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June 17, 2016  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Book chronicles Rinde family’s Holocaust survivor story

Jewish Press staff report

Few Jews survived the Holocaust without the aid of others, and in the case of John Rinde of Largo and his sister Irene Skolnick of Sanibel Island, many took risks to protect them.

Perhaps the most critical decision that saved their family, living in Poland at the time, sprang from the intuition of their mother, Stella Rinde.

It was she who stubbornly defied her husband, Maurice, and insisted the family hide all signs of being Jewish and assume Aryan identities. She is also the one who insisted they move to a new town and pose as Catholics. Her husband agreed that she could do that for herself and the children, but he would not surrender his Jewish identity.

But as more Jews were rounded up for death camps, and in spite of his objections, Stella obtained counterfeit identities for herself and her husband and told their son Jacob, 7, that his new name was John, and their daughter Ruth, 5, that her new name was Irene. The children were taught not to use their birth names or do anything to reveal they were Jews. It did not hurt that Stella herself was blonde, blue eyed and had what Skolnick describes as an Ayran nose. Skolnick notes that she inherited her mother’s blue eyes, but still said the family had much to learn to pass as Catholics.

The story of the family’s amazing survival is recounted by Skolnick in her book In the Shadow of Majdanek: Hiding in Full Sight, a Holocaust story of survival.

The book chronicles the family’s life in a town in Poland that fell under Soviet control, and how they were under threat of being sent to Siberia. Later, Germans occupied the town and sent all Jews to a ghetto, from which many were eventually sent to death camps.

After the family assumed new identities, they moved to Lubin, Poland, where they were unknown. Their home, where eventually many relatives came to hide out in the attic, was less than a mile from the Nazi death camp, Majdanek.

John and Irene’s father held a job that involved almost daily interactions with the Gestapo and the perils of harboring so many relatives also led to constant fears, but throughout the war time, friends and strangers aided in keeping the family alive.

Things did not improve much when the Red Army swept the Germans out, but after the war ended, Irene and John’s family made it to France and eventually the United States.

Ironically, after John Rinde came to the U.S., he met and married a Jewish woman from Poland, Toni Igel, who also survived the Holocaust when her parents arranged for to be hidden with a Catholic woman who passed Toni off as her niece and raised her during the war years as a Catholic. Rinde went on to become a physician, practicing in Clearwater for many years.

Skolnick noted that because her family and many relatives were saved by enduring the war near the Majdanek death camp, there have been dozens of offspring from that family group, many of them living in America. She said she wrote the book to preserve the legacy of her family and for the family descendents to know what her parents endured. She said she also wrote the book to refute the Holocaust deniers.

Skolnick’s book is available locally at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg or at the Judaica shop at Temple B’nai Israel, 1685 S. Belcher Road, Clearwater.

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