Remembering the Sussers (guest post by Randa Dubnick)

 

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In 2006, I painted portraits of the Sussers. These are pencil sketches I did to prepare.

When I was growing up in Pueblo, Colorado, the Sussers lived around the corner. I think I was maybe 5 or 6 years old when they moved in. Their oldest son Herman and I became playmates and friends at grade school and Sunday School. Together we made mischief across the neighborhood.

Herman’s mother Lili was very nice to his ornery little playmate. I was fascinated by her musical voice and her accent. She and her husband were survivors of the concentration camps in Poland. At the time, I knew Mrs. Susser as my friend’s mom who had a pretty smile and a great laugh and who made amazing snacks like rice krispie bars and caramel apples from scratch, especially around Halloween. The irony that these treats were created by a concentration camp survivor was lost on me at the time. But in my defense, I will point out that down the block, at my house, about 80% of the cooking was done by my Russian grandma, whose Ashkenazi desserts were coffee cake and maybe mandel bread if we were lucky, so those “All-American” treats at the Sussers were amazing to me!

The Susser family was one of three families of Holocaust survivors who were placed in Pueblo.  I also got to know the children of the other two families at Sunday School, but I knew Herman best because we lived so close by. I always liked going to the Sussers. And Lili liked to speak Yiddish with my grandmother.

My family told me that the the Sussers (and the other two families) had been in concentration camps, but it took a while for me to understand what that meant.  I gradually put that together with letters from far away that brought my Grandmother to tears at the kitchen table.  I think I was around 8 when my Grandma Katz took down some books to show me pictures of the Nazi camps.  That might sound like a lot for a grade school kid to take in, but my Grandmother knew that I would need to know.  The Holocaust was never an abstraction; it was personal.

The Sussers were an important part of my childhood, and I have remained friends with Herman and his family through the years.  I really don’t remember much about life before I met Herman and his family. As time passed, I learned more. This is what I know now:

Lili lost her whole family in the holocaust but rose from the ashes of that loss. She started again. She married Julius, also a holocaust survivor, who had stayed alive partly because he was a skilled soccer player. The Sussers moved to the U.S., crossing the Atlantic with their young son Herman. And from that the Susser family grew to include three children, many grandchildren and great- grandchildren

The Sussers learned English and moved to a place I doubt they had ever heard of, Pueblo, Colorado. They became part of a new community, and friends with enough of my relatives that I think of the Sussers as part of the meshpocha (family).

From the longings of her lost childhood, Lili Susser created a beautiful doll collection. She always seemed to be laughing, and Julius Susser always seemed to have a twinkle in his eye. He built a toy train table for Herman that was the envy of 8-year-old me.

From Lili’s memories of the holocaust, she wrote a book, starting with notes on little pieces of paper. She did all this in her adopted language of English. With help from Herman and his wife Kerry, Lili wrote and  published the book “Lili’s Story: My Memory of the Holocaust“. She brought the book along when she gave her many talks to school children about the Holocaust. Her book was translated into Polish and she was honored in Poland as well.

Julius Susser died in 2004. Lili Susser died recently and was honored by a front page story in the Pueblo Chieftain, our hometown paper, as a Holocaust survivor and author who helped many, many Colorado children learn about the Nazis.

A post-script:  Lili Susser was buried on Nov. 1, 2019 in Pueblo, Colorado. There was a reception at Temple Emanuel that day.  By Monday, November 4, a national news story broke that on the very day of the event honoring Lili Susser,  the FBI had prevented an attack by a white nationalist on Pueblo’s Temple Emanuel.

Now, more than ever, we need to remember the Sussers and their stories. May their memories be for a blessing.

Portrait as of May 9 A Post-scriptPortrait of Lili Susser

My portraits of Lili and Julius Susser, painted in 2006.  At the time I painted these portraits, I was trying to capture these memories for my friend.  True enough, but now I understand that I was also capturing them for myself as well.

(Guest Post by Randa Dubnick)

 

 

 

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 YIVO Institute for Jewish Research introduces “Yiddishland”

YIVO has introduced a new online gazetteer, based on the work of Mordkhe Schaechter and Paul Glasser. This much-needed resource should be useful to anyone working with Yiddish place names.

Source: Yiddishland: Countries, Cities, Towns, Rivers | YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

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Back from Hiatus

After a long hiatus (ProGen kept me quite busy over the past 18 months), I’m back and ready to blog, with a new focus and a renewed perspective on genealogy. I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of content I’d like to feature here. I will continue to share some of my own family history and experiences in genealogy, as well as tips, strategies, genealogy-related news stories from other sources, and guest posts (contact me if you’re interested in writing a one).

Going forward, I also want to feature stories about migration and immigration. Migration is part of the human condition, and always has been. Our ancestors were always on the move, and our heritage and ethnicities are not static but rather long processes that have unfolded over time, despite geography, topography, and man-made boundaries. Each of us is unique as a result of that process. Genealogy is an exploration of the ancestral journey that brought us to this moment, but is also a reflection on the universality of that journey—a shared journey that should inspire empathy and understanding. I hope you’ll join me!

