One family's story of survival in the Holocaust

The story of this miracle was related to me by Gisela Rooz, my mother’s oldest sister.

DR. KARL TICHO, now an eye surgeon (photo credit: Courtesy)
DR. KARL TICHO, now an eye surgeon
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is now 75 years since the end of World War II, when the Russian and American military units were finally able to enter the Nazi death camps, where they discovered the result of the beastly, finely tuned and unbelievable cruel German plot to eliminate all the Jews of Europe and North Africa.
Today in Israel, the Holocaust is commemorated with a very solemn Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day nearly as solemn as Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Ceremonies recall the rich and productive life of Europe’s Jews and honor the millions who died at the hands of the vicious German Nazi death machine.
The Nazi armies swept through virtually all of Europe, the whole North African region and a substantial part of Soviet Russia. As a result, virtually all of the Jews of this part of the world were trapped in the Nazi cage – more than six million souls. Only Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden managed to avoid the brutality of the Germans.
Regrettably, we Jews became familiar with the narrative – the expulsions from home, the deprivation of property, the insults and abuse, the gatherings in ghettos, the transport to death factories and the ashes thrown into the river.
But, remarkably, not all Jews died. A small group of Jews tried to avoid the Nazi web by hiding or passing as non-Jews. Most were exposed, betrayed or denounced and the German spider caught them in its web and sucked the blood out of them. But some succeeded. Some were married to non-Jews and were spared. Some joined partisan groups and fought the Nazis as best as they could with the arms and ammunition they managed to gather.
And then there were the very, very few who somehow managed to survive, to escape, to stay alive. All of them, without exception, credited a “miracle” or two that saved their lives. Every Jew who in 1945, after the Nazis were defeated, managed to still be alive and living within the vast territory that had been under German control, must have had a miracle – all the rest of the Jews, some six million, were murdered.
Our family lost 15 close relatives during the Holocaust – five of my uncles and their spouses and five first cousins; only one first cousin, Lilly, survived.
I said that Lilly was the only family member who survived. Well, actually, she was the only one that survived through all six years of the Holocaust. There were four more of us who managed to survive by escaping. Three were my father, my little brother Steven and me. The fourth was my cousin Karl. He was the oldest son of Baruch (Paul) Ticho, father’s brother and business partner.
Karl is a year older than I, and we have been sharing our lives together now for more than 90 years. His survival was the result of a remarkable miracle.
WALKING ALONG the Luhacovice street: Karl (center) at 8 and Frantisek at 6, with Vienna cousin Fritz (Aaron) Kritzler (left) (Photo Credit: Courtesy)WALKING ALONG the Luhacovice street: Karl (center) at 8 and Frantisek at 6, with Vienna cousin Fritz (Aaron) Kritzler (left) (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
The story of this miracle was related to me by Gisela Rooz, my mother’s oldest sister. Aunt Gisella was a remarkable woman who lived just a few weeks short of 100 years. Her mind was as bright when she died as it was over the many years I knew her. Her hands were never idle. She was either cooking, baking or creating wonders with needles and thread.
Gisella and her husband managed to escape to the United States, where I had the honor and pleasure to interview her for my book Generation to Generation, the Survival of a Family. Here is what she told me about Karl’s miracle.
IT WAS 1939. My mother was in Switzerland, my older brother was in the United States, my father and Karl’s father were both in the Dachau concentration camp, and my little brother Steven and I were temporarily living in a small apartment in our building.
Two couples shared this space – Uncle Isidor Reiniger and his wife, Sarah, from Vienna, and Uncle Moritz Rooz and his wife, Gisella, from Berlin. In an effort to escape the Nazis, both couples had fled to Czechoslovakia but were now trapped, once again, after the Germans marched into the Czech lands on March 15, 1939.
TWO PORTRAIT charcoal drawings by Gustave Boehm of Gisella and Moritz Rooz, done shortly after their marriage. Their life took them from Hungary to Germany to Czechoslovakia and, finally, to the US (Photo Credit: Courtesy)TWO PORTRAIT charcoal drawings by Gustave Boehm of Gisella and Moritz Rooz, done shortly after their marriage. Their life took them from Hungary to Germany to Czechoslovakia and, finally, to the US (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
During the time when she, her husband Moritz Rooz, and Uncle Isidor and Aunt Sarah Reiniger were staying at our apartment, Uncle Paul’s wife, Marie, visited them on a Friday evening, just as they were having their Sabbath dinner.
Marie was very distraught. She had heard that if she placed her oldest son, Karl, on a train the next day, Saturday morning, he might be able to escape. The Zionist Youth Aliyah people were supposed to have arranged for a train that would take a group of Jewish children out of the country and to Palestine.
With her husband in a German concentration camp, she was looking for advice from the two older men as to what to do. Should she dare to put this 13-year-old boy alone on a train that may or may not get him to safety? Would it be safer to keep him near? Will she ever see him again? The questions and options were heart-wrenching.
Isidor, who was a very religious man, said “This is not possible. Tomorrow is the Sabbath, and you are not allowed to travel on the day of rest.”
“But Dr. Reiniger,” said Moritz, who was at least equally religious but more practical, “this is a matter of life and death. Jewish law permits you to violate the Sabbath to save a life. You can travel on the Sabbath under those circumstances.”
“So, do what you wish!” said Isidor curtly, rose from the table and left the room.
Moritz turned to the confused and bewildered woman, took her hand into his and said: “Put your son on the train tomorrow.”
So, the next morning Marie kissed her son goodbye. Karl and a group of about 20 youngsters boarded the train. His mother, his younger brother, Frantisek, and his little sister, Renee, waved as the train left the station and disappeared in the distance. They would never ever see each other again.
Six weeks later Karl landed on the shores of what is now Israel. He knew that an uncle Alfred lived in Binyamina and somehow managed to make his way there. Suddenly, unexpectedly and completely unannounced, he appeared at his uncle’s home, to be greeted by a stunned and overjoyed family.
And that is how Karl became Dr. Karl Ticho, the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, a highly skilled eye physician and surgeon, the father of five boys and the grandfather of 12.
The train was Karl’s miracle.