Community of Holocaust Survivors Dwindles in Queens
ONE thing about life in New York: wherever you are, the neighborhood is always changing. An Italian enclave becomes Senegalese; a historically African-American corridor becomes a magnet for white professionals. The accents and rhythms shift; the aromas become spicy or vegetal. The transition is sometimes smooth, sometimes bumpy. But there is a sense of loss among the people left behind, wondering what happened to the neighborhood they once thought of as their own.
For Sophia Goldberg, change has meant the end of a way of life.
On a recent morning Ms. Goldberg sat in her tidy seventh-floor living room, surrounded by needlepoint portraits stitched by her own hands, and sighed over the changes immediately around her.
Ms. Goldberg, 98, lives in a 19-story apartment house in Flushing, Queens, one of two neighboring buildings that were erected for survivors of the Holocaust. When she moved there in 1978, she said, her neighbors formed a tight community of predominantly Jewish refugees like her who had fled to the United States from Austria or Germany.
“We had parties,” Ms. Goldberg said, her voice barely above a whisper. “We had card games. It was our people. We had Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in our apartment.”
Now, she said, “It’s completely changed — I have no neighbors here.”
For Ms. Goldberg, the transformation has been steady and overwhelming. Of the 326 residents in her building, now only 31 are Holocaust survivors, and only 7 of them are German or Austrian.
The new neighbors are friendly enough. But she said: “We do not talk. We say hello, goodbye. But that’s it. They don’t speak German. They don’t speak English. They speak Russian and Chinese. Sometimes they just shake their heads.”
…Survivors often draw a ‘hierarchy of suffering,’ he said, distinguishing their hardships from others’. Even in a diminishing community, there is a tendency to divide into subgroups: Russians from Germans, adult survivors from child survivors, people who survived concentration camps from those who fled ahead of the soldiers.
For the survivors in Flushing, this has meant a change within their community in addition to the one without. Russian-speaking survivors, mostly Soviet émigrés from the 1980s and 1990s, are now a majority. Compared with the buildings’ original German and Austrian residents, the Russian-speaking survivors are younger, poorer, newer to the United States and less likely to speak English. Of 71 total survivors in six Selfhelp buildings, only 9 are from Germany and 3 from Austria.