March 27, 2011

Harry's Birds



Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist



At one point during the time I was living with Harry, he began making origami birds, something he had not done since he was a child. It just came to him one day, to start making these birds again (after a hiatus of more than eighty years).According to Harry, when he and his eight brothers and sisters were youngsters in Poland, they amused themselves by making these folded paper birds. He's not sure where they learned this craft, only that he's "always known how to make them."

Harry taught me how to make these birds - a series of squares and triangles that pop open at the end (very tricky!) - and when I went back to the island over the summer, I decided to make a bird mobile to hang in my kitchen. I told Harry about the mobile I had made, and that I would show him how I made it when I got back to Brookline in the fall. Harry got so excited about the mobile idea that he didn't wait for me - he designed his own. In fact, Harry was so excited about these mobiles that he would go on to make a multitude of mobiles - Harry became a virtual bird mobile-making machine. I don't know the exact number, but I'm sure it was more than 100 over the course of about two years.

Harry collected paper for his birds everywhere he went - flyers from doctors' offices, catalogs that came in the mail, magazines - and spent hours each day folding them into birds, carefully hanging and finding the balance point for each bird.

Harry's birds served many purposes, I believe. The folding and construction were an outlet for his once-busy hands and for his creativity; they filled his day and gave him a reason to get up in the morning, and most importantly - they connected him with people. One of Harry's biggest joys was to give these mobiles away as gifts - to friends and strangers alike. Additionally, while Harry was in production, sometimes as many as four or five mobiles would hang in his apartment, scattered throughout his living room, suspended from book shelves, fluttering in the breeze. Harry liked being surrounded by the fluttering birds - they were good company for a man who lived mostly alone.

A most interesting point regarding Harry's birds, I think, is the fact that Harry, because of an inner-ear issue, had problems with his own balance; his bird mobiles were all about balance.






Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist
Harry's origami bird starts as a square, folded into a series of triangles and more squares.


Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist



Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist



Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist



Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist



Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist
The most difficult step in creating the bird is the final step - popping it into shape, which involves tucking the tail down, the head and beak up, with the wings folded "just so."


Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist
When the folded paper becomes a bird, it's a bit magical.


Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist
Here, Harry is beginning to assemble the mobile.


Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist



Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist
Harry's New Year mobile.


Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist
An Israel-themed mobile.


Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist
Here, Harry checks the balance of the birds.


Harry Flamenbaum, Holocaust survivor, philanthropist
This is what Harry's living room looked like when he was in full production.

March 26, 2011

Harry's Poland

     As narrated to me by Harry in May 2003 during several conversations that were inspired by the accompanying photographs, taken by Harry's nieces, Lana Erlich and Stella Summers, when they and their mother, Hanka Flamen, and Lana's and Stella's young daughters Sophie and Irina, and Sabrina, made a trip to Poland a few years ago to explore Flamenbaum family roots.
     The towns to which Harry refers - Garbotka, Pionki, Radom, and Jedlnia - are in the region approximately fifty miles south of Warsaw.


View Larger Map

All photos by Lana Erlich and Stella Summers.

(Words in italics are the captions from the backs of the photos.)






Harry Flamenbaum, Poland, Garbotka, Pionki, Jedlnia, Holocaust survivor
 
Harry’s nieces, Lana and Stella, entering the village of Jedlnia.

     I was born in the town of Jedlnia, a small town surrounded by farms about half way between Radom and Kozienice. My parents were Mordechai and Chaya. There were nine children, six boys, Itzhak Mendel, Shaul, Pinchas, Moishe, Milech and myself, and three girls Gitel, Sarah, and Rivka Leah. We moved back and forth between Jedlnia to Pionki, but I lived in Jedlnia for most of my childhood, until around 1928-30.  Jedlnia was a center of commerce, with a bakery, a butcher, shoemakers, tailors, and bars. The big building in the background is the church. There were about twenty-five Jewish families in Jedlnia, the rest, I’m not sure how many, were Poles. My family had a bakery here for some time, but before the bakery, in the early 1920s, we had a general store and sold everything from dry goods, and pots and pans and dishes, to nails. My father was self-educated, he changed from many businesses, he adapted himself to whatever was needed.

