Posted on Friday, 14th April 2017 | Jewish Communities
By Stacey Dresner
COLCHESTER – Henny Simon survived living under Nazi rule in Germany, being sent to a Jewish ghetto in Latvia, and suffering unimaginable horrors at several concentration and work camps.
On April 4, Simon, 91, a longtime Holocaust educator and resident of Colchester since 1949, died tragically when her car crashed into a tree. She was pronounced dead at Backus Hospital in Norwich.
Over the years, Simon had spoken to thousands of students around the state about her experiences during the Holocaust.
“She was a courageous, indomitable, determined woman, who despite her horrific experiences lived a joyful life. She was a great lady,” said Jerome Fischer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut. “And she was committed to telling the story of the Holocaust”.
Born Henny Rosenbaum on July 15, 1925 and raised in Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany, she was the daughter of the late Ludwig and Jenny (Jacobowitz) Rosenbaum.
After the outbreak of World War II, Simon and her mother were sent to the Jewish Ghetto in Riga, Latvia. Her father had already made it to Shanghai, China in April of 1940. Simon and her mother had planned to join him, but their visas were cancelled in 1941. From the ghetto, Simon and her mother were sent to the Strasdenhof Work Camp in Riga in December of 1941. Her mother was one of thousands of Jews who were marched by the Nazis into Bikernieki Forest near Riga, and shot and buried in a mass grave.
From November 1943 through January 1945, Simon endured the atrocities of the Stutthof Concentration Camp near Gdanzk and Korben Work Camp, a branch of K.Z. Stutthof.
On Jan. 20, 1945, Simon and other prisoners were liberated in Koronowo, Poland by the Russian Army. While in Poland, she met Abram Markiewicz, a survivor of Auschwitz. The two were married on August 25, 1945 and left Poland to return to Germany in the hopes of finding any of her surviving family members. They welcomed their first child, Jacob, in Germany in 1946.
On Thanksgiving 1949, the family immigrated to the United States to be reunited with her father, who had arrived here in 1948. Simon and her husband purchased a poultry and dairy farm in Colchester.
“Henny was part of a new community of survivors who resettled in Eastern Connecticut after the war with the help of the Baron de Hirsch fund,” Fischer said.
In 1951 came the birth of their second child, Jenny. Abram passed away in 1976.
Neither he nor Henny had ever revealed many details of their experiences during the war. In January of 1981, Henny married Robert Simon. The couple remained on the farm in Colchester.
With the encourangement of her husband Bob, who died in 2001, Henny recorded her story at the Yale University Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. In 1986, she began telling her story to groups of young people in schools and other venues. Soon after that she met Fischer.
“She had already been talking about her experiences during the Holocaust at schools in Colchester. We started to utilize her to speak in many more schools,” said Fischer.
In 2009, Simon wrote a book, Am I My Brother’s Keeper? The Story of the Holocaust. And she continued to talk to groups about her experience.
Shannon Saglio, a social studies teacher at East Lyme High School, met Simon through the Jewish Federation’s “Encountering Survivors,” program, which paired local schools with survivors. Students would visit the survivors to learn about their lives before, during and after the war, with the goal of creating more “witnesses” who would be able to share survivors’ stories after they are gone. Simon also came to East Lyme to talk to Saglio’s students.
“She always preferred larger crowds because she wanted as many people to hear what had happened as possible to try to keep these stories alive. It was her way also of fighting back against the deniers that are out there,” Saglio said.
In 2015, East Lyme High School held an assembly honoring Henny Simon and presented her with a varsity Letter.
“She was an athlete when she was young and she was always so angry that as a teenager her athleticism and her ability to compete was taken away [by the Nazis],” Saglia said.
Over time, Simon become close friends with Benjamin Cooper of West Hartford, a World War II medic who was with Eisenhower’s troops and who witnessed the liberation of Dachau. At the time they met, Copper also had been speaking to schoolchildren about his experiences during the war. Together, she and Ben continued their educational mission by speaking jointly at schools about their closely related war experiences; he as a soldier and she as a survivor.
Whenever Henny was faced with a difficult situation or was told she could not accomplish something, she embraced it as a challenge and took great satisfaction in proving otherwise. In addition to sharing her story, she volunteered for Meals on Wheels, American Red Cross Bloodmobiles, was a Life Member of Hadassah, the Sisterhood of the Congregation Ahavath Achim, and the Board of the Strochlitz Holocaust Research Center in New London.
She is survived by a daughter and son-in-law, Jenny and Stuart Rabinowitz of Glastonbury; a daughter-in-law, Paula Markiewicz of Lake Katrine, N.Y.; grandchildren, Michelle Rabinowitz, Aaron Rabinowitz and his fiancée, Kira Shin St. Denis, Lee Markiewicz and his wife, Amy, Abram Markiewicz and his wife, Alexa, and great-grandchildren, Ethan, Asa and Ani. She was also predeceased by her son, Jacob Markiewicz; a brother, Hans Rosenbaum in 1940; and a brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Leonard and Greta Markiewicz.
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