From time to time different Board members or guest writers from the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey will be writing our newsletter. This month we are privileged to have Allen Zaks, one of our newest Board members, do the honors. His story follows:
My name is Allen Zaks, and I am the son of Holocaust survivors Sy and Lily Zaks of blessed memory. I am a retired attorney who worked the last 25 years of a 40 year legal career at the Paterson City Hall as an attorney for the city. After my mom passed away last year I came across many pictures from my youth and of my parents’ fellow survivor friends and neighbors when they were living in Paterson and Fair Lawn. They evoked special memories and emotions for me and I am honored to briefly share them with our JHSNJ readers.
My mom survived a death march from Auschwitz and miraculously reunited with my dad at the end of the war. My dad managed to survive by assuming a false Christian identity. Our family came to this welcoming community of Paterson 65 years ago. We were fortunate to make Paterson our new home in our new country. At the time of our arrival, and for the next 30 years, Paterson had a vibrant Jewish population. That same community welcomed my parents and many other survivors.
Holocaust survivors have had and still have a special bond with one another. This bond manifested itself in mutual support and friendship that eased the adjustment process to their new lives in a foreign society. This acculturation process followed their earlier history of being violently uprooted, mostly as teens and young adults, from their families, friends, homes, schools and way of life.
From Paterson neighborhoods on and around Hamilton and Graham Avenues, Carroll and Fair Streets and Fulton Place, we graduated to numbered streets and avenues on both sides of Broadway and eventually across the Passaic River to leafy Fair Lawn streets with names like Dorothy, Eugene, Phillip and Barbara. Our families moved from the ashes and despair of the Holocaust and embraced the American dream. The hard work and drive of my parents and their fellow survivors enabled them to make a living and keep us safe. They provided my brother, Jerry, me and other children of survivors, with a level of comfort and security that the survivors themselves had been criminally denied in Europe.
Families named Blumenstyk, Chase, Ehrlich, Frenkel, Dorbian, Weiss and Statfeld were an integral part of our lives; and, for me growing up, they always had a smile and words of encouragement. To this day, I still get that warmth from the survivors who attend the monthly Jewish Family Service of North Jerseyʼs Cafe Europa at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center. I thank those families and our survivor community for that wonderful support that was given to us as far back as I can remember. Of course, I also thank my parents for instilling in me a bissel Yiddishkeit, for creating awareness of the evils of anti-Semitism and for being positive role models. I look forward to perpetuating our local Jewish history during my tenure as a Board member of the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey. It is my hope that survivor family members reading this will join me in sharing photos, documents, letters, etc. regarding their experiences prior to and during their presence in North Jersey with ourSociety as we anticipate our move to our new Fair Lawn location.