The Florida Holocaust Museum Speakers’ Bureau
To book a speaker for your organization, please fill out the form. Speakers can be booked for an event at your school/organization or to meet with your audience via Skype. Please note that while there is no fee to book a speaker, some of our Survivors will need transportation from your organization.
Ellen Bernstein (née Herschmann)
Born in Bonn, Germany in 1928. She comes from a conservative Jewish family. Her mother was a homemaker, her father was a furniture salesman. In order to escape the Nazi persecution of Jews, Ellen’s parents immigrated to the United States with their two daughters in 1938. Ellen kept an autograph book filled with notes from her friends and relatives, many of whom did not survive. She also took her favorite doll which got damaged during their trip to the United States. Ellen was heartbroken for her doll, but she was happy to be in America. The family had to rebuild their life from scratch. They didn’t speak English and it was hard to find a job. But her parents never complained – they were grateful to be safe in New York. Many of Ellen’s friends and family members who stayed in Germany perished in the Holocaust.
Betty Grebenschikoff (née Kohn)
Born in Berlin, Germany in 1929. Betty had an older sister Edith. Betty’s birth name was Ilse. Her mother was a homemaker while her father worked as a salesman for a stationary company. The family spoke German at home and took part in German cultural life. They observed Jewish holidays and went to synagogue services. Betty and Edith went to a Jewish school. They did not experience any hostility before the Nazis came to power. The situation changed after 1933 when neighbors stopped talking to Betty’s family. Children experienced name calling and physical violence. In order to escape Nazi persecution and a pending arrest of her father, the family looked for ways to leave Germany. Eventually, they emigrated to Shanghai, China in 1939. They settled in Hongkew, a poor section of Shanghai where most European Jewish refugees lived. The family had to learn English. Children attended a Jewish school. After the war, Betty met her future husband in Shanghai. The family then moved to Australia and finally settled in the United States in 1953. In the United States, Betty was reunited with her parents and sister.
Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1931. During the Holocaust, Edward with his mother and sister were forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto. At great risk, his mother would leave the ghetto walls and, passing as a Christian, she would buy food to bring back to her children. Eventually, she was able to pay a guide to have Edward cross over to Budapest, Hungary. In Budapest, he was abandoned by a Jewish man who was supposed to take care of him. Edward lived on the streets until an orphanage for Jewish children was formed. At the end of 1944, he was liberated. He was reunited with his mother after 3 years. His sister also survived. It took the family 10 years to reunite with Edward’s father. Most of Edward’s relatives died in the Holocaust.
Halina Herman (née Kramarz)
Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1939. Her father was a physician and was sent away by the Germans to one of the slave-labor camps in April 1941. Halina never saw him again. Halina’s mother obtained false papers and got a job as a maid in Cracow. She placed Halina with a non-Jewish family who raised her as a Christian child. After the war, Halina was reunited with her mother and continued to go to church until the mother revealed their Jewish identity to her in 1949. They went to France where they stayed until they were able to immigrate to Canada. Most of Halina’s immediate family died in the Holocaust.
Herta Pila (née Neuburger)
Born in Munich, Germany in 1932. She had two siblings. The family owned a leather business. In 1935, after the Nuremberg Laws, the family had to move out from their house. Herta’s mother began her efforts to have the family emigrate from Germany. First, she sent Herta’s siblings to Italy but had to bring them back when the family’s bank accounts were closed and she had no money to pay for the boarding school in Italy. Then, a cousin from New York offered to help bring them to the United States and vouched for them but Herta’s father was arrested on Kristallnacht in 1938 and sent to Dachau. He was released a few months later but due to the mistreatment in the camp his health was failing and he died in 1941. The family also lost their business. Herta’s siblings were sent to forced labor, the sister was eventually sent to Theresienstadt. Herta and her mother were first saved by their landlady and then hid in different air-raid bunkers during the bombings. Eventually, Herta worked on a farm, pretending to be a Gentile. Her brother hid in the mountains. Herta was reunited with her siblings and mother at the end of the war.
