The extraordinary story that led to the idea of this "Miracle Update" blog in the first place began with a simple phone call. My book was to be published in August 2007, and a few months earlier I had decided that one of the first places I wanted to visit was my childhood congregation, Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I had had the honor of being the first bat mitzvah. So I called the rabbi, Marc Berkson, to discuss that possibility. We hadn't talked for more than a few minutes when he said, "You know I've been to Lostice." Lostice (formerly Loschitz) is the small town in the Czech Republic where Fanny Neuda, author of "Hours of Devotion," was living with her husband, Rabbi Abraham Neuda, the rabbi of Lostice in the 1850s, when she wrote her book, the first full-length prayer book for Jewish women to be written by a woman.
"You've been to Lostice?" I asked with surprise. Lostice, nestled in the rolling hills of eastern Moravia, is so remote, I had to buy a detailed road map just to find it. "How is that?"
"My wife's family is from there," he replied.
"Really?!" We talked for a few more minutes until the full impact of the rabbi's statement struck me. "Excuse me," I said. "Let's back up a minute. Do you mean to tell me that you are the rabbi of my childhood synagogue, where I was the first bat mitzvah, and your wife's family just happens to be from the same small town where Fanny Neuda—the author of the book I'm about to publish—lived and worked?
"You should really talk to my wife," he replied.
A few days later, I was able to reach the rabbi's wife, Deborah Carter-Berkson, in the car, on her way to visit her mother, Edith Knopflmacher Carter, then aged 92 (she turned 93 this month) who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. After a few minutes of conversation, Debbie said, "You should really talk to my mother." To my delight, I immediately found Mrs. Carter to be one of the sharpest people of her generation I had ever spoken with (and I used to work in Leisure World!).
In preparation for our conversation, I was holding a copy of a booklet called "There Once Was a World," published by the Respect and Tolerance foundation of Lostice, an organization dedicated to preserving Jewish history and culture of the area. Although there isn't a single Jew remaining in the town, the 500-year Jewish history of the town will not be lost, thanks to this remarkable group. I had visited Lostice on a research trip in 2006, and the foundation was, and continues to be, extremely generous in assisting me with my research.
Without any prompting on my part, Mrs. Carter was able to tell me the names of at least half a dozen victims of the Holocaust from Lostice whom she remembered and whose names are recorded in the booklet. After our conversation, I immediately put the pamphlet into the mail to her, along with a flyer describing my forthcoming book. About a week later, I received this extraordinary message on my voice mail:
I just opened my mail and I found your very nice note, and I found the little booklet . . . "There Once Was a World," and to my greatest, greatest surprise I saw first thing, on the cover, a picture of my grandfather’s 70th birthday with my father, my mother, and the six siblings of my mother! It is just amazing! . . . And I can hardly believe it! How ever did you get that picture, because nobody in that picture is alive. There are only three left alive [in the family] . . . so I can hardly believe it.
And the other thing is about your book by Fanny Neuda . . . Fanny Neuda’s are the best prayers that any woman can have if she is really in need of some kind of help. I had one that my mother used to have, and I had it with me in the concentration camp [Thereisendstat]. And I had it on the way to Auschwitz, too, [but] when they chased me out of the wagons, they hit my hand, and this way I lost the book. . . . But [now I have] one from my mother-in-law. It is the nineteenth edition of the prayer book, the 1903 edition. So you can imagine how surprised I was with everything. it’s just unbelievable!
Edith Knopflmacher Carter survived Thereisenstadt, Auschwitz, and the long march from the concentration camps after liberation. She made her way back to her decimated hometown and waited for years for her husband to return after the war, only to learn that he was killed by an American bomb. And then, by the grace of God, she met and married her husband's first cousin, Debbie Carter-Berkson's father, and emigrated to America. Finding this remarkable survivor alive and well, and able to witness what is being done to preserve the history of her people in the place where she lived, seems to be a miracle made just for her.
Naturally, I couldn't wait to share this information with Ludek Stipl, director of Respect and Tolerance. He promptly called Mrs. Carter and gathered even more information, including details on her birthplace, which was a short distance from Lostice. This is the story he included in an e-mail message to me, dated October 1, 2007, after a trip there to see what he might find:
I went to visit the town Nemecka Huzova (formerly Deutschhause) where Mrs. Edith Carter Knopflmacher was born. The town is located in the former Sudetenland about 38 km [23 1/2 miles] from Lostice. It was populated mostly by Germans who were sent to Germany after 1945. Many houses remained empty for many years and later were torn down, some of them were repaired and modernized without much taste during 1970s. Not very nice place tell the truth. Soon I gave up any hope of discovering any useful site from the Knopflmacher era. Even houses in the historical town square were torn down . . . There is only one nice historical house on the square and most probably in the entire town. After going through the period photographs we realized to our great surprise that this is the house where Edith Knopflmacher was born and where she lived with her parents and siblings. Hard to believe but it is the truth.
In November, Mr. Stipl made a longer trip, from the Czech Republic to Cincinnati, to interview Mrs. Carter in person. He brought with him pictures of her native village, pictures of her family, and the clear assurance that her story would be documented not only in the several videotaped interviews that have already been conducted by Holocaust study centers in America but also that it will be preserved and remembered in the Czech language, in her own childhood home, in Lostice.