Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Luckily, a good Polish man gave my father a rifle and 150 bullets."

Faye and Irving Porter are shown with their infant son Jack in the Ukraine in 1945. They settled in Milwaukee in 1946.

My thanks to Irregular JWF for forwarding this obituary from last month of Faye Porter-Arenzon. There are several practical lessons in her life's story.


Porter-Arenzon escaped Nazi massacre in Ukraine

After she moved to Milwaukee, she raised a family, lived to 100

By Amy Rabideau Silvers of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Dec. 18, 2009

Everything in Faye Porter-Arenzon's life was measured by what happened Sept. 24, 1942.

She could not save her family - two young daughters, her parents, all her siblings, other relatives - from massacre by Nazi SS officers and local Ukrainian police.

But she survived, later rescued by her husband, a partisan with the resistance movement in the Ukraine. Together they lived in a partisan community in the forests of their homeland and began a family again. Together they came to America.

And she became the matriarch of a new family in a new land.

"It was a miracle," said her son, Jack Nusan Porter, a Holocaust and genocide scholar. "She survived to produce all these generations."

Porter-Arenzon - she married again after the death of her first husband - died of natural causes Dec. 1. She was 100. She last lived in St. Louis Park, Minn., where she moved to be near her daughter after the death of her second husband. Services have been held.

Born Faygeh Merin, she married Srulik Puchtik in 1937. They lived in Maniewicz, a small town in northwestern Ukraine. Later, they took the more American names Faye and Irving Porter.

By 1941, however, the Nazis had taken away most of the town's Jewish men.

"Luckily, a good Polish man gave my father a rifle and 150 bullets," Jack said. "My father started the nucleus of a mostly Jewish fighting group - the majority were Russian Jews - with other Polish and Ukrainian and Russian fighters."

On Sept. 23, 1942, the Nazis and police began rounding up all the remaining Jewish residents of the town.

"They took us out, put us in the middle of a road and counted everyone," she later recalled in a news article. She was then a 32-year-old mother, holding the hands of her daughters, ages 4 and 2.

The situation was still fluid. She tried to get people to do something, anything, saying they should burn the town and run for the forests. People were too afraid to try.

"So she told her mother and sisters and daughters, 'Let me try to find a place for us to hide,' " Jack said.

A policeman stopped her as she left the area. "Why waste a bullet on me now?" she argued. "You're going to kill us all tomorrow."

He let her leave.

She found a barn and tried to go back for her family, but by then there were too many guards. Even if she managed to get back to her family, there was no way they could escape together.

"She went back to the barn," her son said. "And the next morning she heard the shots."

Twenty-five members of her family and her husband's family were killed.

"Three-hundred-eighty Jews were rounded up and taken to the edge of town, shot and buried in a mass grave," said daughter Bella Smith.

Nazis began searching the countryside, including the barn where she was hiding. She was grazed by a bayonet as a Nazi stabbed the hay pile. That night, she crawled into the forest, alone for months.

"She didn't know my father was alive," her daughter said. "He didn't know she was alive. He heard there may have been survivors and found her. She was down to 80 pounds and he carried her back to the partisan unit."

The partisan group, which became known as the Kruk-Max Otryad, grew to include 150 fighters and more than 250 civilians in a family camp, the third-largest such group in Europe, Jack said.

"Mom was the nurse and a cook with the fighter group," Jack said. "Theirs is like the story of the movie, 'Defiance,' about the Bielski Otryad."

After liberation by the Russians in 1944, they lived at the Bindermichel displaced persons camp near Linz, Austria. There they were a rare married couple who survived the war, becoming surrogate parents to young people who had lost their own.

"They would walk these girls down the aisle when they married," Jack said.

His father's brother, in the U.S. since the 1920s, heard they were alive. He sent $100, enough for steerage tickets for the couple and son Jack. They first lived in Chicago, but soon settled in Milwaukee in 1946.

Irving Porter became a scrap dealer. Faye Porter took care of her family, becoming the mother of another son, Shlomo, and daughter Bella, and later a grandmother and great-grandmother.

Her husband died in 1979. Porter took in young women boarders, always interested in trying to find everyone a marriage partner.

She also played matchmaker for herself.

"Do you know someone who wants to get married?" she asked a nice man at a neighborhood senior center.

"Yes," said Yehuda "Judah" Arenzon. "Me."

