Latest update: February 21st, 2012
Cousin Leo Schreiber was the son of my grandfather’s brother David. He came from a family of Rabbinic giants of Europe; the Europe that does not exist anymore. His family was loving and righteous and they were destroyed by Hitler, yimach shemo. But Leo survived. He was only 13 when he was separated from his family, and they were all murdered. Leo survived as part of Oscar Schindler’s people. He worked in the hellhole of humanity, but his life was spared. As his daughter Michelle related, “My dad was a survivor. He survived on Schindler’s list, because he said he could work as a blacksmith. I asked him how he knew about being a blacksmith before the war and he told me he didn’t. But understanding that it was a skill that could save his life at the moment, he said he could do it. He learned by carefully watching everything the man next to him did. He was a quick study and must have been the best since he was chosen to make a table for Hitler.”
Leo met Miriam after the war and fell in love with her. She too was a survivor, a hidden child, and knew the horrors of World War Two. To quote Leo’s daughter Susan,
“Their’s was a powerful love story, born out of the agony of the Holocaust. It was love at first sight for both, although my mom was the one who initiated the contact and proposed marriage. ‘Will you marry me’, she asked? ‘But you are just a kid’, my dad said (she was only 16 when they were married). ‘I’ll grow up’, she said. ‘If it doesn’t work out we’ll get divorced.’ My father said, ‘I will marry you, but no divorce.’ I don’t know how he could have known that he had found his soul mate, but somehow he did.”
After the war, my grandfather, Rafael Schreiber searched for any survivors of his once large family. The few he found, he brought to America. When Leo and Miriam came to America, they came to our house to live for a brief time. I was a child of about seven at the time, but I cannot forget those days. Miriam was the most beautiful young woman I had ever seen and I followed her around every minute that I could. Leo was tall and handsome and looked so strong. I thought that he could do anything.
They stayed with us until they found a place to rent but they came back for visits and how I waited for those visits. Grandfather took Leo to work in my father’s newspaper printing place and Leo was a very quick learner. He wasn’t afraid of hard work. What was hard work to Leo after all that he had been through? He watched and learned and became a pressman, eventually starting his own printing company. Michelle says, “He built the company from scratch and made every decision that made it a successful business. But if you walked into Amsel Litho you wouldn’t know that my dad owned the company. He put on a uniform and ran his own press every day. He was such a wise man and yet so humble. In his business, long before it was a popular subject, my dad made sure that every employee had an incredible pension plan and health benefits. He did it not because it was mandatory, but because it was the right thing to do for his workers. Having worked for him myself one year, I can tell you he was an amazing boss.”
Leo was blessed with Miriam, as she was with him. I think that they made up for all that each had lost. The love that existed between them is the stuff of storybooks; we don’t come across it too often. In fact I think most people thought of them as one Leo and Miriam Miriam and Leo. You know what it was? The strong love that existed between them enveloped anyone in their presence. And this love never diminished in their 60 plus years of marriage. Leo and Miriam were blessed with two wonderful daughters, Susan and Michelle and eventually with two granddaughters Nadia and Nicole.
Miriam and Leo Schreiber, 1949
Photo by: Dr. Marcel Tuchman
My life changed dramatically this past winter when my husband suffered a major stroke. His six-week stay in Rusk brought me to Leo and Miriam’s home. I stayed there every weekend. I am very thankful that I had that time together with them. Leo was in a weakened state physically, but his sweet, loving, gentle nature was very evident. We sat at the table together and he and Miriam worked at making me feel hopeful. Miriam cared for him with all the love she had shown him for a lifetime. Leo spoke to her and looked at her with all the love he had shown her for a lifetime. We spoke about everything. Illness had not dimmed Leo’s knowledge, or his sense of humor, or the Hebrew words he always greeted me with, or his loving nature. They didn’t only make me feel comfortable, I felt like I was home when I was with them. And I felt enveloped by the love that existed between them.
When a survivor of the Holocaust dies, every person is diminished. We are losing the last witnesses to the horror that many would try to deny or minimize. With the death of Leo Schreiber, our family and his many friends have lost a loving beautiful soul.
In Michelle’s words, “My father was an amazing man. He taught me to be all that I am and instilled in me the best of who I am. He emerged from the profound tragedy of the Holocaust not bitter or vengeful but filled with a zest for life and commitment to justice. He built a beautiful life with the love of his life, my mom, at his side. He was the best father and grandfather in the world. I miss him so.”
Susan summed it up, “About a month before he went into the hospital he said to me on one of our drives, ‘I am at the tail end of my life and as I look back at what I have accomplished, I feel good about what I have done and how I have lived.’
‘It’s been a good life’ he said. I agree, he led a very good life and he was a very good man. I miss him now and I always will.”
Leo is in heaven now where he can truly answer the question we are told we will be asked Did you deal honorably with man? Yes Almighty, Leo Schrieber was honorable to mankind and he cared for his family with every fiber of his being. He will surely be an advocate for his wife and children and all of us from on high together with his parents and all of his martyred family. And to Miriam we wish the strength to carry on for the sake of her daughters and their families and for all of us who love her so.
Go in peace cousin Leo, Aaron Yehuda ben David and Sara. You have earned your reward. Yehi Zichro Baruch.
About the Author: Naomi Klass Mauer is associate publisher of The Jewish Press.
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