Born in Plock, Poland in 1927. Jerry was raised in an assimilated Jewish family. He had two older sisters, Stefania and Felicja. His father was a printer but worked as a manager for a factory, mother was a homemaker. After Germany invaded Poland, the family was deported from Plock to Bodzentyn. In order to escape an impending arrest, Jerry’s father decided to go to Warsaw. Jerry and Felicja also escaped and hid in the forest. Eventually, Jerry joined his father in the Warsaw ghetto while Felicja passed as a Gentile and worked in a café outside of the ghetto. Jerry joined the Jewish Fighting Organization in the ghetto as a courier. He was part of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising until he escaped to the “Aryan” side. Jerry was briefly reunited with Felicja and was then rescued by a total stranger, Janusz Rybakiewicz. After leaving Warsaw, he stayed in Lublin, where he was liberated by the Soviet Army in 1944. Jerry’s parents and Stefania did not survive.
Born in Przemysl, Poland in 1935. John had one sister. The family owned a toy factory in Prezmysl. After the Soviets invaded eastern Poland in 1939, they confiscated the toy factory and introduced food rationing for the local population. John’s family was forced out of their apartment. They moved to Lvov, Poland where they found an apartment and John had a tutor. In 1941, after Germany invaded Lvov, local Jews were forced to into a ghetto where they spent at least six months. John’s family was forced to share an apartment with another family. When roundups and deportations began, John’s mother decided to smuggle the family out – first the children, then then her husband and herself. She obtained false papers and the family escaped to Lublin, where they lived under assumed identities as Polish Catholics until the end of the war. They were joined there by John’s uncle, aunt and their two daughters who hid at the Rindes’ place. After the liberation, the family moved to Paris. John’s younger brother was born there. In 1952, when John was 17 years old, they came to the United States.
Toni Rinde (née Igel)
Born in Przemysl, Poland in 1940. Toni’s mother was a bookkeeper in her parents’ dry goods store, her father was an agricultural engineer. After the German invasion, Jews of Przemysl were forced into a ghetto. The situation of the Przemysl Jews was rapidly deteriorating. One day, Toni’s parents were approached by a woman they didn’t know who offered to take care of their baby. They agreed – at great risk – and Toni lived with Ms. Konoysna for 3 and a half years. She passed as Ms. Konoysna’s niece and had false papers. When roundups and deportations started in the ghetto, Toni’s father arranged an escape for his wife, brother, father, and himself. They hid in the woods and people’s attics and basements. After the liberation, Toni was reunited with her parents and moved with them to Katowice, Poland where her father became the head of the Jewish community. Due to a threat from the local population, the family had to move. Eventually the family was able to immigrate to the United States where Toni met her husband John. Toni’s numerous relatives died in the Holocaust.
Lisl Schick (née Porges)
Born in Vienna, Austria in 1927. Her father was an accountant and her mother was a homemaker. When the Nazis began persecuting Jews, Lisl’s parents decided to send Lisl and her 7-year-old brother Walter on the Kindertransport, a rescue operation that offered refuge in England to 10,000 Jewish children. Lisl’s father was transferred to England by the bank he worked for but, because of his German citizenship, was soon arrested as an enemy alien and sent to the Isle of Man. Her mother was able to obtain a visa for the United States and came to New York, trying to bring the family there. In England, Lisl and Walter were placed in a boarding school and then in separate families but lived nearby so Lisl continued to take care of him. The family was reunited with Lisl’s mother in New York after 6 years. Lisl was 17 years old upon arriving in the United States. Lisl’s grandparents and other relatives died in the Holocaust.
