By Deb Silverthorn
Sisterly love is precious. For the Weinstein sisters — Heddy Roth, Tricia Stein and Anita Weinstein — their treasured relationship recently had them walking in their parents’ footsteps of decades ago. In September, the women returned to Helga and Gerardo Weinstein’s birthplaces, with memories rekindled.
An email to Gerardo brought about an experience the family couldn’t have imagined — one they will never forget. While he had written a book for his family, of his and his wife’s past, neither had spoken much over the years of their early lives’ trials. Now, it was time to speak.
“The email was from a cousin who connected me to someone who said they could help find our family back to the 1700s,” said the Weinstein patriarch. “We now have eight generations of people we never knew existed.”
Gerardo and Helga were introduced to the Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) Project, which commemorates victims of the Nazis and where those victims had lived. Up to this time, 99,000 such stones have been created. The couple commissioned stones for Helga and her parents; the three stones sit at the doorstep of Helga’s last apartment in Germany.
The family was at first able to expedite this, but with the pandemic curtailing activities, only in February did they learn that the stones would be dedicated in the spring.
“We watched the dedication of the stones online, but I wanted the girls to go, to see and to touch them,” said Gerardo. “We can no longer travel but they could.”
Then, the daughters of Helga and Gerardo stepped back into history.
“It was important to try to understand, to feel those we lost,” said Tricia. “It was living family history and I can’t imagine sharing it without my sisters — together, back to our roots.”
For Heddy, seeing where her family began made a huge impression. She said, “They asked if we’d want to shine our mother and grandparents’ stones. We couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough. We saw the courtyard our mother played in as a child, and every moment was so emotional.”
Anita remembers her parents’ protectiveness over her and her sisters, never giving much detail to their early lives. “We were raised to love, period. I don’t understand, you can’t possibly understand, how this could have happened. I’m glad I went, but it would be hard to go back,” she said.
Gerardo recalls his wife’s story as “unfortunately, more interesting than mine,” he says. “We went to Lima early and much of the family survived. Helga was an only child, and her parents were killed.”
Indeed, Helga’s parents, Fritz and Herta Wolff, did not make the decision to leave Germany early enough; Fritz was arrested and taken to France. His steps were traced by Herta and Helga, but they too were arrested and all three were sent to Rivesaltes concentration camp. In September 1942, Helga’s parents were sent to Auschwitz, where they were killed four months later.
Fearing for Helga’s safety, Herta, prior to being sent to Auschwitz, accepted the offer to give her child to the Quaker organization, American Friends Service Committee, desperately hoping they could save her life. She and 37 other children were placed at a children’s colony. With the Gestapo searching for Jews, the Lanouxes, a family who had often visited the colony, helped the five Jewish children escape. Helga remained with the Lanouxes and was later taken in by a childless couple, the Acards. In 1946, at 16, she was contacted by family in Lima, and she moved there.
Gerardo is from Mönchengladbach; his family left Germany early on. His father, Arno, had read “Mein Kampf” and told his wife, Elena, he thought it was going to become dangerous for Jews to be there. With the help of Elena’s brother Herman Gottschalk, already living in Ecuador, they received visas to Peru. Two months after Hitler was in power, the family left.
“We were the first Jewish refugees in Lima,” said Gerardo, then only 9 years old; his brother Herbert was 12. “Ultimately 97 members of our family and friends were saved but for those who weren’t convinced by 1937 and ’38, it was too late.”
In 1949, while working in the cotton industry, Gerardo left Peru to work in sales in Holland. While there, he was recruited by Schwabach International Corporation, an American company wanting a presence in Mexico and Central America.
When Gerardo returned to Lima to apply for an immigration visa to work in the company’s Dallas-based offices, he and Helga were introduced and became engaged. Waiting nine months for their immigration papers to come through, the couple went to Europe for him to be able to work. “I’m sure I sold more because Helga was by my side,” he said.
In Dallas, the couple were married March 27, 1952, by Rabbi Levi Olan at Temple Emanu-El. Gerardo was later promoted to partner; he then bought the company, which he ran until 1982, when he says the industry became too speculative. Transferring his skills and business interests to commercial real estate, he founded Royal Management Company, in which he continues to work with his daughters.
Gerardo’s brother Herbert left Peru at 18 for the United States to study aeronautical engineering. When World War II broke out, he joined the U.S. Air Force, surviving 27 missions. After the war he married; in 1960, he and his wife, Pudgy, and children, Madeline (Bill) Harford and Jeff (Kyle) Weinstein, made Dallas their home until the couple passed away — he in 1984 and she in 1989.
Helga and Gerardo Weinstein now live at The Legacy Willow Bend. They raised their daughters — all graduates of Hillcrest High School — in the family home on Lavendale.
The Weinstein family of five traveled around the U.S., to Europe, Israel, Latin America and the Far East, Gerardo often mixing business with pleasure. Included in those travels were visits to see the Lanoux family and the Acards. When Tricia lived in France for two years, she would visit the Lanoux family as well. In the early 1990s, the Lanoux sisters — Marie Therese Lanoux and Mariel Louise Pinel — visited Dallas. In 2008, their parents were honored as Righteous Among the Nations.
The Weinstein legacy continues to expand, including Tricia, her husband, Bob, and their children, Matthew Stein and Shana (Zane) Faulhaber; Heddy, her husband, Bill, and their children, Jennifer (Matt Lifson) Roth and Brian Roth, and grandchildren, Wynn Lifson and Brendon Roth; and Anita and her son, Robbie Tann.
At the end of August, Anita and Tricia began their travels in France, where they saw some of the family their mother grew up with. Then Heddy joined them, and the three sisters visited Auschwitz, Krakow and Warsaw in Poland.
In Germany, they toured with Karl-Heinz Nieren, the person who had researched their family with such dedication, and then Jeremy Minsberg, an American Jewish tour guide who has lived in Germany for 20-plus years. In Berlin, they saw where their mother had lived and the stones placed there, as well as the church where their great-uncle had hidden during the war, the Berlin Wall, the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Topography of Terror Museum.
In each of their parents’ hometowns, they visited Jewish cemeteries and found gravesites documenting generations — even for their maternal grandparents, killed in Auschwitz, added by unknown persons.
“So many of those of the generations there now are doing what they can to repent the sins before them,” said Heddy.
Their family story does not end with this trip. The three sisters say they and their offspring have applied for German dual citizenship. Their last two days together were spent in the Bavarian mountains, decompressing in the surroundings of fresh air and beautiful nature and at the same time taking in all they had witnessed.
“Even being there in person you still can’t believe what happened — the cruelty, the horror,” said Tricia. “But it did happen, and it is important that it is preserved and that we, and the next generations, know.”