Mobile Press-Register, June 3, 2016
Holocaust survivor who embraced Mobile dies at 93
Michelle Matthews email@example.com
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
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
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
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
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.