Matthew Erlich’s mother, Felicia Lewkowicz, was born in Krakow, Poland in 1923. Felicia was one of seven children, four girls and three boys.
On March 3, 1941, the Nazis established the Krakow ghetto and Jews were required to wear armbands. Felicia and one brother were sent by the Nazis to the Krakow ghetto while her mother and other siblings were sent to Tarnow, 70 miles from Krakow. Conditions in the ghetto were terrible, with very little food and illness and diseases running rampant. Luckily, Felicia was able to get work outside the ghetto, cleaning the offices of German officers. One day, she did not return to the ghetto, escaping onto a train which would take her to Vienna, Austria. On the way, she stopped in Tarnow where she saw her family for the last time.
In Vienna, Felicia was able to acquire false identity papers and adopted the name Sophie Sterner. She worked at the Hess Hotel and the Hungarian King Hotel. Starting in the kitchen, she eventually worked her way up to housekeeping, assigned to the Hess family’s personal rooms. When a friend was caught smuggling clothes, a photo of Felicia was found among the clothes and she fled the hotel for fear of being caught.
Changing her name to Stephanie Heir, Felicia was able to find a position as a nanny and, later, at the Astoria Hotel. The authorities caught up with Felicia and she was sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner.
Felici a arrived in Auschwitz in August of 1944 and was tattooed with the number A-25049. Shortly after her arrival, she was forced to give blood for German soldiers. To stop them from taking all her blood, a German nurse and fellow prisoner changed Felicia’s blood type on her records, and gave her bread and sausage to eat. Felicia attributes this act to helping her survive.
Felicia was transported with a group of 3,000 prisoners to Bergen-Belsen in October 1944. At the end of July 1944, there were 7,300 prisoners interned at Bergen-Belsen. By April 1945, this number had increased to 60,000. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate food, water, and shelter led to an outbreak of disease. Tens of thousands perished in the first few months of 1945 and the bodies were often left in barracks for days before being removed. In March 1945, Felici a got Typhus. Her cousin, Estia, who she discovered on the transport to the camp with her, kept her alive by encouraging her to eat and get up.
Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the British on April 15, 1945. In May, Felicia and Estia were taken to a Displaced Persons (DP) camp in Lingen, Germany. In the camp, Felicia worked as a translator and met her future husband and fellow survivor, Arthur. After 6 or 7 months in the DP camp, Felicia moved to Paris, where her sister Lola was living, while Arthur completed his studies in England. Felicia and Arthur were married in England on July 3, 1948. They later moved to Canada and then the USA. The couple had four sons: Richard, Andrew, Michael, and Matthew.
Karen Treiger shares the survival story of her mother- and father-in-law, Esther and Sam Goldberg. Karen knew that they had amazing stories of survival, but she wanted to fully understand their struggles and experiences and began to research their stories.
Esther and Sam both grew up in Poland prior to the outbreak of World War II. Sam was drafted into the Soviet Army and imprisoned in a German POW Camp. He escaped, but was eventually deported to the Nazi death camp Treblinka. In 1943, Sam escaped from Treblinka and found safety in a nearby forest, where he met Esther. Esther had already established a hiding place there after fleeing Stozeck, Poland.
Esther and Sam survived in hiding with the help of the non-Jewish Stys families. After the birth of their first child and several years in displaced persons camps, the Goldbergs came to the United States in 1949.
In 2016, Karen and her family traveled to Poland to meet the children of the Stys families, and thank them for their courage in saving the Goldbergs’ lives. This incredible connection has continued to inspire Karen to tell her family’s story, and now to share it with students and other groups as a Legacy Speaker for the Holocaust Center’s Speakers Bureau.
Karen Treiger's award-winning book, My Soul is Filled with Joy: A Holocaust Story, details the story of the Goldbergs and her own journey in uncovering this history. She is a lawyer and has four adult children with her husband – Sam and Esther’s son – and resides in Seattle.
Judy Schocken’s story is about how the Nazi rise to power affected her family in Czechoslovakia, changing their future forever.
Judy’s paternal grandfather lived in Czechoslovakia, where he had a business selling wholesale eggs. As antisemitism grew during the early 1900s, he moved his family several times within Czechoslovakia for their safety. With Hitler as chancellor of Germany since 1933, the borderlands of Germany and Czechoslovakia increasingly became a target for the Nazis’ territorial ambition. Judy’s father Frantisek “Frank” studied refrigeration in the United States in 1936, so the family could improve their egg business, but he returned to Czechoslovakia.
After several difficult moves in search of a better life, the family decided to send Frank, his wife Margaret, and their infant son, Peter, to the United States. The plan was to eventually have them send for the rest of the family. The Blochs were fortunate to have a relative in Seattle who served as a sponsor; the three obtained visas in 1938 and arrived in Seattle in January 1939, less than a year before World War II broke out.
The Bloch family changed their surname to “Block” and settled into life in Seattle. Judy and her older brother Steve were both born in the United States. Frank eventually returned to the egg business, and the whole Block clan spent lots of time with other Jewish refugee families from the same part of Czechoslovakia, particularly enjoying hiking and skiing together.
Unfortunately, no other immediate family members of Judy’s parents were able to leave Europe. Judy and her father both spent time researching their relatives’ fates – information that Judy describes in her presentation. She collected additional primary sources and family photos, and, with the help of the Holocaust Center for Humanity, put the pieces together.
As the daughter of those lucky enough to escape the Holocaust, Judy shares her story as a member of the Center ’s Speakers Bureau to tell about the effects of bigotry, bullying, and antisemitism. Judy and her husband Joe still live in the Seattle area, and have 4 children and many grandchildren.
Josh was born in Tomaszow, Poland in 1936, where his family had lived for almost a century. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, his family was incarcerated in the Ghetto. They made their way to Siberia and Uzbekistan, where life was incredibly harsh but not as dangerous for Jews. After liberation, Josh and his family found refuge in a displaced persons (DP) camp in Berlin.
In 1951, the Gortlers came to Amer ica, and Josh arrived with no formal education or English skills. He persevered, graduating from a Jewish high school before earning Bachelor’s and Master's degrees in Social Work. Josh then moved to Seattle and worked at the Kline Galland Jewish nursing home for almost 50 years. He began telling his story when his grandchildren asked what happened to him during the Holocaust, and he is now an active member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity's Speakers Bureau and Board of Directors. In 2014 Josh was honored by Yeshiva Univer sity with a doctoral degree for his leadership in elder care in Seattle and on a national level.
"There’s a time to think, and there’s a time to talk. And I feel that now is the time to talk and retell these stories for the future generations to come. Because, if we don’t learn from the past, we will make the same mistakes in the future." - Josh Gortler
Survivor Encyclopedia: Washington State - Josh Gortler. Read more about Josh, view photos, and watch video clips.