Vital Puzzle Piece Supplied For Holocaust Survivor’s Family
Since as long as she can remember, Hollis Hills resident and mother of two Anna Zvi has known that she was the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Although her mother, Mania Kichell, now 90 years old, rarely spoke of these traumatic years of her life, Zvi still knew a bit about what she endured during WWII.
She knew that her mother had lived in Poland’s Lodz Ghetto from 1940 to 1944, and worked as a seamstress. “She had small, delicate fingers,” Zvi said. “Evidently the SS loved her work, which helped.”
Zvi knew about the brutality her mother had suffered when the Nazis lined up her family and divided them for transport to different camps in 1944. “When they were saying ‘left’ and ‘right’, my mother’s mother, one of her sisters, and her sister’s child were sent to one side and she to the other side,” Zvi said. “My mom later learned they were sent to a death camp. But at the time, she tried to run after them and was severely beaten.”
She also knew that Kichell was on her way to the showers in Auschwitz when a female capo intervened. Kichell had green eyes, porcelain skin and blond hair. “You’re too beautiful,” the capo told her. “My mother was very Aryan looking,” Zvi said. “That saved her.”
Kichell was sent to Guben, a small labor camp within Gross-Rosen, and from there to Bergen-Belsen, where she and her surviving sister, Helen, were liberated.
Yet Zvi always felt as if there were still too many missing pieces to her mother’s past. “I needed tangible evidence of her experience,” she recalled, “not only for my mother and me, but for my children.” Zvi’s daughters, Debi, 22, and Simone, 26, have always been very close to their grandmother, visiting her regularly at the Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica, where Kichell has lived for more than 14 years, and which was in fact, built in 1971 to care for elderly Holocaust survivors.
From the time she was a child, Simone, now a Hebrew school teacher, thirsted to know more about her grandmother’s Holocaust experiences. She was frustrated when her grandmother chose not to speak about them, and even more so when Kichell later developed dementia and was then truly unable to talk about her experience.
About three years ago, triggered by her mother’s age and further deteriorating mental condition, Zvi began a search to discover as many of the lost pieces of Kichell’s story as possible. She started by contacting Yad Vashem and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which sent Zvi documents pertaining to Kichell’s time in Auschwitz. Additionally, the Holocaust Memorial Museum recommended that Zvi contact the Red Cross. She contacted the Greater New York chapter, and within two months of initiating a case, began to receive the first documents from them—public records obtained by the Polish Red Cross confirming her mother’s residence in the Lodz Ghetto and liberation from Bergen- Belsen.
A year later, in April 2011, a Red Cross volunteer called Zvi out of the blue to say that her mother’s Polish birth certificate had been located. She learned that her mother was born in 1920, not 1923, as she had long thought. She was so gratified that she cried tears of joy and called everyone she knew to share the good news. She was astounded that although her mother was born 90 years ago, the Red Cross was still able to locate this crucial piece of her mother’s history.
This type of information, Zvi said, can change Holocaust survivors’ lives. It has also changed her own life. “My mother is unable to impart this information in her own voice, that’s why I get so emotional when I receive a new piece of documentation— it’s as if someone was speaking for my mother and saying, ‘Yes, she endured this; Yes, we know.’” She added, “The Red Cross relates to people with a lot of heart. I’m blessed to have had their help. Having this information means so much to me and to my children.”
If you are a Holocaust survivor or a family member, the American Red Cross may be able to help. We have the resources to find answers to questions you’ve asked for more than half a century. To learn more, please visit www.nyredcross.org/restoringfamilylinks or call 212-875-2253 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.