At his fingertips

A family reunites after the holocaust and plants roots in Israel.

Fred Gottlieb (photo credit: Courtesy)
Fred Gottlieb
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In early 1939, Fred Gottlieb and his sister were put on a Kindertransport train bound for England. His physician father, a decorated World War I veteran who was admired and loved by both Jews and non-Jews in his small German town of Siegburg, had fled Germany for Cuba at the urging of a local Catholic priest just before Kristallnacht in November 1938.
His mother, also a physician, arranged for the children’s passage and then sold the family medical practice and house. For the next year, she cared for her elderly parents in Berlin until arriving in England with them and reuniting with her children. While in England, Gottlieb lived with 70 other “kinder” in a youth hostel in the seaside resort town of Margate. He did not know it at the time, but the hostel would soon become an orphanage.
The four Gottliebs eventually started their lives over in New York, feeling extremely fortunate in light of the tragic fact that half of the Kindertransport children never saw their parents again.
About 60 years later, Dr. Fred Gottlieb and his wife Lora achieved a similar family reunification – albeit under much happier circumstances – when they joined their two sons, Daniel and Michael, who had made aliya years earlier.
Today, Daniel is a prominent psychologist living in Ra’anana, with five children and four grandchildren. Michael, a former Wall Street trader living in Ginot Shomron, has three children and two grandchildren.
Published author
After spending his teen years in Brooklyn in a yeshiva elementary school and a public high school, Gottlieb earned his bachelor’s degree from New York University and his medical degree from the University of Leiden in Holland. In 1957, he embarked on an internship and three years of residency in the United States in ophthalmology, followed by a fellowship in Boston to specialize in retinal diseases.
“Repairing retinal detachment was my main work for 40 years, and restoring vision to hundreds of patients was most rewarding,” he says.
Moving to Jerusalem soon after his retirement from practicing medicine in Brooklyn, he immediately plunged into a new career of writing and translating.
So far, he has published three books: an autobiography titled My Childhood in Siegburg: 1929-1938, which has since been translated into German; and two German-to-English translations of writings by his grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Rosenberg – My Opa: The Diary of a German Rabbi and Festpredigten: Twenty Festival Sermons, 1897-1902.
“With these two books, I felt I was doing honor to my grandfather, whom I remember well and who taught me my first humash [the Five Books of Moses],” he says.
The autobiography, replete with photographs and documents, earned him an invitation from the town of Siegburg to present his book at a 2008 book fair. Thus he was able, together with his family, to visit the site of his birth and to reflect on what happened to this once-flourishing Jewish community at the hands of the Nazis.
“Although two thirds of the Jews in Siegburg survived the Holocaust, its beautiful kehila [community] is gone forever,” he notes.
Keeping memories alive He has also been invited to speak to local high school students at the Berlin Jewish museum concerning his experiences in the Holocaust. In addition, he is a trained guide at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum.
His translating services, publicized through word of mouth, have taken him deep into the lives of victims long forgotten.
“I’ve translated hundreds of letters, mostly related to the Holocaust – last letters from people who were left behind and never got out. Sometimes the very last letter was just a telegram with the cryptic message: ‘We have moved to Poland and are doing well.’ So many people keep untranslated letters in boxes, with no idea about the precious information they contain concerning their departed relatives,” says Gottlieb, who has also rendered into English many of his own family’s German documents.
He is a prolific letter-writer in his own right.
“One of the things that gets me up in the morning is wanting to see if my latest letter to The Jerusalem Post was published,” he confides. His other interests include research in biblical literature.
An article he wrote about the creation of the world as described in different sections of the Bible is scheduled to be published in the next few months.
Staying busy and fit Two years after the Gottliebs’ 2003 arrival in Jerusalem, and following 50 years of happy marriage, Lora died.
Nine years ago, Gottlieb married Sandy Ferziger, whose husband had died 10 years earlier, leaving her with five children and 19 grandchildren. Four of her children now live in Israel, and the Ferziger-Gottlieb families have since evolved as one harmonious group.
“One of the things that worried me most was what to do when I retired,” says Gottlieb, “but that never happened because I am happily busy.”
He feels strongly that people ought to plan to do something meaningful and enjoyable after retirement rather than being “sent out to pasture.” His current routine involves attending a morning minyan every day, a Talmud class four times weekly, and a workout with a trainer three times a week.
“Exercise is an essential way of keeping fit during the ‘late summer’ period of one’s life,” says the fit physician.
Together with his wife, he enjoys walking the streets of Jerusalem and exploring its many sights, as well as going to operas and concerts.
“Fortunately we have all that at our fingertips, here and in Tel Aviv,” he says.
“Our lives are very busy, and I verbalize every day how fortunate I am.”
The newest chapter of his life is hardly finished, however. He says, perhaps only half in jest, “The Lord put me on this earth to accomplish certain things; at the moment, I’m so behind in my work it seems as though I’m never going to die.”