My Grandfather Isak Ehrenberg written by Rachel Ehrenberg
My grandfather, Isak Ehrenberg, was born in Krasnik, Poland on December 25, 1909. He was the youngest child in his family. He had two brothers and a sister. The family moved to the nearby town of Zakrzowek when my grandfather was very young. My grandfather’s early years were very normal. His father was a religious man who took him to the synagogue to learn to study and pray. He also went to a religious school called a Yeshiva. But my grandfather was very interested in business. After his schooling was finished, he became very successful managing a liquor store. He also met his future wife through a matchmaker. They had a big, religious wedding. His wife was named Ita Unterhalter. Ita’s family had moved to South Africa to escape the anti-semitism in Poland. Mr.Unterhalter tried to convince Isak and Ita to move to South Africa, but before they could decide to move, the Germans invaded Poland. By this time, Isak and Ita had two children named Tobye (a girl) and Leibel (a boy). It was clear that the family was in danger.
Isak left Ita and the children and took a trip out to the countryside to try to convince a Polish farmer to hide his family when the Germans came into their town. When Isak got back, he was horrified to find out that the Germans had entered the town while he was away. Ita and the children had tried to hide in a barn. Tobye was six years old at the time and Leibel (also known as Leon) was three years old. A Polish neighbor had informed the Germans of the family’s hiding spot. They were found and taken with other Jews from the town to the Jewish cemetery. At the cemetery, they were all shot. The Germans ordered some Jewish men to dig the graves and bury the bodies of the victims. My grandfather’s cousin, Gedalya Ehrenberg, was one of the men who had to bury the people. He recognized the bodies of Ita and the children. When my grandfather got back to town, Gedalya told him that his family was gone.
My grandfather left the town quickly and tried to hide in a Synagogue in Krasnik. But the Jews were rounded up, and he was sent to a work camp. He worked in this camp until the Germans made a concentration camp nearby called Budzyn. He was in Budzyn from 1939-1943. In 1943, my Grandfather was sent to another work camp and then to the Dachau concentration camp. From Dachau, he was sent on a train to Auschwitz. This would likely have been the end of my grandfather, but there were so many trains filled with Jewish prisoners trying to unload at Auschwitz that the cattle car went back to Krackow. From there he was sent to work in a salt mine called Vielitzko. He worked there for a few days before the Germans sent him to the Flossenberg work camp in Germany. He was already very sick at that time. He was having trouble working because of illness and starvation. This may be why the Germans sent him back to the Dachau concentration camp again. My grandfather spent about four months in Dachau before the American army came and finally liberated him.
My Grandfather was very lucky to have survived because his entire family had been killed by the Nazis. He had two cousins who survived (brothers Gedalya and Abraham Ehrenberg) and one of his best friends, Leon Freedman. Grandpa Isak and Leon went to Munich after they were liberated. Eventually they wound up at a Displaced Persons camp in Rosenheim, Germany. He and Leon found a way to steal a pair of shoes each day from the supplies at the DP camp. They sold the shoes on the black market and saved up the money. Soon, they were able to open up a small store in Rosenheim.
Meanwhile, Rivka (Regina or Gina) Eisenberg Rechtman, another Holocaust survivor from the town of Lublin, Poland, was trying to survive the harsh conditions after the war. Her husband had survived the concentration camps but died shortly after liberation. Gina’s daughter, Masha, had been hidden with a Polish family. Now reunited, they had no money and no place to live. She tried to make some money selling ice cream. Gina was friends with my grandfather’s cousin Gedalya, who had also survived. Gedalya introduced Gina to Isak. They married in Rosenheim, and Isak adopted Masha as his own. They became a family of survivors. My father was born to Gina and Isak in Rosenheim, Germany in 1949. In 1950, the family emigrated to the United States on a boat to Ellis Island. My grandparents rebuilt their lives in Los Angeles, California. However, they were haunted by their experiences throughout their lives. My grandfather had nightmares of the treatment he had experienced and the abuse he had witnessed in the camps until he died. Without the strength and bravery of my grandparents, who survived harsh working conditions, brutal treatment, illness and starvation, and succeeded in building a new life in America, I would not be here today.
Ehrenberg, Isak. Personal Interview. 1995.