A long-lost connection was discovered during the pandemic, which gave Lola Jerome a much-needed boost.
Like so many others, the pandemic has been an especially lonely and challenging time for Lola Jerome, 95. Holed up in her apartment in Windsor, Canada, with safety only allowing limited masked visits from her local relatives and unable to see her relatives who live across the border, Lola has been feeling “gloomy.”
“I don’t remember anything like this in all my lifetime,” she said.
And Lola has lived through a lot. She was born in 1925 to a religious family in Czeladz, Poland. In 1940, two Germans came to her house, grabbed her, threw her in a cattle car and sent her to a camp located in the Aloys Haase factory, a subcamp of Gross-Rosen concentration camp. There she made spools of thread for the next four-and-a-half years.
It was through a series of miracles that Lola survived. One day, a pair of scissors dropped on her foot, which quickly became infected due to lack of medical care. Incredibly, the lagerführerin (female German camp manager) lied to the Nazis about how long she’d been in the hospital so she wouldn’t get taken to Auschwitz.
Soon Lola was hopping and limping, forced to walk five kilometers each day with a bad foot while trying to hide her injury from the Nazis. When it was especially painful, her friends, though skinny and weak themselves, dragged her between them so she wouldn’t have to walk on her foot.
“It was bashert [destiny] I am here. Nobody survived from my family. I believe in bashert; if it is meant to be, it’s going to happen,” Lola said during her Living History interview for the Holocaust Memorial Center in 2016.
After the liberation, Lola set about trying to rebuild what she had lost, marrying her husband, Itcha Jerosolimski. They later changed their name to Jerome. Relatives who had moved to Canada before the war sponsored Lola and Itcha.
“Like my aunt used to say, Canada is a goldene medina (golden country), but you have to work really hard to make a living.”
They raised five sons together, and though Itcha passed away in 1998, she still enjoys nachas from her children, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Lola’s son and daughter in law, Allan and Julie Jerome of West Bloomfield, unable to visit her since March, created email, Facebook and Zoom accounts for Lola to better keep in contact during this challenging time. They were excited when a long-lost connection was discovered which gave Lola a much-needed boost.
“I’m in a Bedzin-Sosnowiec-Zawiercie Area Research Society Facebook group,” Julie shared. “I keep my ear out for anything that my mother-in-law might find interesting.
“In November, I saw someone had posted something about her aunt, Minga Feldman, being a seamstress before the Holocaust. My mother-in-law was an extremely talented seamstress, even when she was a child. I asked my mother-in-law if she recognized the name.”
Lola did not, but she remembered a Tauba Feldman — who, it turned out, was Minga’s relative. Allan and Julie set to work trying to organize a reunion Zoom call between Lola and Tauba, who now lives in Israel.
There was a slight language barrier. Lola speaks Polish, English and Yiddish; Tauba speaks Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish, and neither Lola’s caretaker or Tauba’s niece, who helped with the call, speak fluent English.
Allan, who has been gathering information about his family tree and connecting lost family members from around the world since 2012, participated in the call, too.
“They needed some guidance; I think they felt shy at first. But when I shared old photos on the screen, both became very engaged,” he said.
Most fascinating was when they discovered both Lola and Tauba spent some of the war years in the same camp.
Allan is hoping that with a little more prep work and jogging of childhood memories, their next reunion call will be even more gratifying for both parties.