Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Rene Lichtman - August 13, 1998

Mother's Relationships

Four husbands.


So Mr. Branwine was not the last.

He was number two, yeah and there were two others after that, because he--what happened was interesting, was that I, they, they would fight a lot and I, I, I always thought it was because of me. And, and it was kind of, because I drank a lot of milk, because mostly I, it made me feel, made my stomach better. But um, uh, and then when I came out of the Army, someone took--yeah, this was pretty funny. I came out of the Army and, and uh, I went to see a, a doctor for the first time. A friend of mine sent me. He says, "You got to see a doctor," cause he heard my story. And this is uh, doctor, was it doctor, I forgot his name. Uh, but it was a Jewish doctor from Germany, you know. And he gives me a GIC, talks to me and, and um--he says um, even before, before he gave me a GIC, he says, he says--I think, because I was telling him about the, you know, I spent two years in the Army like this, you know. And, and um, and he says, "I think you've got an, an ulcer." So then he gives me these tests and he says, "You do have an ulcer." Then he says, "I don't want you to go home to visit your mother anymore on Friday nights," he says, "because your mother is making you sick." So I went home and I told my mother that and uh, and she...

How old was your mother then?

I said, "Mom, I'm sorry but doctor"--what was his name? It was Dr. Singer, Dr. Singer. He says I can't come home Friday nights because you're making me sick. "Vod d...damn, meshuggah!" You know, she went crazy. But um, we had a very, we, we tried, you know. We tried to have a relationship, but it was um, but what happened when I came back from the military, I thought she'd have a decent relationship with this gentlemen and um, with, with my step dad and she didn't. And so I said, "Well, you know, if you're not happy with him, maybe you shouldn't stay with him." And sure enough, after ten years uh, she decided to divorce him, which was really uh...

She divorced him?

Yeah, which was like, you know, in the Jewish community and she went off and, you know, continued to work in the, those sweat shops in New York and um...

That's not easy, an easy thing to do in the Orthodox Jewish community, is it?

No. She--that's why she was, I mean...

I, I once asked you about your stepfather and now I can't remember which one. And you described him for me as, you know, quote, "a real jerk," unquote.

Yeah, that's, that's, yeah. I mean, I feel sorry for the guy, because he, he chose a woman and, with a kid. You know, what did he know he was getting into? He probably, but that was my--yes. And um, he had, you know he had, he had his own kids that were grown and they were um, uh, he, he'd, he'd lost his wife, I think in, in the Holocaust. And I'm, I'm trying to think, I'm, I'm, I'm not sure how that happened. But um, um, yeah, he just didn't, didn't understand me, which is no--I mean, in those days, he was older and, and he wasn't a social worker, you know, so he couldn't, he was interested in going to shul, that was his thing. And, and, and hav...having me, I mean, I came here, I was twelve and a half years old. When I was thirteen years old, I had my Bar Mitzvah. It was like I had no idea what the heck I was, you know, as soon as I got here, he sends me to a little old rabbi, you know, for private lessons. And that was my, my introduction to Judaism. I had no idea what I was praying. I went, I got bar mitzvahed on a Monday morning and then went to school. I mean, it was a Monday morning Bar Mitzvah and uh, all these old guys and, and then I remember going to school for the rest of the day.

Well, when she divorced him, you were, you were...

Well, by that time I was...

You were out of the house already?

Yeah. I'm talking about when I was like twelve or thirteen, fourteen.

She was married to him for a while.

She was married to him for ten years. So from 1950--I joined the Army in '59, came back in '61 uh, and she was um, you know, she was still unhappy or even, yeah, I think, I think I may have still been in the military when she separated from him, yeah.

And there was another husband then?

Yeah. Then there was uh, there was uh, um, oh, my God, I forgot his name, Hoenstein . Um, and she took his name. Uh, and what was funny is she, she never told the other guys that there had been these others, you know, she kind of, because it was, she was embarrassed by the numbers. But uh, Harvey Hoenstein was French um, you know, educated um, and she respected him quite--and he had a heart attack. So after, they were together quite a few years also. Uh, and he was a survivor, you know.

He was also a survivor?

He was a survivor, yeah.

A camp survivor?

Yeah, yeah. And, and, no, I don't know about the camps. My, the last step-dad was um, he was um, he was, all the camps, he'd been through. He was a tough guy also, yeah.

And did, did you hear them talk about the war, ever?


Do you remember him?

You know, it was such a taboo subject, it's just, it was such a s...uh, sad, scary subject. My, when I went to visit Himey and my mother, Himey was number four, Himey and I got along pretty well. Um, and I would always raise these issues about, you know, the, I mean, I would ask, ask questions and stuff. And, and this is in an apartment Brooklyn. You know, you walk in and there's a closet. And he opens up the closet and he says, "You see that?" And that was his camp uniform, this gray camp uniform. And he said, "I'm going to be buried in that." And um, and the, then I, I tried, I mean, we talked about, you know, his experiences and stuff like that. But my mother would not. She didn't, the only thing that she knew was that they, they destroyed our whole family, our Polish family, you know.

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