Posted in family history, immigration, migration

Sephardi community launches genealogy service

Descendants of Jews who fled the Inquisition will get assistance proving their heritage in their bid for a Spanish or Portuguese passport

Source: Sephardi community launches genealogy service

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Colorado

Memory Imprints

Today marks the end of an era for my family. My great aunt and her children and grandchildren are moving from Denver to Pikesville, Maryland. My great aunt is 97 years old, and though she’s traveled, this is her first time residing outside of Colorado. I’m very happy to have them closer by, and I still have many cousins (probably some I don’t even know about) in Colorado, but my great aunt’s relocation represents the complete disappearance of a fantasy that I have had of Colorado as my home state—of being from and perhaps someday returning to Colorado, where three generations of my family (including me and my brother) were born, where several branches of that family resided when they first came to the United States from Eastern Europe, and where the Brooklynites in the family (on my father’s side and my maternal grandfather’s side) eventually succumbed, at least for…

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Professional Genealogical Services

I recently completed the Boston University Certificate Program in Genealogical Research and am taking my genealogical services business to the next level. I will eventually be rolling out a website specifically for these services, but for the time being, if you’re interested in more information, please visit my website at www.heatherdubnick.com. You may also be interested in my family and personal history services site, memoryimprints.net.

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Memories of Grandma Rose

Today marks the fifth anniversary (on the Jewish calendar) of my grandmother Rose Aptaker Dubnick’s death. My cousin Erica Bauman wrote this piece to honor her memory. 

Erica, a single working mother living in Cincinnati for the past six years, is originally from the East Coast. When not running around town with her kiddo, Erica is at a local coffee shop putting her dreams to work on some writing venture. You can find some of her work on her website www.herlifeafter30.com and (recently published in the Lifestyle/Improvements and Beauty sections of) www.societyletters.com, as well as a review on seasoningforeverypalate.wordpress.com.


Rose and Herman Dubnick wedding

Rose and Herman Dubnick wedding

“Have you talked to your mother? When was the last time you called her? What is she doing? How is she? I called her already, yesterday, do you know anything? What about your brother? Where is he? Is he working? How’s Kayla? What are you doing today? How’s your diet? Why aren’t you talking? Hello? I didn’t call you to hear myself talk…”

We spoke once a week and sometimes more. There were often stretches of time where we did not speak for weeks. That always caused an issue. She would track me down, through other family members:

“Have you heard from Erica?”

“Ma, she’s fine. She just doesn’t talk sometimes, I don’t know. It’s the way she’s always been. You know how she gets in those moods.”

“No, there’s something wrong. I can tell. What do you think it is?”

“I don’t know MA, you’ll have to ask her.”

“ASK HER?! I can’t ask her! She hasn’t called me back so I’m asking you! Why don’t you know anything? Did something happen?”

“Ma…”

Her intuition was magical. She called me out on fears and failures, including the ones I did not want to talk about just yet. While it was always entertaining to discuss the latest fashion trends, great movies, and her recent travels to visit our family (which was spread across the U.S.), it was her vulnerability that moved me most.

I hated when she embarrassed me by speaking her mind over a cold plate at a restaurant or about an inaccurately rung up item at the cash register, or when she forced me to step out into the open area of a dressing room so that she could fuss over the fit of clothing on my body (or the random stranger who dared to walk out after me). However, her guilelessness also meant that when it came to my talent in parking too long at the points of my life I needed to move on from, her keen sense and blunt form were met with my everlasting gratitude.

Grandma Rose loved her family. They were her pride and joy. Staying connected via phone calls, email, skype, and mailed out greeting cards were high priority. She had to be “in the know,” with the family. She mediated arguments and stand-offs, and sometimes she started them…all from love.

Grandma Rose grew up at a time when families were all crammed in one house or living on the same street. She transitioned very well from that time, keeping family connections intact. She did that thing that grandmas do, asking about everyone, nagging us to call each other, making sure we attended each other’s special events, and correcting us for unnecessary exclusions. What I did not realize until now, was the depth of that quest. Her family was her life. She lived vicariously through our stories and took great pleasure in passing them on. Grandma Rose was the glue, and she “kept us going” in regards to family connection and legacy. She was not conscious of her effort, but she acted like it was everything, to disconnect was almost unforgivable.

When she passed, what was glued seemed to slip. The family, physically distant, began to feel fractured. We are not discontent, just disconnected. There are moments were we thrive; in efforts like the studies ongoing for Oaks and Roots, in the recipes shared on Seasoning for Every Palate, smatterings of social media conversations, the passing of pictures, and the stories we beg each other to share. It is there that we still hear Rose, and continue to add fresh glue to our family connections. We rely on our internet connection and text messages to allow our legacy to take residence in our homes. This is how it’s done nowadays.

I hope, for the memory of our Grandma Rose that we continue to have the conversations she now cannot. I hope that we can remember to disconnect from our daily grind enough to take advantage of moments like this, where we remember her and lend focus to each other’s lives for a moment in exchange for one more puzzle piece to be added to our legacy, and that we continue ask the questions that she would ask, seeking to continue to know each other, being full of nerve and breaking each other’s barriers, celebrating victories, asking hard questions, and retelling old stories. That is how she taught me to lead a family, through endless conversation. I miss having those with her, and I feel her memory revived when they take place. In this way, she lives on.

 

Rose Dubnick. Posterized photo by Randa Dubnick

Rose Dubnick. Posterized photo by Randa Dubnick

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