Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Noemi Engel Ebenstein - July 22, 1996


But you said your mother had a first husband?

Yes. Uh, she, she married, uh, at the age of 23. By the age of 27 she was widowed. Her husband died in surgery. She was left with a child, uh, my brother. And, uh, she went back home to her mother. By then her father was dead. And in 19... that was, I think, in 1935 that she lost, in one week, her husband and her brother. And she was trying to kind of put back, uh, put the life back together. Um, she had all kinds of plans. She was taking English classes. She wanted to go to England. Um, but then, in the summer they always went on vacations and they often went to Yugoslavia, to the Dalmatian coast. There was a kosher pension in Sokirnitsa, which is Croatia today. Um, this brings in my father's background. Maybe I'll just fill you in a little bit about that. My father came from an area, uh, that's called I think today Vojvodina. Subotica is there, it's the largest city there. His, uh, father was an ordained rabbi from, his ordination was from Pressburg, Bratislava. From a famous yeshiva, Hatam Sopher, which was a highly regarded yeshiva, and they also learned German there. Like they translated the Hebrew and the Aramaic to German rather than to Yiddish. Um, he came from a line of rabbis. Um, he was a kind of a strange man who was an intellectual and never really made it in the business world. He had to make a living, he didn't want to be a rabbi because his father was a rabbi and was not very successful, had problems, uh, with the balebatim as they call them in Hebrew, or in Yiddish. Uh, the, the congregation. So, uh, my grandfather didn't want to enter the politics. So he married a girl who was, uh, came from a fairly well off, um, family of, not educated, but, uh, had, had some land, and had a business. He was, as I said, an intellectual. He read a lot. And actually what was interesting that in the 30's, early 30's he became a Zionist. He was reading the German papers and he, a couple of years ago my aunt was telling me, um, that he kept, he started talking to the Jewish community, the local Jewish community about the disaster that was approaching, that was going to be cataclysmic for the, for the Jewish community and that everybody should just sell everything and go to Palestine. Of course, people thought of him as nuts, crazy. Um, as I said, he read a lot. He, he was an unusual character. For a rabbi from that kind of yeshiva to become a Zionist and to read Freud in German in the late 20s and early 30s was unusual. Um. His wife, my grandmother, my paternal grandmother came from a more traditional home. Very orthodox and, uh, as I said, they were more middle class landowners. Some of them were even like, more like the, not like the peasants, but one of, um, her sisters married a man who was an agricultural expert, worked with the peasants in the area. They were all very religious and very, quite well off. Um, my father was the second child in a family of five. Also only one daughter and the youngest, my aunt. Today only my father and my aunt are living. One brother perished in the Holocaust. Uh, two died in Israel. One of them lost a wife and two daughters in Auschwitz, uh, and remarried later. Um, so that's my father's background. Anyway, this, this, uh, unusual grandfather had this idea that all these Jews who were quite well to do and could go on vacations, but wanted a kosher place, um, he is going to accommodate them. And it was his idea to open a kosher, what they called pension, uh, on the Dalmatian coast. And actually he died fairly early, uh, when they had that. But, um , my grandmother and my father and my aunt were running it, uh, throughout the summer. And my mother came in 1939--or 1940. 1939, I think, because in 1940 they got married--to vacation there. And that's how she met my father. It's a long explanation, but, uh. So all her plans to go to England were changed. And in 1940 they married and they moved to Belgrade. Um, my father figured that she comes from Budapest, she's uh, sort of a more fancy lad, uh, more cosmopolitan, um, urban. And so they opened the business there in, as I said, in 1940 right after they married. At first my brother did not join them. Later on he did, um...

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