Leib Bernat (Bernard) Gottesman was born in Dombostelek, Hungary (present-day Ploske, Ukraine) in 1908. During the inter-war years, he had served in the Czechoslovak army, being stationed in Brno. Following his service, established a butcher shop in Munkacs (present-day Mukacheve, Ukraine), and was married with two daughters, Eva and Magda. During the German occupation of this region during the war, Leib’s wife and daughters were deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Leib was imprisoned in a succession of concentration camps before being liberated at Mauthausen in 1945. He returned to Munkacs after the war, but since the area was now in a Soviet-occupied zone that was eventually annexed by the Soviet Union, he began to seek ways to escape and head to the West.
Berta (née Davidovic) Gottesman was born on 20 October, 1917, in Dorobratovo, Hungary (later Czechoslovakia, and present-day Ukraine), the daughter of David and Esther (née Ickovic) Davidovic. David Davidovic had served in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. Berta was one of ten children, three of whom managed to immigrate to the United States in the decades prior to World War II (Sylvia in 1920, Florence in 1921, and Zena in 1938), and four of whom, along with their parents, perished during the Holocaust. The remaining three children—Berta, Lea, and Bernard—survived the war. Berta was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, and after liberation in 1945 and spending time in a couple of displaced persons camps, she moved to Munkacs, where she met Leib Gottesman on a blind date in October 1945.
Leib and Berta were married a few weeks after they met, in November 1945. They both helped others escape across the border into Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1945, and managed to do so themselves, bringing with them Berta’s sister, Lea Goldstein, whose husband and son were still missing, and who she later learned had been killed as partisans during the war. Leib, Berta, and Lea settled in Ustí nad Labem, while applying for and waiting to receive United States visas, hoping to immigrate to the country where several of Berta’s siblings had already settled. Leib established a kosher butcher shop in Ustí during this period, and the Gottesmans’ had their first daughter, Alice, there in 1946. Lea died in Ustí in 1947, and the Gottesmans managed to leave Czechoslovakia in 1948, and Berta gave birth to a second daughter, Helene, in 1949. When the family arrived in New York, the aid agency HIAS helped them settle in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.