize that by morning all the guests, including the lady of the house, had fled. In the closet were military uniforms with German insignias. The party had been for Nazi officers.

"In the end, (not having tattoos) might have saved them because it was a means of identification (of a Jew),'' Sandy says.

The three returned to Lodz, looking for family. They found none. Judah, Roma's youngest brother, had been taken from the ghetto in 1941, when he refused to work for the Nazis. He was never seen again. Her brothers Simon and Henry both died during death marches in 1945, just before the liberation.

Before Roma left for London, she received a letter from Sam, the young man she fell in love with in the ghetto. He was in Germany. The two continued their courtship by international mail - from London to Germany and back - until 1949. Roma still has those long letters written in Polish.

"One year I took my vacation and I went to Germany," Roma says. "I spent about two weeks and we decided that we still loved each other and we wanted to be together.''

They married in 1949 and came to the United States. They stayed in New York with Sam Kaltman's relatives for a while before traveling to Cincinnati, at the urging of friends in the Queen City.

Then came the new life, with the first-born son, a daughter, graduations, her own bachelor's degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1979.

"I question many times how come I'm alive when so many others in the same situation did not survive," Roma says. "I am grateful for it because I would have never known the joy of having my own family.''

Sandy can't help but wonder how she would have fared under the same circumstances.

"The human will to survive is very strong and we need to think about what lessons we can learn from the Holocaust and from my mother's story. I think my mother shows the strength of the human spirit in that you look at what she went through and you look at her now and see how much she accomplished in her life.

"It's remarkable."

E-mail kgoetz@enquirer.com




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