Goldfischer, Why my mother is special by Doris Cultraro
given at a Hadassah Luncheon honoring my “EMA"
at their E-MA Luncheon in 2002.)
I’m pleased to be here today with you, the dedicated members
of Kew Gardens chapter of Hadassah, invited guests and family,
at your E-Ma luncheon. I’m delighted that you’ve
chosen, as your honoree, a very special person – my mother
Bella Wagner. I’d like to share a few special recent and
not so recent thoughts with you about this woman and why she
is just so remarkable.
which means Mother in Hebrew, and highlights the name of your
has a very special meaning for me. My first
trip to Eretz Yisroel, in 1967, was quite unplanned. It was 3
weeks after the 6-day war. The trip, originally being scheduled
for my father who was the sole survivor of his family to escape
the Nazi Holocaust. He was planning to meet and reunite with
his 2 uncles and their Israeli family. He had not seen them since
the 1920’s. This trip, his only link to a lost family,
was scheduled the same day as the Israeli war broke out. As it
turned out, I went in his place a few weeks later.
was only 15, embarking on a journey, to spend the summer visiting
his (my) family – people I did not know, unable to
speak their language and wondering what part of my fathers lost
family and my heritage I would be able to discover. I was scared
and excited at the same time. My Israeli relatives were the lucky
few who left Poland in the early years of Zionism to settle what
was then Palestine. Pioneers, settling a hostile land, carving
out a homeland for the Jewish People. They survived.
trip was an experience that changed my life, (I even learned
conversational Hebrew), and upon my return, I started to
call my mother E-Me - “my mother”, and to this day
that’s what she is and how I fondly address her “E-Me”.
I cherish the fact that I still have her to lean on, be guided
by, disagree with, talk to and listen to. She is someone I share
my joys, and problems with, and most importantly love and am
loved by her. I’m lucky, she talks freely to me about her
life before the war, life in Lida, Poland and her struggles during
and after the war. I’m very proud of her. She freely gives
of her time to be involved with many worthy causes including
Hadassah, the focus of this assembly - and that has been a way
of life for her from her early youth.
As a child, a fundamental principal in her upbringing in Lida,
was love of the Jewish people and Israel. My Zayda, her father,
was an active Zionist in his youth, and instilled the love of
Judaism, Eretz Yisroael and a Jewish homeland early, in the hearts
and minds of his family.
You may not know that she became a successful business woman
Forest Hills for almost 40 years, having her own classy dress
shop with her partner Esther Aaron.
You may not know that she is completely fluent in 7 languages.
From English, to Hebrew, To Yiddish, to Russian, to Polish,
to German, to Italian, and maybe more - Some by choice and
others by necessity. When discussing literature with her when
I was a teenager, how can one compete when your mother says
there’s nothing more beautiful, than reading Dr. Zhivago
in it’s original Russian, as she did! She was put at
risk during the WW II, finding herself in dangerous situations
because she didn’t look Jewish and was often asked to
speak to the townspeople asking for food, directions or information – often
at great peril of being discovered.
You may not know that E- Me participated as a member of the
NY Delegation of Partisan Fighters against Nazism at the 1970
World Gathering in Yad Vashem, Israel, laying a wreath, and honoring
the Jewish Partisans fighters of WW II. They dedicated a Memorial
to honor those fallen heroes. She became a teen-age partisan
fighter during the Nazi holocaust when Lida and the life that
she knew was abruptly ripped away from her and she was determined
to fight back.
You may not know that my mother was sought after to give testimony
at a Nazi war crimes trial in Germany - to bear witness to the
horrors she observed and experienced in her little town.
may not know that E-Me met my Father, Morris Goldfischer, also
survivor, in an Austrian DP camp for Jewish
Refugees after the end of WW II. He was sick, and she worked
as a nurse’s aid caring for the sick. It was the dawn of
a new world for them, having walked out of the charred horrors
and holocaust hell of war torn Europe, where being Jewish was
You may not know that she was only 19 years old, when WW II
ended. Her teenage years lost forever. E-Me saw more horror,
knew more fear, than most people should ever experience in any
lifetime. I believe her commitment to her faith, family, and
a will to survive kept her strong and focused.
may not know that at the time soon after her liberation, she
defeated German soldiers at gunpoint - She never
told me that. I heard it directly from one of the commanders
of her Partisan Group when I met him in 1995 - during a trip
to her birth city, Lida. A group of survivors and some family
members, of whom I was one, together traveled to Lida to commemorate
the 50th anniversary of their liberation and the end of WW II.
