Bessie Mittelman

"I believe that we live in a time that Jewish people have it better than at any other time in Jewish history: we have freedom, we have Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel).  I hope we realize this, and that we stand up straight because of this, that Hashem gave this land, after 2000 years.   I feel that we shouldn’t forget about it or take it for granted.  We should be grateful and make the most of it.  It’s important to be flowing over with gratitude.  Hashem gave us this... (continued below)"

Name at birth
Basya Ruth Sturm
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Name of father, occupation
David, Partly a mechanic, a decorator, did windows
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Leah Kovens or Kovatch, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Father, me and Harry. My grandmother couldn't come with us. She survived the war, she was hidden by people in Austria.
Who survived the Holocaust?
My bother and I, an uncle and his wife in Israel an one in Russia. The others didn't survive.
 Hitler had come to Austria the year before my mother passed away. I was 6 years old when my mother passed away from complications during childbirth with my brother. My father was devastated. It was very difficult. My Oma lived with us at the time. My father took us to Belgium, illegally.  He wanted to save us where there was no Hitler and no Germans.  I remember my father holding my 2 year old brother when we were walking through a forest to get into Belgium.  But Hitler came to Belgium also.                 
My Oma survived the war in Austria. She couldn’t come with us, but she was hidden by a family and did survive.  My father was one of six brothers. When we left Austria I was young, about 8 years old. So I don’t remember everything. My father took my brother and I to Belgium to escape the war in the fall of 1938.  We went illegally. I remember walking through the forest with my father holding my 2 year old brother Harry. 
We left Vienna because things were getting exceedingly difficult. I remember the evening of Kristallnacht. My family and I were in our house. The phone rang and my dad hung up and left the house quickly.  Some Germans came looking for him, they left the house in complete disarray but my father managed to escape.  When I was an adult, I realized that this was Kristallnacht.
Shortly there after, we left. My father tried to get us into Switzerland, but it didn’t work.  It’s not like we had a lot of money or anything. And in Belgium, before Hitler came, a Jewish family helped refugees and we went to live with them. My father tried to get work but it was hard to find.  It was far from a normal life.  Then we wound up in a big refugee camp in Belgium.  I remember a big march where Jews and Gentiles tried to get away from the Germans. We took to the road with thousands of other people. There were bombs falling around us, there were dead people and dead animals on the road.  I’ll never forget the stench.  We were all fleeing the Nazis, but eventually they caught up to us, it was futile to go any further.  We went back to Belgium
I don’t remember where we went after, somewhere in Belgium, first in Antwerp and then later in Brussels.  We had nothing. Maybe after that we ended up in the refugee camp. Then we ended living in Brussels.
My father remarried Selma Lemler in Vienna.  She was good to us.  Our family lived in a one room house with a small kitchen. My stepmother would cook potatoes and watered-down milk.  I couldn’t quite absorb everything that was happening.  But at that point we were still allowed to go to school.  My father took a course in pedicure where he made little money.  
And then came a letter.  Supposedly Germans took Jews only to work.  My father had to report to a work camp. There was no place to go or hide.  My father decided to take my brother and me to a Jewish orphanage to hopefully spare our lives.  Then my father was sent to France.  From there he was sent to Maline and then to Auschwitz.  
My stepmother, found a family to live with.  But when the Germans found my stepmom they made her go to the orphanage to find my brother and me.  It was a Jewish orthodox orphanage.  A man named Yona Tiefenbruner started it and dedicated his life to helping children. So when my stepmother arrived at the orphanage with the Germans, Yona Tiefenbruner managed to convince them that we were not really her children. And they allowed us to stay.  She went to Auschwitz and died there with my father. 
I choose to think that my father knows that we survived because he brought us to the orphanage.  And what a beautiful life we have because of what he did.  I am forever grateful for the good lives that we have everyday. I talk to Hashem (G-d) about it quite often.  I try to be thankful everyday.  I feel my husband and I are the luckiest people. We have all this wonderful family and a little bit to help other people.  So thank G-d.
We were in the orphanage from 1942 to 1948.  At the time the Germans in Belgium said they didn’t take children (or so they said); they only took grown-ups to work.  But that wasn’t true.  They left a token of children, maybe one, two orphanages or about thirty children to maintain their lies about not taking children.  
