A Young Nurse and a Young Survivor Joined
The Slice of Jewish Life
NOTES FROM OUR VIDEO INTERVIEWS WITH GLORIA KLEIN Miami, FL, March 1, 2019February 28, 2019 Yoram Millman, video, and Peter Tarjan, text
Gloria Klein and George, her late husband have been close friends of the Tarjan family for more than three decades. The Kleins have been members of Temple Beth Tov, a small conservative synagogue on Calle Ocho in Little Havana for about 35 years and the Tarjans joined the temple when Aaron, their younger son was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah around 1984. George was born in Hungary in 1928, he was the sole survivor of his immediate family. George and his father were sent to the “side of the living” by Dr. Mengele at Birkenau, while the rest of the family was directed to the gas chamber. George’s father died on April 28, 1945, a few days before liberation, but George did return to his small town, Abaújszántó, in 1945, and when he found not one person alive in his family, the teenager left and immigrated to the US. Eventually George moved to Miami, where his best friend arranged a blind date for George with a vivacious and pretty young nurse, Gloria Kolinsky from Brooklyn, NY. The rest is history…
Gloria was the older daughter of Leo Kolinsky and Esther Bobkin. Both her parents were born in the US, but some of the grandparents came from Minsk around 1890. Mr. Kolinsky owned a candy store in Brooklyn and the family was living above the store. Gloria resented the candy store and as a child, did not like candy. She was embarrassed for the contrast between her family’s socio-economic standing and those of her friends and classmates. She did not only dislike candy, she did not like to work in the store as a soda-jerk, where they also ran a lending library. Gloria’s father worked seven days a week and there were few family outings, while her friends had much more family activities. During WW II, due to food rationing, the store was closed for a half day each week. They used this time to go to the theater and other leisure activities.
When asked about how candy was sold in those days, she said it was by weight, or as individual pieces. She remembered a type of candy supplied in many colors and the pieces were attached to a cardboard. For a penny or 2 cents a kid could choose one, peel it off the board and enjoy his little treasure.
Gloria’s heartache was her younger sister, born when Gloria was seven. She was mentally challenged and lived to the age of 60. Gloria did not want to talk about her, it was too painful.
Gloria attended the James Madison High School in Brooklyn and when she graduated, she went to nursing school in New Jersey.
Without being prompted, Gloria related to us her three goals or perhaps her dreams:
1. To become a nurse… — She succeeded! 2. To be a fine ballroom dancer… — She never became good at it… 3. To be fluent in French… — She didn’t get past the high school level. Once she finished her nursing studies, even before she received her diploma, she came down to Miami and found a job in the new Mt. Sinai Hospital on Miami Beach. She was 21 and independent at last. A year after their blind date George and Gloria were married in 1951.
Gloria and George about 30-40 years later
One of us commented: “You had a lot of hair!” —“No! It was the shadow on the wall.”
At the age of ninety, Gloria remains a pretty lady with a figure of a young girl, her eyes sparkling, and she moves swiftly and with grace. She is living alone in a spotless and elegant apartment, full of mementos, but far out in the suburbs, about 15 miles from Temple Beth Tov, where she goes regularly. Gloria mentioned that she tends to drive too fast. She is cheerful, funny and a joy to be in her company.
When they were first married, George took her to an Orthodox synagogue. When they arrived, George told her to “go upstairs.” She was stunned when “upstairs” meant to sit with other women in the gallery with their view of the men on the ground blocked by a white sheet.
“NO MORE!” – she told her young husband and they never went back there. After some mergers of conservative synagogues they became distinguished members of Temple Beth Tov, where George served as Vice-President for many years, and later as President. The three items below attest to the community’s appreciation of George’s work:
George was also a close friend of Rabbi Nathan Bryn (z”l), a sweet man and a fellow child survivor originally from Czechoslovakia. On Erev Yom Kippur the Rabbi slept at the temple, to which he always referred to as “our friendly little shul on Calle Ocho” in reference to the Cuban neighborhood. George kept the rabbi company and they both slept on the floor.