     When I lived there it was called Jedlnia Koszciellnia because the church was in the town.






 
 
This building is now next door to where the bakery house is in Jedlnia.

     This house looks like the house my sister Gloria lived in across the street from the bakery, and from where we lived. There was an open field between the store and the house where we children played and ran and played a game with a ball and a stick— a game like  baseball. The main road that went from Radom to Kozienizce was in front of the house. The road was paved with stones and was wide enough for two horses and wagons.








The church in Jedlnia              

     Our house was next door to the church, it was the main church in town, and on Sundays people walked to the church from all over. The women had flowers and we were little boys—we would jump at them and snatch the flowers. I can’t remember how we did that;  we were full of mischief.   
     The priest preached that the Jews killed Jesus. We never stepped in the church, but we knew when they came out they were mad at the Jews.
     To the left of the church was our store and some apartments—they aren’t there any more, it’s changed, it’s not the same—a rich farmer was our landlord.
     When my older sister Rivka Leah married in 1934 the wedding was held in the apartments. The landlord opened it up to us. There were 400 people—we celebrated for a week. There were buses and horses and wagons. The horse and carriage,  carrying the bride and the groom, circled around the property seven times.





The church in Jedlnia, and to the left the original location of the family bakery/home. The church in Jedlnia, and to the left the original location of the family bakery/home. The property was sold by Bronka’s husband when she died.













Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
 
     This is Mitek Jitsky—he’s the age of my brother Michael. He’s the only son that’s left. There was a retarded brother who killed himself. The family lived next door to us and they had nine children too, four brothers and five sisters. The father was our landlord.
     We were children, we all grew up together, playing sometimes, fighting sometimes, throwing stones. They didn’t call us by our names, they called us Ziege—Jew; they were anti-semites.
     There was a brick building behind the bakery, it was a stable for cows and horses. We had one horse, used for deliveries, and we had four cows—they were special, they were white and brown and gave the best milk. No one had cows like ours.






Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
We think this was the train station.

     It’s not the train station. I don’t remember this building.There was no train in Jedlnia. The train was in another town, Jedlnia Stacia. Stacia means station. If you wanted to go to the train you had to go there, you had to walk through the woods, about three miles.  The train went to Radom, Jedlnia Stacia, Pionki, Garbotka, and farther down. We traveled either by train or horse and wagon. We used a horse and wagon to buy goods in Radom; flour, sugar, whatever we needed for the bakery.


Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
This building was across the street from where the bakery stood in Jedlnia

    I don’t remember this building. Everything has changed.



Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
This woman is 92 years old and lives in the uncle’s house in Garbotka.
 
     This woman lives in my uncle’s house, my Uncle Piniec’s house. She remembers my uncle. When we were living in Jedlnia Piniec came to visit when we had the bakery. There was a well, with a pail and a handle on a chain, it went down very deep—that was water for the bakery, we had to go out in the coldest weather to get water for the baking—Piniec bent down to get the pail out of the well and he fell down inside the well, maybe a hundred feet! We had to drag him out with the pail, we cranked him back up. Everything turned out all right.

Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
The back of the bakery house in Pionki.


     From 1933 on we had a bakery in Pionki, we moved there from Jedlnia because business was better in Pionki. We baked everything! Challah—better than Kupels’s—rye bread; sissel, pumpernickel, rolls, pastries, cheese cakes, apple cakes, everything! We hired bakers for the pastry, but we all worked in the bakery, we all worked in the business, the whole family. Ours was the best bread. Even when we were in Jedlnia, people waited for our bread, you could smell it all over town. We delivered it by horse and wagon.
     On January 8, 1933, when I was living in Pionki, I married Faiga. In 1939, when the war broke out, that first day, September 1, 1939, I was behind this building lying on the grass. I could see the airplanes coming and bombing the gunpowder factory. There were big explosions about a mile away. I saw the planes and I knew the war had broken out. It didn’t take long for them to take over. Poland was sold before the war. There were many Germans—they were spies. They painted the buildings so the Germans would know where to bomb—it was espionage.

Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
Bread making machine, photographed through the window of the present bakery in Pionki.

     We didn’t have a machine like this. We did everything by hand, that’s why it was so good. We made hundreds of loaves of breads by hand—it was a big operation.
     There was a big wooden box, specially made, with boards on the top. You made the dough and let it rise inside. It took two or three people to work up a batch of bread—they  made 60-80 two-kilo loaves at a time; rye, pumpernickel, sissel, challa, pastry, I helped. I’ve made thousands of loaves. I didn’t really like the work - it was night work.
     We all helped the family business. We prayed everyday with tefillin. One day we went to sleep very early in the morning after working in the bakery all night and slept all day. We woke up at night and thought it was morning and put on our tefillin and started to pray. That’s a true story.

Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
The side and back of the bakery house in Pionki.


Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor 
 
The uncle's house in Garbotka.



     This was my uncle's house in Garbotka. The house was red brick, it's not the same. There's a fortunehidden on the property. My father hid some money in Pionki and afte the war, during the time we were in Radom for four months, my brothers, Michael and Saul, went back to Pionki and found the money. Saul was talking to the people in the house to keep them busy while Michael dug the money out from under the barn. It was twenty-dollar gold pieces. Int he uncle's house there are paper dollars hidden in jars, in the ground someplace. I know where it is. If there's still a barn there - it was a coal barn - it's there. It's still there to this day as far as I know.
     The underground Poles were killing the Jews so we had to run from Radom. We ran to the Czech border, where I was arrested.




Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
The back and side of the bakery house.


Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
When we first arrived in Pionki we thought this was the house. It seems old so it may have been there before the war. It is just down the street Kolejova, to the left of the bakery.

Kolejova means train. Kolejova is the street the train station is on, from Pionki to Garbotka.
I don’t remember this building, everything’s changed, it's not the same.

Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
The bakery house in Pionki. Lana and our guide, Viktor, are in front.

     This is the bakery house at 35 Kolejowa Street, so called because it was the street the train station was on. We didn’t own the building but we had the bakery here. The green door was the entrance. We lived out back. We had a Philco, a big radio, and it’s still hidden in the wall in the building. My father cut a hole in the wall and hid the radio. We hid it because if the Nazis found the radio in the house they would kill us.
     There were about one hundred Jewish families in Pionki, and a gunpowder factory. There was no synagogue. On Friday night and Saturday morning we prayed at someone’s house, in a special room. There was no rabbi, the men led the services.


Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
35 Ul Kolejowa Sign on front of the bakery house.


Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
This man lived next door to the bakery in Pionki. He knew your family and knew that they also lived in Jedlnia.
This man knew my parents. Maybe he knew me, but I don't remember him.


Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
Mommy and Sophie just past the bakery house.
 
Hanka is Lana and Stella's mother. She was married to my brother Saul.


Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
Unidentified building in Pionki.

I don't remember this building.

Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
A square in Radom in the Jewish section. Now this is museum of the city.

     Radom was a small city, with 100,000 people, a third Jewish, ten miles from Jedlnia. We went there often to buy flour for the bakery, and goods for the general store. My wife was from Radom and we were married there. She was my mother’s brother’s wife’s brother’s daughter. I was introduced through my Uncle Yaakov and Aunt Esther. Esther was my aunt and also my wife’s aunt, so we were related through marriage. When I married Faiga on January 8, 1939 we were in the dry goods business together. We lived in Radom from 1939 to 1942.


Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
 
Looking down Ul. Rwanska in Radom.

     In 1924, when I was 13 years old, my parents sent me to a tailor on this street to learn the trade. I was there for a year and a half—to me that seemed like a very long time. I didn’t learn anything except how to put a thimble on my finger—they tied it on my finger to keep it in place. I was also an errands boy,  and I lived with the tailor and his family and I took care of the children. I didn’t like it and eventually went back home and helped in the bakery and the store. This street looks the same as I remember it.


Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
# 8 Rwanska Street, Radom

     To the left in this picture there were businesses. We went there to buy flour, whatever was needed for the bakery in Jedlnia. We’d go with the horse and wagon and load it up and come back with tons of flour and sugar, whatever we needed.
     During the war the door at #8 was the entrance to the ghetto, it was a long hall that was divided in half, the Poles lived in half, the other half was the ghetto, a separate little town for the Jews. The population of Radom was 100,000, a third Jews, so 30,000 Jews lived in the ghetto. It was specially divided by a door. My brother-in-law Bernard Kaplan and my sister and their children lived there. I lived on another street, Skalshovska Street. The Nazis put us there. What can you do? You are forced; they would kill you if you didn’t go, sometimes they killed you anyway. That’s how it was.

                  
Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
# 8 Rwanska St. Radam
     This was the entrance to the ghetto. This is the original door, I remember the steps. There was a long hall and steps that went up to higher apartments; a barber shop, stores, another door that went in to our apartment where my sister Gita [Gloria] and her husband, Bernard, and their children, Tobi, 7, and Eda, 4; Bernard’s brother Nathan, and Nathan’s wife, Faiga, and their two year old son,  Manech [Michael]; and I lived—my wife was with her parents.
     We were closed up and making clothes and shoes for the Nazis. We had permits to walk on the streets, not for pleasure, but to measure, and to deliver shoes and clothing. One day we were walking, delivering something. We were walking with the landlord’s son on the main street, on Lublin Street—he was a Polish German, a tailor, he was drunk. We walked and talked, and he jumped at us and accused us of talking politics and tried to have us arrested. He tried to cut us—we would have been dead. We started to run, to a house on the main street, #11 Lubelska Street, to our cousins, where they took us in.  I waited and changed my clothes and stayed for a while, then I walked home. 
The Polish German was from Pionki, a tailor, when the Nazis came in they made him a big shot. I knew him from Pionki. We lived here from 1941, when the ghetto started. We were brought from Pionki. My parents were in a ghetto in Pionki.
                
Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor

 #8 Stowackiego

     I lived at # 41 Stowackiego with my wife’s parents before the ghetto. This was not the building where I lived. Sklep is a store. Wieloeranzowy. There was a barber next door, a Jewish fellow, and a tailor, Jewish. Vienska Radam. There was a nice park, like Boston Public Garden, with benches and flowers and waterfalls, across the street from this building. I lived farther down at # 41, from 1939 to 1941, then went back to Pionki, then from Pionki to the ghetto.
     In 1939, in September, after the Nazis came in, I was hiding out in the woods near Radom, hiding in the same woods  where my father took me when I was three years old in WWI. When I heard they had passed and took over Jedlnia I started to walk back to Radom. I was picked up by the Nazis. They put me in a Polish Army camp in Radom for a month; for a whole month we didn’t change our clothes. My wife came to the gates to bring me clothes and food but they wouldn’t let her in. They collected around 20,000 people—Jews and Poles. After a few days—we were sat in the stadium during the day; at night we slept on shelves in a warehouse, four people to a shelf, five levels of shelving. 

Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor

   # 8 Stowackiego.

 Someone told us before the war the number of houses may have been a little different.


