Rachel Roth - Special Recognition Award
2017 Chai Society Community Mitzvah Awards Dinner
The teenage daughter of a well-respected journalist, Rachel Roth grew up in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. After the Nazi occupation of Poland, in September 1939, her father was quickly targeted and forced to flee to Palestine through Russia.
The remaining family was forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. Losing her family members in the summer of 1942, Rachel suffered from hunger and forced labor. At age 17, Rachel managed to smuggle for the underground resistance a few weapons used in the heroic Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 1943.
The Nazis caught and deported Rachel and her aunt Hela. Rachel faced hard labor, illness and deprivation in three concentration camps; Majdanek, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. To sustain hope and stave off their hunger, she would eloquently visualize to other camp inmates the elaborate Shabbat dinners in her home before the war. One older prisoner in Majdanek made Rachel promise to survive and write about her experiences.
After the war, Rachel was reunited with her father in Palestine and began life anew, sharing in the formation of the State of Israel and raising a family. Facing financial hardship, the family moved to the United States in late 1967 arriving with six dollars in hand. Working 65 hours a week, she and her husband built a quilt and linen business from scratch. Rachel and Shlomo accomplished the American dream, buying their first home in 1973 on Staten Island. They continued to grow their family having a fifth child with Downs Syndrome, Masha. Rachel’s many varied roles in life now included being a mainstreaming activist (before it was fashionable) ensuring that her daughter would get the best education possible. While continuing to manage the quilt store in Brooklyn, she acted as general contractor for the construction of a home on Todt Hill. They enjoyed life on Staten Island until 2008 when they moved closer to their grandchildren in Manhattan. Rachel often returns to local schools and colleges to educate our youth about the darkest period of modern history. More than ever she reminds us not to allow hatred and intolerance to be permitted in our world.
Today at a spry 92, Rachel, the author of Here There Is No Why (available in English, Spanish and Hebrew) talks about the Shoah at schools and synagogues in South Africa, Israel, Poland and New York. She received an honorary high school diploma from The Ramaz School in Manhattan for her contribution to the holocaust curriculum and for escorting 3 senior trips to Poland to give living testimony. She has spoken before the US State Department as well Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries.
Rachel has taken her adolescent experiences of death and destruction and become a hard working woman filled with life, joy, and meaning. Every day that she lives, breaths, and thrives is a victory against the hatred that threatened the Jewish people’s existence.
She revels in the knowledge that she and her late husband, Shlomo, have 51 descendants and counting including children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Rachel is a living symbol of victory against Hitler and the Nazis. More importantly, she is a symbol of perseverance, hope, and strength for us.
Writing about his experience with Rachel as the survivor on the Ramaz High School Senior Journey to Germany and Poland, her grandson wrote; “I thought my grandmother was an amazing person because she survived the Holocaust. I now know that my grandmother survived the Holocaust because she is an amazing person.”
At 92, she still swims and exercises daily and she continues to openly share her tears and laughter as she tells the story of her life experiences. Rachel is a true heroine for her family, Staten Island, the Jewish people, and humanity.