Selma Wynberg Engel – Survivor of the Death Camp Sobibor Uprising – Leaves Us

Sobibor Memorial

[photo:  Sobibor memorial]

Two months and twelve days after the prisoner uprising at Treblinka, inmates at Sobibor revolted against the murderous Nazis and attempted to escape.  It was October 14, 1943.  Of the 600 inmates in the camp that day, 200 survived[1].

Sobibor was the second of the triumvirate of Operation Reinhard Death Camps built by the Nazis in Poland (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka).  It began gassing Jews in April of 1942 (Treblinka began July 23, 1943).  Over its 18 months of operation, 165,000 humans were murdered there.[2]

One of the prisoners to escape on that day in October of 1943 was Selma Wynberg.  She died on Tuesday in East Haven, Connecticut at the age of 96.   The New York Times has a beautiful obituary in today’s paper:

After the escape, Selma married another Sobibor escapee, Chaim Engel, and together they moved to Israel in 1951 and then to America in 1957, settling in Connecticut.

You may be familiar with the 1987 movie Escape from Sobibor.  Selma’s character was played by Ellis van Maarseveen.  Also, a 2010 biography was written about Selma by Ad van Liempt, called Selma: De vrouw die Sobibor overleefde (Selma: The Woman Who Survived Sobibor); (ISBN 978-90-74274-42-5, which was made into a documentary on Dutch television (Selma is from the Netherlands).

Sadness over the loss of the survivors must spur us on to continue to tell their stories and learn from their lives.

May her memory be a blessing.

[1] Arad, Yitzchak, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Appendix A, p. 391.

[2] Id.  Compare to Treblinka – 870,000 murdered over 13-16 months.



Museum of Jewish Heritage - outside KIT and SZG

Sesame bagel toasted with cream cheese and pastrami lox – this is what I ate for lunch on Sunday.  As the new flavor of pastrami lox worked its magic on my taste buds, I recognized the obscene irony of sitting in this beautiful café on the second floor of New York’s Jewish Heritage Museum enjoying this hearty lunch with my husband, Shlomo.  My sense of guilt was acute.  I had just walked through the main exhibit filled with pictures of starving humans, shadows of their former selves, suffering at the hands of the Nazis.  Should I feel guilty enjoying my bagel and lox?

It was hard for me to believe, but neither Shlomo nor I had ever been to this Museum.  It is housed in a large, warehouse-looking, tan colored building in lower Manhattan, just off Battery Park.  The Museum is divided into three floors, the first floor depicts life before the Holocaust, the second floor has exhibits about the war years – 1938 – 1945, and the third floor shows life after the Shoah – divided into exhibits about Israel and the United States.  There was much thought that went into the design of the building, from a long corridor that leads to a circular space where we viewed something that looks like a memorial, to the third floor with its view of Ellis Island and its long, squat building – looking ominous, shrouded in fog.

The founders and curators of this museum had the impossible task of simplifying the complexity of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust.  In the beginning of the exhibit, the museum emphasized that though the numbers are large, we must realize that each person murdered or each who suffered, but survived, are real people – each one, an individual with a life and a story.  In order to create an experience that conveys the enormity of what happened in a way that a museum-goer can follow, they had to simplify the history.   They did a magnificent job, given the constraints of space and time.

But it was frustrating – especially as I overheard a docent explaining that Jews in the Warsaw ghetto all went to labor camps or concentration camps.   I held back from stepping in to correct him (I really had to stop myself).  Most Jews in the Warsaw ghetto were stuffed into a train and shipped to Treblinka – the first “transport” arriving on July 23, 1942 – about a month and a half after Sam had been brought there to build the Death Camp.  Most of the remaining Jews in the Warsaw ghetto were murdered during the uprising.  You might say – no need to quibble – concentration camp, death camp – who cares what it’s called.   Well, I do.   Concentration Camps were places of cruelty and death from disease and starvation – horrible places – but they were not Death Camps, they were not Treblinka, where 870,000 people were dead 90 minutes after they stepped off the train.

And yet, it was moving to see the Treblinka uprising – August 2, 1943, proudly noted in the list of resistance attempts.  Knowing that Sam was part of this historical event when a group of Jews at Treblinka said – enough – and revolted against the murderers.   Shlomo had tears in his eyes as we stood before this engraved wall.

Museum of Jewish Heritage - resistance timeline

I feel that My Soul is Filled with Joy: A Holocaust Story helps to achieve the mission of this and other Holocaust museums – thought there is a collective story of what happened to the Jewish people in the Holocaust, we must not lose sight of each person as an individual with feelings, desires, fears – of the Germans, of separation, of loss, of the police, of injury, illness and death and of course, of not having enough food.  The telling of Sam and Esther Goldberg’s story brings the enormity of the Holocaust down to the story of two people, whose lives were forever changed on September 1, 1939.

