Rozalia Nowak (Berke) was born in Lodz, Poland to an Orthodox middle class family, the second of five children. A spoiled child, Rozalia and her siblings went to a private school and a rabbi came to their house once a week to teach them Hebrew. Her father worked at his father’s textile company, Mendel Nowak & Son.
A few days after the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Rozalia’s home was invaded by the Nazis and she and her mother, two brothers, and sister moved into the Lodz Ghetto where they remained until 1944. Her father was in Berlin having surgery when the invasion occurred but died during the operation. The family was unable to have the body shipped back to Poland. Her youngest brother, Judah, had been picked up by the Nazis on the street before the move and was never heard from again.
In the ghetto, Rozalia’s job was to be a nurse to the newborn babies. Her mother died in 1942 in the ghetto of malnutrition because she had been giving her food to the children and not eating enough herself. In 1944, Rozalia and her siblings were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where they remained for a few days. Upon arrival, Rozalia saw her friend Doris who had lost all of her family. Rozalia and her sister Roma “adopted” Doris as their third sister and the three remained together throughout the war.
Rozalia and her sisters were sent from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Stutthoff to work for a few months. In late 1944 during the death march from Stutthof into Germany, as allied forces moved into the area, she and her sisters, tired and sick from typhoid fever and pneumonia, managed to roll off into a ravine and escape from the Nazis. They ended up working at a hospital. After the war, the three sisters returned to Lodz where Rozalia and Roma were told that their younger brother was shot trying to escape Auschwitz and their older brother was left in the barracks to die of dysentery.
After the war and becoming healthy again, Rozalia returned to Poland and attended University to become a nurse. When she was 21, Rozalia was approached by Rabbi Dr. Solomon-Schonfeld, an Englishman looking for someone to transport Jewish children ages 6-18 to England. In 1947, she left Poland, along with 21 orphaned children aboard the Queen Elizabeth.
In England, Rozalia attended the University of London for nursing where she learned English. She worked for the next three years as a clerk in the Polish Embassy. After she quit her job in the early 1950’s, she was able to study to be a midwife. While attending school, she met her future husband, Izzy Berke.
The two moved to the United States in 1953 where they lived in an apartment for eleven years until Izzy suddenly passed away. The two did not have any children. In this time, Rozalia was a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital until its closing and then worked at a private practice downtown. She received her B.S. in 1969 from the University of Cincinnati, and completed a Master’s degree in 1971.
Rozalia's sister, Romana (Roma), also immigrated to the U.S. The sisters remained close to their "adoped" sister Doris who lived in England and Israel but visited the U.S. often.
Rozalia never remarried but continued to work as a nurse and was very involved in Holocaust education and the Anti-Defamation League. She helped the State Department of Ohio create a curriculum that incorporated Holocaust education into the classroom. Rozalia passed away on May 30, 2001 at the age of seventy-four.
The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education also has Roma Nowak Kaltman’s personal collection.
Leave a Comment