The question is often posed: What will happen when there are no more Holocaust survivors to bear witness to the past?
That question became more poignant this week in New Orleans, as two survivors, both of whom were active in telling their stories across the region, died.
Henry Galler, known as “Mr. Henry the Tailor,” died on Oct. 14 in Dallas, Tex., where he and his wife had lived since Hurricane Katrina. They had been New Orleans residents since 1962.
Born on June 14, 1921, Galler grew up in Oleszyce, Poland. On Rosh Hashanah one year, he, his father and one brother were taken by the Nazis at their home, to build a bridge. He worked in forced labor camps in Poland and Russia until being freed in 1941 when the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany.
He went back to Poland to enlist in the fight against the Nazis, but was refused entry to the Polish army because he was Jewish. He returned and told the officer that he had made a mistake in saying he was Jewish, was enlisted, and with his blond hair was able to pass as a Pole for the rest of the war, hiding his Jewishness.
When he returned to Oleszyce after the war, the entire Jewish community was gone. He visited his childhood home, which had been given to a villager three years earlier. Two years later he found a friend from the town, attended his wedding and discovered his childhood sweetheart, Eva Vogel, had survived. Vogel’s family had been deported to a concentration camp, but on the way her father told three of the oldest children to jump from the train. Two were shot and killed, Eva survived. She posed as a Polish Christian during the war, attending mass each week while living in a work camp.
They went to Sweden, where they were married, then eight years later came to the United States in 1954 when it was their turn under a quota. They lived in New York until deciding they wanted to live in a smaller community. In 1962 they moved to New Orleans where Galler established a tailoring business, while Eva taught Hebrew to generations of New Orleans Bar and Bat Mitzvah students.
Since the 1990s, the Gallers told their story through the Southern Institute for Education and Research, established in 1994 as an outgrowth of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, which had countered David Duke’s campaigns. They told their story throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
They evacuated just before Katrina, and were helped by the Jewish community of Lake Charles before making their way to Dallas. Their house was flooded, as was the tailor shop on Jackson Avenue, and after salvaging some items they realized they could not move back.
In an interview with Katrina’s Jewish Voices from the Jewish Women’s Archive, daughter Marilynn said exposure to post-Katrina elements likely exacerbated her mother’s frail condition. Eva fell ill in mid-November 2005 and died in Dallas on Jan. 5, 2006.
Galler is survived by three daughters and sons-in-law, Janina Galler and Burton Rabinowitz of Boston, Massachusetts, Marilynn and David Wohlstadter of Dallas, Texas, and Linda Galler and Murray Singer of Port Washington, N.Y; and eight grandchildren.
On Oct. 17, Felicia Lewkowitz Fuksman, a Holocaust survivor from Poland who traveled the Deep South teaching about the dangers of human evil and the fragility of civilization, died in New Orleans.
Fuksman was born “Feiga” Lewkowitz on May 20, 1920 in Lodz, Poland. She was returning home from visiting her grandmother in 1939 when the Germans arrived in her town and the Jews were rounded up into a ghetto. She witnessed the “evacuation” of tens of thousands of Jews to the Chelmno death camp, but with her pre-war experience in nursing, Felicia was labeled a “skilled worker” and avoided countless “selections” for deportation. She was the only one in her family to survive.
In August 1944 Mrs. Fuksman was transported to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. She was liberated by Russian soldiers at a labor camp in Wittenberge, Germany, in May 1945. After a stay at a “displaced persons” camp in Berlin, she immigrated to the United States in 1949 and took the train from New York to New Orleans in 1950. She met Max Fuksman, a fellow survivor from Lodz, who had been staying across the street. They married in 1951 and proceeded to have three daughters, Roslyn, Beth and Abbie.
For many years the Fuksmans owned Fox Furniture on Magazine St. Max Fuksman died in 1982. He was one of the first survivors to speak about the Holocaust, and Felicia decided to continue his legacy. For many years she traveled across the Deep South, participating in teacher workshops and making presentations at schools. “There is not a day, a night, not to dream of my people.”
She was president and member of the New American Social Club, the Jewish Community Center, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women and Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation. For her tireless efforts in Holocaust education, Felicia was honored in October 2004 at a reception at the Tulane President’s residence and given the Distinguished Volunteer Award by the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University.
In addition to her three daughters, she is survived by her sons-in-law, Neal Morris, Gary Hellman, Ron Leopold and her five grandchildren, Jeremy Morris, Max Morris (Karli), Everett Morris, Mallory Hellman and Max Leopold. The family would like to express its appreciation to her caregivers for their love and attention, Annett Roth, Ella Bates, Tichia Taylor and Doris Marshall.
Funeral services will be held on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 11:30 from the Metairie home of Tharp-Sontheimer-Tharp, 1600 N. Causeway Blvd at 43rd St., with visitation beginning at 10:30 a.m. Rabbi Ethan Linden officiating. Interment in Chevra Thilim Memorial Park, New Orleans.