Holocaust Remembrance Day: ‘never forget’
Sofia Rositani – Editor-in-Chief
Co-director of Judaic studies, Deborah Weiss, is a professor on campus. Not many would know that she comes from a family of Holocaust survivors.
Weiss’s mother, Mila Nishball was 17 years old when World War II broke out in her home country Czechoslovakia, known today as the Czech Republic. She had two siblings, one being an uncle that Weiss never met, and her mother and father. Nishball lived in a smaller town near Prague.
In Czechoslovakia the Jewish population were Czech first and then Jewish, according to Weiss. This is different to how other European countries were during the war.
“The Germans then came in and began systematically changing things in the country for the Jews. So, at one point my mother was kicked out, and all the other Jewish students, were kicked out of school. She was in high school at that time,” Weiss said.
When her mother was kicked out of high school, she said that because she was a teenager, she saw it as sort of comical and would joke about it. She then realized how serious the matter was and that it was not at all funny that she was kicked out.
“And at one point as things started to become even more restricted and very threatening, she was introduced to my father, who was 21 years old. And my father had American citizenship because he had been born here,” Weiss said.
Weiss’s father, Richard, was born in America because his mother moved here and had two children. Following the death of her husband she moved back to Czechoslovakia with her two sons. Her father was raised in Czechoslovakia but continued to have American citizenship.
“So, he at the time had American citizenship but he had no money. So, he kind of put it out there in the community that he would marry a Jewish young woman in exchange for the family providing them both with money to be able to leave the country. And it was supposed to be just an arrangement, kind of an agreement, and my mom said that they met at the coffee shop in the town where she lived,” Weiss said.
Weiss’s father had met with other women and their families, but he chose her mother. Weiss said that her mother, being 17 years old, found him very handsome.
“They were married at the town hall in the town where they lived. And then my father went to live with her parents in the house where they lived in this town. For a couple of months, they lived as just friends and then they told her parents that they really love each other, and they really wanted to be married as husband and wife. So, they actually became, not only in a financial agreement, but they really loved each other, and they became husband and wife,” Weiss said.
As the war became worse Weiss’s father returned to America and had to get a visa for her mother. Her mother’s brother went to England, and he volunteered for the Czech resistance party, which was established in England. Her mother remained with her parents at their house.
“Meanwhile, my grandparents were told that they needed to leave their house and they need to leave everything behind, and they were moved to a ghetto. So, they had three days to be able to put their bears in order and move to the ghetto,” Weiss said.
The ghetto was not in their hometown, but it was close to it. The ghetto was in an old medieval castle, which eventually turned into a military barracks. But at that time, it was a ghetto. They were there for a period of 6 months to a year.
Weiss said her mother had a job while there and it was to clean out the toilets for the entire ghetto.
“At one point my grandfather was taken away, this was done frequently people would be taken away and interrogated and they would be beaten up for whatever information they could try and get out of them. He has been a businessman but certainly not a politician he was not involved in any way in politics,” Weiss said.
Her mother told Weiss that she did not know why they took him to be interrogated.
“After a couple of days, they kind of just dumped him at the entrance to the ghetto. And he had been beaten very badly and he would die within a couple of days,” Weiss said.
After Wiess’s grandfather passed away it took a couple of years for her father to get the visa for her mother. When he finally did, she did not want to leave her mother because she knew her mother would be alone. The passage had been made and her mother was able to escape the ghetto because it was not guarded.
“So, she (Weiss’s grandmother) was able to actually leave (the ghetto with) my mother and go with her to the train. That was the last time they saw each other,” Weiss said.
Nishballs mother ended up being moved from the ghetto to Theresienstadt and then Auscwitz where she was murdered in the gas chambers.
After this Weiss’s mother made the journey to America which involved multiple train rides across different countries in Europe and onto a boat from Portugal.
After she made it to New York she moved to Bridgeport with her husband where she lived until 99 years old, Nishball passed away in February of 2021.
Weiss’s mother was a very optimistic and hopeful person. She was never afraid to speak her mind and was a strong woman, even after the hardships she faced in her life during the war and after it ended.
“She felt her family would want her to live her life, kind of almost in defiance of Hitler. He tried to defeat us, but we are not going to be defeated, so that was her attitude,” Weiss said.