By Steve Weintraub
Special to the TJP
Local Holocaust survivor, Sara Rigler, was the featured guest and speaker at the Temple Shalom Brotherhood’s Yom HaShoah commemorative event Saturday evening, April 22, in the synagogue’s Epstein Chapel. A reception took place before the event.
Her harrowing and miraculous story of survival, which is detailed in her book, 10 British Prisoners of War Saved My Life, was recounted for the crowd who listened intently to her story being told as she was interviewed by former Temple Shalom Brotherhood President and Hall of Famer Bob Weinfeld.
Mrs. Rigler, up until her early teens, along with her family, had lived a life of privilege, which was suddenly ended when the Russians and later the Germans had invaded her hometown of Shavli, Lithuania.
Her father was imprisoned by the Russians and later killed by the Germans along with all the men in Shavli. Her mother and sister were forced into a horrible and crowded existence in the Shavli Jewish ghetto and later the Stutthoff concentration camp.
As the Allied troops were advancing in the latter stages of World War II upon the concentration camp, her sister and mother were led on a forced death march deep into Nazi Germany, where she was implored by her mother and sister to try to escape as they were near death from the starvation and unhealthful conditions. She was the healthiest and they wanted her to survive.
She somehow managed to slip away from the marching line and escaped to a farmhouse where she was later found by Willie Fisher, a British POW from the Battle of Dunkirk. He and nine other British POWs nursed and fed her back to reasonable health and wanted to care for her further, as they too were being marched deeper into Germany three weeks later away from the advancing Allied troops.
Sara did not want to endanger her new friends’ lives. She decided to stay behind and managed to find work with a local German family till the Soviet army liberated the area.
From there she moved on from job to job and had other harrowing experiences until 1947, whereupon she was offered a marriage of convenience to a rabbinic student, transportation to America and a divorce once she arrived.
It was important to Sara to resume her education as she settled in Brooklyn, New York, lived with a war widow, and had a job caring for her son. She then finished high school and graduated from Brooklyn Jewish Hospital in 1949 as a registered nurse.
She married her husband, Bill Rigler, a struggling attorney at that time who was “as poor as a church mouse,” she joked, following her graduation. He went on to become a New York Supreme Court judge.
Her family, who were in attendance last Saturday, grew to include two children and grandchildren.
Sara also became very active in politics as a state committeewoman in New York and enjoyed knowing political people of influence who could make things better for others, she explained.
Throughout her adult life in America, she began a search to find her 10 British POW rescuers which took 20 years. In 1972, they were all finally reunited. Her book details a diary and letters from two of the gentlemen.
Her POW friends are now all deceased. Yet Sara has survived and thrived in her life, a wonderful irony and testimony to her plight and to others who’ve pushed past and built new lives and legacies from a horrific time in their pasts.
This year’s Temple Shalom Brotherhood Yom HaShoah event was chaired and directed by Sander Gothard.
Ben & Jerry’s partners with Susan G. Komen North Texas
On Free Cone Day (April 4), Robyn and Hunter Rose scooped 16,107 free ice cream scoops to honor customers and raise awareness for breast cancer at their Ben & Jerry’s locations in Highland Village and Plano. More than 1 million scoops of ice cream were dipped worldwide.
“We love getting involved with and giving back to our communities. It’s amazing what we can do together over shared values and several scoops of ice cream,” said Hunter Rose, ice cream czar at Ben & Jerry’s of Plano and Highland Village. Ben & Jerry’s has been a longtime advocate of social causes like marriage equality, environmental sustainability and ensuring that their ice cream is made in the best way possible, which includes sourcing fair-trade and non-GMO ingredients.
Ben & Jerry’s of Plano and Highland Village partnered with the Susan G. Komen North Texas foundation to spread the word about dealing with breast cancer within the community. Rose explained that “the money raised by this group stays in our community to educate and battle against breast cancer in our North Texas community. They are a wonderful group filled with concerned individuals, survivors and family members of survivors. There is no pressure to donate, but since you aren’t paying for your ice cream on this day, if you can find it in your heart and pocketbook to drop a dollar or two in their buckets… it will be put to good use.” The Susan G. Komen North Texas foundation helped Ben & Jerry’s scoop and keep things clean and organized. Among those in the Jewish community who participated in the event were Chuck Cooperstein, the voice of the Dallas Mavericks, and Barry Horn, sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News.
Mankoff joins ZBT Foundation board
The Zeta Beta Tau Foundation welcomed Jeffrey (Jeff) W. Mankoff, Sigma (Tulane University) ’84, as one of its the three newest members of the board of directors. “It is an honor to be selected to serve on the Zeta Beta Tau Foundation board of directors. For me, ZBT Sigma Chapter (Tulane University) is where I forged lasting and treasured friendships. And through ZBT, new friendships and connections are being formed as well. I am looking forward to working with the many talented brothers on the Foundation Board. What a great experience it was attending and participating in the International Convention, and meeting the many young college brothers eager to learn, connect and forge new friendships. ZBT is making a difference.”