A silver candlestick was found in the burning rubble of his family home by his sister Natalie when the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto was burned down in the 1940’s. The flames engulfed more than just tangible items; it included hope, faith and spirit. Currently, the candlestick stands bright on a dining room shelf displayed in La Jolla, as a constant reminder that this did happen and it can happen again.
Max shared with his daughter, Leah the memory of being in the army when he was a teenager in Poland in approximately 1918 (unfortunately which army was never clarified). Since it was during World War I and Warsaw was under the control of Russia, he may have been conscripted by that army. Conditions were very harsh in Poland during the war. He reminisced that he and his fellow soldiers were starving when they came upon a garden in a monastery that was full of ripe onions. When he and his fellow servicemen helped themselves, the priests beat them away with sticks. They were unsympathetic to this crew of starving Jewish soldiers.
Max was about 20 years old when he left Poland. Although Poland itself treated its Jewish population decently, he was fleeing service from an anti-Semitic military (which may have been Russian). In desperation, he hopped on a commercial vessel with a friend, Gil Altchuler, who he later considered family. Neither knew where the ship was headed and were surprised when they docked in Tampico, Mexico. Committees of Jews that had previously arrived in Tampico met ships to help any Jews that had made their way to safety in Mexico. He was helped to resettle in Tampico, Mexico where he began working hauling lumber in a lumberyard, a job that didn’t require him to speak Spanish. Once he learned the language, a fellow countryman who had accumulated a warehouse of mismatched shoes invited him to make pairs by using shoe polish. He later peddled them in various neighborhoods. When Leah asked him what his customers did when they found out that they weren’t really authentic pairs, he replied with a laugh: “I never went to the same neighborhood twice”. Eventually he saved enough money, around $2,000.00, to join a group of men who opened a furniture store. Eventually they opened 5 stores. When the group broke up, he ended up with his own store.
In 1932, he became a Mexican citizen. He had his own business and was ready to marry and start a family. His mother Miriam was listed as requesting the honor of the invitees presence for his marriage celebration to Eva Golden on his wedding invitation to be held on July 2, 1931.
His business was successful and his first daughter Esther was born in 1933. His second daughter Anita was born in 1935. Everything was going well until 1939 when he became ill with malaria. His illness was complicated by the overuse of quinine which led to liver ailments. Luckily his sister Rose had made her way to the United States and had gotten to know a holistic doctor. After receiving the bad news of a short life expectancy from traditional doctors, Max and his family went to stay with her in Los Angeles so that he could receive life saving treatment from her doctor. He remained there from 1939 until 1941when he returned to Tijuana, Mexico with his family and $7.00 in his pocket.
Concurrently, in 1939, Nazi Germany occupied Poland where Max’s brother Sam, sister Natalie and mother Miriam remained trapped. His sister Rose and various cousins had made their way to the United States. The first casualty was his brother Sam and his family. Natalie and her Polish husband Stephan lived with and protected his mother Miriam in Stephan’s home in Warsaw. Leah recalls hearing a story that the Nazi’s efforts to round up Jews in hiding included circulating flyers advertising ships that provided safe passage to the United States. Although Natalie and Stephan warned Miriam that these flyers were a hoax and a Nazi scheme, they believed that Miriam fell prey to one such flyer. One day when they returned home from an outing, Miriam was gone – never to be heard from again. Natalie and Stephan searched feverishly to no avail. They surmised that she had pursued the false advertisement and therefore became a victim of the holocaust having been discovered and sent to a camp where she perished. Max was traumatized by this. He refused to speak about it and could not even bear to see pictures of his mother which were all hidden away. Leah guessed that he held himself responsible for not saving her from her death in a concentration camp. This, however, was never verbally verified.
After his mother’s disappearance, and the increased Nazi control of Warsaw, Natalie’s safety became even more precarious. She obtained a false identification registration from the Nazi government with a false name which was not stamped with a “J” identifying her as Jewish. (Leah has a copy of it and there is a cutout area where it appears that Natalie had cut out the swastika – she must have not wanted to see it anymore!). When things got even more dangerous she survived the balance of the Nazi occupation by mostly being hidden within the walls of her husband’s home. That was how she avoided the camps and death. After the war, Max was able to help bring her and Stephan to Mexico.