Restitution: Profiles

Lea Evron (Whitestone, New York)

Lea Evron was born on January 19, 1935 in Zywiec, Poland. Her father owned a factory, in which furs were finished and dyed, and a three-story building located in front of the factory. Lea’s family, her paternal grandmother, her aunt and uncle, and family friends each lived in one of the four residential family apartments in that building. In addition, there were two maids’ apartments and two stores that were rented out.

Lea has wonderful memories of her life before the Holocaust.  Her life, as she knew it, changed drastically when, in September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. Her family fled to the Ukraine, but returned to Poland once the Ukrainian pogroms began. From this moment going forward until the end of the War, Lea survived life in a ghetto, under false identity, in hiding and with Polish resistance fighters.  She was together with her family some of the time, but in 1943, her father and sister were deported to Auschwitz where they were killed.

After the War, Lea and her mother returned to their home, where they were “greeted” by some of the locals who said “Oh! Look at that, Hitler promised us to kill all the Jews and here they are coming back!” Their apartment in their building was occupied by one of the workers from the factory. Lea and her mother were allowed to stay in the maid’s room.

In January 1947, Lea and her mother left Poland. After spending three years in Switzerland, they left for Israel (then Palestine) because their papers from the United States still had not arrived. In Israel, Lea obtained a teacher’s license, worked as a kindergarten teacher and then in the intelligence department in the army. It was also in Israel that Lea met her husband, Jehuda Evron. They have 3 sons and 5 grandchildren. In 1982, Lea and her husband moved to the United States when her husband received a job as a consultant at Westinghouse.

For almost two decades, Lea has fought to gain restitution of her family’s apartment building and factory.  After working with multiple attorneys and spending thousands of dollars in legal fees, the most recent decision handed down to Lea by the Polish government stated that while compensation in a civil court may be possible, restitution of what was once belonged to her family will not be.

Lea feels that “justice has not been afforded to me for the theft of the property owned by my family in Poland. The apartment building that was owned by my parents and in which I lived as a child is still there, yet someone else has title to it and I never received the proper compensation for such a transfer of ownership. That building and the factory behind it are my only direct connections to my past. I am thankful to Senator Schumer for supporting the JUST Act and, through this legislation, helping Holocaust survivors achieve a small measure of justice for our material loss.”

Norman Trysk-Frajman (Boynton Beach, Florida)

Norman Trysk-Frajman was born on September 11, 1929. He was 10 years old when the German troops invaded Poland and forced his family to live in the Warsaw Ghetto.  His family tried to flee to Russia, but his father was caught at the border and sent to Siberia, where he managed to survive the War. Trysk-Frajman, together with his mother and 12 year old sister were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Majdenek concentration camp. In Majdenek , his mother and sister were murdered. Trysk-Frajman endured two other concentration camps after Majdeenek — Buchenwald and Schlieben — and then a death march. On May 8 1945, the last day of the War, he was liberated by the Russians. He remained there for a year where he worked as a Russian interpreter. Eventually he made his way to the American zone and an uncle who lived in New York brought him over to the United States. 126 of his family members were murdered in Treblinka.

Trysk-Frajman remembers his grandparents affectionately and recalls that he had a beautiful and privileged childhood.   He attended private school, lived in a home with indoor plumbing, owned a bicycle, and had a dog. Now, all that he has left of that time in his life and of his grandparents are his memories and two worn and yellowed property deeds. His grandparents owned two apartment buildings in Warsaw before the German occupation, one of which Trysk-Frajman had lived in with his family. 

Mr. Trysk-Frajman was pleased to learn about the passage of the JUST Act.  He said that he and three cousins in France are the only rightful heirs to their grandparents’ property. “Our families, who were slaughtered during the war, left it to us. We have waited too long for justice for our property.” Mr. Trysk-Frajman hopes that the JUST Act will bring him and his cousins closer to receiving justice for the theft of his family’s property by the Nazis. He also expressed his thanks to Senator Rubio for introducing the JUST Act as well as to both Rubio and Congressman Deutch for seeing its passage through until the end by supporting it. 

