Monday, 28 January 2019

Remembering the victims
of the Holocaust in Dublin

Lighting the candles at last night’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration in the Mansion House in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I was a guest at the Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations in the Mansion House in Dublin last night [27 January 2019].

The main guest speaker was President Michael D Higgins, who warned of the rise in anti-Semitism and racism across Europe and spoke of the surge in support for extreme right-wing political parties in many countries. He urged people to work together to ensure hatred does not ‘spread its dark shadow.’

Holocaust Memorial Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland by Soviet forces on 27 January 1945

Other speakers in the Round Room in the Mansion House last night included Holocaust survivors Suzi Diamond, Tomi Reichental and Walter Sekules, who live in Ireland, as well as Jadzia Kaminska, who represented her father Jan Kaminski.

The President said: ‘Following World War II, nations around the globe resolved to create political and economic structures and build international institutions that would ensure the horrors wrought by two world wars would never reoccur.’

But he pointed to rise in electoral support in countries across Europe ‘for political parties declaiming an extreme, exclusionary message.’

He added: ‘Refugees, immigrant communities and other minority groups are increasingly viewed as a threat to the rights of the majority, and many achievements by those who have fought tirelessly for human rights are under threat by a new generation of extremists who view those universal rights as a threat to their own individual rights.’

Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the memory of all who dies in the Holocaust. It recalls six million Jewish men, women and children and millions of others who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, political affiliations or religious beliefs.

Last night’s ceremony included readings, survivors’ recollections, candle-lighting and music, and Dr David Jackson who spoke last night revealed how his new research shows there were at least three Irish-born victims of the Holocaust.

During my visit to Auschwitz at the end of 2017, I noted that there is no plaque to least two Irish citizens who died in Auschwitz – Ettie Steinberg and her son Leon. Until now, Esther Steinberg was the only Jewish person from Ireland known to have died in the Holocaust.

The historian Conan Kennedy has researched the story of this mother and her child, and more recently her story has become the subject of a new play, Ode to Ettie Steinberg, by Deirdre Kinahan. The story begins in the former Czechoslovakia, where Ettie was one of the seven children of Aaron Hirsh Steinberg and his wife Bertha Roth.

In the 1920s, the family moved to Ireland, and they lived in a small house at 28 Raymond Terrace, in ‘Little Jerusalem’ off the South Circular Road in Dublin.

The seven Steinberg children went to school at Saint Catherine’s School, the Church of Ireland parish school on Donore Avenue, off the South Circular Road.

Ettie later worked as a seamstress in Dublin before her marriage. Her sister Fanny Frankel later recalled in Toronto that Ettie had ‘golden hands’ and that she was an excellent and creative seamstress. Other people who could remember Ettie said she was a ‘beautiful girl and tall and slim with wonderful hands.’

Ettie married Vogtjeck Gluck, originally from Belgium, in the Greenville Hall Synagogue on the South Circular Road in Dublin on 22 July 1937. They later moved to Antwerp, where Vogtjeck’s family was in business, and they set up home in Steenbokstraat 25 in Antwerp.

A year or so later, as World War II was looming on the horizon, they moved to Paris, where their son Leon was born on 28 March 1939. But they continued to move from place to place in France, and by 1942 they were living in an hotel in Toulouse.

When the Vichy puppet government began rounding up Jews in the south of France at the behest of Nazi Germany, Ettie, Vogtjeck and Leon were arrested. Back in Ireland, her family in Dublin secured visas that would allow the Gluck family to travel to Northern Ireland. But when the visas arrived in Toulouse, it was too late. Ettie, Vogtjeck and Leon had been arrested the day before.

As she was being transported to the death camps, Ettie wrote a final postcard to her family in Ireland and threw it out of the train window. A passer-by found it and posted it, and the postcard found its way to Dublin. It was coded with Hebrew terms and read: ‘Uncle Lechem, we did not find, but we found Uncle Tisha B’av.’

Ettie’s family understood her tragic message very well: Lechem is the Hebrew word for bread and Tisha B’Av is the Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Steinberg family tried desperately to find out what had become of their daughter, their grandson and their son-in-law, writing desperately to the Red Cross and to the Vatican.

Ettie, her husband and their son were taken first to Drancy, a transit camp outside Paris. The Glucks were then deported from Drancy on 2 September 1942 and arrived in Auschwitz two days later, on 4 September 1942. It is assumed that they were put to death immediately.

Ettie’s young brother, Joshua Solomon (Solly), went to school in Wesley College, Dublin, before going on to Trinity College Dublin. He graduated the same year his sister died in Auschwitz. Later he would move to Israel and become a professor in Haifa.

Last night, Dr David Jackson, spoke of his research that shows how Isaac Shishi, Ephraim Saks and his sister Lena Saks, were all born in Ireland, but their families returned to Europe when they were children.

Isaac Shishi’s family came from Lithuania to Ireland in 1890, and he was born in Dublin on 29 January 1891, when his family was living at 36 St Alban’s Road, off the South Circular Road. He was murdered along with his wife Chana and their daughter Sheine were murdered by the Nazis in Vieksniai in Lithuania in 1941.

Ephrem and Lena Saks were born in Dublin on 19 April 1915 and 2 February 1918. Ephraim was murdered in Auschwitz on 24 August 1942. Lena was murdered there in 1942 or 1943.

Last night’s programme also paid tribute to Dublin-born Max Levitas, who died last November at the age of 103. His parents were Jewish immigrants to Dublin, fleeing anti-Semitism in the Tsarist Russian Empire. Harry (Hillel) Levitas and Leah were married in 1914 in a synagogue at 52 Lower Camden Street, now the Dublin offices of Concern Worldwide.

The eldest of six siblings, Max Samuel Levitas – Motl Shmuel ben Hillel – was born in June 1915 at 15 Longwood Avenue off the South Circular Road, in the Portobello area of Dublin, then known as ‘Little Jerusalem.’ The family attended Lennox Street synagogue, just around the corner.

Max took part in the Battle of Cable Street in the East End of London in October 1936, while his brother Maurice was a volunteer in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.

Max’s last public speech, at the age of 101, was at commemorations in October 2016 marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Until he died, he had been a frequent visitor to his native Dublin, and regularly attended the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies. Max had many family members to remember: his aunt Rachel died with most of her family in Riga, his father’s sister Sara died in Akmeyan, and his uncle Elie Leyb Levitetz, was a victim of the war in Paris.

As President Higgins said last night: ‘As anti-Semitism and racism once again begin to rise across Europe, we must remember the Holocaust collectively and work together to ensure that hatred and inhumanity is not allowed to once again spread its dark shadow across Europe and the world.’

Reading the names of the dead at last night’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration in the Mansion House in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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