Holocaust survivors, candy store, and Mafia make unusual family memories
Surviving in a Nazi concentration camp, and ending up in an American neighborhood full of gangsters, could be enough to make anyone fearful or bitter. But with a little help, Helen Pinczewski and her family not only survived, but thrived.
The family story – that of Hélène; her husband, David; and their young children – was recounted by their son, Dr. Solomon Pinczewski of Poway and Linda Rosenberg in “From Bergen-Belsen to Brooklyn”.
It is the first book by Pinczewski and the second by Rosenberg, who teaches English in San Diego.
“I actually started the book over 20 years ago recording conversations with my mom and dad,” Pinczewski said. “I felt that most of the people who survived the concentration camps never had a history involving the Mafia.”
Bergen-Belsen was a concentration camp in Germany. It is the same camp where Anne Frank died. Pinczewski says his parents met in the camp.
After five years in the camp – from 1940 to 1945 – her mother weighed only 80 pounds when she was released.
“She had typhus and all kinds of health problems,” he said. “And she had been hit on the head; a British surgeon operated on his head and saved his life.
Her father was in the camp for four years and released at the same time. However, it took a while for each to find out that the other was still alive.
“Once she recovered, she went to find my father,” he said. “Since she was bald after the operation, her friends made her a wig. She was riding in the back of a motorcycle and had to hold onto her luggage and her wig with both hands. Of course, they eventually met and got married in December 1945.
Pinczewski was born in 1948 and the family remained in Germany until 1949. After being sponsored by a relative the same year, the family moved to Brooklyn.
Needing an income, her father decided to open a candy store, as it required relatively little money. Neither parent spoke English at first. The family lived in a small room behind the store in a predominantly Italian neighborhood.
“I slept on store crates and a mattress on top,” Pinczewski said. “The room was only about 500 square feet. “
What the young family didn’t realize was that the 19th Hole – the bar and club next door – was the meeting place for the five Mafia families.
“We were in a neighborhood totally controlled by the Mafia,” Pinczewski said. “The gangsters were vicious people. “
But as described in his book, Pinczewski says his mother “quickly charmed the local Mafia boss, who admired his wit and his sense of humor and decided that the numbers tattooed on his arm were proof that” she had suffered enough.
“He helped my parents in a lot of cases, like when gangsters tried to convince my father to sell stolen goods,” he said. “My mother took care of all the gangsters. My father was very angry and they would have killed him without her.
Pinczewski describes his mother as “the Jewish version of Sophia, Dorothy’s fictional mother on ‘The Golden Girls’ TV show. “That’s the kind of person she was,” he said.
“My parents were able to make a living off the confectionery and I was able to make friends of all kinds and faiths,” said Pinczewski. “It gave me and my younger brother – born 12 years after me – the opportunity to be Americans, which they really wanted.
“I consider it a sweet time, as difficult as it has been,” he said. “It’s amazing that life turned out the way it did for us. I became a dentist and my brother is a prominent lawyer in New York.
Now 73, Pinczewski and his wife, Ellen, have lived in Poway for 31 years. They knew the area and moved here to retire. Their daughters, Jessica and Jacqueline, attended Poway schools.
Jessica, 43, and her husband have two young sons. The family moved from New York to Rancho Bernardo during the pandemic. Jacqueline, 36, is also married and teaches special education in New York City.
“I am so happy to be able to leave this legacy to my grandchildren,” said Pinczewski. “It will be wonderful for them to know their heritage. He added, “My mother knew I was writing it. I wish it was over before she passed away.
“From Bergen-Belsen to Brooklyn” can be ordered through Amazon, priced at $ 14.99 for the paperback and $ 7.99 for the Kindle version.