BY ANGELA MONTEFINISE
On the morning of July 20, 1943, 20-year-old Ukraine native Frieda Jakubowicz rose out of a troubled sleep and reported to the fields of a Nazi concentration camp, where she had been forced to stay and work for the past two years. She had lost her family and her home, and was “completely and totally alone.”
At about 11 a.m., Jakubowicz and the rest of her Jewish companions were summoned by officers to the back of a barn, where they were told to strip and stand in a ditch – so they could be shot, six at a time.
Fifty nine years later, Jakubowicz sat in her Bayside home, solemnly describing that painful experience and a memory quilt that she created to capture those memories – a quilt that she said is too upsetting to look at now that it’s complete.
The quilt, entitled, “The Akcae,” or “The Action,” is one of nine created at the Clearview Self Help Senior Center in Bayside that will displayed until October in the exhibit “Threads of Memory” at Queens Borough Community College’s Holocaust Resource Center.
Jakubowicz, whose story of survival went way beyond that morning, was proud of the work, but said, “I don’t want to see it. It hurts too much.”
The Past Lives
Jakubowicz, now 79, was shot in the arm on that morning in 1943, and remembers waking up “a while later” in a heavy rainstorm. She told the Tribune, “The shower was so heavy it revived me. I woke up, and everyone was laying quiet. I was alone . . . I was the only one who survived.”
Jakubowicz who was 20 when she was shot, participates in a Holocaust survivor’s support group at the Self Help Center, heldevery Thursday.
Eight Queens survivors who have participated in the group made “memory quilts” with the help of Elder Craftsman, a Manhattan group that teaches arts and crafts to seniors in the five boroughs. The quilts are now on display for the public to view, along with biographies of the seniors. The exhibit opened on Aug. 4 to praise from the survivors, QCC President Eduardo Marti, and members of the local community, who were touched by the handcrafted work.
A Jewish Saint
Jakubowicz solemnly remembered the experience of being shot in the concentration camp, and waking up in the rain surrounded by the bodies of those who were killed by the bullets. She said she was “so lucky to be alive,” and ran into the nearby barn for safety.
Memory quilts by Holocaust survivors (clockwise from left) Maurice Deluty, Rosa Faerman and Frieda Jakubowicz are among the nine depicting horror and hopefulness.
When German workers eventually came to bury the dead, they found Jakubowicz alive, and she said, “They didn’t know what to do with me. Some said kill her, some said she’ll die anyway. I had to listen to this. I was like a wounded sheep. I couldn’t move.”
Eventually, she said the workers decided to let God decide if she should live or die, and they left her. She said Christians who had also been taken to the camp to work on the fields took care of her, and she said, “They liked me. I was a likeable Jewish girl.”
Jakubowicz stayed with the Christians for six weeks until her wound healed, and then, she said, a sympathetic Nazi guard took pity on her. She said, “He said to me, ‘I’m tired of seeing you here. All of your people were shot. I don’t want you to be shot again.’ He liked me. He was sympathetic towards me.’”
In October of 1943, Jakubowicz left the camp as the only living Jew, and lived from attic to attic and cellar to cellar to escape the Nazis. She said, “People heard about me, and Christians thought I was a saint. They blessed themselves when I came in . . . They gave me bread and coffee, and that’s how I lived until 1944, when the Russians liberated us.”
After living in Poland and Germany, Jakubowicz married and moved to the United States in 1950, first to Brooklyn, then to the Catskills. She moved to Bayside nine years ago to live with one of her two daughters after her husband passed away.
Jakubowicz said the process of making the quilt was somewhat healing, but said, “It still hurts so much. My arm still hurts. I still get headaches related to my arm. I was crippled for years and I couldn’t work . . . That pain will never go away.”
Helping to Heal and Teach
Helping survivors heal through art was originally the idea of Liz Curtis, executive director of Elder Craftsmen, who told the Tribune, “In the back of my mind, I had the idea to do memory quilts with Holocaust survivors, but I wasn’t aware of any groups that we could work with . . . In January or February, Libby Schwerd who is the director of the Self Help center in Bayside called me and told me about the center’s Holocaust support group, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to help them express themselves.”
