Holocaust survivors, a candy store and the mafia make for unusual family memoir – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Posted By on October 4, 2021

Surviving a Nazi concentration camp, only to end up in an American neighborhood full of gangsters, might be enough to make anyone fearful or bitter. But with a bit of help, Helen Pinczewski and her family not only survived, they thrived.

The family story that of Helen; her husband, David; and their young children has been told by their son, Dr. Solomon Pinczewski of Poway and Linda Rosenberg in From Bergen-Belsen to Brooklyn.

This is Pinczewskis first book and second for Rosenberg, who teaches English in San Diego.

I actually started the book more than 20 years ago by taping conversations with my mom and dad, Pinczewski said. I felt that most of the people who survived concentration camps never had a story that involved the Mafia.

Bergen-Belsen was a concentration camp in Germany. It is the same camp where Anne Frank died. Pinczewski says his parents met in the camp.

After five years in the camp from 1940 to 1945 his mother weighed only 80 pounds when she was freed.

She had typhus and all kinds of health issues, he said. And she had been hit over the head; a British surgeon operated on her head and saved her life.

His father was in the camp for four years and freed at the same time. However, it took a while for each to discover the other was still alive.

Once she recovered, she went to find my father, he said. Since she was bald from the surgery, her friends put together a wig for her. She was riding on the back of a motorcycle, and having to hang onto her luggage and her wig with both hands. Of course, they finally met and were married in December 1945.

Pinczewski was born in 1948 and the family remained in Germany until 1949. After being sponsored by a relative that same year, the family arrived in Brooklyn.

Needing income, his father decided to open a candy store, as it required relatively little money. Neither parent spoke English in the beginning. The family lived in a small room behind the store in a predominantly Italian neighborhood.

I slept on crates from the store and a mattress on top, Pinczewski said. The room was only about 500 square feet.

What the young family didnt realize was that the 19th Hole the bar and club next door was the hangout for all five families of the mafia.

We were in a totally mafia controlled neighborhood, Pinczewski said. The gangsters were vicious people.

But as described in his book, Pinczewski says his mother quickly charmed the local Mafia boss, who admired her spirit and sense of humor and decided that the numbers tattooed on her arm were proof that she had suffered enough.

He helped my parents in many incidences, such as when gangsters tried to get my father to sell stolen goods, he said. My mother dealt with all the gangsters. My father was very hot tempered and they would have killed him if not for her.

Pinczewski describes his mother as the Jewish version of Sophia, the fictional mother of Dorothy in The Golden Girls television show. Thats the kind of person she was, he said.

My parents were able to make a living from the candy store, and I was able to make friends of all different kinds and faiths, Pinczewski said. It gave me and my younger brother born 12 years after me the opportunity to be Americans, which is what they really wanted.

I look at it as a sweet time, as difficult as it was, he said. Its incredible that life turned out the way it did for us. I became a dentist and my brother is a prominent attorney in New York.

Now 73, Pinczewski and his wife, Ellen, have lived in Poway for 31 years. They knew of the area, and moved here to retire. Their daughters, Jessica and Jacqueline, attended Poway schools.

Jessica, 43, and her husband have two young sons. The family moved from New York to Rancho Bernardo during the pandemic. Jacqueline, 36, is also married and teaches special education in New York.

Im so happy that I can leave this legacy for my grandchildren, Pinczewski said. It will be wonderful for them to know their heritage. He added, My mom knew I was writing it. I wish it had been completed before she passed.

From Bergen-Belsen to Brooklyn can be ordered through Amazon, priced at $14.99 for paperback and $7.99 for Kindle version.

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Holocaust survivors, a candy store and the mafia make for unusual family memoir - The San Diego Union-Tribune

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