     Number eight was the entrance way into the ghetto, special for us. People did business among themselves in the ghetto. You had your own business, like your own town. There were many families, it was crowded. My brother-in-law and sister and the two children lived in three rooms. The mood was dark, we knew what was coming. But people got married, had children, went to shul. 
In January of 1939 I married, then in September came the war, and then the ghetto, then they took people to concentration camps. Before they liquidated this ghetto they took 200 men to dig a ditch outside the city. They came home and nobody was home—they had dug graves for their wives and children. My brother-in-law  came home and his wife and two children—gone.
     So they liquidated the ghetto, and before they liquidated they told us they were going to do it, and to go back to Pionki. So they took my brother-in-law and his wife and children back to Pionki in a truck. I was left with my wife and child. My brother lived in between Pionki and Radom in a village of twenty-five families, he was the leader of the ghetto there. He sent a policeman to pick me up, it was a Thursday—Thursday was a market day in the city, in Radom, people bring stuff to sell. A policeman took me out part way and I had to walk through the woods to Pionki—five miles. If they had caught me they would have shot me, but I made it, and there came my brother-in-law and we started to work again.
     We left Pionki. My parents knew people in Pionki and sent a woman they knew to bring my wife by train. It was a Wednesday or a Thursday that I sent the woman to bring my wife. She sent me clothes, but the woman came back with no child. On Friday my wife sent the child, but my wife was afraid, she didn’t want to leave her parents. She stayed on Friday, on Saturday we sent the woman, on Sunday she went again, but it was already surrounded, the ghetto was liquidated and people were being sent away to the gas chambers, to Treblinka.
    In Pionki—we were there a couple or three weeks—they started to do the same thing. From there they took us—it was still a ghetto—they called for the young people to come out. They chose 180 young people. We went to the gun powder factory in Pionki. They told us to take everything, we’d get it back, so we loaded up a truck with clothes, and they took us from there, 180 of us. We made a little community. We looked for doctors, looked for make believe Jewish police and nurses. After two months twenty-five people got sick from typhus. They took us and put us in a separate warehouse, and one day, on a Wednesday, came two Polish German doctors and checked two people for typhus. The said to themselves, in German, “No cure.” I knew what they said, so when my sister Gloria brought in some lunch I said, “Gitel, tomorrow we’ll be done.” She said, “No, they’re going to take you to the hospital.
     The hospital was in another city. There were two brothers, of the twenty-five sick—they came from Kozienice—and the father was there and he said I’ll go with the sons to take care of them in that hospital. They took the sick brothers and the father and loaded up the truck and they went out to the woods and they had to dig their own graves. They shot them. We were prepared, our lives were hanging by a hair.
     The original 180 later became 3,000. They collected people from cities from all over Poland and brought them to the gun powder factory. Most were Krakow people. My brother-in-law [Bernard] helped to bring them from Radom, relatives and friends of relatives. We were the only family that was in shoe-making, this helped save many of the family. They needed our services. 
My niece Tobi, who was seven at the time, and her sister, Eda, age four, and my two year-old cousin  were saved by a good German man. He was the manager of the gun factory. He took them into his house. He told them, when they come for inspections we’ll let you know, and you’ll hide.

Harry Flamenbaum, holocaust survivor
                      
On the right, the house with the balcony, we think this was the house that was half in the ghetto, half not.


Harry's Torah Covers


Harry Flamenbaum, Torah Covers, Holocaust Survivor, Kehillath Israel



Harry designed and created - with his own hands, using the industrial-strength sewing machines in the raincoat factory where he worked as a stitcher - many Torah covers. Several are used at his home shul, Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts, and several have been distributed to various locations around the country, including Brandeis University. Harry dedicated his covers to various family members whom he lost in the Shoah, including his wife, Faige, and son, Mannis; also "In Memory of the Six Million Who Perished in Holocaust," to his brother-in-law Bernard who was instrumental in Harry's survival, and many more.

Harry was very proud of his Torah covers and he loved showing his many visitors the two that he kept stored in his bedroom closet.


Harry Flamenbaum, Torah Covers, Holocaust Survivor, Kehillath Israel
Harry and his Torah covers - a true labor of love.

Harry Flamenbaum, Torah Covers, Holocaust Survivor, Kehillath Israel




Harry Flamenbaum, Torah Covers, Holocaust Survivor, Kehillath Israel




Harry Flamenbaum, Torah Covers, Holocaust Survivor, Kehillath Israel




Harry Flamenbaum, Torah Covers, Holocaust Survivor, Kehillath Israel
Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts; Harry's shul.


Harry Flamenbaum, Torah Covers, Holocaust Survivor, Kehillath Israel
Stained glass in KI's Rabb Chapel.


Harry Flamenbaum, Torah Covers, Holocaust Survivor, Kehillath Israel