Building his hidden past
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Building his hidden past

Fair Lawn resident constructs model of his Holocaust refuge

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Ann Benzachar with her father, Michael Mark, and the model he built of the barn where he hid during the Holocaust. Jeanette Friedman

Michael Mark is a man of few words who works with his hands.

So when it came time to unburden himself of the memories he had kept to himself, he let his hands start the conversation.

Mark, 83, was born Mischka Margierowicz. He came from the city of Brody in what is now the Ukraine.

His children, Anne Benzachar of Fair Lawn and Benjamin Mark of Long Branch, like many children of survivors, didn’t hear his stories growing up or even later. Not until shortly before their mother’s death in 2008 did they convince her to tell her story to her children and grandchildren.

They began to push their father, a carpenter and contractor by trade, but he still didn’t want to talk.

Instead, six months ago, he drew up a blueprint.

His daughter asked what he was planning, “but he wouldn’t tell me. He would smile and say I’ll find out when it was finished. So I nagged him some more, but he resisted. As it grew, it began to look like a house of some sort. That’s when I asked him if it was a doll house for Gabby. And he said no. He liked that I was nagging him, that my curiosity was piqued.”

He did not want it to be thought of as a doll house, so he caved in and told Benzachar what it was: a model of the stable where he hid during the war.

It is made of wood, straw and bamboo matting instead of thatch, with little figures of people, a goat and horses, as well as a plastic fork that represents the pitchfork he used to lock the stable door. The roof lifts off and the root cellar, where he hid during the day, can be removed and opened. As he built it, one bit at a time, he began to release bits and pieces of memory, sharing them with his daughter.

“I became my father’s apprentice,” she said. “At first I couldn’t figure out what he was doing, but as the model took shape, the story came out. I am grateful he agreed to put himself through this process, as painful as it was, because now we know his story…maybe not all of it, but we are sure we will learn much more. As he told the stories, it brought the model and the people he spoke about, to life. I learned things about my family I never knew before.”

Mark said that he “had been planning to build the model since 1943. I didn’t have to measure. I just remembered it all. And now I am glad it’s done so I can tell the story of the difference between life and death.”

He said he feels as if a heavy “peckel”, a heavy load, had been removed from his back, and that he was fulfilling a promise to those left behind.

Mark is interested in taking his model to local schools and telling his story. He can be contacted through his daughter at Tiberias73@aol.com.

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