Of my parents’ four children, only I—a middle child—was named for someone who perished in the Holocaust, and I bear not just one but two such names, each from a favorite sister of my two grandmothers.
I have often wondered if in giving me the names of these two women, these sisters, my parents somehow predestined my connection with their lives and their deaths, and my immersion in examining, through personal stories, the details of the devastating tragedy we call the Holocaust.
My first name, Toby, is in remembrance of Tova Kanfer Kagan, on my mother's side.
Tova was my Baba's half sister, as my grandmother's mother died in childbirth with her (consequently she did not celebrate her own birthday until she was in her 80s), and her father remarried.
Like my Baba, Tova was born in the shtetl of Shumsk (or Szumsk) when it was still Russia (it later became Poland and is now Ukraine). She and and her husband David moved to Dubno and owned a flour mill there. They had five children. One daughter, Shaindel, went to work on a kibbutz in Israel in 1939. She was the only one of five children to survive, my mother told me.
There is no known record of Tova's death, but she was very likely shot in a mass killing in Dubno in 1941 or 1942.
This is the only existant photograph of Tova, and it is a copy. When my parents went to visit Shaindel in Israel in the 1960s, they gave her the original photograph.
My middle name, Friedl, was given in honor of Frieda, my Oma’s sister who had lived with my father’s family in Mannheim.
She had been divorced from her first husband and was separated from the second one. She supported herself selling Pfaff sewing machines door to door.
In the late 1930s, Frieda was the top salesperson in the region of southwest Germany, my father said.
I wondered how Frieda carried the heavy sewing machines all around Mannheim.
Frieda remained in Mannheim waiting for her visa appointment with the U.S. Consulate after the rest of the family – her sister, brother-in-law (my grandparents) and two nephews (my father and his brother) – had all received their U.S. visas and left. She was sure to receive her appointment for a U.S. visa very soon. But in October of 1940—just months after my grandparents left Mannheim—she was deported, along with more than 6,500 other Jews from the southwest region of Germany, to the concentration camp of Gurs in Vichy France.