Veterans: Lucy Mandelstam

'I feel Israeli - I didn't really begin my life until I came here.'

Lucy Mandelstam 88 224 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Lucy Mandelstam 88 224
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Name - Lucy Mandelstam. Born - Vienna, 1926 Aliya - July 6, 1948 Occupation - retired Status - widow Lucy Mandelstam has plumbed the depths of suffering and tragedy in her 81 years, but has also known times of joy and ecstasy, like staying alive after the horrors and deprivations of the concentration camps, of finding the father she thought had perished 20 years before and experiencing the happiness she derives today from her children and grandchildren. "I'm basically an optimistic person," she says, and she has not let her experiences in the Holocaust and her internment in Cyprus for more than a year while waiting to be allowed into Israel embitter her. Another terrible blow was the loss of her beloved only son recently at 47. But Mandelstam remains unscarred, at least on the outside, and can talk and write about her life, her mind still sharp, her memory extraordinary and her sense of humor intact. BEFORE ALIYA She was born in Vienna in 1926 to a somewhat unusual family. Her parents were first cousins, just out of their teens, and her mother had come on a visit from Czechoslovakia to visit her cousin. They fell in love and she became pregnant - with Lucy. Her father had dreamed of being a doctor but now married with a baby on the way he gave up his dreams and became a chiropodist. "I was nearly 13 when the Nazis came," recalls Mandelstam. "My father was deported on Kristallnacht and I thought I would never see him again. We had to wear a yellow star and weren't allowed to go to school. Later I was sent to do agricultural work in Germany while my mother worked as a nurse for the Jewish community." On September 11, 1942, she, her mother and sister were deported to Theresienstadt and she was sent to work in the fields outside the ghetto. In 1944 they were all sent to Auschwitz where her sister and mother were murdered. Mandelstam survived and spent time in yet another camp. She had many terrifying experiences, like being beaten by an SS man while standing in line for soup, and being marched with frostbitten feet away from the camp when the Russian army approached. She escaped and found refuge in a village which the Germans had abandoned. Finally she was liberated and was, she thought, alone in the world. PREPARATION She arrived in a displaced persons camp in Italy in which Jews who survived were waiting to go to Palestine. "The Hagana took care of us and we tried to learn some Hebrew, but not seriously. It was very hard waiting and not knowing if we would ever reach Palestine and what would happen if and when we got there." THE JOURNEY The boat - Lohamei Hagetaot - had 1,400 people on board and took 12 days to reach Haifa. The passengers were given water and small cans of food. When three British warships surrounded the boat, the passengers' only resistance was to throw the cans at the soldiers. Taken to Haifa, they were immediately put on a prison ship and sent to Cyprus. "We lived in tents," recalls Mandelstam. "We were in groups and I became the cook for our group. We just sat around and talked - about what we'd been through, what awaited us. The British guarded us outside but didn't interfere in the camp. People got married out of boredom. "We never went hungry but in summer the tents were hot and in winter they nearly blew away." Eventually they were able to come to Israel and Mandelstam, at 22, felt she could at last begin living her life. SETTLING IN Her first job was as a cleaner in a Tel Aviv apartment, but she soon joined the army and learned nursing on the job. She served in Tiberias where she met her first husband, Nehemia, a physiotherapist. After the War of Independence, they married, had two daughters and moved to Moshav Habonim. They divorced after several years. LIFE SINCE ALIYA In 1957 Lucy met and married Charles Mandelstam, a South African who became the first golf professional at the newly created Caesarea Golf Club. Their son, Gil, was born soon after and the family lived in Beit Yannai and later Hadera. At about the same time that her son was born, Mandelstam had a call from a stranger from Vienna who had met a man, a certain Dr. Draxler, in a Black Sea resort. This doctor had asked him to find out the fate of his family when he returned to Vienna. It was Lucy's father. "I was ecstatic when I heard the news. Later, when the big aliya arrived from Russia, I met two new half sisters and my father's widow. My father had escaped to Russia and married again. He had no idea my mother was still alive at the time. And he'd succeeded in passing himself off as a doctor and worked as one until he died. When I speak to my half-sister Lena, who lives in Ashkelon, she doesn't believe our father wasn't a doctor in Vienna." Lucy helped Charles run the pro-shop at the golf club for years. Seventeen years ago he became ill with kidney disease and was on dialysis until he died 10 years ago. Lucy moved to Netanya and is happy living on her own in a pleasant apartment with her computer for company. She likes to read and watch television, and uses her treadmill daily to keep in shape. BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL "I'm at home here. When I was in the camps I used to swear that whatever happens, if I got out of them alive I'd never complain about anything ever again. Of course it doesn't quite work like that, but on the whole I stay cheerful and try to have as normal a life as possible." ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "I don't think of myself as an immigrant so I can't dispense advice except to say to take the good with the bad. I feel Israeli - I didn't really begin my life until I came here - and I travel quite a lot, to see my family in New York and I love to come back here - it's my home." 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