About Shirle D Horowitz (Besser)
Silverware pattern united relatives after World War II , by Sara Appel-Lennon
SAN DIEGO--This story began in 1924 in Lodz, Poland and continues to this day in San Diego and travels to Geneva, Switzerland. Shirle Besser Horowitz from San Diego told me the story about her paternal uncle and aunt, Chaskiel and Malke Besser. Their grand-daughter, Florence, from Geneva, Switzerland helped to answer some of my questions.
Chaskiel and Malke Besser owned and operated a pensionne (bed and breakfast/hotel) called Pensjonal Beserowej in Lodz. They enjoyed running their business together as husband and wife but they were lonely for family relatives. They wished that someone would visit them in the “old country” but Poland was not a vacation hotspot.
Travel was a luxury they couldn’t afford, since they needed to stay nearby to tend to their guests. They had to keep the rooms clean, well-stocked with sheets and towels, and supply enough food to feed an army since the Polish army officers vacationed there regularly.
One day their prayers were answered. An American couple from Patterson, New Jersey, who believed they were relatives from Malke’s family, brought word of Chaskiel’s brother, Julius, living In America.
They visited Chaskiel and Malke without bringing a gift because they didn’t know that in Europe, it was customary to bring a gift if visiting someone. They were unfamiliar that in polite society it was considered a grand faux pas to appear at someone’s door empty handed even if they were visiting relatives.
Even though they didn’t bring a gift, they brought photos. Chaskiel smiled with delight as he looked at the photos of his brother and Fanny and their three children. He hadn’t heard from his brother since 1907 when he left for America. He wondered what happened to him but he had no way of getting in touch with him. He and Malke were filled with elation when their relatives came to visit. Chaskiel and Malke felt deeply touched that they travelled such a long distance to see them, and tell them about the news of his brother, in America.
To mark this momentous occasion, Chaskiel and Malke wanted to give a token of their appreciation to their extended family. But what could they give that would be long lasting, practical, and symbolic?
They had so many sets of silverware from their bed and breakfast. They decided to give their new found relatives a few sets of their silverware to represent the warmth and hospitality that they felt upon first meeting them.
Chaskiel decided to engrave an inscription on the silverware so their relatives would remember them and tell future generations this story.
In Yiddish he engraved the following on the silverware.
From Uncle CH.B. 1926 Lodz
The CH.B stood for Chaskiel Besser and Lodz was the city in Poland where he lived.
Chaskiel and Malke gave the couple three sets of silverware to pass on to Julius and Fanny with the understanding that each of their three children—Shirle, and her two brothers— would receive a set of silverware.
The couple returned to America with the three sets of silverware. When the relatives wrote letters, they neglected to mention the silverware. Chaskiel and Malke were uncertain whether all three sets arrive at their final destination.
As the 1920s drew to a close and the 1930s approached, Chaskiel and Malke wrote to their children. Their two daughters, Rose and Bronka went to Czeckoslovakia to study medicine because Jews were not allowed to study medicine in Poland. When Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, they went to Switzerland to complete their program.
In 1939 Chaskiel and Malke wrote to their kids “come home quickly because it’s war.” Rose and Bronka were forced to stay in Geneva, Switzerland, because the borders were closed. The oldest daughter, Ida, who had been a pharmacist, (and paid for her sisters to attend medical school,) and a son, Maniek, who was an engineer, returned to Poland.
Chaskiel and Malke stopped writing letters in 1942 because they and daughter, Ida, age 35 were all sent to Majdanek Concentration Camp in Poland, where they were murdered in November 1943.Their son, Maniek, age 28, jumped off a transport and was killed in the escape attempt.
After the war, Rose travelled to America, She arrived in New York and started tracing the whereabouts of her uncle, Julius. Although she had never met Julius, she had heard about how he came to America when he was seventeen years old to avoid being drafted by the Russian Army.
Rose inquired at an organization where Jews from Radomsko, Poland met regularly. A man told her that he had heard that Julius and his wife Fanny lived in Los Angeles.
While Rose could speak French, Yiddish, and Polish, English was still unfamiliar to her. Nonetheless, in 1949 she called Julius and Fanny in Los Angeles while she was visiting New York. Fanny answered the phone and relayed the message to Julius.
Rose told Fanny, “I was born in Lodz, Poland and I now live in Geneva, Switzerland. I believe that Julius is my uncle.” Fanny relayed the message to Julius with her hand over the receiver so Rose could not hear their conversation.
With knit brows, Julius grabbed the phone from Fanny. ‘Young lady, anyone could tell me she was my niece from Europe.” Julius worried that this was a prank from someone who was after his money.
Fanny came back on the phone and told Julius that she talked about the three sets of silverware. Julius sighed deeply as his face visibly softened. He took the phone.
Rose told him that she was fifteen when her mom and dad gave away the three sets of silverware. She mentioned the inscription on the silverware and described the CHB and Lodz.
As Shirle relayed the story to me, her father replied “Young lady, if you know about the silverware, then you must be my niece. We would like to meet you and we’ll pay for your trip.”
Although Rose did not feel sure of herself when she spoke English, she explained that she was a doctor and that she could pay her own way. She wasn’t looking for money, she was looking for family.
Like her parents, Rose wanted a connection with relatives. Soon after, Julius, Fanny, Shirle, and her two brothers met Rose for the first time. Getting together became an annual event.
The inscribed silverware pattern served as a reminder of the warmth and hospitality that Chaskiel and Malke Besser had shared with their American relatives back in 1924.
In reconstructing the story, I spoke with Chaskel and Malke’s grand-daughter, Florence, who resides in Geneva, Switzerland. She used a magnifying glass to describe the inscription to me. Between both of us speaking French and Yiddish, we were able to decipher the inscription. She referred to me as Inspector Clouseau as we both chuckled with pride that we worked so well together while being on separate continents.