ROBERT AND JANET:
NOWY TARG (POLAND) HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS
Last year, on my birthday, I both lost a friend and gained a friend.
I was privileged to meet Robert (Reibeisen) Mendler, the last Holocaust survivor in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I was privileged to write an article on him in the Westmoreland County Historical Magazine and to continue his story on this blog.
I was privileged to spend the afternoon of December 8, 2009, in his company (see link at end of post).
I was also privileged to be the person who informed him that he was not the only survivor of his hometown, Nowy Targ, Poland. The survival of Janet Applefield, also a Nowy Targ, Poland, Holocaust survivor, was a revelation to him.
Thus, enroute to his funeral, I made an impromptu decision to try to speak.
I asked my husband, Monte, who was with me, if I should do this. After all, I knew nothing about Jewish funerals—this was my first experience. I did not have the time to consult with Janet, on whose behalf I wanted to speak. Somehow, though, I felt that she wouldn’t mind.
When I arrived at the synagogue I fear I made myself obnoxious, asking different persons if I could speak. Even so, I was given permission, and I was invited up to the podium during the service.
Here is what I shared at Bob’s funeral:
Everyone here is mourning the loss of Robert Mendler.
I’m speaking on behalf of a mourner who isn’t here. Someone who never met or spoke to Bob, yet who would have been—no, was—very important to him.
As some of you know, I’ve written about Bob. He also permitted me to tell his story on the Internet. That’s where Janet Springer Applefield found Bob. She contacted me December 8, 2009, by commenting on the third post in the series on his story. I discovered the comment early on that morning:
- 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. Comment by janet singer applefield— December 8, 2009
I immediately took her message to Bob.
“I knew her. I knew her when she was born,” he said. “Our families knew each other well.”
Janet was a child survivor from Nowy Targ.
Bob was her only contact with a town survivor. The only contact from his beginning. She would have been his only contact with a child survivor.
They never had a chance to speak.
Janet is saddened. Finally—a contact—a touch. Then a loss.
So on behalf of Janet, I extend sympathy to Bob’s family and friends.
Later, when I returned home, I contacted Janet to inform her of my boldness. Then I sent her my words in an email. Her response comforted me:
- I am glad you said those words at the memorial service for Bob. Thank you for extending sympathy to the family on my behalf. It would have meant so much to me to have Bob tell me about Nowy Targ and about our families who knew one another. It’s a tremendous loss.
During our communications, I learned she lives in a small Massachusetts town near the communities we visit when we travel to New England. She extended an invitation to us to visit her. I am excited and gratified to have this opportunity, which I am looking forward to.
It’s been a year since Bob Mendler left us.
May he rest in peace, a peace he struggled to reach in life.
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