Remembering our history: JCCA and WW2 refugees

Categories: Donor Profiles, JCCA Spotlight

During and after the Second World War, JCCA helped European Jews as they settled in the United States. Children were placed through our Foster Home Bureau and some adult refugees found work as clinicians and cottage parents on our Westchester Campus.

When Herta Weiss accompanied a recent donation with a brief mention of her family’s WW2 story, we had to know more. To commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 23, we would like to share her family’s story with you.

On November 10, 1938 in Vienna, Bernard Roth and his family experienced Kristallnacht, a night of violence against Jews that occurred throughout Nazi Germany and Austria. The grocery store owned by their parents was forcibly emptied of its goods and the store shut down. Prior to this, Jewish youngsters had been removed from their schools and other wartime hardships endured. It was clear to Bernard’s parents that their two children, aged 13 and 15,  had to be taken to a safer environment and the next year saw them arriving in New York City, alone.  Today, they would be known as immigrant unaccompanied minors. Sadly, because they were unable to obtain visas, their parents died in a concentration camp.

After a few weeks in their new country, one of JCCA’s predecessor agencies, the Foster Home Bureau, placed Bernard and his sister, Herta—who insisted on staying together—in a foster home in the Bronx. “We were given everything by the Bureau—clothing, as well as medical and dental care. This was still the Depression and we had better care than many children,” Bernard explains. Although missing their parents and trying to acclimate to a new culture, the siblings, who had studied English in Vienna, began to feel more comfortable in their new home.

Bernard was at the top of his high school class and eventually graduated from City College of New York. He spent summers in the Catskills’ Borscht Belt, working as a waiter, hoping to become a comedian. Although that was not to be, he earned his Masters degree in Business Administration and served in a variety of managerial positions until he became a Financial Advisor for American Express. Now 91 years old and retired, he has several grandchildren, and is still lively, engaged, and charming. Herta, who was a youthful “natural beauty” according to her daughter, Dorene Watkins, married and raised a family on Long Island, and currently, at age 93, lives in the same apartment building in Manhattan as Dorene, a retired school psychologist. Herta is proud of her thriving family comprising three children, four grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. The family is close and spends many lively holidays together.

Both Bernard and Herta are steadfast donors to JCCA, feeling that their own experience has made it vital to support today’s young people going through difficulties of their own. “We were so grateful to the Foster Home Bureau and know what it’s like to be apart from one’s family with struggles to overcome. It’s important to help these children survive and grow,” says Bernard.