By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – For almost two hours, Holocaust survivor Rose Westheimer captivated the audience at a Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah) and Solidarity Shabbat service held at Marlborough’s Temple Emanuel on May 3.
Marion Rabinowitz, Emanuel’s vice president, made the connection between Westheimer and the synagogue. The two ladies met at New Horizons in Marlborough, where Rabinowitz leads a Shabbat service every other Friday night.
“When I asked Rose to speak at our Yom HaShoah service, she said, ‘Absolutely, there aren’t too many of us left, and our story has to be told.’”
Like many other Holocaust survivors, Westheimer, her parents, and two much older sisters survived thanks to grit and luck. Westheimer said that 11 other family members perished.
Westheimer was born in 1932 in a small town near Frankfurt, where her family had lived for five generations. She traced their journey – over the next 13 years – from Germany, briefly to Luxembourg, and throughout France.
She described how her family’s life slipped away once Hitler came to power in 1933. Eventually her father lost his butcher shop. The huge synagogue in their town burnt to embers in a massive fire that was not fought.
Her two older sisters were able escape to the England through a program that hired German Jewish girls.
Westheimer and her parents survived malnourishment, illness, raids, bombings, separations, life on the run, and captivity. They were aided by strangers: a farmer who passed them off as deaf and dumb relatives, a widow who hid them in her villa; Catholic Sisters who ran an orphanage brought Rose along to play; and hospital staff – both doctors and a receptionist who helped them heal.
Westhemier began her talk by saying, “When I told Marion that I would be honored to speak here tonight, I did not realize what a tragic week I would be following… Our thoughts are with our brother and sisters (victims of shootings in Charlotte, N.C., and Poway, Calif.) who again had to suffer.”
Meghan Johnson from Marlborough echoed this sentiment. She heard about this service in this newspaper; and decided to attend.
“I’m a gentile. This was my first time in a temple. I think that Rose’s talk was incredible,” she said. “I studied the Holocaust in seventh grade but didn’t really understand it until I read the book, ‘Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust.’… In the present time, we have to make the same choices to help people.”
Westheimer and her parents were liberated in Aix-en-Provence, France, in August 1945. They returned to Luxembourg. Years later, in 1952, they arrived in the U.S. They were reunited with Westheimer’s two sisters and their families.
Westhemier was sworn in an American citizen 1956. She ended her talk by saying, “When I look at our children and grandchildren … I know that Hitler did not win.”
For more information about Temple Emanuel, visit templeemanuelma.org.