Meet Your Neighbor: Erna Frischer

I was 19 when Hitler arrived in my hometown of Vienna. Harassment of Jews began immediately, so my parents and I made arrangements to emigrate to Palestine. It was easier for students to leave the country, so my parents sent me on ahead. The war broke out on September 1, 1939, just days before they were scheduled to depart. I never saw my parents again.

In the years that followed, it was very difficult to communicate with them. We had a friend in Switzerland, so we’d send letters back and forth through him. I received a letter in 1941 informing me my father had died of illness in a hospital. I felt relief.

The letters from my mother eventually stopped coming.  I made every attempt to find out her whereabouts. I learned she was first moved to a detention camp, then on to Auschwitz, the most infamous concentration camp of The Holocaust. Devastated, I had to start over in Palestine.

Eventually, I fell in love, married and gave birth to my children.  The only family I had was the one my husband and I created. In 1948, Palestine was declared The State of Israel, and while that was one of the happiest days of my life, it was also the start of a new war. My husband decided we’d be better off in the United States, so we set off for New York.

At first, we stayed in a Manhattan hotel, finally deciding on an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. From there, we raised our two daughters, who went on to attend Forest Hills High School and now have children, and grandchildren, of their own.

I just celebrated my 100th birthday in that same apartment building we moved into in 1953. My husband passed away 27 years ago, but still I enjoy the Metropolitan Opera, outings with my friends and spending time with our family. Because I receive daily support from Queens Community House’s Case Management team, I’m able to continue living on my own. Though much has been taken from me throughout my lifetime, I don’t focus on my loss. I have so much to be proud of.

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