Abraham Tauber and Regina Sznajderman loved each other since they were little children. She was the girl next door, and he was the boy with the irresistible smile and sparkly blue eyes. He proposed to the 5-year-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed charmer when he was 6. (Today she is 95 and he is 96. Do the math.) He had four sisters, she had five brothers. It was assumed Avrum (as he was known then) and Regina would live happily ever after – except for the growing anti-Semitism in their Polish village of Chodel (Chodleh in Yiddish), about a 40-minute drive from Lublin.
When they were visited in Englewood Cliffs on a recent Shabbat eve, the two of them, still as mentally sharp as ever, looked at each other with an intense love light in their eyes, and cuddled and kissed after lighting the Shabbat candles, and blessing their children and grandchildren. They have cheated death many times, and are not done yet. Both still go to the office every day. They just keep on truckin’.
|Regina and Abe Tauber. Courtesy Bruce Pomerantz|
Almost 100 years ago, Chodel was a village with a large town square. It still is. The Sznajdermans lived on the ground floor of a big house they built in a corner of it. A room on the first floor was rented to a Polish baker and his family, and bedrooms and a dance studio on the second floor also were rented out to Poles. The family was well-educated and prosperous enough to use their home to feed the poor. When the famous Gerer Rebbe would come to town, he would stay with them – even though they had no electricity or running water.
Abe (Avrum) Tauber was the son of a man who owned a big farm just outside of Chodel, with horses and cows. The Taubers lived in a house just behind the Sznajdermans. As a teenager, he was sent to Lublin, the center of world Jewry, to study at Yeshiva Chochmei Lublin. While there, he worked as a gofer for a local legislator and developed a love of God and spirituality that never left him.
Regina attended the Beth Jacob School for Girls in Lublin, went to the opera, although she did not understand it until later, and continued her education at a local secondary school, where she met the professor who would later save her life.
As the war neared, the anti-Semitism got worse. After the invasion, when the Germans aryanized everything, Tauber’s family lost the farm. During the frozen winter of 1940, Tauber realized his neighbors needed wood for heat and cooking, but wood was forbidden to the Jews. The owner of the lumberyard, an acquaintance, told him, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I will tell my people to stay away from you and ask nothing from you.” Tauber enlisted a friend of his, nicknamed Srul (short for Yisroel) to help him load the wood. It was a heavy load, and they thought the horses would not make it, but they did – and the wood was shared with everyone.
The next day, two Polish thugs dragged Tauber out of bed and accused him of stealing the wood. When they began to beat Srul in his bed, Tauber shoved one thug away from the door and escaped. Then Srul was murdered, and Tauber ran through the icy river in snowy conditions to Kozechowka, a tiny town two miles away.
In 1941, Kol Nidre fell on a Friday night. At about 9 p.m., after curfew in Chodel, the baker’s wife knocked on the Sznajderman’s door. Regina did not want to let her in, and waited until her brothers hid.
The woman came into the house and told Regina that all the Jews in town would be killed in the morning, and that they had to run for their lives. She made Regina swear not to tell, because her son had joined the Nazis. If he found out she told, he would kill her “because he hates the Jews more than he loves me.”
Regina kissed her mother and brothers goodbye and went from house to house to warn the other Jews. Tauber and his sister Rivka helped spread the word. Regina remembers that the not-so-observant Jews ran, but the more observant ones stayed behind because it was Shabbat and Yom Kippur. The next morning, the Nazis set fire to the shul in Chodel, burning alive many of those who stayed behind.
Tauber and several members of his family escaped to Jeszow. From 1941-42, he worked as a plowman and harvester in Jeszow.
As the pressure increased on the Jews, Regina Sznajderman’s teacher at the secondary school asked what she would do when the Nazis came. Said Sznajderman, “We will all perish together.” He told her he wuld not let the Nazis take her. He promised to get her false papers and gave her a coded note to send to him if she got into trouble. In gratitude, she gave him pearls for his wife and some money.
Sznajderman eventually sent that coded message and her professor sent her to live wth a friend until war’s end. He told the friend she was his niece.
After the war, Sznajderman went back to Lublin and Chodel. She heard Tauber was alive and probably at a restaurant owned by a friend, where he liked to drown his sorrows in liquor. Tauber told The Jewish Standard that he was a cute, strong guy, and the girls would throw themselves at him, but he was waiting for the girl he loved to come back. Regina found Abe quite drunk, sobered him up, cleaned him up, and burned his clothes. They were married soon after, and he never got drunk again.
The Taubers came to New York in 1949 with nothing in their pockets but full of love for each other and a determination to build a new life. They moved to Vineland, because they heard other survivors lived there, and bought a farmhouse with some land. With his own hands, Tauber built his chicken coops and a thriving egg farm. He struggled mightily to get it off the ground, and Regina and the children helped in every way they could.
Eventually, Tauber, who made chicken feed for his own stock, began selling feed to neighboring farms. He built Vineland’s first synagogue, and served as its president and cantor. He still has a beautiful voice.
In the 1960s, Tauber became a real-estate developer. He slept in his office in North Bergen, and every Shabbat, he returned to Vineland. Back in those hard-scrabble days, Regina cooked up a week’s supply of meals because she did not want Abe eating in restaurants and leaving one-dollar tips. “A dozen eggs was 25 cents, and a dollar was a lot of money,” she said.
While Abe built his real estate business, Regina and their three children ran the chicken farm – sorting eggs, candling them, and packing them, until they were successful enough in the real estate business to give up the farm and move to Hillside. After a few years, they moved to Englewood Cliffs to be closer to the new business, and Tauber, by then in his 80s, helped found the New Synagogue in Fort Lee.
For several years thereafter, the Taubers were congregants at Temple Israel Community Center/Congregation Heichal Yisrael in Cliffside Park, where Abe occasionally led services and where he was called upon each Yom Kippur to chant the prayer for the Six Million Martyrs (Yom Kippur being the yahrzeit of his parents and Regina’s mother).
Perhaps granddaughter Jessica summed it up best in the tribute she wrote to Tauber on his 95th birthday, “Although Mamie and Zaideh…taught me to never forget the atrocities of the war, we were also taught to move forward with love and not take for granted what we are blessed with. The [horrible memories] weave in and out of their life with constancy, invading almost every conversation. Yet through adversity they have overcome….Although they came to this country scared, alone and poor, they had each other and that was enough….”