“Today would have been my mother’s 92nd birthday,” said Fred Jacobs, Pikesville resident and son of heroic Holocaust survivor Anja Huberman Jacobovitz (aka Anna Jacobs).
Though Anna passed away from congestive heart failure a mere three weeks before Jacobs spoke to the JT on Friday, Nov. 11, he recalled her memory with a refreshing joie de vivre.
“My mom was very loving and soft,” Jacobs said, adding that though “she would lose her temper every once in a while,” Anna cultivated a home with him, his father and his brother and sister that was the definition of haimish.
“When you lived in the Bronx,” Jacobs said, “there were other families who were survivors, and we always had people around, which felt very good.”
“There was a really strong sense of community. All of my mom’s friends seemed almost like parents. You could go to anybody’s house and get a meal.”
Jacobs went on to say that as a young person growing up in such a home and community, it was nevertheless rare for him to speak with his mother about her experience in the Holocaust.
Which is remarkable, considering she escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto not once but twice.
“The first time she went back into the Ghetto voluntarily to save her brother, Kalman, from the hands of the Nazis when he got caught on the tram,” wrote Jacobs’ older brother, Harold, in his eulogy presented at Anna’s funeral in Miami, Fla., on Wednesday, Oct. 26.
“The second time,” Harold continued, “Anna the teenager went over the wall alone.” It was here where Anna met and “charmed a very capable young inmate who one day stole a kiss, and true love blossomed within this hellish place.”
Survivors Anna and Jack married and eventually had Harold, Fred and, later, after leaving Germany for New York, daughter Roz.
“The Nazis murdered her entire family and imprisoned her in forced labor camps,” Roz wrote on the website for her nonprofit organization Memory Project Productions, which is dedicated to remembering survivors such as her mom, “but the only revenge she ever wanted was to create a family and bring good people into the world.”
Jacobs said that a strikingly “funny” notion he has about having grown up with his mother and father as survivors is that he “never really felt different” even when he was in school later in life with those who were not survivors or Jewish.
“When I moved to Baltimore, somebody asked me to join a ‘children of survivors’ support group,” Jacobs said. “I went to a couple of meetings, and there were all these stories of people with problems and feelings of isolation and fears. But for some reason, I never had that.”
Jacobs said due in large part to the warmth and comfort his mother helped maintain in his household and upbringing, he never had those feelings of doom, gloom, anger and fear that might be associated with such a closeness to this horrendous affair in the epoch of the global citizenry.
Roz, a longtime artist who lives in New York City with her wife and Memory Project partner, Laurie Weisman, had a different take on the impact the Holocaust had on her mother growing up.
“I was much more curious about what happened, especially as I got older,” Roz said. “I always knew what had happened, but then around age 16 I started to understand the significance of the Holocaust, my identity and what it meant to be the daughter of a survivor.”
“Every individual has a different way of dealing with the trauma,” she said.
“As I reached a certain age, I began questioning the important things in my life that have been significant,” Roz said. “One of those things recurrently is that my parents had survived one of the most horrible things of all time: the genocide of an entire people.”
“I didn’t even know how to deal with that,” she said. “How do you convey something that is un-conveyable?”
After 30 years of interviewing her mother and, eventually, friends of her mother and other survivors, Roz and Weisman decided they “wanted to do something special, something that would convey the power of my mother, something that would show what an amazing person and storyteller she was … how joyful she was, even with all of this baggage she had.”
By telling the story of one Holocaust survivor in particular — via what became both the 2012 book “Finding Kalman: A Boy in Six Million” and companion documentary “Finding Kalman” screening on PBS (and, locally, MPT) — Roz and Weisman felt they could “individualize the whole thing; telling individual stories is a way to begin to grasp the enormity of what happened.”
In remembering her mother and her response to the film, continuing series of art projects and other works dedicated to telling the story of Holocaust survivors, Roz recalled that her mom was, in the end, “cooperative and then when she saw how we manifested it all and that [the documentary] was playing all over the world, she was very proud of it.”
“And then, of course, she would say, ‘I’m doing all this work and not getting any money!’” Roz laughed at the recollection. “And we would say, ‘Well, we aren’t either! We’re really good at not making money!’”
What mattered in reality, Roz said, was that “people cared. People cared to hear her story and the story of others.”
For more information on Memory Project Productions, please visit their website.