Obituary: Maria Geitler Dziewinski

Obituary: Maria Geitler Dziewinski

Maria Geitler Dziewinski, born Jan. 16, 1925, in Krakow Poland, died March 22, 2016, at home with her loving family around her.

Maria, the daughter of Szymon (Simon) and Razsel (Rosalyn) (nee Rosenzweig), survived the Holocaust. In 1939, at the age of 14, she, her parents, sister Sonia and brother Poldek were forced into the ghetto in Krakow. Maria often started her talks to schoolchildren about her wartime experiences with this time. She would tell them that the Nazis forced her to stop going to school because it was outside the ghetto area and was not allowed. Because of her small, delicate hands (as she liked to say), she was forced to work in a garment repair factory, mending German uniforms, gloves and socks. All the workers were women; they worked from daylight until it was too dark to see the work, then they would sleep by their worktables on the floor. When the operation was closed down, the Nazi captain made them stand next to their worktables while he walked behind them, shooting every other woman in the back of the head. The survivors, including Maria, were sent back to the ghetto.

In the winter of 1941, the Nazis rounded up Maria, Sonia and their family and put them on a truck to Plaszow, the concentration camp nearest Krakow. They were going through a line where Germans were selecting workers to one line and those not deemed capable or suitable to work to another line. Maria was directed to one line; her mother, father, brother and sister were sent to the other line. In the tumult of the moment in the night, she grabbed her sister into her line.

They never saw their mother, father or brother again.

At that time the Germans were sending their victims to other, killing camps. It is presumed that is what happened to Maria’s family. Maria and Sonia survived in the women’s barracks of the Krakow-Plaszow camp, working at various sites. If there was no other work, they were forced to break rocks and headstones from the Jewish cemeteries into gravel to be used on roadwork. Much of this time is documented at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website, as well as at Wikipedia.

Plaszow is the camp depicted in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List,” which Maria and her beloved husband, Herman, both agreed was very accurate and truthful. Herman Dziewinski, of blessed memory, and Maria met in the camp at Plaszow. He was working in the stables and soldiers’ kitchens. Because of his position, he was able to sneak food to Maria under the most horrible conditions. He helped her and many others with smuggled food, shelter, hiding in the stables and whatever else he could manage. All of his efforts were forbidden and punishable by death if he were discovered. Maria and Herman fell in love there and pledged to meet at the end of the war if they survived. 

As the war progressed and the Nazis were trying to cover up some of their deeds, they started moving multitudes of prisoners to other camps, through forced marches, inhuman cattle train cars and freight trucks. At one of the forced labor camps, Maria was assigned to making thread in the B.A. Buhl und Sohn factories. In winter 1944, Maria and Sonia were sent to Auschwitz. Once again, they were chosen for the work line rather than the gas chambers. They were processed into the camp, having their registration numbers tattooed on their arms. Maria’s number is A27373, as documented by the records still available at Auschwitz. There was not as much labor at Auschwitz, but the imprisonment and conditions were even worse than at Plaszow. A horrible lack of hygiene, starvation andextreme deprivation were everyday challenges and threats to overcome in order to survive.

One of her friends from that time tells the story of somehow finding a tiny piece of raw potato in the garbage and hiding it in her clothes. She later shared bites of the piece of potato with Maria and Sonia behind the women’s barracks. They all would have been shot if discovered. 

Near the end of the war, in late 1944, Maria and Sonia were sent to Sudetenland as laborers, working in a munitions factory. They were liberated there in early 1945. At that time, Maria began her search for Herman. She was reunited with him, and they fled west. Poland was still not a safe place for Jews. Maria was reticent for many years to talk about her experiences in the camps. The terrible, unlivable conditions made every minute a horror for a young girl, especially. They were sent to a DP (displaced persons) camp near Munich. There they married, reunited with remaining family and began to live again. 

In July 1946, their first child, Erna, was born in Wurmannsquik, Germany. They lived in Germany until 1949, when through the auspices of the American Jewish Federation they were able to come to the United States. Maria, Herman and Erna sailed into Boston Harbor in October 1949 on the S.S. General Hersey. There are various stories about how Maria and family ended up in Atlanta, but they never settled anywhere else. They were helped in so many ways by so many Jewish Atlantans – lodging, work, language, possessions.

