Cafe Europa brings together holocaust survivors in Portland area: 'I believe in love'

Alter Wiener talks with Jackie Labrecque at a Cafe Europa gathering on the Portland Spirit - KATU image

PORTLAND, Ore. – A social group, known as Cafe Europa, meets monthly. A shared inconceivable history brings them together. They survived the Holocaust.

The group gathers monthly at different spots. In June, it was aboard the Portland Spirit for a day of dancing, dining and discourse, and a sense of community that is important as people age.

One of the regulars, Alter Wiener, wrote about his story of survival called "From a Name to a Number."

“The number they gave me in the concentration camp. Everybody had a number," said Wiener, whose number was 64735. Weiner's whole family was killed by the Nazis, including his Dad in 1939.

"I looked at his partially decomposed face and I said 'Daddy why did they kill you?' I didn't understand it. I didn't understand it when I was 13 and I don't understand it today."

Jake Kryszek also has a number. His was tattooed on his left arm when he was at Auschwitz.

"Before we went from one camp to another, I got shot," Kryszek said.

He was strong and recovered, then forced to do labor for Hitler's Army. He was one of a hundred men left sick and dying at the Dora Camp when the U.S. Army liberated them in 1945. He also lost everyone he loved.

"Some little things, which never goes away from your heart, you know,” said an emotional Kryszek.

Each survivor has a different, equally unthinkable story.

"It's so important to have a place that survivors meet, talk about it, and it's nice to know there's a place for them,” said Sonia Liberman who is also the lone survivor in her family. “To come and tell their story, and share their lives.”

Kerry Goldring runs Cafe Europa. She says the Jewish Family and Child Services Center knows of about 100 survivors in the Portland-metro area.

"That they survived is the very reason that I, as a Jewish woman, I am alive today,” said Goldring.

About half of these Seniors live below the federal poverty line.

The non-profit supports them, like helping to pay a utility bill or healthcare needs such as purchasing hearing aids.

"Many of them want on to create amazing lives for themselves, many did not. Many have continued to struggle. But they have a resilience and tenacity to look after, to care for each other, to care for those around them, to contribute to the world,” Goldring said.

A world that has left them scarred and worried it could happen again.

"We do live in very dangerous times and that's why I make an effort to share my story how prejudice and stereotyping is completely senseless,” said Wiener.

Still, Alter has hope.

"I believe in love."

Cafe Europa was a real cafe in Stockholm, Sweden where survivors would look for loved ones after World War II.

There are now gatherings in cities throughout the world.

If you're interested in learning more about the Jewish Family and Child Services Center and the services they provide the survivors, check their website.

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