If it were not for terrible twists of fate, the four women who shared a stage Feb. 23 in Whippany would never have met their husbands and pieced together moments of happiness from the traumatic wreckage of the Holocaust.
The four survivors came together on the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus to recall the quick courtships and youthful marriages in the months after World War II.
The event — “Displaced Weddings: Survivors Tell How They Met and Married” — was sponsored by the Holocaust Council of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest.
Gina Lanceter, who leaped out the window of a cattle car headed for the extermination camp of Majdanek and survived the war in hiding, was just 16 when friends introduced her to a 25-year-old man they had met at a parade in Poland shortly after the war.
“He asked me for a date. We went to the park and we were sitting and talking and I remember it was very cold. He took off his jacket and put it on my shoulders. That was it,” said the Montclair resident, who recently became a great-grandmother. “He didn’t even give me a kiss when he brought me back home, which made me surprised.”
But on their third date, he did kiss her and, she said, he told her, “‘I like you very much. I hope you like me, too. Do you wish to get married?’
“I said, ‘OK.’ People did that then. I was alone. I wanted to have children and you did not have children out of wedlock, so I had to get married,” said Lanceter, speaking before an audience of fellow survivors and supporters of the Holocaust Council.
“We went out and we got married after two-and-a-half weeks. We were married 44 years,” until his death in 1989.
Jean Gluck returned from a concentration camp to find no one left in her hometown of Bendzin, Poland. She and her sister walked illegally across mountains from the Russian zone to the American zone in Germany.
At age 18, Gluck married her husband, Max, in June 1946, three months after they met.
“My marriage was not that happy,” the South Orange resident lamented. “It only lasted eight years.”
After fleeing from a Polish ghetto, Toby Knobel Fluek of West Orange survived the war in hiding, aided by non-Jews in Poland. After the war ended, she met her future husband, Abraham, at a seder held in the hospital where her mother was being treated. He worked in the kitchen.
When she told him she wanted to move to the United States, he asked her to marry him. They had only known one another three weeks. “So I questioned: Does he like me or does he like America?” she said. No matter: The two married happily.
Malvina Lefkowits, who came from Prague and now lives in South Orange, was with her sister in Czechoslovakia when they met the man who would become Malvina’ s husband.
“I thought he was interested in my older sister, but she said to me, ‘No, he wants you,’” she recalled.
Their wedding ceremony was a simple affair.
“My husband had some friends. My sisters and me prepared the dinner.”
But, she said, the occasion was not a happy one. “I was sad,” she told the gathering. “I was destroyed because my mother was 44 years old and she went to the gas chambers. I had a happy marriage. But I was sad my mother couldn’t be there. That was very upsetting,” Lefkowits said.
Knobel Fluek and her husband were married at the Foehrenwald displaced persons’ camp in Germany. She borrowed a white pleated skirt and a veil, and the guests celebrated with traditional sponge cake and honey cake that were served after the ceremony.
But her mother had moved to the United States and had left her daughter behind.
When she learned that Toby had become engaged, her mother wrote to her saying, ‘Weddings are expensive in America; get married in the camp.’”
That was very difficult and disappointing to Knobel Fluek. She had a mother, said council director Barbara Wind, who moderated the forum, “but most of the other women survivors did not have mothers to walk them down the aisle.”
Gluck remembered 100 guests at her ceremony, “but I didn’t know them,” she said. “I rented a wedding dress from a store and I gave it back the next day. I had to walk around him seven times.”
Lanceter said her wedding day was filled with mixed emotions.
“I wanted to get married but there was no one to attend my wedding. I didn’t have a wedding dress. I was lucky to have a dress at all. My husband was in uniform so he didn’t need a suit. We went to a small restaurant; I don’t remember what I ate,” she said.
“The most challenging part was getting to know each other,” she added. “I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. It kind of came naturally. I didn’t know anything about love. Did he love me? I don’t know that either. But we became very close and very good friends. My husband was not only my husband, he was my best friend.”