Marie Silverman (née Berkovic) & Jeanette Bornstein (née Berkovic)
Marie was born in 1931, Jeannette was born in 1935 and they lived in Antwerp, Belgium with their parents when World War II began. After Germany invaded Belgium, the family escaped to France. For a while, non-Jews hid them on a farm but when the roundups began, the family was captured and separated: the sisters with their mother were placed in an internment camp at Rivesaltes, France while their father was sent to a different camp.
After 9 months, Marie and Jeannette’s mother managed to smuggle her daughters out of Rivesaltes. They were hiding with other refugees in Vence, France. They were then briefly reunited with the parents who managed to escape but the father soon died as a result of the mistreatment he had endured in the camp.
Two partisan couriers took the sisters across the Pyrénées Mountains on foot from Vence to Barcelona, Spain. Marie and Jeannette lived with their aunt and uncle and then came to the United States. Once here, they were placed in an orphanage and with foster families until their mother was able to reunite with them in 1949.
Born in Berlin, Germany in 1929. Gary’s mother was Christian, his father was Jewish. When the persecution of Jews ensued in Nazi Germany, the family decided to seek refuge in Shanghai, China – one of the few places that would take Jews in. From 1933 to 1941, Shanghai accepted some 18,000 Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust in Europe. Most were from Germany and Austria. Gary’s father pleaded with his relatives to leave Germany but they were not ready to abandon their lives and did not think the situation would deteriorate. Gary was 9 years old upon arriving in China. Aside of his immediate family who survived in China, all of Gary’s Jewish relatives died in the Holocaust.
Judith Szentivanyi (née Szasz)
Born in Miskolc, Hungary in 1928. She lived with her parents and younger sister in Miskolc until the deportation of Hungarian Jews that took place between May and July of 1944. Judith was sent with her mother and sister to Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were separated at the selection: Judith was chosen for slave labor while her mother and sister were sent to the gas chambers. Judith was then sent to several concentration and slave-labor camps, including Plaszow, Poland. Eventually, she was sent to Parschnitz, a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen, where she worked in the AEG factory. After being liberated by the Soviets, she returned to Hungary where she was reunited with her father and her aunt. She met her future husband Andor Szentivanyi whom she married in 1948. Judith became a physician. They left Hungary in 1956 to escape Soviet persecution and came to the United States.
Mary Wygodski (née Tabachowicz)
Born in Vilna, Poland (now Lithuania), in 1925. Mary had younger siblings: two sisters and one brother. Her father was a businessman, her mother was a homemaker. When the Nazis took over in 1941, the family was forced into the Vilna ghetto. Mary’s family lived in one room. During the ghetto liquidation, Mary was forcefully separated from her family. She would never see them again. She was sent to several concentration and slave-labor camps. Her father and brother were deported to the Klooga concentration camp in Estonia where they perished. Her mother and little sisters were murdered during the Vilna ghetto liquidation. After the liberation Mary moved to Israel where she met her future husband. Eventually the family moved to the United States where Mary worked as a kindergarten teacher. Mary is the sole survivor of her immediate family.
Sandy Mermelstein, Museum Senior Educator
Sandy has been a part of the Museum since its inception in 1992 as volunteer. She joined the staff in 1999. Sandy is in charge of The FHM’s Speakers’ Bureau, including its Skype with the Survivor program. She is also responsible for promoting The Florida Holocaust Museum across the state of Florida. Sandy has completed the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous Summer Institute for Teachers at Columbia University, and Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands Program from Indiana University. She has facilitated presentations for teachers at the Museum’s Summer Institutes and assisted with the initial planning of contents of the Museum’s teaching trunks. Sandy has planned and taught continuing education for docents and has worked with more than 100,000 school children. She has conducted numerous school, adult, and VIP tours of the Museum’s core exhibition and traveling exhibitions. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and speaks regularly, to both adults and children, about her parents and other survivors’ experiences. Sandy leads the project “Voices of Generations” that assists the Museum’s Second Generation with building presentations about their parents’ experiences. She is the 2018 recipient of The Florida Holocaust Museum’s Legacy Award.