They came with very little and started working as soon as possible. Rosie (Rosalyn) was born in April 1950 in Atlanta at Crawford Long Hospital. Herman began working as a butcher and counterman in a small grocery store on Magnolia Street in 1950. Maria was at his side every day, running the front of the store, keeping the books and taking care of customers. Over time, with tremendous effort, Maria and Herman managed to save enough and work enough to buy the store, Herman’s Market on Magnolia Street. 

Their continued hard work and devotion led them to some wise and some lucky investments in real estate in the growing city of Atlanta. Maria and Herman started investing with other survivors and then with family that moved to Atlanta with their help. It was a time of tremendous growth and development in Atlanta. They were proud to be a part of that growth and to help other new immigrant family and survivors. Susan was born in December 1953. Maria was always proud to say that she “went to Emory” for her ESL classes. She and Erna learned their English from ESL, TV, and movies, sometimes sitting through a movie more than once, trying to figure out what they were saying. Maria always wanted to be as American as possible, to the point that she did not want her children to learn other languages at home, insisting they always speak English. Maria was a longtime volunteer at Grady Hospital, helping on Sundays and Wednesdays for over 25 years. She received many plaques and awards of appreciation for her service and generosity. She was always first to give to her charities and causes: Hadassah, Ahavath Achim, Hemshech, Jewish Federation, Yad Vashem.

She always remembered the help and assistance she received in her time of need and was happy to give back to her community. A fashionable lady, she loved to shop, dress up for special occasions and dress her girls, too. Maria was an outstanding donor and participant in many charitable causes in the medical and Jewish communities. Her devotion to and appreciation of Ahavath Achim Synagogue began in the old synagogue on Washington Street, through the 10th Street location to the Peachtree Battle site. She was a member of Sisterhood for all those years. Also, she was active in Hadassah and many other organizations in Atlanta, the U.S. and Israel. Maria, with Herman, was a founding member of Hemshech, the local Holocaust survivors association, and helped fund and build the Holocaust memorial at Greenwood Cemetery. As one of the first such memorial structures in the U.S., it is now recognized as a National Historic Site. She always said that this memorial is so important for so many reasons, but for her, especially so, as this is the only place in the world that her parents and brother are memorialized and gave her a place to pray for their everlasting peace. 

Maria was blessed with and devoted to her two grandsons, Brian Block (Sara Spinner-Block) and Adam Kolotilin, who survive her now, as well as two great-grandsons, Nathan and Jacob Block. She is also survived by her daughters, Erna Schneiderman (Alan), Rosie Meyers (Tony Gonzalez) and Susan.  Maria was lucky in love once again. Her constant and devoted companion since 2000, Ferman Jay, of blessed memory,  was  a mainstay in her life and her family is extremely grateful for his continued love and devotion. Maria loved Ferman very much. His family has also been so important to her, Gregory and Jan Jay, and their children Jared and Rachel. Having a very small family left after the war, Maria always loved to see her nieces and nephews and their children: Paul (Anne) Beckman, Roman (Diane) DeVille, Erna (Larry) Martino. Maria was also so beautifully cared for and supported by her caregivers, Una, Francilia  J.N.-Charles, and, longtime friend and angel,  Louise Hutchinson Easley. Louise’s constant companionship extended Maria’s good days so much more. Their devotion and care are indescribable, especially in the last year. The family is eternally grateful.

Maria lived with a great fear her entire life that the Nazis or some other threat was always lurking to pull her back into the horror and chaos of her early life. For so long, she was afraid to register as a survivor (they might come and finish the job) and struggled with speaking her mind publicly on anything, lest she come to someone’s attention. Is it paranoia when you have been threatened with death before? Or caution?

Graveside services were held at Arlington Memorial Park on March 25. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Atlanta Memorial Fund of Eternal Life-Hemshech, 1440 Spring St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30309, for Holocaust education; Ahavath Achim Synagogue, 600 Peachtree Battle Ave. NW, Atlanta, GA 30327; Weinstein Hospice, 3150 Howell Mill Road NW, Atlanta, GA 30327; or a charity of your choice. The family will be sitting shiva at the Piedmont, 650 Phipps Blvd., Atlanta, GA 30326. Please check Dressler’s website for further details. Arrangements by Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care, 770-451-4999.

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