Last week, Jackson resident Lindenbaum, now 81, returned to Poland to retrace his family's refugee odyssey. This time, he brought wife, Annabel, his three children, and seven of his nine grandchildren — ages 12 to 24 — back with him. He also brought something else: strong memories of his 14-year-old sister, Ruth, who died at Auschwitz. His parents, Otto and Frieda, also perished there.
"I always have her with me," Lindenbaum said of his sister, who was left behind when he and his brother Siegfried boarded a boat for England shortly before war broke out in September 1939. "I always have the need to make a difference. I do it for her."
Lindenbaum's decision to relive his family's flight from Germany to Poland has another goal as well. In partnership with HIAS, a global Jewish organization that helps refugees throughout the world, he hopes to raise money to help refugee children living at displaced persons' camps in Chad.
The children have fled genocide in the Darfur area of the Sudan, and HIAS is providing trauma counseling and social services at five different camps there.
"It really resonates with me," Lindenbaum said in a telephone interview conducted while he and his family were in Budapest, where he was speaking at a conference for Jewish youth. "I was a refugee kid. I got help, and I survived because of that help."
Starting in Warsaw June 16, Lindenbaum and his family and friends are completing the journey his family took in 1938 and 1939, although this time in reverse. They visited Warsaw, standing in front of a fragment of the wall of the ghetto where the Nazis forced the Jews to live. They walked through the ruins of Treblinka death camp. They traveled to Otwock, where Lindenbaum, his sister, Ruth, and his brother, Siegfried, lived for about a month before they Manfred and Siegfried left for England on a boat as part of the Kindertransport, an effort by the British government and relief organizations that rescued about 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Europe in the nine months before World War II.
Retracing His Family's Flight to Raise Awareness
As part of what the Lindenbaums call "Manfred's Odyssey," the family crossed the Polish-German border on June 20, World Refugee Day. This week they will return to Unna, the German town where Manfred and his family lived before the Nazis forced them out. The last 200 miles of their journey will be by bicycle. It will mark Lindenbaum's fifth trip back to his hometown. During his last visit, in May 2011, he was struck by the warmth of the people and the genuine feeling of caring and concern that the events of the past not be forgotten.
"I want to return to my home," Lindenbaum said. "I don't want to go there and mourn. I want to celebrate the lives they lived before they were murdered, before they were hounded. It will put my mind at ease, at rest."
HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield said he hopes Lindenbaum's odyssey will highlight the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees his organization is assisting worldwide. Founded in New York City in 1881 to assist Jews who were fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia, the organization became known by the acronym that was its first cable address.
"Nothing makes us happier at HIAS than when a refugee turns around and wants to give back," Hetfield said. "In Manny's case, he's really giving of himself, and doing it in a way that really draws attention.…He really is amazing."
But to Lindenbaum, his journey, what he calls his odyssey, is also a way to celebrate his family's memory while also seeking peace for himself. He remembers his early childhood in Unna, a small town located in northwest Germany, as pleasant and peaceful. His older sister, Ruth, "was probably one of the most popular girls in Unna."
His father, Otto, owned a small clothing store and the family lived above it. They were not wealthy, but "they did very nicely," Lindenbaum said. But things began to change as the Nazis consolidated power and issued a series of anti-Jewish laws. Lindenbaum, who was born in 1932, remembers when his father had to put a 'J' in his store window, signifying that the business was owned by Jews.
"After that, we became very, very poor," Lindenbaum said. His older brother, Siegfried, was taunted and beaten by other boys at school. After one particularly brutal beating, when Siegfried was dragged through a thorn bush, his mother, Frieda, marched down to the school, demanding that her son's tormentors be punished. "She was told that there was nothing they could do," Lindenbaum said.
One day, Lindenbaum crept out of the house and went to an anti-Jewish rally in the town square. "I wanted to see what was happening," he said. "I saw people screaming and hollering, depictions of so-called Jews with long noses and things growing out of their heads. I was scared, but I wanted to see it." Some of the Lindenbaum relatives, who had more money, were able to escape, heading for destinations like Palestine or South Africa.
But Manfred's parents did not have the money to leave, and, in the years before the war, very few countries were admitting poorer Jewish immigrants. They were trapped.
Forced to flee Germany
On Thursday, Oct. 27, 1938, the Nazis knocked on the Lindenbaums' door. "I have this memory of the clicking of boots, then this Nazi official, this policeman, I don't know what he was, coming into the store, telling me father, you have to immediately report to the police station, with a small suitcase," Lindenbaum said.
Although the Lindenbaums were German, they were of Polish descent, and the Nazis were expelling them from Germany. They spent the night at the police station in a nearby town. The next day, they boarded trains to be taken to the Polish border.
Many of the observant Jews on board had never traveled before on the Sabbath. The Nazis made sure the trains started after sundown. Lindenbaum remembers sitting on his grandfather's lap as the train full of frightened people left the station. His grandfather began singing L'chah Dodi, a Hebrew prayer that welcomes the Sabbath. Others joined in. "That memory is very vivid, more than anything else," Lindenbaum said.