Eugene Lebovitz (Miami, Florida)

Eugene Lebovitz fondly recalls his childhood in Uzhorod, Czechoslovakia, among his 10 siblings, parents, grandparents and 35 immediate cousins. At the age of ten the outbreak of World War II and the seizure of his hometown by the Hungarian Nazis shattered his happy childhood. After suffering several years of deprivation and anti-semitic acts by the Hungarian Nazis, in the spring of 1944, he and his family were persecuted by the German Nazis directly. He endured the Uzhorod Ghetto, Auschwitz-Birkenau, slave labor in a munitions plant, and a forced death march in the middle of the winter in January 1945. On two occasions, Eugene miraculously survived random shootings by the SS, once hiding himself under the bodies of corpses. In March 1945, Eugene was liberated by the Russian army.

After the War, Eugene was reunited with two brothers and a sister. In 1946, he emigrated to what was then-Palestine after serving in the Jewish Underground helping to smuggle Jewish refugees through the British blockade there. He attended school and served in the army, eventually retiring as a Colonel in 1952.  He relocated to the United States after meeting his wife, the late Natalie Lebovitz, while visiting his sister who lived in Chicago.  Eventually, he and his wife settled in Florida.  Eugene ran a successful import shoe company until he retired in 1996, and over the years he devoted his time and money to many philanthropic causes.

When asked how he felt about the passage of the JUST Act, Eugene said that he believes that this legislation brings survivors like him one step closer to receiving a measure of justice for what was stolen from them and their families.  “I applaud Senator Rubio for doing the right thing by co-sponsoring the JUST Act and pursuing justice for Holocaust survivors.”Eugene’s grandfather owned a great deal of property in Slovakia and Eugene says that he is the rightful heir to this property. According to Eugene, “anyone who doesn’t return property that was taken from you is in effect “stealing” it.  It is my family’s property – it was registered in my grandfather’s name – and I don’t understand why a country would not return property that belonged to someone else.” If Eugene were to be able to retrieve the property of his grandfather, he said that it would offer him the chance to connect with his family and the happy memories he has of them and of his past.

Stephanie Marks (Cincinnati, Ohio)

Stephanie Marks was born in Konin, Poland in 1925. Her parents moved to Belgium in 1929, but her family spent every other summer holiday in Poland. In addition to visiting her family, Stephanie’s mother returned to Konin to collect the income from the profits of the flour mill in Konin that was left to her and her siblings by their parents.

Stephanie’s grandparents also left to their children the oil refinery they had owned and operated, as well as a large house.

Stephanie’s uncle in the yard in front of the family mill.

During one such visit to Konin in 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, and Stephanie and her parents were trapped in Poland. For three difficult and scary months, Stephanie and her family navigated a country that was increasingly hostile to them.  It was during that time that Stephanie remembers experiencing hunger for the first time in her life and watching atrocities being committed against fellow Jews. Stephanie, who was 14 years old, had watched religious Jews dragged to their death behind Nazi tanks.

Stephanie’s mother managed to successfully negotiate her family’s departure from Poland to Belgium with a top Nazi officer. Upon returning to Belgium, Stephanie’s family was soon forced to flee and endure many trials. Over the course of the next two years, Marks’ family fled Belgium, France, crossed the Spanish frontier, found refuge in Portugal and eventually was sponsored to immigrate to the United States by relatives in Cincinnati. As a result of her experience, Stephanie developed the philosophy that “If you don’t have a heart that cares for another human being regardless of race, color religion, then you’re nothing.”  She has turned this philosophy into action by giving more than 10,000 hours of volunteer service at Cincinnati’s Jewish Hospital.

As for the passage of the JUST Act, Stephanie says “We were never offered restitution or justice for the property my family owned — a house, land, a flour mill and other businesses – and that was taken from us illegally.

