Rewind: September 15, 2022
“A Most Fascinating Person”
A friend of the Society recently shared a copy of a newsletter published by the Sisterhood of Congregation Shaaray Tefila, the Jewish Temple located on Bay Street in Glens Falls. What caught our eye was an article highlighting an interesting person from the Temple, and we share that article here with some edits.
MEET CLARA RUDNICK
Caila Charmatz (now Clara Rudnick) was born on June 1, 1924 in Sweienciany, Poland. The area is in what is now Lithuania. She had an older brother, Itzke; an older sister, Chieh; a twin brother, Avreminkeh; and a younger sister, Verileh. All of her siblings died in the Holocaust. All worked at the family restaurant and bakery in the center of the village. In 1949, at the age of 25, Caila immigrated to the United States, and at that time, she changed her name to Clara.
Clara ‘s life changed forever in July of 1941 when Nazi soldiers invaded Sweienciany. Both of her brothers were abducted along with other Jewish boys, and they were shot and killed in a nearby forest known as Poligon. The brothers’ bodies remain there today in a mass burial grave, along with Clara’s mother and her sisters. The Nazis used local Lithuanian collaborators to help identify Jews from the Gentiles.
Clara’s father saved her by giving her a winter coat and helping her into a backyard steam bath where she hid in its cold oven until the next morning. While Clare was hidden in the oven, her father fled to a friend’s farmhouse until Clara could meet him the next day. Father and daughter continued to hide in other local shtetls, including Swir and Michaliszky, which coincidentally was the shtetl of her future husband, Abe, although she wouldn’t meet him until 1945.
Clara stayed in Swir during the winter of 1941-42 with her father. They moved from attics to cellars while searching for food each day. When her father learned that the Nazis were nearby, he and Clara attempted to escape across a frozen lake. They were shot at and her father attempted to cover her body with his to protect her from the bullets.
Both were captured and sent to the Vilna Ghetto where both endured slave labor. When the Nazis began sending thousands of Jews to Ponary, a killing field outside of Vilna, other Jews were sent to work in other camps. Clara’s father was sent to a camp in Estonia. Clara was taken to Kalich, where she was forced to sew fur coats by hand.
Her next camp was Kaiserwald where she was forced to use her bare hands to pour acid into cases to make batteries for the Nazis was effort. While she felt lucky to be alive, she knew they could kill her at any time, or she could have a deadly accident with the acid.
Clara’s life was saved again when she wasn’t in the group of 5,000 Jews who were marched into the Baltic Sea and were machine-gunned down to their death. Presumably one of them was her father, who she saw one last time through a chain link fence.
On March 11, 1945, Clara was liberated by the Russian Army. Not knowing where to go, Clara traveled with other women survivors to Lodz, Poland. Her first week there, Clara lived under a bombed-out staircase and bargained for food from local Polish street merchants.
Lodz was a city near Auschwitz and became a gathering place for survivors to place their name on a wall to find their families. Clara didn’t find any of her family, but she did meet her future husband, Abraham (Abe) Rudnick.
They were married in November 1945 and lived in Foehrenwald, a Jewish displaced persons’ camp in Bavaria. They came to America on the USS Howser, the thirteenth ship authorized by Congress per the Displaced Persons’ Act of 1948.
Abe’s life followed a similar line. He was captured and sent to many different work camps. He was near death when he was liberated by American forces from Dachau Concentration Camp. When well enough, Abe began looking for his family, to no avail. Neither Clara nor Abe found any trace of their families.
Abe and Clara were married eight months after their liberation. While in the Displaced Persons’ Camp, two great things happened: Clara bore twin sons, Marvin and Joseph; and two American soldiers who spoke Yiddish helped Abe find his uncle so they could come to the United States.
They first moved to Troy, NY in May 1949, and moved to Glens Falls in 1952 where their 3rd son, Howard, was born. Abe passed away following a long illness on February 3, 2012.
In 1995, Clara went to Israel for the gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and she returned to her hometown of Swieciany in 2013 to visit the mass grave that held her family. Needless to say, it was a very moving experience for her.
It was about this time that Clara was contacted by several schools in the area and asked to share her story with local students. She also participates in local Holocaust Remembrance Days.
For fifty years, Abe owned Save-On Plumbing and Heating Company for fifty years. He was one of the early developers of Upper Glen Street, building the Queensbury Gardens Apartments on Rudley Drive, behind New Way Lunch and Dunkin Donuts on Upper Glen Street.
Clara is an amazing survivor who is proud of her sons: Joseph, a doctor; Marvin, a lawyer; and Howard, who works with the sick and elderly.