When Rosalie and Evelyn Greenberg were growing up in Brooklyn, they knew few details about how their parents survived the Holocaust.
“All I was told was that my mother’s entire family had been murdered by the Nazis,” Rosalie said.
Both her mother, Malka Feuerstein, and her father, Sam Greenberg, grew up in the town of Skala-Podilska, Poland. But it would take decades before their two daughters learned much about their family’s hidden history — and found a way to share that history in the form of a manuscript Rosalie Greenberg hopes to turn into a bound book.
The memories that form the manuscript — called Secrets in a Suitcase — came to light a few years ago, when Evelyn Gern was having the kitchen of her Livingston home remodeled.
“She discovered a key in a cabinet drawer,” Rosalie Greenberg told NJ Jewish News. Later, when she was cleaning out the basement, Gern came upon an old briefcase that her parents had given to her husband as a law school graduation gift years earlier.
“She couldn’t open it until she remembered the key she had found upstairs. It was beshert,” said Greenberg, using the Yiddish word meaning “fated.”
Gern unlocked the briefcase, “and inside were a bunch of stories about my mother’s life,” said Greenberg. “They were all true.”
After moving from Brooklyn to be closer to her daughters and her four grandchildren, Malka Feuerstein — who had become Molly Greenberg — began taking creative writing courses at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange. There, she crafted several award-winning short stories before her death in 1995.
“I saw a few and they were quite poignant, but I was too busy having children and being a doctor to read much of what she wrote,” said Rosalie Greenberg, who lives in Montclair, where she and her husband, Soly Daredes, raised two sons. She works as a psychiatrist as Overlook Medical Center in Summit. Some of her mother’s stories were typewritten, others were written in her own hand.
Together, they tell moving stories of murder and survival.
“Both of my parents lost major parts of their families in the Holocaust,” Greenberg said. “They had run away from camps, and Dad was hiding in the woods in the bunker with his father, sister, and 23 other people. The Nazis discovered them. My father told one of their soldiers he had some gold and would turn it over to him in exchange for his life. His father refused to emerge from the bunker, so the Nazis threw bushes inside and forced Sam to light them on fire. He had to light the fire that would kill his own father. When his sister begged for help, a soldier shot her in the head.”
Her father then decided to escape from the soldier as they went in search of his gold. “He jumped off a bridge, and the Nazi didn’t see him,” Rosalie said. “He thought my dad was dead.
“Mom survived because she had blond hair and blue eyes. She looked like a shiksa. She changed her name to Mary. She lost her parents when she was age three and was raised by her older siblings.”
After the war her mother returned to her hometown only to discover that its population of 2,000 Jews had been reduced to 50, said Greenberg, who has turned her mother’s narratives into a manuscript. She is partnering with a website called www.pubslush.com to publish Secrets in a Suitcase. Its operators will print and distribute a submission if 1,000 people agreed to buy a particular book in 120 days.
She is seeking support from survivors and Holocaust educators to reach that sales goal.
In the past, Pubslush has donated a percentage of its profits to a charity in Kenya that “seeks to raise the standards of care available to the world’s poorest children.”
Greenberg, however, is asking Pubslush to turn over proceeds from her mother’s writings to the African Refugee Development Center, which seeks “to assist, support, and empower refugees and asylum seekers in Israel.”
“It is a way to say ‘Never forget’ and ‘Pay it forward,’” she said.