By Harriet P. Gross
Mendel Jakubowicz was 14 years old when Jewish life in his hometown of Konin, Poland, came to an end. He lost his parents and four of his five siblings to the gas; the last one died as a resistance fighter.
These days, so many people claim to have “triumphed over tragedy” that the words seem almost a cliche. However, when Mike Jacobs — nee Mendel Jakubowicz — used those same words as the subtitle of his book, “Holocaust Survivor,” they were filled with real meaning. He came here to Dallas and built a new life full of family and purpose. How many thousands has he educated, and inspired, by speaking out honestly about his own experiences!
Mike didn’t know much English when he arrived at the local JCC to pass on what he did know best: sports, especially soccer. But he did know enough of his new language to say, when he first saw physical education teacher Ginger Chesnick, “That’s my girl!” And so she was. Then she became more than that: His wife. His life partner. The mother of his children. Together, they grew into grandparenthood, and even became great-grandparents.
Ginger had written her own book first, about the early years of the Old South Dallas Jewish community. His came later, and no one but Mrs. Mike Jacobs could have done the job of editing the true tale of a tortured early life that turned here, in our community, into one of outstanding accomplishment. Then she organized the details of his growing career in public speaking, traveling widely with him in many U.S. states and a few other countries.
Both of the Jacobs have been Jewish Dallas builders. Ginger had her “Aha!” moment when she watched the demolition of Temple Emanu-El’s original South Dallas structure and realized it was her history being torn down. She did more than write a book to preserve it; she was a founder of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, and has been one of its most powerful voices for community preservation ever since. And Mike was one of the most outspoken leaders among the local survivors who gathered years ago to decide how the Holocaust should be remembered locally. The result was the memorial center that outgrew its early home in the JCC’s basement to become a current, much-visited museum and educational institution in downtown Dallas.
For some good reading, pick up Ginger’s book, “The Levin Years: A Golden Era 1929-1951,” at the Historical Society’s office in the JCC. And find “Holocaust Survivor: Mike Jacobs’ Triumph Over Tragedy” on the bookshelf of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance on Record Street.
Mike also triumphed by bringing to Dallas an authentic European boxcar — one that may have carried hundreds and thousands of Jews, including many more of his extended family, to their deaths. It formed the entryway to the original Holocaust Center’s site at the JCC; passing through it was an incredible experience in reality for visitors. But there was another door for the many survivors who could never bring themselves to enter such a train car again. Today, a narrated film mesmerizes those who view that same boxcar inside the Record Street site. Mike Jacobs is the one who made sure we will never forget.
In his last few years, Mike spoke less and listened more — perhaps to the voices of the Jakubowiczes of Konin, Poland, playing in his head. Surely, they were all standing together at the gates of heaven, waiting to welcome him when he passed away July 28 after a life well-lived for 89 years.
It seems especially fitting, somehow that between Mike Jacobs’ funeral service and his first memorial shiva, our entire Jewish community rallied in downtown Dallas to show its support for Israel. Jews here speaking out for Jews there; Jews here remembering Jews there who need us to stand up for them. Mendel Jakubowicz would have appreciated that.