Here was the opportunity of a lifetime to actually see the town
she lived in – the places that were only visible to me
behind my closed eyes and in my imagination from the stories
that were told around our dinner table. This elderly gentleman
informed me of her accomplishments with awe and spirited conversation
as he reminisced about this petite young girl with fire in her
eyes. He was talking about my mother, E-Me.
may not know that she and her immediate family miraculously
the May 8th, 1942 massacre in Lida. Sixty-Seven Hundred
Jews were brutally tortured, humiliated, forced to go through
a selection where families were separated, and marched into the
woods on a cold rainy May morning, to be murdered for the crime
of having been born Jewish. My mother’s entire family consisting
of mother and father, Sara and Leon Stolowitzki, brother, Michael
Stoll and sister, Anne Monka, were protected and hidden in the
former Pupko brewery where her Father, my Zayda worked as an
You may not know that during the final liquidation of the LIDA
GHETTO, in September 1943, E-Me, her father and brother were
rounded up like animals, and taken to the train station to be
herded onto a transport train bound for death in Majdanek concentration
camp. Her mother, sister and young cousin Vella, whose whereabouts
were unknown to them, were hiding in an attic until nightfall
not knowing who was dead or alive. Climbing down a ladder of
torn sheets, under cover of darkness, they managed to escape
into the primeval forest to take their chances against all odds.
do know there is a positive ending to this tale for my family.
Mike, who is here today, was a skinny runt of a teenager.
Enroute to the concentration camp, he managed, after several
unsuccessful attempts, to pry open the doors of the human cattle
car. By climbing out a small window and holding on for dear life
to the side of the moving train car he somehow managed to tear
away the lock from the door. A very small handful of people,
11 to be exact, men, women and children, including my E-Me and
Zayda, jumped for their lives from the moving train, while Nazi
soldiers were shooting at them. My mother and her family chose
life. They chose to fight back, and by a miracle, or what my
superstitious Zayda believed in was providence, they survived
and were re-united with their wife/mother, sister and cousin
in the Naliboki woods. My Zayda, a man in his forties at that
time, said, “I’m with you children” as they
jumped into the dark unknown from that moving train so long ago – preferring
to die on their own terms and not in a gas chamber. I cherish
the fact that he still lives so vividly in my memory today -
as I was 11 years old when he past away. I was fortunate to have
known and love this brave and gentle man and my Bubba.
on else dared to jump, and no one else survived. The brave
joined up with the Bielski Jewish Partisan Brigade
and embarked on a career of sabotage, deceit and Jewish Survival
against the Nazis and other opposing forces. They were a unique
and daring brigade of men, women, and children - including the
elderly. On a glorious day in 1944 – when the war ended
for them, over 1200 Jewish people walked out of the tragic darkness
of the primeval forest they reluctantly called home into a new
Dawn and the start of new lives.
may not know that the Russians invaded her town in 1939. The
Nazi’s invaded Lida on June 22, 1941 – dropping
incendiary bombs in the wee hours of the morning, burning the
Jewish section and much of the town. She was only 16 years old
and facing death as her family ran to the brook behind their
house to escape the flames. I recall her saying that my Bubba
had the key to their house in her pocket but there was no more
house where that key would fit. On June 22, 1952, 11 years to
the day after that horrendous event, I was born. The anniversary
day of her worst nightmare had come full circle in her life and
became a day of joy with the birth of a daughter.
E-Me, my mother, is a very special woman, with a special strength,
an extraordinary family, and a very special commitment to the
Jewish People, Israel and Hadassah. She lives life to the fullest,
donates her time and talents, accepts her life journey, and strives
to help make this a better world in her own special way. She
brings that dedication to her family, her commitment to the Jewish
People, and to Hadassah.
proud that you have chosen to honor Bella Stoliwitzki-Goldfischer-Wagner
- My Mother, EMA E-Me as your E-MA honoree at
this time. I’m
even more pleased to be able to tell this story while she is
here to listen to it too. It is an incredible family that I am
part of and a cherished history to be preserved.