A face of the Holocaust is no more

December 23, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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Marika Weinberger, a Holocaust survivor who spent her life in Australia telling the story of its history so that the world would never forget what happened in Nazi Europe, has passed away. 

Marika Weinberger

Marika Weinberger   Born Ksoice, Slovakia :  August 7, 1928                                Died Sydney, Australia: December 22, 2014                                                            Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

She became the face of the Holocaust with other notable survivors Eddie Jaku, Olga Horak and David Bendykt who still tell of their wartime experiences to thousands of visitors each year at Sydney’s The Jewish Museum.

Marika Weinberger was a resident of the Montefiore’s Randwick campus where she remained active on the residents’ committee. She had experienced cardiac problems and passed away in St Vincent’s Hospital at the age of 86.

CEO of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff told J-Wire: “Marika Weinberger was the epitome of dignity. Whenever she spoke, it was with depth, poignancy, erudition and a remarkable command of the English language. She was an icon of the community and we are all the poorer for her passing.”

The tributes to Marika Weinberger flowed as the Sydney community farewelled a much admired woman.

The driving force behind the creation of the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) she was passionate in her belief in the welfare of Holocaust survivors. Those who knew her were full of admiration for her drive and dedication to the causes close to her heart.

Gus Lehrer, President of SJM told J-Wire that Marika Weinberger was the “spirit of the Museum and without her the Museum would not exist today.”

Marika Weinberger was an honorary Life Member of the SJM Board as well as an Honorary Life Member of SJM.

Her constant mantra, recalled Norman Seligman, SJM CEO, was “Remember one thing. The voice of the survivor is the voice of all who perished; the voice of the living and the voice of the dead” he quoted.

George Foster, Immediate Past President of the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants (AAJHSD), said that despite all she had endured as a young woman, she had a positive attitude to life. She doted on her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, always grateful that she had these blessings in her life.

“She was a mentor to me and always worked for the welfare of survivors” said Foster.

Giving credit to her vision, Peter Wayne, President of AAJHSD, said she had worked hard to impress the late John Saunders on the need for a Holocaust Museum and persuaded him to make the museum his legacy.

“She never sought kudos for her involvement in bringing the dream to reality. Marika was feisty and did not suffer fools gladly” said Wayne.

He fondly remembered the great respect and devotion she had always shown for her late husband, Alex.

The Central Synagogue’s Rabbi Levi Wolff delivered the eulogy at the Chevra Kadisha in Woollahra.

He said: “The Shulchan Aruch writes that at a funeral during the days of Chanukah, we don’t eulogise… unless, it’s the passing of a Talmud chacham, a torah scholar – or someone whose life, came to represent holiness and reflected their creator.

Today my dear friends we have come to be with Kathy and Yvonne, and their families, to farewell their dear mother who represented Kadusha, she was a holy woman, a riches Jewess, and a precious Eishat Chayal. Having lived through the horrors of the concentration camps, Marika’s life was dedicated to bringing light back to G-d’s frail world…indeed it was a shining light that emerged from the deepest of all Darkness.

It’s by no coincidence that her dear soul returned to her maker during these days of Chanukah, for her life came to represent everything of a Menorah. Like a menorah Marika brought light to this world not only during Chanukah, but all year round. Like a Menorah that stands tall outside of just our private home, Marika become known as the Shamaesh the tallest candle on our Menorah that shines light not only within our Jewish community, but also the broader one.

Ki Ner Mitzvah Vitorah Or, our Rabbis teach, that every mitzvah is a candle, and Torah becomes our light. Each day of Marika’s life, ever since being liberated from the camps, she has been lighting candles through her kindness to others, through her way of living as a proud Jewess, through her selfless work in many organisations and most of all by raising a family, deeply committed to yiddeshkeit, yes, her Menorah has lit up… G-d’s world.

My wife Chanie and I were blessed to of had a very close relationship with Marika. We spoke often; we would also receive phone calls from her on special occasions throughout the year. And just a few weeks ago when my brother was in town I took him to meet Marika at the Monte. In fact I posted a picture of her on my Instagram and FB showing her standing in front of her room talking to us about the significance of the silverware behind the glass show case.

She told us of the last time she saw her parents, grandparents, and other members of her family and friends. It was day – that infamous day of her arrival to Auschwitz.

“My sister Edith and I were lining up to know our fate, which was to be decided by Dr Josef Mengele, referred to as the ‘Angel of Death.’ Would we live or would we die? We were at his mercy. Being only fifteen my chances of being selected to live were slim. But how could I know that? We had just arrived after days in overcrowded cattle trucks, totally exhausted and confused, trying to remain sane with soldiers screaming and dogs barking everywhere. It was under these circumstances that an angelic man, in a striped uniform, came close to me and asked, “How old are you?” I told him I was fifteen. He came closer and said “No, you are eighteen!”

He was an inmate who obviously knew what my fate would be if I was asked my age and gave a truthful answer. I was asked – and I lied. ‘Eighteen,’ I said. This man, who I never saw again, saved me from the gas chambers where life ended for all my cousins and many of my friends.

I must tell you he did that knowing he would pay with his life if caught speaking to and advising new arrivals at this hell on earth. Sixty years on I often think about him. I wonder what his ultimate fate was. I always include him in my prayers.”

