Old Jewish woman tells in Spanish with a Cuban accent her escape from the Lithuanian ghetto | The USA Print


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Suly Chenkin, a Holocaust survivor, gives lectures and presentations in which she shares her life testimony and warns about the danger of discrimination.

Suly Chenkin, a Holocaust survivor, gives lectures and presentations in which she shares her life testimony and warns about the danger of discrimination.

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Suly Chenkin was three years old when she was introduced to fear. Her diminutive figure stood at the window to watch several men in long coats with rifles and German shepherd dogs walking through a square. Faster than flying, a relative of hers pulled her by the strap of her dress and saved her from being shot to death.

“If any of those Nazis had looked and disliked the Jewish girl’s face, I would have been machine-gunned to death,” says Chenkin, who was among the 32,000 Jews who have been confined to the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania since 1941.

At the end of World War II, only 6,000 Jews remained from the Kovno ghetto. The rest were sent to concentration camps, or died of starvation, cold, and disease in a place where each person had to survive in a 10-square-foot space.

January 27 commemorates the International Holocaust Remembrance Day because on that date in 1945 the liberation of the remaining prisoners in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, Poland occurred.

A ‘Cuban’ survivor of the Holocaust

Chenkin is one of the few Holocaust survivors who can tell her testimony in Spanish, because her parents, after leaving the concentration camps and joining her in Israel, took her to Cuba.

Little Suly came to the island – which she calls paradise – at the age of 6, and then she only spoke Yiddish and Hebrew. Today, at 82, when she tells of her miraculous escape from the Kovno ghetto, she does so in a perfect Cuban accent. On the island she studied, was happy, lived in Vedado, and witnessed the success of her parents, who set up an underwear business, the Perro T-shirts, until Castroism arrived and they emigrated to the United States.

The testimony of Chenkin, who usually gives lectures on the Holocaust and his life experience, was present at the meeting of the Hispanic Jewish Entertainment Industry Allianceheld in Miami last week.

The organization, which brings together artists, influencers and Hispanic and Jewish media executives, aims to join forces to end the rise in anti-Semitic hate attacks and incidents. It is chaired by media executive Joshua Mintz.

Suly Chenkin (center) with Joshua Mintz, president of the Hispanic-Jewish Entertainment Alliance, and Leah Soibel, executive director of Fuente Latina.

“2022 was the year with the most hate attacks directed at the Jewish community, verbal attacks and on social media,” said Leah Soibel, executive director of Fuente Latina, a Miami-based nonprofit that works to ensure accurate coverage of Israel and the Jewish world in the Hispanic media.

Soibel, whose ancestors died in the extermination camps, points out that Hispanics consume a lot of information through the networks, “more than any other racial group,” he said, so they are the target of misinformation, which in many cases comes in the form of of anti-Semitic images and comments that spread stereotypes about the Jewish community.

‘Never more’

Chenkin knows what it is to be forced to forget her name, not to repeat it in public, because her life depended on it. That was the recommendation her father gave her when they were smuggling her out of her ghetto, and she never betrayed it. She cried but didn’t say her name.

The need to escape began with a warning. A Lithuanian Christian who had been Chenkin’s nanny before the war risked her life and went to the gate of the ghetto to tell her father that she had to get her out of there. “The Nazis were taking children under the age of 13,” she told him.

The Nazi officer who was Chenkin’s father’s boss in the ghetto also told him that he had to get the girl out of there. As in a movie, the man who was there to watch him was the same one who gave him news of the war: the Germans were losing. The girl had to be taken out, and for that the Nazi gave Chenkin’s father a safe conduct, so that he could go to the city and find someone who wanted to take care of a Jewish girl. But who was going to take that responsibility?

In the end, a brave woman appeared, an 18-year-old Jew, from a prominent and very religious family, who had managed to pass as a Christian and managed to save several children.

“They put me asleep in a bread sack, and they took me in a cart to the end of the ghetto, with the justification that the mill was there. On the other side was the lady who was going to rescue me, the genius of everything, who she took me in a stroller, ”says Chenkin.

A month later, in July 1944, the Jews were taken to the concentration camps, and the ghetto was dynamited. Fifteen days later the Russians arrived. Then began an odyssey for the survivors who did not have documents, who were sent to the Soviet sector, where they did not want to go.

It took Chenkin and his savior, Miriam Shulman, ten months to travel through several European countries to reach Romania and from there embark to Palestine, because the state of Israel did not yet exist. By then Miriam had already adopted her because her parents had ended up in the concentration camps. Luckily, they both survived, and her mother did not rest until she was reunited with Chenkin in Israel.

Then comes the miraculous part of how Chenkin’s father was able to track down his brothers who had immigrated to Cuba in the 1920s. One of them had died, and the widow had moved on, but a “good guy” Cuban postman, as he put it, Called Chenkin, he went to see a “Polish” merchant – as they call Jews in Cuba – to see how they could get the letter to the addressee. And the other brother received the letter and got documents and tickets for the family.

On February 6, 1947, Sully arrived in Cuba, and was so well received that it took time for her to realize that she was different.

“They kissed me, they hugged me, they gave me candies. I was convinced that all of Cuba was Jewish, until Christmas arrived, and I couldn’t put up the little tree and I saw the distinction, ”she says.

“My dad, who was very wise, taught me never to take anti-Semitism and being Jewish as a blanket to cover up failure and failure,” Chenkin says, explaining that when Jews say “never again,” they don’t mean that discriminatory situations and tragedies are not going to happen again, but rather they are not going to let them happen, they will not sit idly by, “because that can happen to the Jew, the African-American and the one who has a turned nose” .

It was also their father who set the optimistic note when they had to leave Cuba and start over. “Don’t complain, don’t cry, you have life and freedom.”

The family settled in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Chenkin one day decided to move to New York, taking a job at a company that had offices in the Empire State Building.

“One day my mom came to visit me, and looking at the lights of the city, from my office, at sunset, she said to me: ‘Look, Hitler is with the devil, and you are on top of the world,’” Chenkin concluded, who worked there for 20 years and then returned to Charlotte, from where he travels across the country to give lectures on the Holocaust.

He has already been alerted by another holocaust survivorthe Italian senator Liliana Segre, if it is not told, if it is not talked about, the Holocaust will one day only occupy a few lines in textbooks.

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Sarah Moreno covers business, entertainment, and trends in South Florida. She graduated from the University of Havana and Florida International University. @SarahMoreno1585

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