One Holocaust Survivor’s Story (Part I)

I will be publishing this moving story in six daily installments

Fred’s Story

By Steven Lieberman

Calia Mintzer, 30-year resident of Culver City, and a young 83, went to an over-50 mix-and-meet singles dance four years ago at the Culver City Senior Center, an event that she regularly attended on Saturdays for dancing and enjoyment. That night she was sitting in an area of the dance hall designated for women who are available for dancing, but got tired of waiting and decided to seek out a man, since “men, at that age, are typically shy when it comes to asking a woman to dance.”

Manfred (Fred) Wolf, 82, was the man she asked to dance, a newcomer to this particular mix-and-meet. He usually attended the Felicia Mahood Center mixer, but decided to have a change of scenery that night. While dancing, Wolf saw the Chai (letter from the Hebrew alphabet meaning “life,” that serves as a reminder that life is G-d-given and sacred) on her necklace and exclaimed, “You’re Jewish?!” She said, “Yes, and I advertise the fact.”

Mintzer then noticed the number “105064” tattooed on his left forearm and said, “Oh my G-d, are you a “Holocaust survivor?!” and he said, “Yes, I am.” Wolf then proceeded to tell her about some of his experiences in the concentration camps. They were smitten with each other from the very start and are still very much in love.

I had the privilege and good fortune of meeting Wolf at a theatrical production of “Biloxi Blues” at the Westchester Playhouse (Mintzer recently was cast there in the musical, “Follies”). I was in the theater lobby looking at the headshots and photo’s of the performers on the wall and commented to this man standing next to me how difficult it must have been for those soldiers to have survived boot camp. That’s when he showed me the tattooed number on his forearm and said, “What I went through was much worse.”

A few weeks later, we sat down together to discuss his life story, including the horrific persecution he experienced at the hands of the Nazis in the concentration camps.

It all started on July 15, 1924, in a three-story home in Merl an der Mosel, a small village (1,500 people, two streets, and lush hills full of grape vines for making wine) on the banks of the Moselle River in Germany. Little Manfred, an only child, was born to Edward (Ed) and Ricka Wolf, the only Jews in the village. Ed, a German WWI veteran who was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery, had a clothing store on the first floor of their home where he made and sold men’s suits.

Every summer, Wolf would look forward to taking the ferry across the river and swimming in the Moselle. His mom tied a rope around his wrist when he entered the water, which he didn’t like. His dad, being the opposite, would say, “Go paddle, I’m here, don’t worry.” He’d also encourage his son to protect himself, and fight, when any of the bullies in the neighborhood challenged him. He also enjoyed going to dad’s bowling club and attending the auto races. They would go to the race track, and he would listen to the race on the radio. “I got a kick out of that. Even today, I’m a car buff,” he said. “I also enjoyed riding bikes with my dad to attend services at a synagogue in the next little village called Zell an der Mosel.”

In 1933, Adolph Hitler came into power and all the neighbors wanted to listen to their radio on the window sill. “I could already tell he had an anti-Semitic way about him,” Wolf said.

Wolf experienced his first major tragedy at age 11. One day, while he was at school and his dad was out on his bike drumming up business, Ricka, 35 and three months pregnant, was alone at home reading the newspaper, too close to the stove, and her skirt caught fire. She ran through the house trying to put out the flames and eventually went outside where neighbors rolled her on the ground to extinguish the flames. One lady spilled milk cans on her.

“When I came home from school, people were standing in front of our house,” Wolf said. “I went inside and ran upstairs, stunned to see my mom lying in bed, her hair burned and a towel over her face. My mom said, ‘Manfred, everything’s going to be ok,’ and hugged me. The doctor called for an ambulance to transport her to the hospital.”

Every day, he would visit his mom at the hospital, which made him feel uneasy, until she was released. After about a month, on Shabbos (the weekly day of rest in Judaism), he woke up and heard screaming and crying in the family room downstairs. His dad, 38, told him that his mother had died last night. She would have been a cripple for life if she had lived because of the infection from the burns on her legs. (Treatment would have been much better today with the burn centers technology available) “I hugged my dad and said, ‘I still have you.’ I was very close to him at that time, even though he became stricter.”

At the funeral, the coffin, carried by a horse-drawn carriage, had blood dripping from it, which was disturbing to Wolf. The rabbi, who led the funeral proceedings, taught him to say the Kaddish (a traditional Jewish mourner’s prayer) for his mom. Many non-Jews from the neighborhood walked with the procession to the end of town (there were no anti-Semitic feelings) before their family went on to the burial site. They came home and sat Shiva (a Jewish period of mourning) for seven days.

“My grandmother, Johanha, was the person that replaced my mom. (Wolf takes a moment to wipe away a teardrop) She looked after me and I came to idolize her.” he said. “She lived near Nuremburg, where Hitler and his party got together to plan and then were eventually tried. She always had challah, chicken noodle soup, and potato kugel for Shabbos. I loved that. She was very religious and always led the Shabbos prayers, including a blessing over me. I owe a lot to her…she had a lot to do with me being alive today.”

Wolf had his bar mitzvah in 1937 (traditionally at 13 years). He took a 45-minute train ride, a half hour through a tunnel, to Koblenz to meet and study with the rabbi. “My grandma took me to Zell to buy my first watch as a present. The watch had eight corners.”

“Then came a bad time.”

(to be continued on Tuesday)

July 16, 2007 | Comments Off on One Holocaust Survivor’s Story (Part I)

Subscribe to Israpundit Daily Digest