For many years my wife and I were invited to the Kleins’ home for breaking fast along with a dozen or more friends. Some of us fasted overtime as George was always the last one to leave the synagogue and then we waited to say l’Chaim! with him with a spot of schnapps around 8:30 or 9 o’clock.
George was not only a defender of our traditions, but a protector of the Jewish community as a member of an organization to prevent anti-Semitic provocations and fights at Jewish or Israeli community event. He carried a pistol – with a permit – and was a master of self-defense. He held demonstrations and training sessions for many young fellows. One time I took Josh, my older son, to such a session, where George taught them how to take away a handgun pointed at them and knock down the attacker in a split second. He was probably over 60 by then, but the message was clear: “Don’t mess with me!”
But back to the 1950s… Gene was born in 1953 and 21 months later Jeff arrived. Two babies in diapers, simultaneously… Gloria gave up nursing for five years and then started again at the newly built South Miami Hospital. She loved the work, mostly providing down-to-earth TLC to her patients.
One of her patients was an old lady with a familiar accent. Gloria asked where she came from. — Hungary, she answered. — Really? My husband is Hungarian! — What is his name? — Klein, answered Gloria. — “…zsidó…”muttered the woman.
Gloria had learned enough Hungarian to recognize its meaning “…Jew…” in a derogatory sense, or worse if it was preceded by an adjective. She told George about this. — What is her room number? — 510. George called the hospital, asked for Room 510 and when the patient answered, George said – probably in Hungarian: — “I am the Devil and I am coming for you soon!” — and hung up.
Arising from his experiences when the Hungarian gendarmes and soldiers drove the Jews of his town into the ghetto and later pushed and shoved into cattle cars, he felt intense hatred toward them. They took away everything they owned and he held the Hungarians collectively responsible for the extinction of his entire family. — George harbored tremendous hatred of everything Hungarian.
We had known each other for several years when he first spoke to me in our common mother tongue. I thought he forgot the language, but one day he asked me to help him fill out some forms for restitution for the family’s confiscated properties. The blank document was designed to make it very difficult to make any acceptable claims with substantiation.
DID THEY OWN ANY REAL ESTATE? – was one of the questions. — “Grandpa owned 1,000 hectares of land…” DID THEY OWN ANY OBJECTS MADE OF PRECIOUS METALS? – “Napoleon gold coins, etc.” When the form requested proof of his claims, l learned a lot of curse words I had never heard before… all in Hungarian in the dialect of the Tokaj Region, where George was raised. The area is world famous for its sweet wines known as “Tokaji Aszu” and probably for its dialect studded with expressions used only by army sergeants with their recruits.
Gloria had a handful with the boys who were raised as religious Jews, went through their Bar Mitzvahs, today they identify themselves as Jews, although they do not practice the rituals. Both married gentile women and even Jeff’s grown children present themselves as Jews. Gloria was amazed how smoothly George accepted his gentile daughters-in-law.
Gene became a firefighter in Miami and after 25 years he retired to New Zealand, where he married Cathy, his young and pretty wife, an international flight attendant. Her job enabled them to roam the globe and they often pop up in such places as Alaska, Hawaii or South Florida. For some time they owned a goat farm on the South Island of New Zealand, where Gloria visited several times and loved the real “kids.”
Jeff studied agriculture and for many years operated a tree farm in Homestead, Florida, south of Miami. When Hurricane Andrew blew through the area in 1992, both his farm and his home were destroyed and Jeff moved farther north. He and his wife were divorced and Jeff now combines a hobby with a new business. He converts large logs of tropical trees into wonderful and unique coffee tables. Each piece is a work of art.
When Gloria and George were dating around 1950, George spoke a little about his misadventures during the Holocaust, but after they were married, he clammed up about the subject. The “March of the Living” (MOL) movement began around 1988 in Miami. Jewish teenagers were escorted to concentration and death camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz, Majdanek and Treblinka. George accompanied such a group in 1998. It had a powerful effect on him. He returned as an angry man under tremendous psychological stress. He began to go to local schools to talk to the students about the Holocaust.
