Descendants of the five Mandelbaum siblings who survived the Holocaust in Poland gathered on Jan. 17 to celebrate their ‘total victory’
By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor
More than 120 descendants of the Mandelbaum family gathered at Oak Ridge Country Club in Hopkins on Jan. 17 — exactly 70 years since the Russian Army liberated five siblings from a Polish labor camp near the end of World War II.
On Jan. 17, 1945, the five Mandelbaum siblings — Anne Ptaszek, Mindall Gutman, Eda Strauss, Mark Mandel and Reva Kibort — had overcome remarkable odds not only to survive the horrors of the Holocaust but also to remain together. And in the years that followed, the five eventually made their way to Minneapolis, where they all settled.
Gutman and Strauss are now deceased.
The Mandelbaum family was from Warsaw, Poland. The children’s father, Chaim Libisch Mandelbaum, was a shoemaker and was killed during an air raid on the city, in September 1939. Their mother, Pearl, together with another sister and their grandmother, were most likely put to death at Treblinka. (Another sister died of a kidney infection, in January 1939.)
So the five remaining siblings — orphaned when the youngest, Reva, was just six years old — did whatever needed to be done to survive.
In a 1984 interview by Jane Katz for what is now the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), Mandel said that he and his four sisters were “very resourceful children.”
“We bought the cigarettes wholesale and went out and we’re sitting on the street and we’d sell them, my sisters and I. We’re selling cigarettes and we’re selling candles. And we’re selling soap,” Mandel told Katz. “See, my sisters and I, we looked what you call like Aryan, like the Poles. A lot of people could not identify us as being Jewish… And of course we spoke the language and a lot of people didn’t recognize us [as Jews]. So we’d pretend we were gentiles. We led a double life.”
The children eventually made their way to Deblin, Poland, which was the hometown of their parents, and smuggled themselves into a labor camp to be with their uncle and cousin.
“People ask, Why did you do that?” Kibort told the Star Tribune. “At that point, we thought we’d be safer with the Jews than the outside world.”
In 1944, the siblings were forcibly moved to Czestochowa, a Polish labor camp. There, they worked together in the camp’s munitions factory until they were liberated.
The now four generations of the family attended Friday night services on Jan. 16 at Adath Jeshurun Congregation, where they were blessed by Rabbi Harold Kravitz. The Jan. 17 event included a program and candle lighting to remember those who were lost.
Among the descendants are four granddaughters named for Pearl Mandelbaum — Pati Rosenzweig, Pearl Berdass, Penny Leafman and Pam Gillett — and three grandsons named for Libisch Mandelbaum — Lyle Mandel, Larry Ptaszek and Lenny Gutman.
In an e-mail to the AJW, Berdass said that her parents always told her that “Hitler did not win.”
“We are very proud of our parents and how they managed to survive such atrocities and continue to live full, active, vital lives here in America, a land that offered them so much promise and opportunity,” she said.
Rosenzweig told the AJW that the reunion represents “victory, it means total victory.”
“Inasmuch as it’s such a sad thing, it truly becomes a celebration when you look at five orphans, at such a young age, that they are where they are today,” she said. “Not only that they survived, but they thrived.” (American Jewish World, 1.30.15)
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.