The morning stillness was shattered in the German village of Ober-Ramstadt, as people started running through the streets, crying out that the synagogue was burning. Julius Bendorf, 23, could see the flames from his house. Later, around 1 p.m., a group of men broke into his father’s butcher shop at the front of the family’s house. The Nazis had already closed down the shop, as they had all Jewish businesses, but the intruders destroyed the counters, scales and other equipment. “These were men we knew really well, who bought meat from us,” Julius remembered. The men then entered the family’s living quarters, but Julius, his parents and brother had already escaped through the back door. The next day, the family returned to find their feather bedding shredded, their food tossed on the floor and the house in shambles. It was Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938, and, as Julius said, “It all happened so fast.”
There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Holocaust survivors living in Los Angeles, according to Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon. Of these, 3,000 are determined to be financially needy, a figure based on a United Jewish Communities Report published December 2003, which found 25 percent of Holocaust victims in the United States living in poverty.
The two men walk as one -- in steady step, shoulder to shoulder, their words a torrent of Yiddish.
There is much to catch up on since the former neighbors and schoolmates last met. That was more than 60 years ago, when the transports, fear and separations that characterized Jewish life during World War II reached their Polish hometown.
My great-uncle, Jacques Graubart, came to town last weekend. Jacques, a fit and vigorous 79, has always been the superhero against whom I've measured my life. Jacques entered the Resistance when he was 19 and rowed hundreds of Jews to safety from occupied France into Switzerland. He was caught frequently by the French and escaped every time but the last time. Incarcerated by the Nazis in a series of concentration camps, Jacques survived a death march of prisoners that began with 1,400 and ended with himself and only three others alive.