Photograph of George Ratafia as a young boy in Poland.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 05712
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of George De Ratafia
Photograph of George Ratafia as a young boy in Poland.
- George (Lucien) de Ratafia, the donor, is the son of Tema de Ratafia (born Ginzburg) and Lazarus (Ludwig) Ratafia. Tema de Ratafia is the daughter of Moise Ginzburg and Rachel Rubenstein Ginzburg. She was born on November 6, 1925 in Vilna where her father was a coal and wood merchant, and her mother was a teacher. She had an older brother Benjamin and a twin sister Eta. Tema's family was not religiously observant; she grew up speaking Russian and Polish. However, Tema's father wanted his children to attend the Jewish gymnasium in Vilna, and Tema learned Yiddish in school. Her father bartered fuel for tuition. During the interwar years life became difficult for Jews in Vilna. They were no longer allowed to be professionals. Moise's business suffered tremendously, and he had difficulty paying property taxes on his business. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania and almost exactly one year later, in June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Shortly after the occupation, the Germans began issuing anti-Jewish decrees. By the end of August 1941, some 35,000 Jews had been rounded up and shot in the nearby Ponary forest. Among them were Tema's grandmother and uncle. On September 6, 1941, the Germans established two ghettos in Vilna. Tema and her family were placed in the larger ghetto, which saved their lives since in mid-October the Germans massacred the inhabitants of the small ghetto. An aunt and uncle of Tema's fled the ghetto for their hometown only to be denounced by their former maid and killed. Tema's father received a work permit, but her mother did not. To assist the family Tema and her siblings worked in the ghetto, including cleaning the latrines. Though most of the Germans were quite brutal, one named Otto treated her well and sometimes gave her extra food. After the initial killing Aktions, life quieted down in the ghetto, and the Ginzburg family lived in relative calm from the spring of 1942 to the spring of 1943. However, during the summer of 1943 the Germans began deporting Jews to Estonia and other concentration camps and completed the liquidation of the ghetto by the end of September 1943. Children, the elderly, and the sick were sent to the Sobibor extermination camp or were shot at Ponary. The surviving men were sent to labor camps in Estonia while the women were sent to labor camps in Latvia. During the liquidation, Tema and her friend Esther fled to the home of a Polish acquaintance of her mother, Josefa Mackiewicz. She was willing to hide one child, and chose Tema because she was blond and Aryan-looking. Tema could not bear to leave Esther behind so they left together and lived in the woods for a few days. The forest supervisor caught them and shot and killed Esther, but Tema managed to escape and return to Josefa's home. After a few weeks, an antisemitic neighbor discovered Tema and threatened to denounce Josefa. Both women fled to the home of Joseph Raugiewicz, a factory owner in Kalisz. Joseph provided Tema with false Christian papers claiming her name was Leocadia Rynkiewich, and Josefa had her baptized with the name Teresa. Sometime later, the Gestapo arrested Joseph for harboring Jews, but his friend Piotr Piewcewicz warned Tema in time for her to escape. After a few weeks, the Gestapo released Joseph, and Tema returned to his home. Joseph sent Tema back to Josefa who at that time was also harboring a teacher, a lawyer, and a doctor, but he helped her financially. Josefa sheltered Tema until liberation. After the war, Tema moved to Warsaw where she met her husband, Lazar Ratafia. Tema insisted that Josefa live with them, in gratitude for having saved her, and Josefa stayed with them for the next ten years. Tema also stayed in touch with Joseph and Piotr who became good friends of her husband. Though she survived, Tema learned that her mother and brother had been sent to Estonia and to Stutthof where they were killed. Her father was murdered at Chelmno. In 1953 an acquaintance of Tema's told her that she had met someone who looked just like her. In that way, Tema discovered that her twin sister Eta had survived and immigrated to the United States. In 1957 Tema moved to the United Sates to live with Eta. Her husband and children joined her two years later.
Lazar (Lazarus) Ratafia was the son of Helena Slewo and Baron Kopel de Ratafia, a French Jewish spirits maker from Aix en Provence. Kopel relocated in his youth from France to Poland where he was a distiller of kosher vodka. Lazar and his siblings were born in Poland. Lazar had six older sisters and one older brother. Their names were Herta, Zosia, Blanche, Gaston, and Ginia, the names of two other siblings remain unknown. The family had both Sefardic and Moorish roots and was granted a noble title under Napoleon. They were also known for making Ratafia wine. The family had both Sefardic and Moorish roots and was granted a noble title under Napoleon. Lazar fought in the Spanish Civil War and after the fall of Madrid enrolled in the Sorbonne to resume his studies. After the outbreak of World War II, he tried to return to Poland to fight, but Poland had already capitulated. Instead he and other Spanish Civil War comrades made their way to Russia. Lazar enlisted in the Red Army and fought under Marshall Zhukof as he made his way to Berlin. After liberation he went to Palestine and fought with the Irgun but returned to Poland to look for family, especially his young niece who he hoped had survived in hiding. While in Poland, he met Tema Ginzburg who was living under an assumed name in a Christian displaced persons camp in East Germany. The two married and had three children: Helene (b. 1/7/1948), George (Jerzy, b. 7/26/1950) and Anna (b. 7/26, 1952). In 1957 Tema immigrated to the United States together with Anna, their youngest child. After arriving in America, she renounced her Polish citizenship. Soon afterwards the Polish Communist government arrested Lazarus and detained him briefly. After his release, he and the two older children moved to France. Unable to care for his children, he sent Helene to a boarding school and George to an orphanage, La Colonie Scolaire. In 1959 Lazar and the two older children also immigrated to the United States.
Few members of Lazar's large family survived the war. His mother died of natural causes in 1938 before the war broke out and was buried in Warsaw. His father may have been shot by Germans soon after the war broke out, but no records remain. Herta (b. 1907) lived in Berlin and was deported to Auschwitz in December 1942, where she was murdered. Ginia and her seven year old daughter both perished. Their last known whereabouts was in the Warsaw ghetto. Zosia was murdered in a postwar pogrom. Another sister Blanche lived in France. She was previously married to a Mr. Steinmueller. Their two daughters Simone and Evelyne survived in hiding in a convent, and her son Lucien fought in the resistance. A French policeman knocked out Blanche's teeth after she refused to disclose the hiding places of her children. She and her husband were deported to Auschwitz; he perished, but she survived. She later remarried to Dr. Sacha Senfeld who had delivered babies in the Auschwitz Gypsy camp. Lazar's older brother Gaston also survived having fled Paris and escaped to Switzerland disguised as a Nazi and carrying a copy of Deutschland Erwacht under his arm.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: George De RatafiaSource Record ID: Collections: IRN 522911Second Record ID: Collections: 2005.198.1
Record last modified: 2017-03-15 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1181925