Suly & Richard ז״ל Chenkin
My story begins and ends with a prophecy uttered by my grandmother. “This child, she said, “born on the first day of the Jewish New Year, will be lucky her entire life.”
Six months later the Nazis invaded Lithuania, and the word “luck” disappeared for all Jewish people living in the country and all others throughout Europe. As a ten month old, my family and I, together with about 40,000 other Jews, were interned in the Kovno Ghetto. I survived famine, disease and the Kinder Aktzie, when the Nazis went house by house and took any child under the age of 12 and the elderly, sick and the handicapped. I remember hiding in the bunker, my mother’s hand pressed against my mouth as they came into our house. The Nazis and their dogs did not find our hiding place.
On May 11, 1944, at the age of 3-1/2, I was given a sleeping potion, put into a potato sack, and as prearranged, was thrown over a barbed wire fence to a woman, Miriam Shulman and a young Christian girl waiting on the other side. A few weeks later the Kovno Ghetto was burned to the ground and fewer than 6000 inmates were put into boxcars headed to the concentration camps: the men to Dachau in Germany and the women to Shuthoff in Prussia.
Following the war, I remember the terrible trek thru Europe with no food, documents or money. We finally arrived in Romania and on my fifth birthday, we boarded a ship for Israel. I then understood I was an orphan and began calling Miriam “Ima”. Six months later, I was told that my parents had survived. On my sixth birthday I was reunited with my mother in Israel, and six months later, we travelled to Cuba, and I was reunited with my Dad. After three long years we were together. But 27 of our family had perished and out of Kovno’s 40,000 Jews, only 2000 survived.
I grew up in Havana, but shortly after graduating High School, Castro took over the country and we left for Miami. In 1961, my parents moved to Charlotte. I went on to New York City. In 1989, Richard and I moved to Charlotte to work in the family business. Even after it closed in 2002, we remained here and have made Charlotte our permanent home. We are totally committed to and proud to be part of the Charlotte Jewish Community and its Jewish Legacy.
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