Nathan Biren (Birenzweig) was born in Lodz, Poland, on May 24, 1908, to Nacha and Berish. The oldest of eight children, Nathan’s brothers were Max and Chaim; his sisters were Tama, Sala, Bronia, Rivka and Mina. His grandmother lived with the family until her death.
His father owned a shoe store where he and his brother, Max, worked. Although raised in an Orthodox home, they would often “sneak” out to the local dance club. Nathan loved all kinds of music and loved to dance. Whether he was singing an old Yiddish standard or Joe Cocker’s,“You are so Beautiful To Me” to his beloved granddaughter, he demonstrated his range and appreciation of melody and tunes. He read the classics and loved the theater.
As a young adult Nathan was drafted into the Polish army where he learned to ride horses. He had a natural affinity with animals and they responded to his innate warmth and nurturing. After the Nazis invaded Poland, he and his family were forced to move into the Lodz Ghetto. Later they were sent to several concentration camps, ending up in Auschwitz. Nathan, together with his father Berish and brother Max, endured the death march from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen. While he and his brother survived, his father did not. Nathan was liberated by Patton’s army while imprisoned in Dachau. My father used to tell me how his fellow prisoners became ill when they ate the rations that the soldiers handed them with such good intentions. The prisoners were so hungry that they ate too quickly and their systems, deprived of food for so long, could not digest the rich food.
Nathan was married before the war and had one daughter. Neither his wife, Luba, nor his child, Rifka, survived. His sisters were also married before the war, but there was no record of anyone having survived. His brother, Chaim, had died in the ghetto.
Sala Biren (Rosenberg-Birenzweig) was born in Lodz, Poland, on November 11, 1925, to Miriam and Szymon Rosenberg. She was the oldest of five children. Her sisters were Rozka, Yosel, Bela and Pinchas. She had two brothers, one born before her and one after her. They both died at very early ages. Her mother was expecting another child when she was sent to Auschwitz.
Sala often spoke of the large rooms of their apartment where wedding celebrations would be held. Her mother, who always was dressed in the latest fashion, was known for her baking and cooking skills. Sala was more of a “tomboy” who preferred to jump and run and had her share of scrapes and scratches along with a broken arm. But she had a tenacious nature and ability to assess situations quickly. After her family was put in the Lodz Ghetto, she found ways to find food for her family. It was during this time that her father died of typhus.
Sala and her family were sent to Auschwitz. After going though the selection line at Auschwitz, she never saw her family again. Sala also survived Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. She would tell us of the hunger and bitter cold in the camps with only thin grey shifts on their backs and wooden shoes on their feet.
Sala met Nathan after liberation while she was in line for food at a DP camp and Nathan was one of the men serving. He took one look and said, “This is the one for me!” They married and settled in Wiesenberger, Germany, where their first child, a daughter, Nancy, was born in 1947. Soon after they were able to emigrate to the United States sponsored by Sala’s mother’s brother, Abe Abramowitz. They arrived in New York and traveled to Rochester, New York, where they lived until their death. At the beginning Nathan would go to the movies not only as a form of entertainment, but also as a useful tool to understand English.
Although my parents also had an opportunity to emigrate to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where her mother’s brother had gone before the war, traveling with an 18 month old child would have been dangerous and risky. Sala did visit her uncle and his family there twice. Treated like royalty, one of her biggest regrets was that her husband and two children never got to meet this wonderful family. Somehow, communication with his surviving children has been lost.
Sala had her second child, Sheldon, in 1954. Both Sala and Nathan worked at Bonds Clothing. Sala later went to work at Gerber’s Baby Food where she inspected glass jars. Sala was quite proud that she could spot a “bad” jar and dump it off the line before it could go into production.
She became an excellent cook and baker and often entertained guests for holidays and get togethers with other survivors. Her greatest joy was the arrival of her grandchildren. Zachary, Monica, and Aaron. She lived long enough to see a great grand daughter, Logan, and just two weeks before her death, another great grand daughter, Nora, named after her beloved husband, Nathan.
Biography written by Nancy Hiller, Daughter