A Refugee Family

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Cibulski Family


    He was born Gershon Cibulski on April 21, 1871 in the then German town of Lautenburg, now known as the Polish town of Lidzbark.  He died in the gas oven of the Hungarian murder camp Malyj Trostenec in September 1942 at the age of 71. His wife was Rosa Markus. She was born in near-by Seeben on January 28, 1875 and she was murdered with him in that same camp.

    Their first son, Heinrich Cibulski, was born in 1896 in Bochum, Germany. Gershon and Rosa had moved to Bochum that year. There Gershon became Gustav. Like many other Polish speaking Jews, whether born on the Prussian or Polish side of the border, the Cibulskis followed the Polish peasants who had come to Germany to work in the steel mills of the Ruhr valley. The Jews had come, not to work in the steel mills, but to sell all kinds of supplies to the Polish steel workers. Gustav Cibulski entered the leather goods business.

   In 1898 the Cibulskis had a second child. Her name was Hedwig. Shortly after her birth the family moved to the large city of Hamburg, which even then had  a Jewish community of 26,000. In view of the fact that Germany never had more than 580,000 Jews, of whom more than 200,000 lived in Berlin, a Jewish community of 26,000 was a considerable community for that country and in that day.

    Having moved to  Hamburg, the Cibulskis had three more children. They were Walter, born in 1901, Alfred, born in 1903, and Else.

    But despite the generally anti-Jewish attitudes which were most pronounced in Germany even before the advent of the Nazi government, the Cibulskis,  like all German Jews, lived that marginal life to which they had been accustomed for hundreds of years.

    All five children attended the Jewish day schools operated by the Jewish community and all graduated from these schools at the age of 14. Then as now, 14 is the age at which most Europeans children leave school, since only a few select are allowed to attend European high schools or Gymnasiums.

    Heinrich Cibulski married a woman from Hanover, a city only 100 miles south of Hamburg and best known for its nobility, who ruled England from 1714 until Queen Victoria died in 1901.  Heinrich and family moved to Hanover sometime in the 1920s, where he established himself in business.  Then came the Great Depression, which began in Germany in 1923.  Heinrich lost all his money and became most despondent. Then, in January of 1933, Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Almost at once all Jews were barred from selling to non-Jews and non-Jews were prohibited from buying from Jews. This destroyed most Jewish businesses, as it was intended to do. When Heinrich was no longer able to support his family he killed himself.  He left behind a wife and two children, who succeeded in moving to Israel despite the British quota system.  To this day the children and grandchildren of Heinrich have continued in Israel, having changed their names from Cibulski, which means little onions, to Hebrew names.

   Hedwig graduated at age 14 from the Jewish girls' day school in Hamburg.  An outstanding student, she had the ambition to become a teacher.  However, her father would hear none of that. He believed,  as  did so many 19th and early 20th century people, that girls should not be given a higher education.  Therefore he sent Hedwig to live with his parents in East Prussia where they maintained a general store.  There Hedwig worked for several years, learning Polish, Russian, Lithuanian and Yiddish, a language which she had heard many times at home.

    After returning to Hamburg, Hedwig worked briefly in an office until she met and married Leonhard in 1923.  Her husband, like almost all other Jews, engaged in business.  He sold beauty parlor equipment.  This included the furniture as well as the machines used in beauty products.  Together with his brother-in-law, Hedwig's brother Walter, he operated a growing business until the Nazi takeover. This led to the prohibition against Jews selling to non-Jews and against non-Jews buying from Jews. This boycott led Walter Cibulski to move to Berlin, where his wife Martha Wolf had relatives who employed him in their business.  Little did he know the dreadful consequences of that move.

  Hedwig and Leonhard had three sons.  Before 1933, all three had been enrolled in the German public schools.  Then, however they were expelled from those schools for being Jewish and thereafter attended only Jewish schools, which were limited in their curriculum to religious and Hebrew subjects.

   Because of the boycott of all Jewish businesses, Leonhard was fortunate to be employed as a bookkeeper by one of his former suppliers, who had the gall to defy the Nazis and employed him, the only Jew in that office, for a short while before the local Gestapo put an end to that.  Soon the Jewish schools were also closed. Then, on November 9 and 10, 1938, all synagogues in Germany were burned to the ground.  Jews were now also expelled from their apartments and prohibited from renting anywhere else.  This forced Jews into labor camps, from which they were generally transported to the death camps in Germany as well as Eastern Europe, and gassed.

   In these circumstances it was a miracle that Hedwig and family were able to escape to America.

   Meanwhile Walter Cibulski and his wife and his children, aged nine and seven, were seized on the 27th of October 1941 and sent to their deaths in the concentration camp near Lodz in Poland.

   Alfred Cibulski married Elsie Kentziora. They had one child, Siegbert. Alfred was employed in a large department store. Like all other Jews, he was deprived of his job and income but succeeded in migrating to the United States in 1938. His wife had relatives in Shreveport, Louisiana. They gave Alfred and family an affidavit of support permitting them to enter the United States. Once there he changed their names to Kent and entered the liquor business of their relatives.  Siegbert became Sidney Kent. 

   Else Cibulski entered a Jewish agricultural preparation camp in Germany with a view of going to Israel and living in a kibbutz. There she met Shmuel Flamm. They were married in 1936 and moved to Israel the day after their wedding.  In Israel they first lived in a kibbutz and later in Netanya. There they raised their children, whose descendents live in Israel to this day.

  This superficial and brief accounting of the Cibulski family depicts the fate of an unknown family. None of the Cibulskis were famous nor did they differ in general from all the other families slaughtered  indiscriminately between 1933 and 1945 in the European Holocaust. I have presented them here precisely because they were so average and their lives a reflection of the lives of so many others like them who lived and died as Jews. Those who were not murdered were scattered all over the world.

    Gershon, or Gustav, and Rosa Cibulski were my grandparents.  Hedwig and Leonhard were my parents.

    They were the minority who were saved by the generosity of a few American Jews. The vast majority were not saved. Then as now few American Jews had an interest in the fate of their fellow Jews overseas. If they paid any intention to the survivors at all they denounced the refugees has arrogant ingrates. The large Jewish organizations, then as now, did nothing to help the newcomers. Nevertheless, almost all who had the good fortune of surviving in the United States succeeded by their own efforts and without the help of anyone in making a new life for themselves in this great country.

Shalom uívracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Man's Ascent to Reason (2003) & the forthcoming Football & American Identity.

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