The silverware behind the glass at her room in Monte was what Marika managed to retrieve from her backyard of her home after the war ended. The Nazi’s having raided their home, threw these artifacts into the yard and Marika dug them up and found them intact. Marika used them to make Kiddush and remember her blessings.

The great Israeli Statesman Abba Eban once said of the Jewish People that we are a people who cannot take yes for an answer; that we’re always looking for the tunnel at the end of the light! By that definition and indeed by any definition Marika was a true daughter of Israel.

All of you here knew her as the public figure – the passionate and tireless spokesperson for the Survivors who had demonstrated their trust in her by electing her time and again to lead their Association. After many years spent raising a family and making a living this position allowed her to apply her keen and formidable intellect. From this position she was also deeply involved, with her late husband Alex, in the committee to establish the Sydney Jewish Museum. We owe her a great debit for the Museum being what it is today.

Marika was a woman with a very strong sense of what was proper and appropriate to any occasion and she was even prepared to stand in gutsy opposition to a leading judge. She was never caught short of a feisty one-liner delivered with devastating pace. Part of her Neshama will always remain with the Museum and her fellow Survivors.

Because of her 22 years of selfless devotion to these causes she was awarded an OAM in 2001. This was a matter of great pride for her as was the fact that she felt that she established a true rapport with Dr Marie Bashir, who was the Governor of New South Wales at that time and who continued to show an interest in Marika’s activities.

The previous year Marika was honoured to be a Torch Bearer for the Sydney Paralympics. Her family turned out in force to cheer her on and although they expected her to walk, she spontaneously broke into a run. It was magnificent. And the torch that she carried had pride of place on her wall even when she had moved to the Montefiore Home.

This was a marvellous link to her childhood and youth in Czechoslovakia where her family, who were fully traditional, but also well integrated, encouraging Marika to pursue her sporting activities. She was a particularly good swimmer and even when the Jewish team was banned from the public swimming pool until after 8.00 at night when the water was already cold, they embodied moral resistance to the oppression by continuing their training. Similarly when Marika could no longer attend public school and even the Catholic college which had accepted her at double-fees would no longer enrol her, she travelled each week from her home in Koshitze where she boarded for 3 nights each week with a Jewish couple who taught in their home. Despite this brave attempt to continue her education it was a sadness that burdened her all her life that she was unable to study medicine.

Her personality was formed by these early experiences: her uncle was a GP in Koshitze who refused to remove his Kippah saying that if patients objected to it they were welcome to attend another doctor.

Marika truly valued domestic virtues. She was house-proud and always took pride in her table – the setting, the linen, and the food that was served. Together with her late husband Alex A”H, she elevated every Shabbat and Yom Tov meal to a memorable occasion. Her table displayed her deep and unswerving love of both Israel and Australia – the lands that had given her and her family refuge in 1950. She may have cooked recipes from the “old country” such as goulash and schnitzel – she had a particular need to serve cholent no matter what the outside temperature was – but her favourite cakes were lamington and Swiss roll which she associated with her early days in Brisbane.

For the last 3.5 years her home has been the Montefiore Home in Randwick where she received the love and care and friendship from her fellow residents and the wonderful dedicated staff that enabled her to reach her age of 86.

Like the Menorah, with its many branches, her families Menorah was blessed with many bright candles, Rebecca, Rami and Tahni, Lara and Michael, Richard. And her great-grandchildren, Noa, Jemima, Amielle, Ashley, and Seth.

I will never forget how on the Shabbes before Lara and Michael’s wedding, when the family was at my home for Shabbes lunch she sat there and said: …In my wildest dreams I never imagined that one day I will be able to live to see my grandchild’s wedding!

Yes, you children and grandchildren were the most satisfying thing in her life, watching the tree grow and the Jewish family bloom again.

By seeing her family carry on a committed way of Jewish life Marika felt her mission of survival was finally complete.

She was blessed with two daughters who gave us all a lesson on what it means to have Kibud Av v’em, respect and honour to a parent! You did everything for her and she always made mention to me how appreciative she was for your endless love and selfless care for her.

While we will all miss Marika so much today we didn’t come to mourn, but today we have come to salute, to celebrate, how a single survivor has built her own bait hamkdash, carved out a golden Menorah and kindled each of its branches so magnificently.

Through her amazing work, at the Jewish Museum and the many speeches she has given, thousands of adults and children have heard her story. She has taught them not to be sad for her, “my life is a miracle, your life can also be a miracle, my life has a happy ending and your life can have a happy ending too”.

To her dear family I say, to each of you, that you are here to insure that her survival will have a happy ending, like the Chanuka story…where despite all odds….the many against the few, the strong against the weak, Marika Weinberger is our very own Maccabbee… transforming the deepest DARKNESS into the brightest LIGHT.

Today we say to you Tova bat Yitzchak HaCohen, Our Marika you can rest in peace, you have children and grandchildren who are each going to carry on your tremendous Jewish sprit.    You are their Chanukiya’s Shamosh who’s light will continue to give light!      May you be reunited with your loved ones, and may you be bound with the one of true life. Amen.”

Marika Weinberger OAM:  Born August 7, 1928 – Kosice, Slovakia. Died December 22, 2014 – Sydney Australia

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