By Donald H. Harrison
San Diego, CA (special) -- Thanks to nazi-hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, Jeffrey Ressler now knows what he always had suspected: his grandparents were murdered by the nazis at Auschwitz.
Confirmation came when Serge Klarsfeld, a speaker last Saturday night at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair, directed Ressler to an appendix in one of the books he and his wife, Beate, wrote about the Holocaust.
As part of the Klarsfelds' exhaustive research, they reprinted nazi manifests carefully enumerating the people they packed into cattle cars en route from France to the notorious death camp in Poland.
Ressler found the names of his grandparents Dora and Iasag Rossler alphabetized among those who were taken from the Drancy Concentration Camp, near Paris, on March 7, 1844, aboard Transport 69.
According to Klarsfeld, the trip from Drancy to Auschwitz in a box car where there was standing room only, and which had no bathrooms, took three days. So, in all probability, Ressler's grandparents arrived at Auschwitz on March 10. Upon arrival, they would have gone through the nazi "selection" process. Grandfather Rossler was 68, grandmother Rossler 60 -- too old in the nazis' opinion to be spared for a work detail. So in all probability they were sent directly to the gas chambers that same day.
Dora and Iasag Rossler were among 1,501 people who were in Transport 69. There were 812 males and 689 females. Of these, 178 were children under the age of 16.
"My immediate reaction was that tears welled up in my eyes," said Ressler, whose family changed their name by one vowel from "Rossler."
"I am still verklempt; it is an amazing experience," he added. "There is a finality, proof, names. There is a remembrance. There is a sort of closure that has occurred."
Even though he figured his grandparents died in Auschwitz or some other concentration camp, until now he didn't know for certain. Up to now, "I could give some money and put their name on a plaque in Miami, or on the wall here at the JCC at our new Holocaust Memorial -- which I have done - but that didn't prove they existed anywhere.
"The Holocaust deniers could still say they were a fiction of my imagination. But now they can't say it is a fiction, because these were records kept by the Vichy government and the nazis in France. There is no denying it. They kept the records, not us. We cannot make up what they created."
The manifest also provided Ressler with some genealogical information he never knew. It listed his grandmother as having been born in the Galician town of Dubreko on May 6, 1884. His grandfather was born Dec. 17, 1876 in Frygfak.
In Jewish tradition, one mourns for a lost family member on the anniversary of that person's death. Friday, March 10, 1944 fell on Adar 15, 5704, Shushan Purim.
"This is the first time that we will have a yahrzeit," Ressler said. "My father and his brothers always said kaddish on Rosh Hashanah because they knew they would be in shul that day. But now the family has a yahrzeit."
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Norbert Rosenblum traveled with his wife Marion from Anaheim to San Diego to hear the Klarsfelds and to see a preview of "French Children of the Holocaust: A Memorial Exhibition" which is to be shown at the JCC through Dec. 20.
Rosenblum's interest was more than academic. His sister, who like him had escaped from Vichy France while a child, had written about seeing the exhibit when it was in New York and hearing that it would be traveling to San Diego. "Drive down there," she had counseled him.
Rosenblum as a young child had moved with his parents and sister from his native France to a town just over the German border. After Hitler came to power in 1933 and conditions grew progressively worse for the Jews, the family planned to move to Brazil. But Rosenblum's father died in 1935 before the trip could be made. Among Hitler's anti-Semitic laws were those restricting the kinds of work Jews could do. When she was lucky, Rosenblum's mother could find work as a maid.
In 1938, she decided to send the two children back to France, where they were placed in a children's home in Limoges. After the nazis occupied Paris and northern France, Limoges, in the southern part of the country, remained "unoccupied" although it was under the authority of the puppet Vichy government.
In September 1941, officials at the school made arrangements to send 150 of the children out of the country, Frieda and Norbert among them. Their mother had followed them to France, but had no resources to raise them. She gave permission for them to be sent to relatives in New York, even though she realized she might never see them again.
Subsequently "she got deported -- picked up by the French police, handed over to the Germans, and what I understand is that she went through Drancy, and then on to Transport Number 26 to Auschwitz," Rosenblum said.
Frieda and Norbert went separately to New York, she two months before him. By passenger train, they traveled to the Spanish border, and from there crossed through Spain to Portugal. They embarked in Lisbon on a ship bound for the United States.
After their arrival at the home of their mother's sister in New York, the Rosenblum children received "one or two letters. The last letter I received from her came in February of 1942. In that letter , she said she was going to visit her family in Poland, and we knew what it meant at the time. We had heard of Auschwitz. That was the last time I heard."
After viewing the preview of the exhibition, meticulously researched by the Klarsfelds to give faces and personalities to the statistics about children murdered by the nazis, Rosenblum said he had strong feelings. "I don't know if it was guilt--there was nothing I did to feel guilty -- but I felt bad that I had made it and others didn't," he said. "Why did I make it and why did some of my friends not make it?"
Today, Rosenblum, an electrical engineer, has three grown children of his own, and he believes he has passed on to them the lesson he was taught by his mother when she signed the consent form to send him out of the way of danger.
"You look out for your children first and foremost, before you look out for yourself," he said softly.
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Jackie Gmach, organizer of the San Diego Jewish Book Festival and associate director of the sponsoring San Diego Center for Jewish Culture, said the "French Children of the Holocaust" exhibit will be open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m., every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday between today and Dec. 20 in the JCC's Gothelf Art Gallery.
Films will be presented on Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 in connection with the exhibit. The first, Les Violins du Bal, directed by Michel Drach, "is the story of his childhood during the war and his escape from the nazis," Gmach said. The second, The Children of Chabannes, directed by Lisa Gossels, "tells the story of how the villagers of Chabannes saved the lives of 44 children because they were children."
She said the Klarsfelds and two former teachers at Chabannes "recently received the highest decoration, the Chevalier de legion d'honneur," from the French government in recognition of their humanitarianism.