Carol L. Katz

Age 95 Survivor of Nazi persecutions spent the last months of the war fleeing from German and Slovakian authorities.

Her popularity "helped save her life during the Holocaust," said her son, David Katz of Northwest Baltimore.

July 13, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

Carol "Lenka" Katz, who survived the Nazi persecutions in Slovakia with an assumed identity and with assistance from Christian friends who hid her and her baby son, died July 6 of complications from an infection at a hospital in Jerusalem. The former Northwest Baltimore resident was 95.

Carol Leah Bernstein was born into a Hasidic family in Bardiov, a small town in eastern Slovakia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

After graduating from high school and a business school, she went to work as a secretary for an industrial firm in Bratislava.

"She was very popular with her employers and fellow workers, a fact that helped save her life during the Holocaust," said a son, David Katz of Northwest Baltimore.

"During the Second World War, she lived through the anti-Semitic persecutions in the independent fascist state of Slovakia, which was allied to Hitler," her son said.

"Because of her important job in an industrial firm, she was exempted from some of the worst persecutions, particularly in 1942, when many Slovakian Jews were deported to the Auschwitz extermination camps," he said.

In 1943, she was married to Dr. Ivan Levinger, a physician, and a year later a son, Ari, was born.

After the German army swept into Slovakia in 1944 and occupied the country, it began the systematic deportation and extermination of the country's Jewish population.

Mrs. Katz went into hiding when several Christian friends offered her and her baby a refuge, while another family took in her husband.

But her husband's hosts surrendered him to the SS, and he was executed. Her host family, fearful of the consequences if they were discovered harboring Jews, then asked her to leave.

"Then began a series of adventures, as mother and child ran from pillar to post in the last 10 months of the war, desperately endeavoring to stay one step ahead of the German and Slovakian authorities," Mr. Katz said.

Using a false identity, Mrs. Katz and her young son lived in the Slovak city of Bratislava, where they were helped by two sisters, Paula and Terka Illik, who were German Roman Catholics.

"They were opposed to Hitler on religious grounds and repeatedly risked their lives to hide her," Mr. Katz said.

When the authorities began to close in on Mrs. Katz, a Christian pediatrician found a place for her and her son in a retirement home operated by a religious order in Stara Tura in western Slovakia, near the Czech border.

Mrs. Katz worked as a cleaning woman at the home until the war ended.

"She lived under an assumed identity and through many close calls," her son said, "such as when the SS set up an office in a room adjacent to hers."

Most of her family perished at the hands of the Germans. After the war, she returned to her former job but dreamed of coming to the United States.

At the end of 1949, Democratic Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey helped Mrs. Katz immigrate to Minneapolis, where she had a brother.

She enrolled in public school, where she learned to speak English, and then took a job as a secretary with a machine tool company.

In 1951, she and her son moved to Forest Park to live with another brother, Lazar Bernstein, and then went to work as a secretary at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College, then on Garrison Boulevard.

In 1953, she married Rabbi Leo Katz, a Holocaust survivor from Lithuania, who had immigrated to Baltimore after the war.

After the birth of two children, Mrs. Katz became a homemaker and active in many synagogue and charitable associations.

"She was a very sociable and outgoing person, and was a familiar figure at events in Baltimore's Jewish community," her son said.

Mrs. Katz remained in close contact with her Christian friends in Slovakia.

"She recommended them to the Holocaust Authority of the state of Israel to be included in the Roll of Righteous Gentiles for their heroic conduct during the war," her son said.

Mrs. Katz participated in the Shoah Project, which was established by filmmaker Steven Spielberg and documented the experiences of Holocaust survivors.

"Her interview was seven hours long," her son said.

Her husband died in 1974, and Mrs. Katz remained in Northwest Baltimore until moving a decade ago to Jerusalem to be near her daughter.

"She enjoyed good health until recently and enjoyed keeping up with the news back home in Baltimore," her son said.

Her son, Ari, died of a heart attack in 2000.

Services for Mrs. Katz were held July 6 in Jerusalem.

In addition to her other son, Mrs. Katz is survived by a daughter, Deborah E. Lichtman of Jerusalem; several grandchildren; and 17 grandchildren.

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