The Germans started coming for children that were about 15 or 16.  My brother and I were young and the head of the orphanage watched out for his “kids.”  He was like a father to us.  He said goodnight to us every night.  
He had to go everyday to report to the Gestapo.  Every day he takes an older child with him who would stay about a block away.  If he did not come back from the Gestapo, the kid had orders to run back home and help evacuate the children.  He had arranged for some of the Christian neighbors to take in some Jewish kids if something happened to him. They agreed to do this at their own risk.
The war ended in 1945.  It was tremendous.  We were in Belgium.  I remember there was a priest in a church who took us all in with cots for all of us to sleep.  We all knew that if the Germans had to flee they wouldn’t leave anyone alive.  But we knew the American’s liberated us.  We took to the streets with millions of other Belgians, it was hard to describe.  
Then they sent me to Davos, Switzerland because I had tuberculosis, that’s where my husband and I met, he had tuberculosis also.  There were a lot of young people there. A lot of people were there who contracted tuberculosis from the concentration camps.  We met playing ping-pong and by the time the game was finished, I left with him.  We got married in November 1948.  
My husband had family in America which is why we came here.  We first went to Springfield, Illinois where his oldest brother lived but realized there was not much of an orthodox Jewish community there.  We then moved to Detroit where my husband’s other brother lived.  Eventually we were able to bring my brother to America.
My brother was in Antwerp.  Harry started working in refrigeration.  He now lives in West Bloomfield with his family, Harry Sturm.
Where were you in hiding?
Orphanage in Belgium
When did you come to the United States?
In 1954 we came to this country with three babies
We now have six children. Yakov, Leah, Esther, Dina, David and Noemi
Twenty-two: Yakov’s – Avital, Akiva, Yochanan, Avrami, Dovid Aryeh. Yisroel, and Miriam Brandie; Leah’s – Eliykum, Rivka, Sara Aliza, Dovid, Daniel, Devorah, and Avi; Dina’s – Gabriel Yitzchak, Rachel, Joshua, Yonantan, and Rebecca; David’s – Bela; Noemi’s – Michal Esther and Sara Aliza Forty great-grandchildren, almost seventy in the family altogether, thank G-d. And we are well and can enjoy it. The tree is still blossoming.
What do you think helped you to survive?
G-d. Absolutely. It was Min Hashemayim, (from Heaven). How could I survive otherwise? I couldn’t have. We were meant to live, Hashem had a purpose for us, that he wanted us to live, and he helped us have this big family and in a way to make good for all of the horrible things that happened. He has a plan to rebuild, there’s no other way to explain it. And my father had the insight to place us into that orphanage.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
I believe that we live in a time that Jewish people have it better than at any other time in Jewish history: we have freedom, we have Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel).  I hope we realize this, and that we stand up straight because of this, that Hashem gave this land, after 2000 years.   I feel that we shouldn’t forget about it or take it for granted.  We should be grateful and make the most of it.  It’s important to be flowing over with gratitude.  Hashem gave us this zechus, (Hebrew for privilege) to replenish the Jewish people.   Observing our religious commandments is what Hashem wants us to do, it’s not so difficult.  We should always be grateful to G-d.    Also I would wish the Jewish people, a good life, like my husband and I have, that Hashem has given us.  Always be grateful of the good things that Hashem sends us.  And also not to forget to help other people less fortunate than we are.    And look at our people, we are an ancient people, we survived, we survived all theories, we are alive and hopefully are doing Hashem’s work.  We should think back on how we all stood on Mt. Sinai, we said we will do and we will listen. We should keep Shabbos (Sabbath).  We should eat kosher food and be a spiritual people, we should think about what we say.  Be dear, be kind to other people, and help them.  And do the Mitzvahs, Hashem’s commandments that he has given us to enrich our lives.   I would like to say to my children, how very fortunate and grateful we are for having all of you and we are so very proud of you.  And the same for the grandchildren.  We’re lucky and we love them so dearly.  We thank G-d that we can enjoy them.  May Hashem watch over you forevermore and keep you to do good work.  
Charles Silow
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