Gisella Rauchwerger (born Herz) daughter of Joseph and Netti (born Stein)

 

 

 

 

 

(As told by daughter, Elsa Gergeley (born Rauchwerger)   Elsa was the oldest of the five children born to Gisella and Adolph

 Rauchwerger.

 

A heroic figure, Netti was widowed early with nine children to bring up in the town of Velky Lipnik.  They were Simon, Gisella, Irene, Ilona, Arthur, twins- Feri (Franz: Josko’s father) and Fritz, Eugene and Erna.  The latter was born either after her father’s death or was an infant at the time.  The livelihood had to come from a general village store and Inn, as well as from a tiny farm with three or four cows in the barn, occasionally a goat, chicken, and pigeons and some scattered meadows around the village to gather fodder for the animals in winter.   The village was far from any town; the next one was only a marketplace to bring a doctor from, when needed, and required two hours to reach with a rented peasant’s horse and carriage.  Children were educated partly at home by live-in teachers, and partly by sending them away for the school-year, to different cities.  So, how could Gisella get married from a place like that?  Her aunt, sister of her Father, was the wife of Shlomo Rauchwerger, who had a nephew Adolph.  They lived some eight hours away.  The young people met and handsome Adolph married gentle and pretty Gisella. 

 

 

As the wedding picture shows, her mother provided her with an elegant bride’s dress.  My mother wore an elegant dress with a veil that reached the floor, white gloves and she held a large bouquet of flowers in her hand.  She has a pretty Jewish face with high eyebrows and her eyes have a dreamy look.  Her nose is lightly curved, her mouth was medium and her chin small.  Father was not Jewish looking.  He had a high and wide forehead, deep set eyes with a strong, penetrating look, small nose, mouth and chin and wore a Hungarian style mustache.  He wore a well-cut black suit, hard collar with a white necktie, patent leather boots and top hat which was placed on a table nearby for the photo. (written by Josie Rauchwerger, second oldest of the five Rauchwerger siblings.) 

 

 

Adolph Rauchwerger

 

 

She also gave her a lavish trousseau, the pieces of which I could still admire in my childhood.  Going back to grandmother Netti; she was a very hard working woman all her life.  From 4:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on her feet, she worked everywhere- in the business, in the kitchen (she baked her bread at home, and what an excellent one!) even in the fields when no other hand was available.  I remember once- she must have been near eighty, during a visit of mine, I went with her in the hills to turn over the mown grass on the field.  The peasant women came to her for help and advice in accidents or other problems.  But, in the late evening, she sat down to read the best German newspapers from Prague and Vienna because:  “One has to know the progress and politics in the World, doesn’t one?”  Her life was burdened and difficult.  All her five sons were at the battlefields in the first World War.  Eugen, the youngest, a medical student, lost his life.  Feri was P.O.W. in East Siberia.  After four years of detention, he managed to escape and to travel through China and come home.  Fritz had two of his toes shot away.  Arthur came home sick, and when he recovered, he married a bad girl and brought her home.  She was after men, the whole village knew it.  Netti felt humiliated and pained seeing her suffering son.  She wore it with dignity and took care of his children.  She was the only one who defended the woman’s attitude as a “sickness.”  Netti went one day up to the attic, but the ladder slipped away and she fell from the top of it down into the stone-paved yard.  The doctor came only three days later to adjust her broken shoulder; she worked still three years longer with pains and not able to move her right arm.  She died from pneumonia in 1933.  Mother Gisella, although far from being a businesswoman, was from the beginning, a helper to my father.  He needed her in the store.  The household and five children were helped by a maid who spent the subsequent seventeen years in our house.  Mother did not have too much time to devote herself entirely to us.  Still, here is a shining memory from when I was age four, sitting with her one Friday evening at the white damask-covered table after candle-lighting, telling me about Sabbath.  Suddenly, she disappeared, coming back with an album-sized picture book with the story of “Little Red Cap and the Wolf.”  She read fro me.  It was the happiest experience of my childhood.

 

Mother Gisella was the most self-denying person. Although always busy, she came back to help in the store when it was given to Janka.  But, she went also to Simon’s store when help was needed.  Later, When she was chairman of WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization), she learned more about needy people in the city, and they were helped by her.  She did that all very quietly and without fanfare.  Still, people knew where to turn to.  In the fateful time of advancing Nazism, during one of my visits home, old Mr. Jacob Haas, a wise and respected citizen told me:  “you know,  your Mother is not from this Earth, she is an angel from heaven. “  Some distant relatives from Vienna, a couple seeking refuge, came in  1940 to our town.  My Mother hid them in a peasant’s house and carried them a cooked dinner every day.  At that time, from all directions of the country, people came, hoping to survive, hiding in the town.  Also, many of our closest relatives came.  But, constant harassments and fear of deportation were prevalent.  Also, food was ever more scarce.  Janka told me later;  “Your parents live on stale bread and your mother carried cooked meals and chicken to the poor old people.”

