December 13, 2009




Robert Mendler’s funeral will be held on Tuesday, December 15. For details, click on: ROBERT MENDLER: IN MEMORY December 10, 2009 or

     On Tuesday, December 8, my husband Monte and I had an unexpected visit with Bob Mendler. The opportunity arose following a comment on the Bob’s story, which was posted in installments on my writing site,*:

     I and my family are from Nowy Targ. My father’s name was Alojzy Singer. I was a hidden child. I and my father survived. The rest of the family did not. The Singers had a large hardware store on the Rynek. I would love to be in touch with anyone from that town. I am sure that my father and Mr. Mendler knew each other.”

     I knew I had to get this comment to Bob, who lives in an adjacent town. Fortunately, I had a mid-morning doctor’s appointment in Latrobe, after which we were going to a Greensburg funeral home for a viewing. Even if there was an extended wait at the doctor’s office, there was time to contact Bob and stop by his home to deliver this very important message—a contact from his childhood, his home in Nowy-Targ,Poland, before the Holocaust events.

     We called Bob from the doctor’s office and he told us to stop by. Monte waited in the car while I took the computer printout to Bob.

     He greeted me his winning smile. After realizing the meaning of the computer comment, he was all excited—yes, he knew Janet Singer. He remembered her birth—she was perhaps ten years younger than she was. Her family’s hardware store was across the street from his mother’s company, which produced items like soda pop. He recalled seeing Janet’s “father and uncle” shot as they ran from the police. He knew she was placed with a (Christian?) family to be hidden, to be safe. Yes, he was going to contact her.

     Meanwhile, he shared with me a medal he was given when he visited Nowy-Targ, Poland, as a survivor. To view photo, click on:  The town honored him, gave him a medal and a key to the city. He also shared with me a glass bowl he given in 2008 when he received the Westmoreland County Historical Society’s St. Clair award for his historical work on Holocaust education.

     He also shared with me his loneliness following the death of his wife, Joan, last April—and the discomfort from the knee surgery he’d had for rheumatoid arthritis.

     Bob told me he was preparing to go to the lobby of Latrobe Hospital to have his picture taken with other Beth Israel Synagogue (Latrobe, PA) volunteers who would work at Latrobe Hospital on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, freeing Christians to celebrate Christmas with their families.

     “It’s not my holiday,” he noted.

     Knowing I had my camera with me, he suggested that I go to the hospital to take pictures, too.

     When we arrived at 12:50 p.m., he was already there. After we chatted for a few moments, he called someone, who told him he had the time wrong: the appointment was for 1:30. We decided to stay, and he and Monte visited while I took notes.

    At one point, I told him that in all the times we met, I’d never had my picture taken with him. Monte took one snapshot when Ed Kelemen, a friend and fellow writer, entered the lobby. I pulled him over and said “Have a picture with us.” He complied, but wasn’t familiar with Bob and his story. I told him I would update him later. (To view photo, click on: )

     Bob said that he and Joan had been volunteering during the Christmas season for, oh, about twenty-five—perhaps thirty—years. He had come one Christmas Day with his wife to visit a patient, and there was no staff paying attention to their friend. He and Joan did some care, and decided the hospital needed volunteers on the holiday. After that, he and Joan came every year. Now the program is all over the country, he said, and they started the whole thing. It began small, about eight to ten volunteers.

     He  always volunteers at the front desk, opening it up at  7:30 and working until 11:00 a.m. The volunteering is mitzwa: the Hebrew word for “good deed.”

     His wife loved the volunteering she did at the hospital for fifty-five years.

     He told us that he is “not the same person” anymore, since Joan is not here. He is depressed. He ran away to Israel this fall.

     “I don’t know why God doesn’t take me,” he said.

     “We became God’s chosen people who accepted the commandments. I cannot swallow, understand (the Holocaust). Anti-Semitism is growing all over the world. I don’t know why. I’d pay the price if I knew. I’m paying the price but I don’t know. You would think the world would learn its lesson. Christians, gypsies, were also not human (during the Holocaust)—just like us.”

     People were initially killed from truck exhaust, which took a long time. Something was needed to kill them faster. A new gas was developed by the Bayer Company, which could kill two thousand persons in fifteen minutes.

