I often ask my 4-year-old daughter who she wants a playdate with, and she responds, "Let’s go play with Oma-ma." At Oma-ma’s home we play hide and seek, color beautiful pictures, and play other fun games. Our regular visits to Classic Residence for my children to play with Oma-ma are always fun and memorable. As we walk through the halls, Oma-ma has an opportunity to proudly boast about her great-great-grandchildren.
Although now she lives a relaxing life and gets to see four generations of her family, my Oma-ma did not have an easy life.
Oma-ma, Herta Heim (n?e Moses), was born on May 3, 1907, in Neuwied, Germany. She was the oldest of five children. As a teenager, she worked in her parents’ clothing store. There she met her husband, Sally Bodenheimer, an artist and store-window designer. Together they were blessed with three beautiful children.
Five generations of first-born daughters, from left: Ariella Vogel, Amy Vogel, Yvonne Warschawski, Hilde Simon, and Herta Heim.
When Hitler came to power, the happy days of their middle-class family abruptly changed. In 1938, Sally was taken on a transport to work at the Dachau concentration camp. As the situation worsened, the family’s home and store were destroyed and their children Edith, 6; Kurt, 10; and Hilde, 1′ were no longer allowed to go to school or play with their friends. In order to protect her children, Herta sent them on the last children’s transport to Holland. She felt it was the only chance they had to survive. She can remember her son saying, "Now we won’t have a mommy anymore." When the Nazis took over Holland, her children were transported from foster home to foster home and eventually they were all reunited after five years of separation in Theresienstadt. For a short time all the members of the family were together in Theresienstadt.
Although suffering from starvation and abuse, Herta worked hard as a seamstress, tailoring Nazi uniforms. This skill and the drive to survive is what saved her life. She has many memories of the horrible times she had to live through, but the worst was in 1944 when her husband and son, Kurt, then 16, were taken away on transports to Auschwitz. She wrote letters and pleaded with Nazi officials to try to save them, but was not successful. The last words she remembers her son saying are, "Don’t cry, Mom. You will make me cry and then I will not be able to ask the authories to let me stay." They did not survive. Then she heard her daughter Hilde was being put on a transport, she pleaded again and wrote letters. Because of my Oma-ma’s perseverance, her daughter Hilde (my grandmother) was saved from imminent death.
When Germany was liberated in May 1945, she was not well enough to go back to her hometown immediately. She continued to struggle daily to provide food and shelter for her daughters. In 1946, her husband’s brother, who lived in the United States, sponsored her and her two daughters, helping them relocate to the United States. They arrived in New York by ship on July ‘7, 1946.
Shortly after arriving in New York, she supported her family by working as a dressmaker for a prestigious firm in the garment district. She lived both in Manhattan and Queens and remarried in 1951. Her husband, Paul Heim, died of Parkinson’s disease in 1975.
Oma-ma has two daughters, four grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. Her hobbies keep her young. She loves to invest in the stock market, tracks her stocks daily, and telephones her family members to give financial advice. Oma-ma loves walking, traveling to Atlantic City, and playing bingo, canasta, Rummy Q, and Scrabble. She is famous for the delicious cakes she bakes for our family gatherings.
I have always felt blessed to have an incredibly close relationship with Oma-ma. I remember in college when I decided to take on a stricter level of Jewish observance than my family, my Oma-ma supported me. She encouraged me by sharing that she prays regularly, says the Sh’ma every night, and feels a close relationship to God. She always makes me feel that she is proud of the way I have chosen to raise my family.
On my ‘1st birthday, my mom, Oma, Aunt Edith, and Oma-ma introduced me to Atlantic City. Weekend trips there had been a longstanding tradition that I was looking forward to joining. As I ran around playing the games with Oma-ma, no one could believe her age. Everywhere she goes she surprises people when she shares her age. She is a model of both physical and inner beauty.
Most important, Oma-ma is loved by all for her warmth, kindness, and generosity. She is our family matriarch, a remarkable woman whom we all look up to with admiration and respect.
On behalf of all Oma-ma’s friends and family, we all wish her a very happy 100th birthday