She’s seen more history than most people have ever even read, survived the horrors of the Holocaust and made a life for herself, and eventually her family in New York City.
Laura Greenbaum was born in Czechoslovakia on Nov. 5, 1917, and on Nov. 5, 2017 her friends and family (will) gather (ed) to celebrate her, her life and all the lessons she’s imparted to them.
She said she enjoyed growing up in Czechoslovakia, with her nine siblings until Jozef Tiso, the president of the First Slovak Republic, a Catholic priest and Nazi collaborator came to power in 1939. Three years later, the horrors of the Holocaust became real.
“I didn’t go when they came to take the Jewish girls over sixteen,” Greenbaum said, who now lives in Lawrence “My father told me you don’t go, you’re going to hide, things are still good in Hungary.”
She took on alternate identities and sneaked into Hungary on foot, and hid for two years. Even with the Nazis closing in during 1944 she sought to protect her brother and sister before herself.
“They were in another town,” she said, “first I worked on getting them to go back to Slovakia … I had to help them because I knew what was happening. First I got them to Budapest then back to Slovakia.”
In 1945, the Germans were losing World War II, but the Slovakian government remained loyal to the Nazi regime. Greenbaum was initially taken to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck being transferred to Bergen-Belsen, the same camp where Anne Frank died.
After the war she spent a year in Sweden before coming to the Bronx in 1946. A seamstress in Europe she couldn’t wait to get back to her trade. “My aunt said next Monday you are starting work,” Greenbaum said. “I asked her why can’t I start tomorrow.”
She had gone through hell to get here, but Greenbaum had arrived in America and was living the American Dream, designing dresses and gowns. She even designed her own wedding dress. “America was very good to me,” she said.
Greenbaum worked until her first son, Mark, was born. However, she still served as an inspiration to him, his younger brother Steve and all four of her grandkids. “Her work ethic is amazing,” Steve said. “She always taught us to shoot for your goals, but you’ll only reach them if you work hard.”
Living such a long life has allowed her to touch and inspire the next generation. Steve’s son, Harrison, remembers the way she’s impacted his life. “I don’t know if my grandmother would call herself a feminist, but she definitely was and still is,” said Harrison, a stand-up comedian. “She was a fiercely independent woman carving out her own path when that wasn’t necessarily the norm. I’m constantly inspired by her strength, her love for her family, and her love of Judaism.”
Steve’s daughter, Dena calls her grandmother the glue that holds their family together. “I only hope to take after her,” she said. “She’s molded me into the person I am, she’s seen it all. She’s my inspiration as a woman.”
Greenbaum and her family celebrated her century-long life at Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst on her birthday, Sunday Nov. 5.