They married in 1980. He died in 1986.

She remained warm and giving, hopeful and kind.

"She was a tzadakis, a righteous person," Jack said. "People actually came up to her and asked her to bless their children and themselves."

"Don't be stingy with a blessing," she would say. "It doesn't cost anything."

As Porter-Arenzon got older, her blessings took on special meaning.

"She would say, 'God should bless you that you should come in my age and be healthy,' " her daughter said.


W W Woodward said...

["They took us out, put us in the middle of a road and counted everyone," she later recalled in a news article. The situation was still fluid. She tried to get people to do something, anything, saying they should burn the town and run for the forests. People were too afraid to try.]

Ms Puchtik (Porter) did something and survived. The people who were too afraid to try died.

If we don’t learn anything else from this woman’s story, we need to remember, she wasn’t too afraid to try.


Unknown said...

Inspiring! If anyone thinks such events can't happen here, look at Atlas Shrugs

Something Wicked This Way Comes...

Anonymous said...

My one objection - Mike needs to learn to write the simple words "Kleenex Warning" before these things, for those old softies among us who may not flinch at seeing an enemy fall 'maus tot' but shed tears at the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and stories like these.

The statement here also dovetails with Solzhenitsyn's words as he looked back and questioned why his people had not waited with shovels, hammers, hatchets, even bricks, to ambush the secret police, if they knew they were going to be killed anyway. Interestingly, I have been reading a book called The Survivor's Club which documents the lives, mental attitudes, physical actions and emotional / spiritual approaches used by a number of people who survived unimaginable horrors. And one fellow had been on a ship sinking in the frigid seas, and he noted that dozens of the other passengers - even as it was apparent that the ship was tilting up and preparing to sink beneath the dark waters - would not join him or listen to his exhortations to escape. Rather, they suggested that he remain in place and wait, for SOMEONE would do SOMETHING and they would all be OK. Some shrinks used to call it 'statue paralysis' as a person became to overwhelmed that he plunged into a denial state from which he would never emerge.

Much food for thought... but if threepers reach the point of demanding a return to Constitutional governance, I think that we all know, there is no superhero gonna come and save us.
Unless maybe Sierra the Match King arriving in his copper boat.
- julian -

straightarrow said...

So, I have to ask this. When readers of the Journal-Sentinel read of this, why can they not see the dangers of gun control that the Journal-Sentinel pushes at every opportunity? Why can they not see the evil of Milwaukee's police chief? How can they not expect the police to largely be on the side of the killers? After all, the Nazis were aided by Ukranian police. Waco and Ruby Ridge both happened at the hands of law enforcement. Philadelphia police chief Rizzo burned down an entire city block when he had a bomb dropped on a house under assault by police.

Do they think it can't happen here, even though it already has, just written smaller? For now.

Russell said...

A great story!

Sean said...

G*d bless and keep all people like her, the ones with GUTS.

Anonymous said...

""Luckily, a good Polish man gave my father a rifle and 150 bullets.""
There was no luck involved.
A good man gave a valuable rifle and a supply of ammo to someone who would use it.
Mosin Nagants and Yugo Mausers can still be had cheaply enough.
Ammo is getting more expensive, but still.
Got giveaways?

Anonymous said...

According to author John Ross, the Nazis were so confident that the Jews would not resist at all, that most Nazi soldiers assigned to guard the ghettos and camps carried their rifles with the firing pin in an empty chamber and their pistols with the hammers on empty chambers!!!

Go find any photograph of gun-carrying Nazis guarding Jewish prisoners, and you will see that all of their guns are not ready to fire!

The Nazis did not expect the Jews to resist, and when they finally did, in Warsaw, the Nazis experienced true and utter terror for the first time in their lives.

David Codrea said...

While naturally I agree with straightarrow, I'm actually more curious if Jack and the other children make the connection, and if they've taught it to their children.

Lergnom said...

Gregore Sambor was the police commissioner in Philadelphia when the second MOVE confrontation played out.

straightarrow said...

Uh huh, but Rizzo was the mayor and former police chief who authorized it.

Anonymous said...

Goode was the mayor at the time of the MOVE bombing.

Anonymous said...

"Sinking with the ship" reminds me of the big rain we had about 25 years ago when over 1,000 head of sheep drowned in a slowly filling playa lake bed because the sheep would not walk up hill to high ground.