In March, 1990, eight child survivors living in the Miami area, but originating from various countries formerly under Nazi rule, formed a “support group” and named it Child Survivors of the Holocaust–South Florida Group (CSH-SFG). I was one of the founders and I asked George to join us. He was reluctant, but accompanied by Gloria, he attended our monthly meetings. The members took turns in “telling their stories” with the rule: “What is said here, stays here!” George listened to the stories, but never wanted to talk about his own experiences.
In 2003 our group celebrated our 13th birthday together. By then we had about sixty members. The leader of our group proposed to commemorate this anniversary by following the Jewish tradition: a child proves her/his entry into adulthood at a Bat or Bar Mizvah by demonstrating a level of literacy by reading from the Torah at the bima. Instead, each member should write her/his story of childhood memories and survival and we would try to publish the collection as a reminder for our children, grandchildren and friends. After a year or more we collected 26 stories and published those with the title: “Children Who Survived the Final Solution” in 2004. It was self-published through iUniverse; I served as editor. Our goal was accomplished as many of the members distributed copies to their relatives and friends, and we donated copies to many of the schools where our members were invited to speak to the students.
A few quotations from George’s chapter with the title: “Special Eyewitness for the March of Death” – pp. 97-104:
“My name is George Klein. I was born in 1928 to a well-to-do Jewish family. […] In April 1944 the Hungarian government took orders from the Gestapo and Arrowcross fascists and our small town of ten thousand people was cleaned of all Jews in two hours. We were taken by train to Kassa–Kosice–a town in the present Slovak Republic–to the ghetto that was established for Jews. In less than a month, we were rushed to Auschwitz to be part of the final solution. […] As I arrived in Auschwitz, I was robbed of all the love of my immediate and extended family and friends forever.”
While hiding in a loft, George witnessed the execution by hanging of “…Roza Robota, of the Union Munitions Factory, who along with some of her coworkers, under the threat of immediate death, smuggled small amounts of gunpowder, hidden on their bodies, to help create a bomb. Lowenthal and 45 other people made the attempt [to blow up a crematorium] in October 1944 that was only partially successful. Everyone was murdered. Roza Robota was singled out and tortured in solitary confinement and finally hanged.” “My story is too painful and too depressing. I am No. A-10267, one of three survivors of Babitz-Auschwitz/3 when counted in 1945, and now one of two still alive, bearing the tattoos from A 10,000 through 13,000.” […] Ever since I returned from the March of the Living on May 1998, I have felt compelled to tell my experiences in the Holocaust. It is my duty to talk to young people so they remember what I tell them.”
Yes, George had spoken to hundreds of children, but not to Gloria or to his children and grandchildren for more than a half century.
After our book was issued, several of us gave presentations at libraries, book stores and synagogues. We were received at the Key Biscayne Public Library in 2005. The event was only attended by perhaps twenty people, including George, Gloria and a few of their friends. George raised his hand, he wanted to speak from the podium and he went on for about a half hour without any notes, speaking spontaneously about his experiences. He spoke about his father’s death a few days before their liberation in April 1945 and for the first time since he met Gloria, he spoke about his younger brother. We sat in total silence while this seventyseven-year old man underwent a catharsis.
Perhaps it was the stress, but George’s health went downhill and he passed away in 2007. Eugene and Cathy were in Miami while George was dying. Gene spoke movingly about his father at the funeral, acknowledging George’s mental illness manifested by his obsession and total preoccupation with the memories of the Shoah during his final years. It was also enormously stressful for Gloria, but she came through and today she is enjoying her grandchildren and she is a devoted member of a small circle of ladies of her generation. They go together to plays, concerts; enjoy going out for dinner and they are all avid supporters of progressive causes.
Gloria’s apartment is decorated with lots of photographs, paintings and other works of art. The photo of George’s parents is shown below along with two petit-points works of Sida Klein, his mother.
If everything was lost, how did these three items survive?
— A cousin immigrated to the United States in 1933, who took these items with her and donated them to George after the war.
Thank you Gloria for sharing your stories and memories! With love, Peter and Yoram
The Story of Gloria Klein:
G2G – The Story of Gloria Klein
Gloria Talks About Her Father's Candy Store:
G2G – Gloria Klein Talks About Her Father's Candy Store
Gloria Klein took part in a program run by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami.
A dense and sweet confection made in the Middle East, Central, and South Asia.