Mania Reich was only 9 years old when the Nazis invaded Kracow, Poland, in 1939. She was the second of two children of a father who owned a small grocery store there. First, the family was corralled into the Kracow ghetto.The family tried to escape the Nazis by moving to a small town nearby called Jaslo, where her father and his family had lived.
Because Jaslo was smaller, the Nazis didn’t gather up the Jews there for another two years. In the meantime, Mania’s mother sent a telegram to “Bronya,” their Catholic gentile nurse and housekeeper. Bronya came and took Mania back to Kracow, agreeing to shelter Mania. Mania lived there throughout out the war, posing as a non-Jewish girl. Bronya subsequently returned to Jaslo to pick up Mania’s brother, Shimon. She got there just in time to see the Nazis loading him and Mania’s mother on a train to Auschwitz. The community was decimated by the Nazis. Her father, who was to be drafted into the Polish army to stop the Nazi tanks with horses, had earlier escaped to Russia, and survived the war there in a Siberian labor camp.
Mania’s father came for her after the war and they left for Belgium. From Belgium, they could only get a transit visa through the US. From the US, they had to go to Canada, and finally managed to get back to the USA. Mania settled in New York with her father, who remarried after the death of Mania’s mother was confirmed. She met her future husband, Joseph (“Faivel”) Jaroslawicz, in 1946 at a singles event for young immigrant survivors on the Circle Line boat ride around Manhattan. They were married in 1952. Mania’s husband went to work with his father and brothers in a company called “Jeros Tackle,” importing and making fishing equipment. They settled in the Bronx and Joseph served as the part-time rabbi of a local Shul. The couple moved to the Boro Park section of Brooklyn and raised four boys. Joseph would say, “We thought about trying again for a girl, to name after Mania’s mother, but we heard that one out of five children born today is Chinese – and we didn’t want to take any chances.” After an extraordinary bill was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, Faivel and Mania managed to bring Bronya into the US, where she lived with them in Boro Park and helped raise their two youngest boys.
Today, the elder two of her sons live here in South Florida with their families, and the other two in New Rochelle and Monsey, just north of the New York area. About 15 years ago, Faivel and Mania moved from Brooklyn to Florida full-time because of health problems, and benefited by being closer to two of their sons already here. Mania’s husband passed away only a few years ago, and now she lives on her own in North Miami Beach, with one of her sons keeping close contact and giving care. The Jewish Federation provides some home care through their Holocaust survivor program. Mania is very different from most of my clientele. She does not live in a facility, and she is a very religious woman with four close and very religious sons.
The way I got involved with Mania is an extraordinary story. Most women Mania’s age (86, kain ayin harah!) are not interested in spiritual growth, but Mania is very much so interested. One day this past summer, Mania told her son, Isaac (who happens to be a close friend of mine), that she wants to learn about Davening. She said she Davens every day, but has very little idea what the words mean. She said she wished she could learn more about the words she says every day. Her son immediately called me. We began learning once a week. We spend most of the time discussing the words in the Siddur and their meaning, and some of the time discussing her difficult, yet inspiring, life, and her unshakable trust in our Creator. I leave this woman’s little apartment the same way every time: humbled and inspired!