Earlier this year, on Holocaust Memorial Day 2023, I gave a lecture on the experiences of four Jewish Slovak survivors from the AJR Refugee Voices Archive, one of them my mother. This was the first time I publicly spoke about her history. A few days before the event I received an e-mail from Vivian Hassan- Lampert, saying that her mother Erika Hassan, who had survived the war in my mother's hometown Piestany, would like to get in touch with Dr Gertrud Friedmann, as she recognised Gertrud's photo on the publicity for the event. Vivian and her mother did not know that Gertrud was my mother and that she had passed away in 2020. They were as surprised as I when I first told them about my connection to Gertrud and we arranged a Zoom meeting. I was keen to find out how Erika knew Gertrud and what she remembered. It turned out that their paths crossed in Piestany between 1945 and 1946, where they both found themselves part of a small group of children who had survived the Holocaust. Erika, then Erika Winter, was from Bratislava and had survived the war with her sister in hiding in Piestany. My mother had returned to her hometown Piestany after surviving the war in hiding in Zilina and in the mountains near Banska Bystrica. In Gertrud's testimonies and in her manuscript, she describes how difficult it was to come back to Piestany after the war, to return to a town, where most of her friends, her classmates, her teachers and her neighbours were absent. The children of the same age of Gertrud and Erika had almost no chance of survival if they were deported with their families. Out of the 1500 Jewish population in pre-war Piestany, only 200 Jewish men, women, and children survived and returned. While Gertrud and her parents stayed in Piestany until 1964, Erika, her sister, and mother emigrated to the USA to be reunited with Erika's father. A few weeks ago, I found a small photograph in a box of other photographs. On its back it in my mother's handwriting '1945, survivors'. Both my mother and her sister Edith are in the photograph. I asked Erika if she could identify the people on the photo and she could. Although Erika is not on the photo, as she thinks by the time the photo was taken, they might have emigrated, this photo shows some of the children who lived in Piestany just after the war. Erika told me that she knew Gertrud through the Jewish Youth Movement 'Hashomer Hazair'. As Gertrud was older, she might have been one of her leaders. But the main think Erika remembered was my mother's nickname 'Papulka'. Thank you, Erika, for remembering my mother and inspiring me to embark on 'Project Papulka'.
Here is a short recording of my Zoom meeting with Erika and her daughter Vivian.
This is the photo I found recently, with my mother's handwriting on the back.
The children identified by Erika Hassan are: 1st row, left to right: Bulbul Sonnenschein and Eva Faberova. 2nd row, left to right: 3rd child is Aliska Herzogova and her sister Erika.
My mother is on the right of 2nd row, (aged 16) circled in blue and her sister Edith is the same row on the other side. I wonder how the children depicted here survived the war and what happened to them afterwards. Gertrud went back to school and finished her A-Levels, while her sister Edith emigrated to the newly founded state of Israel in 1948.