This brings us back to my bagel and lox.   My mother-in-law, Esther would be so happy that we were eating such a delicious and hearty meal at this Holocaust Museum.   She would have told me – don’t feel guilty – eat!  She then would have insisted that I buy another bagel, wrap it in a napkin and put it in my purse for later – just in case.

[photos:  top: Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda poster; bottom – book about poisonous mushroom, and how Jews use poisonous mushrooms to kill German children.]

Museum of Jewish Heritage - Nazi propoganda

Museum of Jewish Heritgate - Poison Mushroom book.jpg 2

Two Amazing Women – Woven Into the Fabric of My Life

One day – two amazing women – Marion Blumenthal Lazan (photo on right)  and Cheryl Stern (photo on left).

These two Jewish women are from different worlds – one born in Germany before the war and the other born in New York after the war was over.  But they have impacted my life deeply and are changing the world – day by day – encounter by encounter.  They are connected – to quote the end of my book – as part of the “singular strands of the universe” that have “been woven together” in my life and in the telling of Sam and Esther’s story.

I got to visit them both yesterday!

Marion Blumenthal Lazan was under five when the war started.  In her book, Four Perfect Pebbles:  A True Story of the Holocaust, she describes her experiences from the perspective of a child – through those innocent eyes that became clouded as she lived in Westerbrook, a refugee camp in the Netherlands and then the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp.  The book published some 20 years ago tells the world about her experiences during the war.  And she has indeed told the world – the book is translated into German, Hebrew, Japanese and other languages that I cannot recall.  There is a school in her home town in Germany named for her!  Marion, now in her 80’s, together with her husband of 65 years, Nathanial Lazan, travel the globe speaking to crowds large and small to tell the story of her childhood in Nazi Germany.  She emphasizes, among other lessons, that we all encounter hardships in life and yet, we can overcome and move beyond.

Here is a link to her website:

I was introduced to the powerhouse that is Marion Lazan because of a chance encounter with a friend from college this past summer.   Michael Lazan was on a business trip to Seattle and asked if he could stay with us for Shabbat.  As we sat and discussed my project – My Soul is Filled with Joy – he told me about his amazing mother and her book.  I suggested that perhaps she might write an endorsement for my book and indeed, she generously agreed to do so.  When Michael told me all this, I had not yet read Four Perfect Pebbles – so I figured I better read it.

Because I love listening to books, I decided to get the book on Audible.  As I listened, I realized that this book is very special – it is indeed a book well suited for middle school and high school students – it is educational, engaging and emotional (and not too long!).   But as I finished listening, with the sound of the narrator still ringing in my ear, I realized that I had discovered the voice for My Soul is Filled with Joy.   I knew I wanted to have an audio book, but the idea of finding just the right person to narrate was daunting.  But here she was – Cheryl Stern – a captivating voice with emotion and modulation and terrific accents for the dialogue.  I knew she was the voice I wanted.   But how to find her – all I had was a name.  I sent an e-mail to Michael and asked if his mother knew how to get in touch with her narrator.  He said that it was done through the publishing company, so she did not, but kindly sent me a link to her website and it happily had an e-mail address.  I looked at her website and realized that she is an actress in New York city and has done many creative projects, bringing art, entertainment and new levels of awareness to her audiences everywhere.  In fact, she is a recurring character in the very popular series Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – she appears in episodes 4 and 5 of the new season!

Here is Cheryl’s website:

I sent her an e-mail explaining how I found her, how much I loved her narration of Four Perfect Pebbles, and that I would like to discuss the possibility of her narrating my book.  She called, and we discussed the project and boom – she agreed to do it.  Conveniently, her husband Tom, is an audio producer and together they could provide a finished product.  In fact, she said, Tom is a composer and he could write some music for the opening and closing.

“Oh, no I said – I have the perfect music for the audio book.”

I explained about the song we sang to the Stys family and how I wanted the song to be used for the opening and closing, as well as smack in the middle of the book – at the point where I describe how we sang the song to the Stys family.   She loved the idea and that was that.  I am pleased to report that the audio book is complete and should be up for sale on Audible/Amazon in less than a week.  Cheryl did not disappoint.  Her narration is passionate, full of emotion and energy and the song is placed at the perfect spots.   I could not be happier to have yet another dream fulfilled.

Since I am in New York for our daughter Elisheva’s wedding – last Sunday – I knew I must meet these two women.  Yesterday morning I took the subway to mid-town, got off at Columbus Circle and walked a few blocks through the concrete jungle to a beautiful apartment building.  I was announced by the doorman and rose in the elevator to the 23rd floor.   As I entered their apartment, we hugged.  I felt a deep sense of satisfaction to meet these two people who sat for hours struggling over the Polish and Yiddish words in my book.   I have such a deep sense of gratitude for the hard work they put into the audio book and I am so happy to have them now as a part of my life.

