It should have been a time for well-deserved rest and joyous reflection, returning home after a truly meaningful family occasion miles away.
But when Malka Amster turned the key that opened the door to her Dallas apartment, she found it had been ransacked.
Of course all her jewelry was gone. But she cried hardest over one item: a small gold ring, bearing the red and white stripes of the Polish flag overlaid with the initials P.C. — for Pola Cymrot. Her mother. A Holocaust survivor.
“It wasn’t a particularly beautiful ring, or even valuable,” Malka told me. “But I always wore that ring when I needed something a little extra, a little more confidence, the feeling of being special.” She hadn’t needed any of that in Florida, where she had gone to meet her new grandson at his bris.
All but one other of Pola Cymrot’s family were among the Nazis’ Polish victims. She grew up in the Warsaw orphanage of Dr. Janos Korczak, the Jewish author/pediatrician who ultimately died with his young charges in Treblinka. But before that, Pola had reached working age, so the Nazis moved her at 15 to make bombs in a munitions factory. Yet somehow she managed to hold on to her little signet ring.
Malka’s grandson is named Elan Gavriel in memory of the uncle she never knew, her mother’s brother Elimelich. He was only 12 when Malka’s own grandmother, recognizing that all were surely doomed, allowed the boy to join a band of young people attempting an escape to Siberia. But somehow, he was lost in the woods, and no one could ever learn what happened to him.
“This was a particularly difficult loss for my mother,” Malka said when she told this sad story at the bris. “She knew that the other members of her family had been murdered, but she never knew what ever became of her dear, sweet little brother.”
Pola met her future husband after the war, at a wedding in Poland. “He was a handsome partisan on crutches,” Malka says. “It really was love at first sight. The fact that they were both wearing the same tweed jackets gave them a reason to talk to each other!”
Passing time brings with it many challenges and changes. Malka had her own, although thankfully not like those of her mother. She came to Dallas four years ago to start a new life for herself, bringing many skills with her. A professional Jewish educator since 1978, when she became the University of Denver’s first Judaic studies graduate, she also studied with President Kennedy’s White House physician and has had a private muscle therapy practice since 1987. Additionally, she is a trainer of classical horses!
As a newcomer to our city, “I decided to see some Jewish films,” Malka says. “I loved 3 Stars Jewish Cinema, and asked if I could volunteer.” Soon afterward, she accepted her current position as its managing director, which gives her the welcome opportunity to spread Jewish arts and culture more widely through an ever-increasing number of film showings. At the same time, using one of the six languages she speaks fluently, Malka also facilitates a Yiddish group at Shearith Israel.
“One can never be prepared to come home to an apartment that has been burglarized, or the feeling of invasion and loss,” she said. She appeared on Fox 4, making a public “no questions asked” offer of $1,000 for return of the ring that survived all the horrors of the Holocaust, only to be stolen from a quiet Dallas apartment. No takers so far.
Yet: “It’s the important things in life that can never be stolen,” Malka says, with philosophical resignation. Does she mean her new grandson? Her current satisfying activities? Her memories? She didn’t specify. And I didn’t ask.