I had a very happy childhood and memories of my time spent at my grandparents’ home. One of my only connections to my past and to those memories of my family in Poland is through that property.  I am proud of Senator Portman for supporting the JUST Act and, through this legislation, helping Holocaust survivors achieve a small measure of justice for our material loss.”

Howard Melton (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

Seventy-three years ago, Howard Melton was fourteen years old and weighed only 40-something pounds. That was in 1945, and Howard had just been liberated from the Dachau concentration camp. 

Howard Melton is the one on the bench on the right hand side. The other children are his older and younger sisters who died in the Shoah.

Howard, who was born in Kovno, Lithuania, was ten years old when World War II began for him and his family.  He miraculously survived, the Kovno Ghetto, a labor camp in Riga, the Stutthof and Dachau concentration camps and a forced death march.

Howard’s family was not well-off, but one of his great-aunts owned property in Kovno, as well as in a popular resort town nearby.  His family spent summers there, working at the resort property and in a store the aunt owned there as well.

Four years after Howard was liberated by American soldiers, two of which he spent in a hospital recovering, Howard came to the United States at the urging of his childhood friend with whom he had survived the War.  After spending some time in New York City, he settled in Milwaukee in 1950 to be near his friend. In Milwaukee, Howard worked, enlisted in the draft for the Korean War, and eventually met his wife of almost seventy years.

Currently, Howard is retired from his family run business and enjoys spending time with his family – four children and many grandchildren. He is a frequent speaker about his experience during the Holocaust at local schools and community forums.  While he preaches tolerance and love and kindness for one another, Howard is in full support of the JUST Act and is very appreciative to Senator Baldwin for co-sponsoring it.  For Howard, it is not about the money, it is about the justice of having the right to receive back what was once owned by your family and forcibly taken from you without justification.

Ada Roger (Texas)

Ada Roger was five years old when the Nazis invaded her hometown of Przemyśl, Poland. Not long after the Nazis invaded, however, the Russians took over. Her grandparents owned apartment buildings and a grain silo there, and her father was arrested by the Russians as a property owner.  The family was deported to Siberia. Ada’s mother managed to get her family out of Siberia and the family made their way to Uzbekistan.  In Uzbekistan, her mother placed Ada, who was 6 years old, and her brother, who was 8, in an orphanage and eventually, sent Ada and her brother to Palestine, which was then under British Mandate. En route to Palestine they spent 6 months in Tehran, which earned them the nickname of the “Tehran Children.”   In Palestine, Ada and her brother were taken in by a kibbutz.  Their mother had brought with her to Uzbekistan false papers that identified her as a nurse so she could return to Poland. She joined them three years later when the War ended.

Ada’s mother had left money for a Polish woman to pay taxes on the property, but the property was confiscated and her mother was not able to reclaim most of their property after the collapse of Communism.  According to Ada, “the Poles who were using their property all said, ‘we didn’t do anything, the property was given to us.’”

Ada has papers showing her family’s ownership of five properties, but has never been able to receive restitution.

Ada is thankful to Senator Cruz for advocating for passage of the JUST Act.  This legislation is very meaningful to Ada, who says that she is motivated to pursue restitution of her family’s property in honor of her mother who died without success after multiple attempts.  “Justice has not been offered to me for the illegal seizure of the property owned by my family in Poland. The JUST Act is one of many steps that are necessary to help Holocaust survivors achieve a small measure of justice for our material loss.”

Alisa Sorkin (New York and Florida)

Alisa Sorkin (née Finder) was a toddler when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Her family made the decision to flee their home in Krakow, and for the next four years, they endured the hardships of Gulag 45 in Siberia, hunger in the refugee-crowded city of Samarkand in Central Asia and grueling travel on deportation trains and ships until they reached Palestine.

Finder Flour Mill and Bakery Complex, Krakow, Poland

In Palestine, Alisa’s family began the process of rebuilding their lives. Alisa attended elementary and high school there and then moved to the United States where she attended college. She married and is the proud mother of three children and grandmother of twelve grandchildren.  In addition to raising a family, she worked in real estate management for almost thirty years. Alisa has always been very active in Jewish causes – she was Chair of the Woman’s United Jewish Appeal Campaign and on the Board of both Israel Cancer Research Fund and Shaare Tzedek Hospital.

