News

Hartford, CT survivors apply for reparations (7/15/2008)

  • 7/15/2008
  • Hartford Courant
Reluctantly, Holocaust Survivor To Apply For Latest Reparation Offer

By Elizabeth Hamilton
Courant Staff Writer
July 13, 2008
No one can ever repay Lola Herz for what she lost.

Her father, mother, youngest brother, only sister. Her home. The last of her childhood. But
Herz, now 85, will apply for the latest — and perhaps the last — round of reparations from the
German government for the horrors that were inflicted on Jews during the Holocaust.

“It’s blood money,” Herz says, her voice flat with decades of anger. “This is what it is. Blood
money.”

Herz, who was born in Poland in 1922, is just one of the dozens of Connecticut Holocaust
survivors who will apply for the reparation money, which amounts to about $3,000 per person
and will be awarded for work performed in Jewish ghettos established by the Germans during
World War II.

The ghetto work payment program is a $140 million fund created by the German government in
September 2007 as a symbolic goodwill gesture to help Jews who performed “voluntary” labor
in Jewish ghettos in order to survive. The work, which consisted mainly of manual labor, was
exchanged for necessities such as clothing, shelter, food and medicine.

There are roughly 2,000 elderly Holocaust survivors still living in Connecticut, Jewish
organizers believe, but no one is sure exactly how many will qualify for the ghetto work
payment. Jewish Family Services, which is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of
Greater Hartford, and local volunteer attorneys have joined together to locate survivors and help
them apply for the money before time runs out.

Many of the survivors, including Herz, have been recipients of earlier, different reparation
programs from the German government, but it’s not always an easy decision for survivors to take
the money, said Joan Margolis, state coordinator of Programs for Holocaust Survivors at Jewish
Family Services.

“The idea of being given money when you lost your family, when these people were murdered,
is repugnant to some survivors,” Margolis said. “Other people said ‘I will take every penny that
Germany will be forced to pay until I die.’ But we’re careful never to call it compensation and to
always make the point that no amount of money can ever compensate for what they lost.”
Herz’ loss, like that experienced by every other Holocaust survivor, is incomprehensible.
She was 17 when the Germans entered Sosnowiec, a city of 130,000 in southwest Poland, on
Sept. 4, 1939. There were 28,000 Jews living in the city.

Her father, Rubin Prepiorka, who owned a kiosk that sold cigarettes and such, was taken almost
immediately.

“They ordered all the Jewish men out and every 10th man, they shot,” Herz said. “The rest of the
men they took to a big factory and they stayed there I don’t know how many days. From there,
they sent them to camps.”

Herz’ mother, Rachel Prepiorka, received a telegram when her husband died at 43 in a
concentration camp. His ashes were sent back to the family, a practice Herz said the Germans
soon abandoned.

Conditions for the Jews rapidly deteriorated in Sosnowiec and elsewhere across Poland.
Although the ghetto in Herz’ hometown wasn’t officially formed until 1942, right around the
same time the deportations to Auschwitz began, the Jews who lived in Sosnowiec were made to
wear the armband signifying they were Jewish and were shot on the spot if caught in public after
a 6 p.m. curfew. They also were forced to quit jobs and school, and made to subsist on the
meager food rations provided by the Germans.

“After that there were all kinds of things,” Herz said. “There was a Jewish hospital [with a
maternity ward] and they took the women to the trucks and the babies they threw like you threw
a ball, you know, a basketball or even a baseball. They threw them on the truck. This was
awful.”

The remainder of Herz’ family managed to survive until the summer of 1942, when all the
remaining Jews in town were ordered to report to a local stadium, where the Germans said they
would stamp their passports and allow them to return home.

“We were there for three days. We slept on the grass. We had nothing to eat for two days. On the
third day they brought us some bread,” Herz said.

Also on the third day, the Germans separated the Jews into groups.

“My mother, they sent to the left,” Herz said. “I went to the right and my sister went to the
right.”

Left meant Auschwitz.

There was time for only a few words before Rachel Prepiorka was taken away.

“My mother said to me, ‘Save yourself, just save yourself. It doesn’t matter what happens to me,
but you save yourself,’” Herz said. “I never saw her again.”

What happened next is a bit confused, in terms of the exact timing, but the gist is this: Herz was
sent by train to a labor camp in Marsted, Germany, where she worked in the kitchen, while her
younger siblings — Gina, 16, Herman, 14, and Mark, 9 — remained in the ghetto a while longer
until they, too, were taken away.

Gina and Mark were taken to Auschwitz, where they were killed. Herman was taken to a camp
and survived the war.

Herz was transferred from Marsted to a concentration camp in Peterswaldau, Germany, and
worked at an ammunitions factory until being liberated by the Russians when the war ended.
She returned to her hometown, with other Jewish women, but they found their homes occupied.

When she heard that someone had seen her brother Herman alive, she traveled back to Germany
to search for him.

Their reunion — which happened months later after considerable searching by Herz — took
place at a displaced-persons camp in Germany.

“It was raining very hard and I wanted to go in and they said you have to have a piece of paper to
go in, to stay there. I was fighting with this guard and here my brother comes,” Herz said. “I
didn’t recognize him because he was a child when I left him and now he’s a man, he’s 19, but he
recognized me and we were very happy to see each other.”

What followed was hopeful.

Herz met her future husband, Leon Herz, in Munich shortly after the war ended. Also a survivor,
he was the only member of his family (two parents, a sister and eight brothers) to survive the war
and didn’t waste any time courting his bride.

He picked some flowers from a garden and proposed three days after meeting her and they were
married within two months.

The moved first to Israel, where they lived for seven years, and then the United States. Together,
they had three sons, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, and were preparing to
celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary when Leon died three years ago.
Herz lives alone in a West Hartford apartment now, scores of pictures of her extended family
lining the walls.

Herz isn’t sure she will qualify for the ghetto work payment, but she will try to collect the money
with help from Margolis and the attorneys from Aetna and Shipman and Goodwin, in Hartford,
who volunteered to help survivors apply for the program.

Herz said she still has mixed emotions about accepting money from the German government, but
is pragmatic enough to realize that it helps.

“My husband didn’t ever want to take the money,” Herz said, referring to past reparations from
the German government. “But we didn’t have any choice. We went out [of the camps] with
nothing.”

Today, about 22 survivors will receive help filling out the lengthy application for the German
Ghetto Work Payment Program during a free clinic at Jewish Family Services of Greater
Hartford.

Although that clinic is full, another, second free clinic will take place in southern Connecticut
later this summer, said Faye Dion, counsel at Aetna and one of the chief organizers of the
volunteer effort.

Dion said she had no trouble lining up support for the clinics, even though it required a day of
training for all the lawyers and paralegals who volunteered, as well as preliminary screening of
applicants and a full day at the clinic itself.

“It was a lot of work, but I think the Holocaust still reverberates with people,” Dion said, adding
that many of the volunteer attorneys are Jewish. “It’s unbelievable that it’s been 70 years since
these events took place.”

Contact Elizabeth Hamilton at ehamilton@courant.com.
Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant
 

Topics:
  • In the News