Holocaust Revelations By Es Goodman
Mom kept over sixty years of her private war locked up inside her.
Mom is a survivor.
It was during one of my annual visits to New York when she decided to open up to me. That week in January was so cold: with record breaking minus fifteen-‐degree temperatures, we decided to stay inside. Besides, being in California for the past two decades left me thin blooded, lending me inadequate to brave the winds.
Mom and I decided to go through her bedroom closet and organize it. Being the taller of the two, I took things down from the top shelf. There was a shallow cardboard box wedged in the back corner. The package had a dusty, plastic sheet over it. It seemed clear to me the box may have been there since the move-‐in from the early 70’s. The carton and I made our way to her bed, where inside I found a brown, worn leather portfolio containing photographs. Perhaps Mom forgot it was there, but it intrigued me since I love old photos.
I motioned to Mom, “Come over and sit down with me for a minute.” She was in the back of her closet admiring a pair of shoes. At eighty-‐four years old, Mom couldn’t possibly navigate in a heel that tall. We shared a laugh about the fact neither one of us could walk in those shoes.
Mom joined me at the bed, and that minute turned into four hours. Inside the binder were the only photos she had after the war. They traveled together from a Deportation Camp in Germany in 1945 to Ellis Island, New York in 1949. During those few hours chatting about the images spread out on her bed, I decided I needed to write Mom’s story down. Her memories are the basis of another story currently in the works.
The story I’d like to tell you now are about my journeys. It’s about how I came to find the information to go forward to write Mom’s memoir and the kindness of many strangers.
One particular black and white photograph in the binder piqued my interest—it was of a seated man, wearing a uniform with Royal Crests on his sleeves. He had only a slight smile, and showed sadness in his eyes. On the back, he wrote,
“Meiner Lieben Rozi, Als Erinnerung. Ernest Finch
Eutin, Marz 1946”
I asked Mom who Ernest Finch was, and she replied, “He’s the soldier who saved my life.” There was an awkward silence for what seemed like minutes but was only seconds.
“Ernest Finch,” she said again, without even turning the photo over to read the inscription. I asked her what he wrote and the translation went something like, “My dear Rozi, with inspiration, his name and Eutin, the name of the city in Germany and the year.”
“Please tell me what you remember about him,” I asked.
“The Germans put us on a train. I don’t know where they took us but it was a relief from the marching we did for days. Above us, I heard the roar of plane engines. Suddenly, a loud noise, lights of many colors flashed. Our train was bombed. My cousins and I ran toward the woods. I felt the warm, sticky feel of blood on my neck when I touched it, but I really don’t think I felt anything at that point. I was not in pain. I just wanted to run to safety. I ran as far as I could, until I couldn’t go on. Weak and barely able to breathe, I fell to the ground. I don’t know how long I’d been there, but I saw a tank. I remember thinking, ‘they’ll kill us for sure’. I must have passed out because the next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital bed. At that point, I don’t know how much time had passed. In the corner, sitting in a chair, much like in the picture, I see him. Ernest Finch.” She pointed to the photo.
She continued with her story, the details pouring out of her like water.
“He told me the story of how his Company saw me, and my 2 cousins bleeding in the woods. That day was May 3, 1945. He got us Red Cross and placed us in a hospital. He sent soldiers to stand guard daily for my safety and a few years later, he arranged for my relatives in New York to meet your Dad and I at Ellis Island, in America.”
My head was spinning as I absorbed all this new information. ‘I must write her story down,’ I promised myself. Living three thousand miles away, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task. So much dialogue would be by telephone. More than sixty years passed since her ordeal. What would she want to talk about after so much time elapsed? I didn’t want it to sound like an interrogation. I’m sure she had enough of that all those years ago. In years past, the Spielberg Shoah Foundation approached Mom for her testimony. She declined them several times. I’m sure she had been questioned extensively, and would not welcome more no matter how many years passed by.
One mission kept gnawing at me. I needed to thank this man Ernest Finch, and his family. Mom told me she didn’t remember thanking him after the war ended. He at least deserved that much.
And so, when I got back to the comfort of my home computer, my research began. I posted a note to BAOR-‐British Army Of The Rhine, and included Finch’s photo. I
posted the same notes and photos to all the British War Museum links I could find. I posted notes to Holocaust websites, and DP Camp websites. Months passed and I didn’t hear back from anyone. I got discouraged but kept sending notes and information to every website related to the British Zone DP camps.
