Renate Martha Kaufman

I was born in Essen, Germany in 1937 to a Christian mother and a Jewish father. At the age of six, I was separated from my parents while in Cologne. I was told that this separation was necessary to save me from the bombings. I had no awareness of what it meant to be Jewish. I did not comprehend the danger. My earliest memories of fond and loving parents were replaced by a fear of abandonment. My parents paid a woman to hide me in her home during the early World War II years.

The woman treated me cruelly and forced me to work as a farm laborer. Finally, after two years, my mother was released from a camp, and we were reunited in 1945. We did not learn until later that my father had been deported and he died in transit to Theresiendstadt. I went to live in Cologne where I was educated in business and dress design. I was 25 when I came to America. It was a challenge. I had to start a new life, learn a new language and begin a new profession as a bookkeeper.

Today I live in Rochester surrounded by my family: a daughter, grandson and many friends. I feel as if my experiences have left me without a sense of a national pride. Now my friends and family are my country.

Through art and poetry, I'm able to reflect on my life. I believe it is essential to keep alive the powerful memories of the loss: my father, the rejection of my Jewish upbringing, the denial of childhood and the horrors of persecution. It is said that a victim only dies once: not so, not for me. I hope that my story is a tribute to the human will to live. I think the most important thing one can learn from experiencing the Holocaust is to trust in God.

Biography from the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Project, Monroe Community College
Photograph by Louis Ouzer