     He told how Dachau has been made into a park, with concrete benches. He said that to see real concentration camps, the way it was, you need to visit Auschwitz, where there were three camps. He was assigned to Birkenau.

    Bob recalled that at Auschwitz mothers, with babes in their arms, were stripped naked and sent to the showers.

     “Two thousand persons who were in the showers—(where) they used the ‘new’ gas. In fifteen minutes they were all gone. I saw sixty thousand a day die in Auschwitz. I knew what they were doing. If I told I’d be killed. I sorted their clothes. They were sent to the Germans.”

     At this point, the other volunteers began arriving, and Bob introduced me to them as his “friend,” a position I favor. After the picture was taken, Monte and I left to go to Greensburg while the volunteers became engrossed with learning the ropes for their holiday task.

     Bob recently spent time in Israel, at a hotel on the banks of a lake . He was seeking, as always, a remnant of his family that might have escaped the Holocaust alive.

     “For me, the most important thing is to find that some family members survived.”

     Perhaps the closest thing to family members who survived is neighbors who survived. Bob managed to E-mail Janet Singer, to tell her he would call her. The opportunity never came. Bob died on the evening of December 10, 2009.




  1. Nice idea! I was thinking about writing something along these same lines. Will have to bookmark this for future reference.

    Comment by Heater — January 2, 2010 @ 8:01 am | Reply

  2. […]      On the evening of December 7, three days before the death of Latrobe (PA)’s last Holocaust survivor, Robert (Reibieson) Mendler, Carolyn’s Composition’s writing site received a comment on his posted story (THE HOLOCAUST STORY OF A TEENAGE VICTIM (Part 1)). Janet, a survivor of Nowy-Targ, Poland—Bob’s childhood community— had discovered Bob’s story after she typed Nowy-Targ into her computer search engine. She wanted to meet the only other Nowy-Targ (Poland) child survivor she’d discovered. And she discovered his survival by reading my blog. (to read post click on AN UNEXPECTED VISIT WITH BOB MENDLER ON DECEMBER 8, 2009 ) […]

    Pingback by Blogging: Does it Have Value? Part 1 « Carolyncholland’s Weblog — January 9, 2010 @ 1:41 am | Reply

  3. I was Bob’s golf partner in the VASCO GOLF LEAGUE for almost 5 years until I had my left leg amputated, Bob loved to play golf, and he said esp. with me since I never threw my clubs or got angry with my golf game or when I hit a bad shot, I’d forget about the bad shot before I hit my next one.

    I miss Bob and his sense of humor. I esp. miss playing golf with him. Before he died we both promised to play again once my prothesis fit correctly, but it never did.

    He was the best golf partner I ever had, and a really good friend, he was selfless and when I was in the nursing home he would visit often and always bring fruit (bannana’s, grapes, strawberry’s etc…).

    I will always miss his friendship and laughter, the last time we sat and talked at his home he said how he lost his will to live after his wife JoAnn died, and how sad he was.

    I felt bad for him and didn’t know what to say then he started talking about playing golf and how much he enjoyed playing golf with me and how much he missed it.

    Mark Semo

    Comment by Mark Semo — June 26, 2010 @ 12:57 pm | Reply

  4. I am a high school teacher who saw a presentation by Bob many years ago. I am teaching Night and was wondering if there is any way to purchase a dvd of one of Bob’s full presentations? I know my students would gain so much from hearing his story and also they could compare/contrast the way he chose to portray his story and the way Weisel portrays his story. If you or anyone out there knows how I can get my hands on some type of video, please let me know. THANK YOU! He was a remarkable man!

    Comment by alyson kaminsky — October 26, 2010 @ 10:28 am | Reply

  5. […] Need I say more than we need to remember the Holocause? Do holocausts follow Gods plan for a loving world? Read THE HOLOCAUST STORY OF A TEENAGE VICTIM (Part 1) and a remarkable story, AN UNEXPECTED VISIT WITH BOB MENDLER ON DECEMBER 8, 2009 […]

    Pingback by Rethink Church Lenten Photos 2016: Week 5 | Carolyn's Online Magazine — March 10, 2016 @ 5:05 am | Reply

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