While a portion of my time interning at UNCA’s Special Collections was spent transcribing the oral histories of Hilde Hoffman, Richard Braun, and John Rosenthal, I spent the majority of my internship processing the Sharon Fahrer Holocaust Collection, a brand new collection to UNCA, from beginning to end. There’s plenty of technical jargon that I could use to describe everything that I did, but I don’t think many people (save for librarians, archivists, and maybe historians) would enjoy that. Let it suffice to say that I gained an intimate knowledge of every single document and picture in this collection. As an aspiring archivist with a background in history, I was excited about this project from the very beginning. I was going to see things that no other patron had ever seen! I was going to make it possible for this collection to be viewed by the world! Thanks to my work, the world was going to have access to a previously untold part of Jewish and Holocaust history! What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the “story” behind my work that would leave me devastated, shocked, inspired, and in awe.
This is the last segment of my Remembering the Holocaust series, and it is very special to me. It was an unbelievable pleasure and honor to work with Sharon Fahrer and her new collection. Now, originally this was intended to be a physical exhibit, but that is no longer possible (courtesy of Covid-19), so I’ve decided to create a sort of digital exhibit of some of my favorite pieces from the collection instead. The individuals discussed below are members of the Majerowicz family that were affected by the Holocaust. However, the full collection includes information on Sharon’s father, Irving Cantor, as well as other materials relating to Sharon’s research into her family’s history. I hope you are as inspired by the Majerowiczes remarkable journey as I was.
Arthur Majerowicz was a German Jew, draftsman, and Sharon’s grandfather. He married Marie, a German non-Jew, and had three children: Kurt, Irma, and Ruth. While much of Arthur’s experiences during the holocaust remains unknown, we do know that Arthur successfully remained hidden from the Nazis for the entire duration of the war! We know this because, as if evading the Nazis wasn’t incredible enough, Arthur reunited with Marie and their family after the Holocaust.
Arthur and Marie resumed their life together, living in a German displaced persons camp. Although Marie was not born Jewish, she and Arthur both held memberships to the Israelite Religious Community in Munich after the war, as can be seen from their membership cards to the right. Eventually, Arthur and Marie followed their daughter, Irma, and her husband Irving to the United States and living out their remaining years in New York.
While Arthur’s file doesn’t have any primary sources from his time in hiding, it has a wealth of information about his life before and after the war, such as this certificate Arthur received for passing an exam that certified him in his field of work. This certificate, dated October 4th, 1911, was issued to Arthur after working in the field from 1907 to 1911.
Marie, Sharon’s grandmother, had quite a different experience from the rest of her family. Since Marie was not Jewish, she was not forced into a concentration camp. Instead, Marie suffered in a much different way. She continued living and working in Berlin, but she had to sit back and watch as her husband and children either faced persecution or fled to other countries where they would be safe.
She had to read falsely cheery postcards from her son, who was in a workcamp, as well as the (clearly insincere and uncaring) letter the Nazis sent her when her son perished. She had to live with the anxiety everyday that her husband may be found. She had to send her youngest daughter to the Kindertransport program so that she could be taken away from her and sent to another country, where she would be safe.
On a table in her Berlin apartment, Marie kept pictures of all the Majerowicz family members (pictured in the background of the photo to the left), including the daughter-in-law and granddaughter (age two or three) who she never got to meet as both of them perished in a concentration camp. Undoubtedly a strong woman, Marie lived through the war, reunited with her husband and two out of three of her children, moved to the United States, and lived out the rest of her days.
Sigfried’s story is a tragic one. Brother of Arthur and beloved uncle of Irma Majerowicz, Sharon’s mother, Sigfried did not live through the Holocaust. Not only was Sigfried Jewish, he was also openly homosexual. This was not one but two marks against him in the Nazis’ eyes.
Even if he had not been Jewish, he most likely would have been targeted by Hitler simply because he was a gay man. Knowing that he was surely marked for death, Sigfried took his own life rather than face torture at the hands of the Nazis.
Kurt, Sharon’s uncle, was the only son of Arthur and Marie Majerowicz. After the rise of the Nazis, Kurt fled to the Netherlands where he lived in several refugee camps as well as with a Dutch woman in Amsterdam before ending up in Westerbork, a work camp for Jews. This camp later became the transportation center for the deportation of Dutch Jews who were sent to concentration camps.
It was at Westerbork that Kurt met Rita Schlachet, a refugee from Austria. The two were married and had a baby girl, Marie. Eventually they were shipped off to concentration camps in Germany. Rita and baby Marie were sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered by the Nazis shortly after being transported. Marie was only a couple years old at the time of her death. Kurt was sent to Gros Rosen where he survived a little longer, but he eventually perished in Buchenwald.
Kurt’s mother received a very insincere letter regarding his death. A stolperstein, or a “stumbling stone,” was purchased later on by the family in Kurt’s memory. Stolpersteine are brass plates that are inscribed with Holocaust victims’ names and life dates. These plates are then fixed into sidewalks of various cities that participate in this program. Kurt’s stolperstein is located in Berlin.
Irma Majerowicz Cantor
Irma Majerowicz was Sharon’s mother and the eldest daughter of Arthur and Marie. Being of working age when the Holocaust began, Irma sought a way out of the country to escape the Nazis. Her opportunity came to her in the form of a test. Irma applied to a program that sent women to England to work as domestics in wealthy households. If Irma could clean a house spotless from top to bottom, she would be allowed to travel to England, where she could work cleaning the houses of wealthy people.
Irma passed the test with flying colors and proceeded to England, where she met Irving Cantor, and American soldier and her future husband. Before she left for England, though, Irma visited Westerbork, where she saw her brother Kurt one last time. The photograph to the right is the last time Irma ever saw her brother alive.
Irma followed Irving to the United States where they were wed at the Bay Shore Jewish center in New York. Irma lived out most of her life in New York state before following Sharon to Asheville where she lived for eleven years until her death at age 91.
Ruth Majerowicz Savoca
Ruth was Sharon’s aunt and the youngest child of Arthur and Marie. Ruth’s story is very different from that of her parents and siblings. Born in 1929, Ruth was quite young when the Holocaust began and was unable to apply to work programs like her sister Irma. Instead, Ruth qualified for the Kindertransport, a program that worked to get children out of Nazi territory.
The children were safely relocated in England where they were placed with families. At a young age, Ruth was take away from her family, friends, and country and thrown into a completely different world. Ruth was fortunate to be placed with extended family in England, but the experience of being uprooted and taken to a new country must have been difficult nonetheless. Having her life altered so drastically undoubtedly affected Ruth’s strength of will and perseverance. By age fourteen, Ruth was on her own in England and working as a secretary.
Eventually, Ruth also made her way to the United States with the help of her sister’s husband, Irving Cantor, who sponsored her. Ruth settled in New York like her sister and parents. After relocating to the United States, Ruth met her husband, Frank Savoca. Before her death, Ruth and Sharon were able to participate in a reparations trip to Germany. Ruth was also able to connect with other individuals who had been Kindertransport children and had this unique experience during the war.
I hope this online exhibit has given you a glimpse into the different experiences that the Majerowiczes lived during the Holocaust. If you are interested in learning more about their journey, feel free to peruse the finding aid for the collection. Once the pandemic has passed and UNCA’s Special Collection is open once more, I would encourage each and every one of you to visit Special Collections at Ramsey Library to learn more about their collections on Jewish History and the remarkable stories these collections hold.
– Kristen Byrnes