Doris Small – Devorah bat Moshe v’Hinde Miriam z”l
July 20th 1923 – September 3rd 2018
There has always been something about this time of year that I associate with Doris. It seems that her falls, her time in hospital, rehab and nursing homes have so often been around Rosh HaShanah, and when I would visit and often blow the shofar for her, as I did on Sunday the day before she left the world, she would apologize to me for not being able to come to services, saying that she felt really bad, as if she was letting us all down. I would always reassure that she had nothing to feel bad about and that we would miss her. This year is different now, of course and it feels poignant that Doris left the world exactly one week before Rosh HaShanah, this time when we traditionally review our past year and hope to enter a new one with a clean slate, and now we review Doris’ whole life, before laying her to rest with a clean slate taking her into the next world whatever that may be. What a daunting task.
Doris was born to Hinda Maryam and Moshe in Berlin in July 1923. Her Polish father had fought in World War One and, after the war, her mother walked from Poland to Germany with their oldest son Aaron and two younger siblings to be reunited with Moshe. Sadly the two youngest siblings died on the journey. Doris and her older sister Ida were both born in Berlin and Doris’ only real memories of her mother were of her bedridden after a terrible fall down the stairs. Their father took care of them all, which took a great toll on his health and by the time Doris was a teenager, both her parents had died of natural causes. Doris used to share awful stories of how everything changed after Hitler came into power in 1933; like her old friends and neighbors throwing rocks disguised as snowballs. She still carried the scars where they hit her. Their brother Aaron was saying kaddish every day for his parents and came home from shul one morning in 1938 to find the Gestapo waiting for him. They took him away and that was the last time his sisters saw him. Ida and Doris, two minors, were left alone in the apartment and, eventually, the landlord told them that he couldn’t let them stay there any longer without an adult. They told him that their older brother who would be home soon and he said “he’s never coming back!” and that was that, they were on the streets of Berlin living through the terrifying horrors of Kristallnacht, which Doris remembered so vividly. Only much, much later would they find out that their brother Aaron had died from some kind of poison in a concentration camp. The girls were taken in by an old work colleague of their father and slept in the bathtub. One night the wife’s brother showed up in a Nazi uniform and got drunk and when he finally left, the girls were told they couldn’t hide them anymore and they were back on the streets. They ran into someone who had heard about the Kindertransport, the British government program opening up visas to 10,000 Jewish children to England from Germany and Austria at the end of 1938. Doris got out of Germany this way, but her sister Ida was too old by one month, but fortunately managed to get to London and unite with Doris on a different program for domestic service. I remember, as I am sure many of you do, Doris talking about seeing her old school friend Fritzy, saying goodbye to her mother at the station not knowing if she would ever see her again and thanking God that her parents had already died to spare them all that unbearable pain.
Even though Doris tried to paint a positive picture of her years in London to me, possibly because that’s where I’m from and she didn’t want to insult my home town, it seems that those years were pretty miserable. She was most likely exploited by her host family, working 6 days a week in a factory and eventually she became sick and was hospitalized. Her sister Ida was working in a large home and rescued her baby sister and they shared a room together for the rest of their time in London. Doris always used to say that Ida was like a mother to her as, even though she was only two years older, she had taken responsibility for raising Doris when their mother was not able to. I am sure Ida saved her life in London.
Doris and Ida’s father had a brother in New York, Uncle Max, who had a successful slipper factory, and he sponsored them to come to America a few years after the war in 1950 on the Queen Elizabeth. Uncle Max and Aunt Sally had a huge apartment on West End Avenue and set the girls up in an apartment in Washington Heights on Haven Avenue. When Ida married, she moved out and Doris stayed, her husband Martin moved in and Miriam was born there. They moved upstairs to an apartment in the same building where Stuart was born in 1957, then to midtown Manhattan where Doris worked in the department store Bergdorf Goodman. When Martin and Doris retired, they moved to Long Island, where they got very involved in a synagogue, and then followed Miriam here to Colorado in 2003.
The story goes that Martin, who had changed his names from Mottel to Martin, and Shmulevicz to Small, was on his way to a blind date and, not excited by it, he asked his cousin Bernie to let him out of the car because he wanted to see his friend Yossel. After a bit of a fight, Martin ended up in Yossel and Esther’s apartment, where their roommate was hosting two German sisters, Doris and Ida. Yossel suggested that he and Martin join them in a game of cards and partnered Martin with Ida and himself with Doris. “No,” said Martin, “I’ll play with Doris, because she’ll be my partner for the rest of my life.” After much determination and persistence, Doris did indeed become Martin’s life partner and they had a very simple, small wedding in July 1951 and both went back to work the next day. Martin and Doris were married for 57 years and shared joys and sorrows in their life together. Doris has missed Martin so much since he died in 2008 and told me several times that she would speak to him every day. A week or so before she died, I did hear Doris speaking to Martin as if he was there with her and we hope they are reunited again.
Like all marriages, they had their tough moments, but nothing was tougher or more tragic for them than the sudden loss of their 11 year old son Stuart in 1968. Two survivors who had lost so many family members in the holocaust, now losing a young son. I don’t think Doris ever got over that. Miriam, was born in New York in 1952 and she has been an unbelievably devoted daughter right up to her mother’s very last breaths, through all of Doris’ physical and mental challenges. Miriam, or Tiger as many know her, said to me the other day “I didn’t get fairy tales like other children, I got my mother’s stories because she needed to talk to someone.” As a child, Miriam didn’t even know that her father had been in a concentration camp, because he didn’t talk about it until much later, but she knew all her mother’s stories. As we know, it is not easy growing up as the child of survivors with all that trauma, and Doris, who used to say that she did not even have a childhood, was not always easy. I know how much she appreciated and loved you Miriam, even if she did not always show it, and you have been absolutely amazing in your total commitment to your mother’s care, honor and dignity. Doris also got much joy and love from her grandchildren Jenniffer and Jacob and her great grandchildren Samantha, Ezra, Vance, Graysen, Julien and Jaden.
Doris’ identity as a survivor was central to her, and it became very important for her to share her story and, in doing so, she touched and inspired many people of all ages, including many of us at Bonai Shalom. The honorary doctorate that Martin and Doris received at Regis University meant a great deal to Doris, as well as how so many churches and synagogues welcomed and honored her. Doris had incredible tenacity and courage along with a strong and sometimes surprising sense of humor. Some of her mighty team of carers have remarked how much she used to make them laugh. Many of Doris’ carers are here and you all took such good care of her and we thank and honor you for that.
When she was well enough, Doris came every Shabbat to services and loved her Bonai Shalom family, which I think, in some ways, connected her to the Judaism of her father. Towards the end of her life, Doris was speaking a lot of German and Yiddish, perhaps reconnecting with her forgotten past and her family who have been gone so long. Doris’ loss is that much harder because her generation of survivors is leaving us. In these frightening times where anti-Semitism and other forces of hate are alive and well in our world, we have an obligation to remember Doris Small, Devorah bat Moshe u’Miriam, and to tell her story, even though it’s no fairy tale.
May her memory live on as a blessing in those of us whose lives she touched.
Hamakom y’nachem – may the mourners receive our blessings of strength and comfort. Miriam and Bill, Jenniffer and John, Jacob, Samantha, Ezra, Vance, Graysen, Julian and Jaden, Doris’ nieces Helen and Marjorie and her husband Sid, as well as her great nephew and niece, Daniel and Rachael.
May we honor Doris’ memory by committing to lives of kindness, respect and honor.