Curtis sent teacher Andrea Lilienthal to work with the survivors on making the quilts, which would include words, pictures, drawings, symbols, and pieces of clothing or other items. Curtis said, “A lot of the survivors were extremely hesitant at first about digging into old and very painful memories. But it ended up to be a tremendous healing activity for them.”
One artist, Kew Gardens resident Maurice Deluty, survived being held at Auschwitz as a teenager because of his skills as a woodworker, a talent he used on his quilt, entitled, “The Sacred Memories – Never To Forget.”
Deluty, a Polish native who had to jump from a moving freight train and hide in a barn to escape the clutches of the Nazis, made a quilt featuring Hebrew lettering, a collage of names of people who died in the Holocaust, and pictures of his parents and 13-year-old sister, all of whom died in concentration camps. He also used four different types of wood to create a Jewish star out of thin wood shavings, using the letters “L,” “O,” “V,” and “E.”
He said the quilts are extremely important to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, especially in the wake of Sept. 11. He said, “Indifference is what allowed the Holocaust to happen in the first place. We have to ask ourselves why and how so we can stop it now . . . The terrorists that attacked us in September are using the same strategies. We have to learn from the past.”
In an attempt to make the quilts learning experiences for many people, Curtis contacted Queensborough Community College’s Holocaust Resource Center and Archives to discuss the possibility of displaying the quilts. Curtis said, “They were thrilled at the thought of having the quilts there . . . We worked out the details, and now they’re being displayed.”
Sarah Roberts, assistant to the center’s Director Dr. William Shulman, said the exhibit is “just amazing,” and said, “Most of our exhibits are strictly educational, but this one also touches the human side of the Holocaust and a personal side of it . . . When people see this exhibit, they’re not just saddened as most people are when they think of the Holocaust, but they are uplifted by the stories of the survivors and how they are still active and involved in the community.”
The exhibit of nine quilts – including the eight survivors’ quilts and a quilt made by Schwerd in honor of her husband – may go on tour soon, according to Curtis, who said, “Holocaust museums across the country are interested in these quilts . . . Nothing’s confirmed, but that would be amazing.”
The artists featured in the exhibit include survivors Minia Wasilkowska Moszenberg, Deluty, Clara and Apraham Miles, Cirl Feigenbaum Mandel, Rosa Faerman, Solomon Mandel, and Jakubowicz. Schwerd’s quilt, entitled “After the Holocaust,” was in honor of her husband, a survivor.
While the memories of the Holocaust may be too painful for Jakubowicz to remember, Fresh Meadows resident Faerman said, “It’s important to remember what happened . . . to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Faerman was born in 1925 in Argentina, where she lived during the Holocaust. Her Slovakian parents moved away from Europe to escape persecution, but couldn’t come to the United States because they needed a sponsor. She said, “It was hard for Jewish people to leave Europe. Twice, officers returned our papers . . . Argentina had open immigration, so my family eventually went there.”
Faerman lost her grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles in the Holocaust, and she said, “I was a little girl, but I remember . . . We were so innocent, we never believed [Jews] could be killed and burned in camps.”
Faerman got married when she was 18, had three children, then moved to America in 1956. She worked as a sales lady on Northern Boulevard, and said she and her family settled into Fresh Meadows because, “It looked just like our street in Buenos Aires.” She added, “I wanted my children to have a backyard and a patch of grass.”
Faerman said she is full of energy, and at 77 she volunteers at Clearview Self Help Senior Center to help those who can’t walk get food and water. The good-hearted survivor also knitted red, white and blue flags, and sold them to help Sept. 11 victims. She said, “Whatever I can do to help, I do.”
Faerman’s quilt, entitled “To Life,” features Jewish stars, the Hebrew design for Shalom and pictures of the clothes people had to wear in concentration camps.
At the opening of the exhibit, Faerman’s granddaughter Alexandra told her, “Grandma, I didn’t know what hidden talent you had. When I grow older, I want to be just like you.” Faerman said, “I cried. I had goosebumps all day. My family is my life. This is why I am so glad I survived.”
Viewing the Past
To see the quilts, members of the community are invited to go the Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, located at 222-05 56 Ave. in Bayside, on the Queensborough Community College campus. The archives are in the Library Building, Room 30, and are open Monday to Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. After Labor Day, they are also open on Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information on the exhibit, call 281-5770. .