It's a real fairy tale - how they were separated and got back together.
Patting the child-sized chairs at center stage in Magothy River Middle School's Marlin Hall, Rose Pohl said in her Polish accent: "These chairs are just right for us. We are shrinking!"
Wendi Winters — For The CapitalMax Pohl and his son, Philip Pohl, rabbi at Kol Shalom in Annapolis, display a photo taken of Max a few days after his concentration camp was liberated near the end of World War II.
Rose Pohl is 85. Her husband, Max, turns 89 in a few days.
Polish emigres and longtime residents of Buffalo, N.Y, they had flown from their retirement home in Coconut Creek, Fla., to spend Passover with their son's family. Philip Pohl, their only son and the oldest of their three children, is the rabbi of the conservative Jewish temple, Kol Shalom, in Annapolis. The couple also wanted to see the performance of their granddaughter, eighth-grader Hadar Pohl, 14, in the school's play, "Cinderella." But they put aside three hours on Friday afternoon to talk to the entire eighth-grade class about their miraculous love story. In two sessions, the wiggly youngsters listened raptly to the elderly couple.
Rabbi Polh served as their interviewers, asking questions and prodding their memories. Max Polh also showed his tattoo. Most observant Jews do not have tattoos, nor do they pierce any part of their body. Max Pohl was crudely tattooed on his left forearm with the number 159360 in a Nazi concentration camp.
"The Nazis never called you by your name, or your number," Rose Pohl said. "They just pointed and yelled at you."
"It's surreal to see them here, after reading about the Holocaust in textbooks," said eighth-grader Sarah Rifield of Arnold. "I have remorse for what they went through and a lot of respect for them. It's a real fairy tale - how they were separated and got back together."
"They survived against all odds," added Ian Hourican, 14, of Cape St. Claire.
Children in ghetto
Rose and Max met in the ghetto the Nazis set up within Rose's hometown of Parbiance, Poland. Rose was not quite 14 and Max was 18. Rose pointed out she was the same age as the Magothy Middle eighth-graders.
"Max and I were children in the ghetto," Rose said. "We walked together, went to plays together, hopscotched together."
Max quipped: "That's all she can tell you!"
The childhood friends were separated during the Holocaust, during which about 6 million Jews were among 11 million people killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Three million of the Jews killed were Polish natives.
After Germany's defeat in World War II, Max found Rose. They were married in the Zeilsheim Displaced Persons camp in Poland on May 19, 1946. In 1949, they were allowed to immigrate to Buffalo, where Max went into the poultry distribution business. He had a hand in developing America's fondness for Buffalo chicken wings.
Took Rose's dad
During the Holocaust, the two lost many family members and friends.
Rose's family knew the war was coming. Her grandfather owned a silk textile factory and was well off, so her family owned a radio. She had just graduated from seventh grade and was preparing to attend the local high school when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.
The Pohls were forced to move from their nice home into a single room inside the factory, located within the crowded ghetto. The Nazis rimmed the ghetto with barbed wire and watch posts.
Two Nazis came for Rose's father one day. Wordlessly, they marched him away from his wife, four daughters, an 11-year-old son and an infant grandson. The family never discovered his fate.
Max never got beyond second grade. His family, which lived in a small village outside Parbiance, was poor. There was no running water and no cars, just a streetcar. Homes had dirt floors. His father cobbled shoes in the winter and sold fruit in the summer. Max left school at 8 to go to work. In his teens, he headed to Parbiance to find work.
Max was one of 250 boys in the Parbiance ghetto shipped to work camps. Only 18, including Max, are known to have survived. He survived the Auschwitz, Birkenau and Dachau death camps. On one cattle car shuttling prisoners between camps, Max spend 14 days squashed in with 40 other men.
Two days after her father's disappearance, Rose, her mother and sisters were sent to another ghetto in Lodz. There, before they were shipped to the camps, the Jews were given an "A" or a "B." Most bearers of Bs were either young children or more than 50 years old. Those the Nazis killed.
Rose's mom, a youthful 40 years old, slipped by the Nazis when all the A's were rounded up by claiming to be her daughters' older sister.
The five women survived Auschwitz and another concentration camp in Salzwedel, Germany. The camp was liberated by the American 84th Infantry Division on April 14, 1945. After the war, the survivors were placed into a displaced persons camp ringed with barbed wire - to protect them from vengeful Germans.
When that section of Germany came under Russian control, the family opted to move into a displaced persons camp in Zeilsheim that was under American control.
Several days after he was freed, Max was photographed wearing the only clothes he owned - his striped prison uniform.
"I was better looking here," Max joked as he pointed at the photo.
He heard an aunt, his mother's sister, lived and worked in a kosher meat market in Paris. He had not seen her since he was 3 years old. He found the aunt. He also overheard people talking about Rose.
Max headed back to Germany to look for her. Walking through Zeilsheim, a hand reached out and grabbed the scruff of his neck.
"Aren't you Rose's boyfriend?" a voice asked.
Max turned around. It was Rose's kid brother. The brother led him to where his family lived. Rose's mother, Hadar, opened the door. She gasped. "Rose! Rose! Max is here!"
Next month, Rose and Max will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.
Wendi Winters is a freelance writer living on the Broadneck Peninsula.
A complete narrative of Rose Pohl's story is online at http://www.holocaustcenterbuff.com/Survivors/rose_pohl/rose_pohl.htm