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Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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Descendant Profile






    Helen Rosen has been in the forefront of Holocaust education in Bridgewater Raritan School District where she has taught Social Studies and Language Arts Literacy at the intermediate school level for over three decades. As a second-generation descendant, she has brought the Holocaust Commission’s mandate to her district by co-writing Holocaust curriculum, providing opportunities for fellow educators by implementing and presenting teacher training workshops, and teaching Holocaust awareness to her students.


    A long-time member of the Advisory and Educator Boards at the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Raritan Valley Community College, Helen has played a major role in the Learning Through Experience programs for middle and high school students.  She has traveled with the New Jersey State Department of Education’s Holocaust Commission to the various concentration camp sites and has studied at the International School of Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. As a second-generation survivor, Helen was interviewed for Harry Hillard’s film Ripples in Time. 


    Helen also has been a leader in the Jewish community. She has served as chairperson of the Jewish Federation of Hunterdon, Warren and Somerset Counties Community Relations Council. In addition, she has served as sisterhood president and then as synagogue president of Temple Sholom, in Bridgewater, New Jersey in the 1990s. In retirement, Helen enjoys spending time with her family, her husband Steven, their two daughters, Robyn and Jessica, sons-in-law Adam and Seth, and five grandchildren, Matthew, Morgan, Zachary, Abigail, and Madelyn.


    Testimony by Helen Rosen, 2G

    I am a second generation survivor. An Israeli friend of mine (former educational director of Yad Vashem) calls us 2Gs.


    Both my parents were born in Poland, my dad, Hyman Tuchman in Tychen, and my mother Miriam Berkowitz Tuchman, in Ulanow. They met here in the States after the war.  My father had family in Rockaway Beach and my mother, in the Bronx. Someone introduced them and they obviously had a great deal in common.


    My mother lost everyone in her family with the exception of her older sister, Regina (we knew her as Aunt Jenny); my father lost everyone with the exception of one brother, Aaron.


    My parents were very protective of us. They never spoke of their past. . .only on rare occasions when my brother and I would fight and not get along, she would say, “Don’t fight. I only wish I had my brother.” After years of hearing that, she finally explained that when they had to flee, she, her sister, her brother, and parents left their home.  At some point during their journey, they were not sure which way would be safe. So they told my mother and my aunt to stay and because they might not get along, that they would take their younger brother with them. Once they were sure it was safe, they would come back for my mother and my aunt.  They never came back.  My mother and aunt continued to flee, living in barns and fields along the way. The only other thing I know is that they were liberated by the Russians.            


    As a kid growing up during the Cold War, I had difficulty understanding how the Russians were the good guys.  It wasn’t until much later when I became a student of history that I understood how that came to be. 


    My mother came to New York where her mother’s sisters lived and settled there—Bronx, Rego Park, Queens…her sister settled in Connecticut. It was very important that my mother learn the language and become a naturalized citizen. She seldom spoke Yiddish unless it was with my dad, her sister, or her aunts.  That is why my brother and I never learned Yiddish except for some phrases.  She always asked us to correct her pronunciations.


    My father came from a larger family of several brothers and several sisters.  I knew at a very young age that my father had been in a camp because I once questioned why he didn’t drive. We had a grocery store in Newark, and my mother would drive him to work very early, drive back while we were still asleep, and pick him up at night to bring him home. (Today, dyfs might be called for leaving us alone!) Even though it was a grocery/deli, my mother would drive back midday with a hot lunch for him too. When I was old enough to understand, I was told that while in the camp, my father was beaten for giving some potato peels to others in the camp.  Part of the whip caught his eye, and he lost the sight in one eye. My mother always feared that if a piece of dust got in one eye, he wouldn’t be able to see with the other and might get into an accident.  In those early days, cars weren’t air-conditioned and the windows were usually open.


    After the war, my father went to Italy; his brother to Palestine. While in Italy, my father worked with the Joint Distribution Committee and was highly regarded by the local gendarme. My father made very few references to his past. I remember watching the mini series on television called Holocaust with James Woods and Meryl Streep (thinking it was late 1970s).  If you’re not familiar with it, it is a must-see…so much better than any other film I’ve ever seen. I was folding laundry and I couldn’t stop crying…the movie was so moving… I called my father to ask if he was watching. His reply was “Nash kindt…if you can see it on television, it’s nothing like it was…”


    The survivors, at least the ones my parents were friendly with and there were many, all settled in Hillside, New Jersey, spoke of their experiences with one another but not to anyone else. This was before Spielberg made the word recognizable. Most felt they wanted to spare their children their pain and secondly, most felt that their children could not possibly comprehend such evil…my parents were no different.


    In my early twenties, my father was in a car accident.  When they treated him in the emergency room, the lab work indicated a very high white blood cell count.  That led to further examination, and it was determined that he had chronic lymphocytic leukemia.  My mother asked the doctors not to tell him that he had a blood cancer but to play it down as a serious case of anemia.  She felt that he had been through so much, he did not need to know the diagnosis, nor did she want anyone to pity them.  They were extremely strong, proud people. So for many years, my father truly did not know his diagnosis. Some years later when they traveled to Israel to see his brother, my father happened to come across a letter my mother carried with her in the event he needed emergency care which had his diagnosis.  Once he learned of it, he said that he must have gotten it as a result of the car accident because in the camps they had to run barefoot in all weather conditions and he always healed.  Obviously one had nothing to do with the other, but the reason I mention it is that was something he shared about a camp. 


    After my father passed away in 1981, one of his friends shared with me that my father was in several camps. The two I know about are Plaszow and Mauthausen.  My father was a leather craftsman in Europe, but when he came to the states, he chose to have a grocery/deli as he understood hunger all too well.


    My parents joined an orthodox synagogue, sent us to Hebrew School and I was the only one to become a bat mitzvah among my female cousins. My parents were unable to complete their schooling beyond the fourth grade, but they realized the importance of education and made sure that my brother and I were given every opportunity to pursue our goals, from pilgrimages to Israel to Hebrew High School to college.

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  • Sources and Credits:

    Credits: Testimony by Helen Rosen; Digital and historic family photos donated by Helen Rosen.