In 1979, nearly 100 Jews from Germany and Poland, men and women who survived the Nazi death camps, created a sprawling retreat in the Catskill mountains of New York, a place they called Four Seasons. Without setting out to do so, they created a community made up entirely of other Holocaust survivors, people who would never flinch hearing about the camps, the near-misses with the Gestapo, the numbing tales of loss. There, amid 40 acres of forest and fastidiously maintained lawns, they swam, hiked, cooked and cracked Yiddish jokes without apology. Here are a few of them.
Victor and Regina Lewis
Victor and Regina Lewis are a rare pairing at the Lodge: They were teenage sweethearts in Krakow, Poland, before the war and both somehow survived. Their relationship is now in its 65th year. Although every Lodger’s story is remarkable, Victor’s is worth noting: During a hellish transport to the extermination fields of Belzec, he filed through the bars of his cattle car’s tiny window and jumped through with his brother. He could not persuade the rest of his family or Regina’s — to follow. Later he survived a vicious beating by a Gestapo officer, who left him for dead; in another stroke of good luck, he got his name onto Schindler’s list and spent the final months of the war doing construction work on Schindler’s apartment. Regina endured several camps and ended up at Auschwitz. “I was not very strong and was not meant to live,” says Regina. “I don’t believe in miracles. The only reason I survived was through the help of other people. This is why I love people.”
Carl Potok is the colony’s vice president, resident repairman and bartender par excellence. He says his plumbing, cooking and carpentry talents helped him survive five different concentration camps, including a munitions factory where a half-dozen other Lodgers spent the final year of the war and formed powerful friendships that have lasted almost seven decades. One day, the camp’s commandant ordered Carl to make a birthday cake for his young son, even though the camp’s kitchen did not have the necessary ingredients. Through theft and ingenuity, he even made colorful frosting by boiling beets and carrots, creating a cake that thrilled his taskmaster and secured his life, at least for another day. “If the Nazis didn’t have a use for you, they killed you on the spot,” he says. “I always made sure I was useful.” It was at this camp that Carl met his wife, Shirley, who passed away last winter after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Esther Geizhals was just 13 when she arrived at Auschwitz with her family after five years of near-starvation in Poland’s Lodz ghetto. When Dr. Mengele, who sorted out arriving prisoners for either work or immediate death, separated Esther from her family, she started to run for the other side but another prisoner held her back and saved her life. “I was just a girl who wanted to be with her mother but this woman was an angel,” Esther recalls. “I never saw her again.” Despite the horrors of the war years and the loss of her entire family, Esther is remarkably upbeat and appreciative. “I love to be around other survivors because we understand each other’s pain,” she said. “We also have incredible bonds because having lost our families, we became each other’s family.”