Andrea & Myriam
My name is Andrea Pines, and I am both a staff member at Jewish Family and Child Service and a child of two Holocaust Survivors. My mother, Myriam, shares her inspiring story below. I have had the beautiful privilege of working at JF&CS for over 22 years. My current role is Volunteer Services Coordinator, and I often work directly with Holocaust Survivors. In collaboration with the Bernard Betel Centre, I coordinate a program called Café Europa. Café Europa is a monthly social and cultural get-together for Holocaust Survivors.
We launched the program in November 2002 and began with nearly 40 Survivors in attendance. Today, Café Europa serves between 250-300 Holocaust Survivors each month. This wonderful initiative is funded by The Claims Conference, The Conference on Jewish Material Against Germany, and UJA.
Café Europa provides Survivors with an opportunity for socialization, a hot kosher lunch, and live entertainment. We regularly host professional musicians in various languages, including English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Romanian, French, Spanish and Italian. Our dedicated volunteers generously give their time to assist us with various tasks and socialize with participants. Café Europa runs approximately twice per month, and we host 22-24 gatherings each year.
Once the pandemic hit, we had to “pivot” our efforts and quickly re-imagined what Café Europa could look like. Shortly after, we re-created our “Café Europa pandemic programming”. Hot meals are now delivered directly to our participants, and we provide them with online links/telephone numbers to attend virtual concerts.
Last week, we had one of our Café Europa Zoom Concerts, and I had the privilege of introducing our musical guest. Together with the attendees, we sang, danced, smiled and connected virtually.
As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I feel so grateful to be involved in this meaningful work. The impact that we have on the community is remarkable. We may not physically be all together, but we are most definitely remaining connected on so many levels.
I was thinking about what you have asked, and the memories started flowing—memories which I try to forget. However, people should know. Maybe it is time for me to talk about this. So I will describe to you my ‘surviving’.
I never considered myself a Survivor because we did not make it to the concentration camps. The Russian army liberated us and chased away the Nazis. The lists and the crematoria were ready for us when the Russians arrived on the way to Berlin, but we escaped with our lives because the Nazis were methodically working their way through Europe, and at the time, they were busy looking for the Jews from Transylvania. We were to be next. Also, the Romanians (who were allied to the Nazis at that time) liked bribes. So the Jewish community managed to keep postponing our deportation by giving them everything the community could put together - money, jewels...
Andrea (my daughter) considers me a survivor because we lived as Jews under the Nazis for four years. As a child, I thought this was how normal life was because I did not remember anything from before. There were lots of restrictions, constant fear, my father was away in a labour camp, and we were bitterly aware that we were not like the others, that they could kill us at any moment. But this was life, and we managed, thanks to my fearless mother, who refused to live as we were supposed to.
In 1941, I was three years old, and we lived in an apartment in Bucharest; my brother and I, our two cousins, and two mothers. The fathers were away in a labour camp. The Romanian Iron Guard, encouraged by the Nazis, was organizing pogroms. A group of Iron Guards came to our door and asked to get the Jews. My fearless mother had hidden all of us in cupboards, under beds, wherever possible. We knew that we had to be incredibly quiet. My mother went to the door and told them, with her strong Hungarian accent, that she was the servant here and that the Jews (she used a bad word) had all run away, and now she owns the apartment. She even invited them in for a glass of wine, knowing that they were in a hurry. After they left, we all came out from our holes and, much later, realized what a hero she had been and that she had saved our lives. I, at age 3, thought that this was just a game that we had to play regularly because that was how life was.
Later, as my mother knew what happened in the concentration camps, she managed to obtain some poison from Jewish doctors or pharmacists. She was going to kill us all rather than go. She knew that children did not make it; I was four or five, my brother was two years older. I found out about this after I myself had children, and I still am amazed at her courage.
After being bombed by the Germans, the Allies, etc., we decided to stop going to a shelter. My neighbour drew me playing the piano during the alarms.