The Finders left behind them their beautiful hilltop villa and extensive property in Krakow owned by Alisa’s grandfather, Jacob Finder, including a huge flour mill and bakery complex that had been founded by him in 1922. Alisa has a copy of an order signed by a German Judge in 1941 transferring the property from her grandfather to a representative of the German government. Despite their many attempts, Alisa and her older sister, Miriam, have never received restitution or compensation from Poland for their family’s property, now worth millions of dollars – the villa no longer exists, but the flour mill was transformed into trendy loft apartments.

Alisa Sorkin

Alisa supports passage of the JUST Act as she believes that this legislation “brings us closer to receiving a measure of justice that we greatly deserve.” 

She is proud of Senator Schumer for doing the right thing and strongly advocating for the bill’s passage. Although Alisa says that, fortunately, she doesn’t need the money today in order to live or survive, but her parents , who were once so well-off, needed it after the War and “there are many Holocaust survivors out there who do need it to live a better life.”

Nate Taffel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

Nate Taffel from Milwaukee, Wisconsin was born in Radomysl Wielki, Poland in 1928.  He was one of 9 children – 7 sisters and a brother. Only he and his brother survived labor camps, concentration camps and a death march. His parents, grandparents and uncles were wealthy farmers.  They owned a lot of land and his family’s house in the town where he grew up was the largest home there.  That home is now a school.

Nate’s reaction to news of passage of the JUST Act was “We survivors cannot afford to wait any longer for justice seventy years after the Nazis took everything from us.”  Nate is thankful to Senator Baldwin “for all her efforts to help Holocaust survivors achieve a measure of justice with the passage of the Just Act.”

Irene Weiss (Fairfax, Virginia)

Irene Weiss (née Fogel) was born in 1930 in Bótrágy, Czechoslovakia (now Batrad, Ukraine). When Nazi Germany dismembered Czechoslovakia in 1939, Bótrágy, located in Subcarpathian Rus came under Hungarian rule.

Her father, Meyer, owned a lumber business in the neighboring town of Batyu. After the Hungarians took over they confiscated Jewish businesses, including her father’s lumber business.

Over a two-month period beginning in May 1944, nearly 425,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau, including Irene and her family. Irene was 13 years old.  Upon arrival at the camp, her mother, three younger siblings and older brother were killed. Her father was killed a few weeks later.

After 8 months of slave labor in Birkenau, Irene, her older sister, and two aunts were forcibly evacuated on foot from Auschwitz in January 1945 to Ravensbruck and Neustadt-Glewe.  With the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Irene, her sister and one aunt immigrated to New York in 1947.

Irene married Martin Weiss in 1949 and they moved to northern Virginia in 1953. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from American University and taught in the Fairfax County Public school system for 13 years. Martin passed away in January 2013. Irene has 3 children, four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. A volunteer at the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum, Irene is a frequent speaker about her experiences.

In January 2015, Irene was a Member of the Presidential Delegation to the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In July 2015, Irene was a co-plaintiff in the trial of former SS-Unterscharführer Oskar Groning in Luneburg Germany and a co-plaintiff in the trial of former SS-Unterscharfuhrer Reinhold Hanning in Detmold Germany in February 2016.

In response to the passage of the JUST Act, Irene said, “I want to express my appreciation to Senator Tammy Baldwin, Senator Marco Rubio and the entire U.S. Senate for supporting the JUST Act and, through this legislation, helping Holocaust survivors achieve a small measure of justice for our material loss. My family had property — a house, land and a lumber business – that was taken from us and for which we were never granted restitution or justice.  I have memories of a wonderful childhood, which the Nazis and their collaborators shattered during World War II. The property owned by my family is the only connection I have to those memories and to my past.”