Mobile Press-Register, June 3, 2016
Holocaust survivor who embraced Mobile dies at 93
Michelle Matthews firstname.lastname@example.org
Agnes Tennenbaum, a Holocaust survivor who lived in Mobile since 2OO6, died Monday at age 93, according to a close friend, Shoshana Treichel, who referred to Tennenbaum as her “Mobile mom.”
“There are no coincidences,” Treichel wrote on Facebook. “She passed on Memorial Day, because her memory and her experiences must never be forgotten.”
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson noted her death and acknowledged her impact on the Mobile community at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “Just to be in her presence, and to listen to her tell her story, it was like there was no air in the room,” he said. “It was just an amazing story. She touched many people.”
Born Dec. 9, 1922, to Malvina and Arnold Lowinger, Tennenbaum had a happy childhood with a loving Jewish family in Miskolc, a small town north of Budapest, Hungary. At age 17 she married Andrew Weinberger, who was drafted by the Hungarian army, contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a sanitarium, according to a biography of Tennenbaum on the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center’s website, where she was included in the “Darkness into Life” exhibition of art and photography.
When the Germans occupied Hungary, her father and brother were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, never to be seen again. Soon after, she, her mother, her aunt and cousin were packed into cattle cars on a train bound for Auschwitz. After a nightmarish two-day journey, she arrived, she told Mobile Bay magazine in a December 2O15 interview, on June 16, 1944, at age 21.
There, she was separated from her mother and recalled clinging to her hand as the two were pulled apart. Her mother was sent to the gas chamber. Her aunt was ordered into a forest, where she was forced to dig her own grave before being shot. Her sister, meanwhile, was thought to be dead after being shot on a bridge over the Danube River. Ten years later, Tennenbaum learned that she’d survived by jumping into the river and seeking refuge at the Swedish embassy on the other side.
Tennenbaum and her cousin Edith were sent to work in an underground munitions factory at Allendorf labor camp, where a guard tried to rape her. She told an audience at Mobile’s Ben May Main Library in February 2O15 that she encountered Josef Mengele, “the angel of death,” on a daily basis. She considered touching an electric fence to end her misery, but Edith persuaded her not to. Both of them were finally freed by American troops in 1945.
“She saw atrocities and evil no one can comprehend, and yet still had faith that all people were still good at heart,” wrote Treichel.
In her thick Hungarian accent, Tennenbaum told these stories and more to schools and religious groups after moving to Mobile from Phoenix in 2006 to live near her only son, Henry Schwarzberg, and his family.
She was “a great storyteller,” said another friend, Patricia Silverman. “She was just a wonderful human being, very loving.” Despite everything she’d been through in the Holocaust, Silverman said, “She was so compassionate and gave so much of herself. Every time she talked about it, she’d relive the whole terrible situation. It never got easier.”
After the war, she married another Holocaust survivor, Berek Schwarzberg. They had one son, Henry, and moved to the U.S. in 1949. After they divorced, she married David Tennenbaum, who died in 1985.
Following her move to Mobile, Tennenbaum wrote two books, “A Girl Named Rose,” inspired by a 16-year-old girl she met in Allendorf who was dying of tuberculosis and begged Tennenbaum to write about her, and “When the Magic Was Gone,” a book of short stories and poems about her Holocaust experiences. She donated her books, and others, to the University of South Alabama Agnes Tennenbaum Holocaust Collection.
The title of her memoir refers to the way the Nazis had stolen “one of the most precious things in life: the magic of youth,” she wrote. “It was gone, gone forever.”
Tennenbaum suffered a fall in January, and since then her health had declined, her friends said. “She had a zest for life,” said Treichel, comparing Tennenbaum’s outlook to that of Anne Frank, who wrote, “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
Rabbi Steven Silberman officiated at a Wednesday graveside service at Ahavas Chesed cemetery. Her family requests that contributions in her memory be made to Little Sisters of the Poor in Mobile.
According to the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, there are now 21 known living Holocaust survivors in Alabama. That includes 14 in the Birmingham area, three in Huntsville, and one each in Montgomery, Decatur, Northport and Selma, says center Executive Director Rebecca Dobrinski.