Abraham Shoken, whose long life was divided between hard times in Poland and better ones in the United States, died at Sinai Hospital early yesterday after a stroke. He was 91.
The only member of his family to survive Nazi concentration camps, Mr. Shoken spent most of his new life running neighborhood grocery stores in Baltimore.
"He lived two different lives in equal portions, from birth to 1945 he experienced the culture of European Jewry. When that culture ended, he came to America and lived roughly another 45 years," said Fred Shoken of Baltimore, one of his three sons. "He said that in America, you were American and Jewish, you could be both and get by. In Poland, you were a Jew."
Born in Warsaw, where he worked in his father's leather business, Mr. Shoken was living in the Jewish ghetto with his wife and twin daughters, Guta and Rachel, in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. After the failed ghetto uprising of 1943, the Nazis rousted the family from hiding places and sent them to camps. Mr. Shoken lost his parents, nine siblings, his wife and children.
He was first sent to Maidanek, about two miles from Lublin, Poland. The Allied liberation of 1945 found him at Mauthausen in upper Austria. For the next four years he lived in a displaced persons camp in Landsberg, Germany.
"I've known him since the end of the war in Landsberg. He was coming almost daily to our apartment," said Hirsh Altusky, a fellow survivor now living in New York. "He was a very smart person, a very plain, simple and friendly man who liked to schmooze."
Mr. Shoken sailed for the United States in 1949, was processed in New York by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and sent to Baltimore with a train ticket and the address of a downtown rooming house.
"He was 45 years old, didn't know anything about Baltimore and didn't speak English," said Fred Shoken. "His first job was at the old Cannon Shoe Factory."
In Baltimore, he met a young Holocaust survivor from Poland named Sylvia Szmulewicz. They were married in 1950. Mrs. Shoken was a seamstress in a South Baltimore sweatshop.
"My father realized they weren't going to make it making shoes or sewing, so with some savings and a little help from the Jewish community, they bought a small grocery store on Brune Street," Fred Shoken said. "He sold it for another store at South Paca and Warner streets. Dad learned to cut meat, all of us lived above the store, and he sold everything. I think he even resold our comic books after we read them."
In 1958, the family moved to a house on Simmons Avenue near the Glen Avenue firehouse in Northwest Baltimore, where Mr. Shoken lived until his death. Mrs. Shoken lives at Milford Manor Nursing Home.
Mr. Shoken became a U.S. citizen in 1960. He the Paca Street store in 1966 and bought a liquor store near Hilton Parkway. He retired in 1974 after decades of rolling pennies, working 12-hour days and enduring numerous holdups.
"My father never talked about the war or his first family. He never rejected God, but he couldn't understand how something like that could have happened," said Fred Shoken. "I wouldn't say he was jovial, but he wasn't a begrudging man either. I think he accepted what happened and went on. A lot of people did what he did. There was no other way."
Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc., Reisterstown Road and Mount Wilson Lane.
Also surviving are sons Samuel Shoken and William Shoken, both of Baltimore.
Pub Date: 5/30/96