The Jews arrived at a border town and exited the trains. They were marched by the Germans towards the border, but the Polish border guards denied them entry. Chaos ensued. Lindenbaum remembers Polish farmers descending on the refugees and stealing their luggage and valuables.
His family wound up across the border, in the small town of Zbaszyn. There they moved, along with hundreds of other refugees, into an abandoned flour mill. It was early November 1938. The family would live there until July 1939.
Jewish organizations from Warsaw came to the flour mill to provide food and clothing. "We didn't have much to eat, but we were OK," Lindenbaum said. It was cold and clothing was scarce, but Lindenbaum made friends. He remembers playing with other refugee kids.
In July 1939, the Lindenbaum family fled to the train station in Zbaszyn, planning to leave for Grodno, on the Russian border. German troops were massed on the Polish border and it seemed clear an invasion was coming, Lindenbaum said.
A chance to escape
Amidst the chaos at the train station, someone called out that there was still a chance for children to be taken to England on the Kindertransport.
Lindenbaum's mother moved quickly. "She took me, my brother and my sister and shoved us over to a total stranger," Lindenbaum remembered. "They got on a train to go somewhere else. They obviously made a very brave and right decision, but I didn't appreciate it."
Instead, he felt abandoned and angry. He watched as a friend from the mill, a 9-year-old boy, became hysterical when his mother tried to put him on the Kindertransport line. "His mother came, hugged and kissed him, and took him back with her," Lindenbaum said. After the war, he found out the mother and son had been killed immediately after their arrival at Auschwitz.
Lindenbaum tried to run away and hide in the station, but his sister brought him back. The three children traveled to Otwock, where they lived for about a month, waiting for the Kindertransport. But when the time finally came to leave, Ruth, who was 14, was deemed too old. She was told another boat would be coming later and she could leave then. The next boat did not come.
Ruth was eventually reunited with her parents. Lindenbaum would never see his sister or his parents again.
Lindenbaum and his brother, Siegfried boarded a boat in Danzig in late August, 1939. They arrived in London on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 1939. That Friday, Germany invaded Poland. World War II had begun.
When he first arrived in England, Lindenbaum was a "very, very angry," he said. He lashed out at the family he was living with in the town of Ely, in Cambridgeshire. He was separated from his brother, who lived with a family in Brighton and had a more positive experience. "I was always in trouble," Lindenbaum said. "I was shoved from one family to another. The last three years, I was with a Christian family, and they were very good to me."
Arriving in America
In 1946, Lindenbaum and Siegfried came to America. His mother's sister, Yettchen Bienstock, and her husband, Simon, had escaped Europe in 1941 with the help of HIAS, making their way to America. They bought a chicken farm in Toms River.
The area was dotted with poultry farms then, many owned by Jews who had fled Europe. "After being hungry, they thought, if you have a piece of land you owned, and you were raising some kind of food, you would have security again," Lindenbaum said.
His brother was very ill when he came to America and spent five months in the hospital, suffering from nephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys. HIAS paid for Siegfried's hospital costs and also helped the Bienstocks to come to America.
Lindenbaum also became a chicken farmer. A self-professed workaholic, he sold eggs, worked as a peddler, and bought houses and remodeled them. He married Annabel and had three children. His brother earned a doctorate degree and became a scientist. He died in 1994, at age 62.
Always, he carried with him the memory of his parents, and the guilt he felt about his sister. "It should have been her on that boat, and not me," he said.
He came to see his parents' decision to put him on the Kindertransport not as a betrayal, but as a heroic, selfless act.
"If I am ashamed of anything in my life, it's the anger I had for my parents," Lindenbaum said. "I closed my mind off to them, but in actuality they were doing a heroic act. I didn't understand why for a long, long time."
Lindenbaum decided to devote his life to charity work, to honor his sister's memory. He helped found the Peace, Genocide and Holocaust Center at Ocean County College and is an active board member of Brookdale Community College's Holocaust Center. He's volunteered his time speaking in prisons, as part of a program that aims to teach inmates alternatives to violent behavior. He tells his story often to children, urging them to speak up when they see someone being bullied.
"I believe that when we stand by and listen as others are put down, we start to become part of the problem," he said. "When we speak out against hatred, we become part of the solution."
He and his grandson, Jacob, are chronicling Lindenbaum's odyssey on a website,www.odyssey76.com. In Otwock, Jacob and his grandfather entered the building where the Lindenbaum children stayed before Siegfried and Manfred left for England. It was the last place Lindenbaum ever saw his sister.
Watching his grandfather last week, Jacob Lindenbaum wrote: "Ruth was murdered as a teenager and my Zayda has never let her age in his mind. As he stood on the grounds where he spent his last few weeks with Ruth, he let her grow older and let go of his guilt."
"Ruth would be 90 today. And I know she is smiling down on me and this family," Manfred Lindenbaum said.
The original article for the article written by Jean Mikle published on June 23, 2014 copied above can be found online at Asbury Park Press http://www.app.com/story/news/local/jackson-lakewood/jackson/2014/06/20/jackson-holocaust-survivor-retraces-familys-journey/11202379/