EFTA Message from Ann:
Although it’s been a long time since I’ve written, a lot does happen every week. I apologize for not being more of a ‘keep-up-to-date-with-the-blog’ person. I prefer to do actions than report on them—but I’ll try to be in better touch.
However I’d like to share a recent experience with you. I just returned from Israel, where I spent treasured time, not only with my own family, but also with a family that feels almost like my own. I first met them more than 20 years ago, when a photo was identified at my Detroit exhibition premiere.
Thirty years ago, when I first saw these cherished photos from Auschwitz-Birkenau, I studied thousands of unidentified people—looking for family resemblances. Nowhere did I found as many pictures of any one person as of Binim Cukierman (pictured here). I saw pictures of Binim as an athlete with his sports club; of Binim playing violin with the Bendin orchestra; of Binim skiing on Polish slopes. I wondered if Binim Cukierman was the most popular person in town; he certainly was the person whose photo was carried to Auschwitz more than that of anyone else.
Over many years, his picture had been identified by many survivors—I learned his name; I learned his family’s story, and I even heard about their famous pastry shop, a shop so popular that people sometimes traveled 100 kilometers just to eat their delicious desserts. But I never met anyone from the family until…
…until a survivor approached me after my first Detroit exhibit in the ’90’s, pointed to Binim’s portrait, and proclaimed: “There is only one person left in the world; he lives in Israel; he is my friend, and do you want me to call him?” My answer was resounding yes. A few days later I was in Israel.
When I met Cvi, Binim’s nephew, the last surviving member of the Cukierman Family, I brought him 60 photos of his family! Most of the photos featured Binim. A few featured his aunts, uncles, grandparents and one treasured photo even showed his father, Moshe. Cvi, who had not been able to shed a tear since the war, movingly told me: “Now I can show my family who I am, and who I came from. You have released my tears.
Now I can die a rich man!”
When I asked Cvi about his uncle, he told me that Binim was ‘the best uncle in the world’ and that Binim, who was a bachelor until just a few months before the war started, always took his nieces and nephews on wonderful adventures: It was Binim who taught Cvi how to swim, who bought him his first bicycle, who taught him how to ski.
Cvi also told me about his family’s famous pastry shop, named Gayle Rifkele (Blond Rebecca) and how everyone in the family worked there together. And through Cvi, I learned about his family’s generosity to others, where, every Sabbath (Friday afternoon) and holidays, heaping baskets of food were delivered anonymously to poor families in town, when the whole Cukierman family was together.
Cvi died very suddenly. Even to this day, it’s hard to believe he’s not here.In truth, even if my time is limited, I can never imagine being in Israel without visiting Cvi’s beloved family—his widow, Mina (who made incredible gefilte fish for me,
with their younger daughter Sarah)
Their older daughter Ronit, her husband Eitan and their daughter, Einat, came to visit with little grandson, Noam.
It was a beautiful reunion with people I love—and the feeling and memory of Cvi, the head of this family who linked us all together, was felt very deeply by those of us whom he loved, those of us who love him still.