 

The first decade of my parent’s marriage was a difficult one as their children arrived at short intervals.  Elizabeth (Elsa) came in the first year of marriage, I arrived thirteen months later.  In the four years that followed, my brother Nicholas (Miklos), and Ernest were born.  My earliest recollections are of a small first floor  apartment in which we lived.  The children were left in the care of an old servant as mother (Gisella) helped father (Adolph) to run the shop.  The house had no electricity or running water.  Water was brought from the well in the town square in two large buckets which were kept on a bench in the kitchen.(told by Josie Rauchwerger)

 

Father (Adolph) managed to establish his own business. He was hard working, self-taught and highly intelligent.  He was a well regarded businessman in our town and a cherished member of the Jewish community.  My mother (Gisella) spoke and wrote perfectly in three languages.  She was gentle and compassionate.  She ahd always a meal for a poor traveler or professional “shnorrer.”  She cooked and took warm food for any poor ill person.  At ther core she was strong, tough, resolute.  The only luxury my Father allowed himself was a cigar after the Sabbath, and wine we had only on Seder nights and High Holidays.  My cherished memories are of Friday nights; the best table cloth, china and silver candle sticks, were placed on the table; father sitting near the tall, green-tiled stove reader the Prager Tagblatt, mother and children reading. 

 

It was the 15th of March, 1939, when Hitler as the head of the German army, marched into Prague.  They occupied the Czech, Moravian, and Silesian lands of Czechoslovakia, declaring it the “Protectorate.”  Slovakia became an independent state under the rule of the Hlinka party, with Jozef Tiso at the head of the government.   That very day in Zilina, where we lived, was filled with German soldiers and Hlinka guards.  Black posters with “JUDE” (Jew)  in yellow print were placed on shops.  The shops were ‘arianized’ i.e. the Jew worked whilst an Aryan sat the cash-till.  The changover happened with phenomenenal speed. 

In late 1943-44, German and Russian armies were fighting in the vicinity of our home town, and partisans were fighting in the LowTatra mountains.  Our parents were at that time hidding in the same mountain region together with 16-18 relatives.  According to witnesses, their hiding place was near the village of Lazisko, where in good old days, our father loved fishing trout in the  clear mountain stream.  They had built a shelter.  Jews, strangers fleeing from their homew to escape deportation went up into the mountains to use the shelter which our parents and relatives had built.  Probably the great number of people endangered their safety.  Whether our relatives were denounced or just discovered, we will never know.  All were taken to a “Sammellager” in Novaky.   From Klari Weisstaub, who now lives in Israel, we heard that she had met my mother and her two sisters in KZ Ravensbruck.  Mother gave her meagre rations to younger inmates and died of starvation.  We do not know where our father died.  Was it that terrible place, KZ Buchenwald?  (As told by the youngest of the 5 siblings, Anuca Schlesinger –born Rauchwerger)

 

Mother Gisella was a saint.  Clara Friedman told me after the war that in the sealed-off cattle wagons that rolled week-long into Germany, so full with people and hardly room to sit down, there were cries, quarrels, injuries, bad air and dispair.  But, Mother helped everywhere, she was the only one ever alert, who cleaned, healed, and counseled, wherever needed.

 

Ella Gruenberger, who also was in Ravensbruck Women’s Death Camp, with her eleven-year-old Marika, reported that Mother told her:  “Come everyday to pick up my food ration for your child.  I do not want to eat, because I know that my husband is not alive anymore.”  But, she did not have the time to die.  Her sisters, Irene and Ilonka,  her sister-in-laws, Aunt Sophia, Sidi, Ilka, (Gruenberger), and others, were sick with dysentery, all there in the same camp.  She had to take care of them.  Only, when one by one, the last had been gone, she lay down and died.

 

The deportation of our parents occurred when defeat of the Nazi’s military on all fronts became evident to the world.  The gas chambers stopped working.  Nevertheless, in the ever rolling cattle-wagons and in the camps, cruelty and the enormous human suffering was leading to slow death.

 

 

 

 

Close-up of memorial