Finally, that September, I received e-‐mail from a lady in London, England named Lynne Finch. She told me Ernest Finch was her father. My heart raced when I finally thought all these months of research paid off. The pieces fit until she mailed me copies of photographs. Clearly, he was not the same soldier. My photo revealed a short man, with dark hair and eyes. Her father was tall and blond. Defeated but not down, we bonded a lasting friendship to this day. Lynne Finch is still searching for any information on her dad. I do what I can to help.
After many more months of research and “Googling,” I found a book written about the slave labor camp Muna Lubberstedt Mom was in after Auschwitz. I contacted the author and he kindly sent me his book, no charge. It is entirely written in German. Rudy Kahrs has been invaluable to me with research. He sent me copies of letters, documents, and pictures and some interpretation of the book he wrote. My next mission was to find someone to read the book to me or take up the German language.
After a few months, I got a response from BAOR’s website administrator whose name was Phil. Phil wrote me, “The uniform Ernest Finch is wearing in the photo shows he was a Warrant Officer. He’s someone very important in his Company. He will do more research and get back to me.” I heard nothing for a while after.
A few days later, an Englishman named Alan Yates emailed me with more information and book recommendations. Alan confirmed what Phil wrote. Ernest Finch was a Warrant Officer, Second Class in the Royal Regiment of Artillery. I’m elated because things are starting to piece together. Alan’s months of hard work eventually led to information that Ernest Finch was once ‘Ernst Fink’, a German man who fled Hitler’s Germany to go to England and fight with the Kings Army. Several books on the subject list these men and women as “Enemy Aliens.” After hearing this, my mother ‘s cousin who was with mom through the war, confirmed Ernest Finch spoke German and was a German Jew.
Through more research, we come to find ‘Ernst Fink’ was a “Dunera Boy.” This was a ship by the same name that sailed from England to Australia early on in the war. Great Britain was not convinced these ‘Enemy Aliens’ could be trusted, so they sent thousands there. Later on, Britain sent these men and women back to England. Many were sent back to Germany toward war’s end to serve as translators in POW camps.
‘Ernst Fink’ went back to England, and then sent to France and Germany to defend Great Britain. There he stayed until 1948, serving his Army as an interpreter in Germany and governed over the Deportation Camp my mother was placed in.
For a while this was as far as Alan and I got with information. I fretted, having come so far and now at a standstill. How was I going to find where he went? I desperately wanted to thank him for saving my Mom. I tried “Googling” his name but came up short with every spelling variation. Alan was helping but coming up short too. Information slowed down for both of us.
Finally, through Alan Yates’s diligence, we found Queen Mary ship registries showing Ernest Finch left England for the USA in 1948. He had changed his name from Fink to Finch. The ship registry showed Ernest’s wife name. I decided to “Google” it, and the first thing that Google brought up was an obituary. Ilsa Finch died in 2007. I got Goosebumps all over my body. I felt I was this close to thanking this family.
The obituary listed the names of two nieces living in San Diego. I used LinkedIn and Facebook to send messages. Two days later, I got a response back from one of the nieces. She offered me her mother’s phone number. We spoke at length and indeed, Ernest Finch was her Great Uncle. He had lived in San Diego till 1972, where he died. I offered my condolences and thanked her for his great deeds. We’ve spoken a few times after that, but I did what I set out to do and thank Ernest Finch and his family for saving my mom that fateful day.
To think; Ernest Finch, the Officer who saved my mothers life lived only an hour from me. Imagine, if Ernest Finch lived and I found him after 1989, which was when I moved out here? Mom used to come to California every year and stay for six weeks at a time. Imagine if Ernest Finch and Mom reunited? I wonder to this day if it would have been utterly wonderful, awkward or uneventful given the fact that Mom buried her secrets so deep within her.
My research led me to other places with the help of Alan Yates, but I will save them for another time. Alan has been invaluable to me, and my research. If not for him, I don’t know that I would have come this far. We have become very good friends but limited only to computer bytes. One day I would very much like to meet Alan Yates in person. I thank Alan every day for his research and persistence. Without him, I doubt I would have been able to connect the dots.
Alan Yates, thank you for all your hard work and kindness, and to Lynne, Phil and Rudy and Ilsa’s nieces. You have helped me through the kindness in your hearts, expecting nothing in return, I thank you all~ One day I will pay if forward.
Mom, I love you and I know how difficult this has been for you. Thank you. The genesis of this story is based on a book I’m writing.
The book’s working title is, “Because of Sergeant Finch.”