When I left them, I walked 20 blocks down to Penn Station and took the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to Lynbrook, where Marion and Nathanial Lazan were waiting for me.  I received the warmest welcome, as if we had known each other for many years.  As I entered their beautiful home (where my friend Michael grew up), I could tell that this was a home filled with love.  We sat for hours eating a beautiful lunch talking about her book, my book, her travels and the zillions of encounters she has had with students and adults alike – all over the world.   Nathanial showed me his lair in the basement where his computer and office sit, amongst the posters shining with gorgeous photos of Marion at various events and receiving honors.  As I sat on the LIRR heading back to Manhattan in the late afternoon, I felt that same feeling in my gut – the sense of God as the grand weaver of the strands of the universe – the same feeling that overwhelmed me as I finished writing the book.

Two remarkable women – in one day – what a lucky woman am I.

Pittsburgh – Kristallnacht of My Soul



As I process the Pittsburg massacre, I cannot stop crying for them, for their families, and for all the Jewish People.  As I mourn our newest Jewish martyrs, I am experiencing the whiplash of a time machine.  I am thrown 80 years back, when Rose Mallinger (Z’L) was a girl of 17.  The Germans incited a massive theft, incarceration and murder of the Jews of Germany on November 9 and 10, 1938 in a program that became known as Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass.  Now, the glass windows of my soul are shattering as I watch the funeral processions each day in Pittsburg.

Shooting seems like an easy way to kill Jews.  In 1941 and 1942, the German army units called – Einsatzgruppen – managed to shoot one million Jews into pits in eastern Poland and the Ukraine.  It was in one of these massacres, just outside of Slonim, that my mother-in-law, Esther Goldberg’s entire family was shot into a pit.  She survived the massacre because she was in the hospital, recovering from typhus. My mind now is busy flashing from the scene of shooting in the Tree of Life Synagogue to the German killing field outside of Slonim.  Both were products of the same senseless hatred of the “other.”

But then the Germans came to the realization that shooting Jews one at a time takes too long, too many bullets and is too hard on the Nazi soldiers carrying out the dirty task.  Some of them were having nervous breakdowns having to look into the eyes of each victim as they pulled the trigger.  So, they came up with a more efficient way to murder Jews – the gas chamber.  Once it became clear that this new killing method was viable, Rudolph Hoss, the Commandant of Auschwitz declared:

“Now I was relieved indeed, . . .that all of us would be spared these bloodbaths.”[1]

My father-in-law, Sam Goldberg, watched trainloads and trainloads of Jews arrive at the Treblinka Death Camp, where they were chased into the gas chamber and murdered with this new, more efficient method.  The victims were dead within 90 minutes of their arrival.  Sam was one of approximately 65 who survived that place of Hell.

As I lay awake in bed, I wondered what Sam and Esther would say if they were still alive?  They would cry for the lives lost in Pittsburg and they would cry for their family murdered during the Holocaust.  They might take the shattered glass of their lives and tell us, their children, to hold onto the memory of each person.  To light a candle for them.  They might have said that we, who remain, must teach the world a better way, a way of goodness and that we must stand up to hate.


[1] Wachsmann, Nikolaus, Kl: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 269.


The Kleteniks Speak Out After the Murders in Pittsburg.


This has been a hard few days for the Jewish People and the people of America.  Hate, bigotry and violence have reared their ugly heads.  In this one moment and with vile words and guns, the 73 years since the end of WWII collapse and bring back the memories and the fears that ruled the Jews of Europe.

I want to share this beautiful and moving interview given by Rabbi Moshe Kletenik and Rivy Poupko Kletenik in Seattle yesterday.  Their deep connections to Pittsburg and their words express all that the rest of us feel – at least how I feel – click the link to see the interview.[0]=68.ARBNrE9anKFeWLW18VlCM93_BI46mV3rUhwjtn7zwIWPOHRNpN1upEYIGdfKeVdFUZWMqjfjAyKlwoyVebBde1AewqPhynfb0lB2JzoK6jicsDrz1YYQ-63m8IQlxFHq5pr15mRT8VQYNre_KE-PK-qRn_TCry8y8gTFpiulOicaMqP7yvM-1-3ufhqCbXWfEcQUSI-9eCuA0YLytHDY6K9qdV8&__tn__=-R

 Let us share only happy times in the future and may those who lost loved ones in Pittsburg be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

With deep sadness – Karen



TV Interview – KING 5 – 9:40 AM Sunday

King 5

Friends, I am going to be interviewed on KING 5 TV on their Sunday morning news show at 9:40 AM.  It is a 3 minute interview, so if you blink, you will miss it.

If you are not in Seattle, you can watch it on your computer.

I think to watch live stream you need to remove your ad blocker.

Shabbat Shalom.   Karen