Erika Baier (Garfunkel) was born in Papenburg, a small German town with a population of twenty-four Jewish families. On November 9, 1938, her father Salomon was taken to a camp. His tobacco wholesale business was destroyed by Nazi storm troopers.
Because the mayor of Papenburg wanted the Baiers’ house, he offered to issue the family passports without the letter J (for “Jude”) on them. The family had applied for an immigration visa to Paraguay. The mayor bought the house for his son for a ridiculously low price, but then issued the passports with the letter “J” on them. This made the family’s departure for Paraguay impossible.
Elli Waldbaum Baier, Erika’s mother, went with her aunt Gida to Bremen to beg for visas at the consulates there. Through their efforts, Erika’s father was released from the camp and permitted to emigrate with his family to Ecuador. The family settled in Guayaquil in April 1939.
Through her parent’s sacrifices, Erika survived to graduate from the Universidad Central del Ecuador’s College of Dentistry in 1954. She married Felix Garfunkel, also a survivor, that same year. He later graduated from a medical school in Ecuador (see below). They came to the United States in 1958.
From a large family on both sides, only Erika’s immediate family – including her brother Herman, an aunt and uncle, and their three children – were able to escape the Nazis.
Papenburg is in northwestern Germany near the North Sea. It was the site of a major shipyard and also of a small concentration camp. Most of the inmates were not Jews but political prisoners, who were used as slave labor.
Cernauti, Romania was home to Felix’s middle-class Jewish family. He was eight years old when the war broke out and the Soviet army, in accordance with the infamous Hitler-Stalin pact, occupied his country. In June 1941, the Germans came, and the Garfunkels were ordered into a Jewish ghetto with 46,000 others. A few weeks later they were put on a train to the Ukraine for slave labor. Felix recalls the journey as a nightmare of violence and fear. On arrival, men and women were separated and a forced march began. Felix and his father escaped and hid in an abandoned house — he remembers that it had been flooded, and was full of mud. They made their way to Mogilev, but were forced into slave labor again. Felix worked on a farm and his father in a foundry. He estimates that 80 to 85% of Mogilev’s Jews died from starvation or disease during that period. In the summer of 1943, he was sent to a concentration camp but escaped three months later. He was again in Mogilev when the Soviets liberated the town in the spring of 1944. Remarkably, both parents were still alive, and after they were reunited the family returned to Cernauti. After the war they journeyed to France and eventually to Ecuador, where Felix’s father had a cousin. He completed high school and then medical school in Quito and emigrated to the United States in 1958. He has worked as a radiologist in Canton, Ohio and in Xenia, where he retired from Greene Memorial Hospital in 1990. He and his wife, Erika, have three children and three grandchildren.
Romania was a monarchy until the end of World War II, a relatively new country created in the late nineteenth century out of provinces conquered from the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish population of this region has been large since at least the Dark Ages. Romania also has the world’s largest Gypsy population, despite the fact that a quarter million of these semi-nomadic people also were killed in the Holocaust.