Maria Dziewinski, 90: Holocaust survivor taught, shared joy of life

On a Tuesday morning in early June 1950, Maria Geitler Dziewinski opened the door to a familiar face she had not seen since leaving war-torn Europe. It was a friend from her hometown of Krakow, Poland.

“All of a sudden, I had a family again,” Norbert Friedman remembered of Dziewinski’s hospitality and lovingness. “She was like a sister to me.”

Maria Geitler Dziewinski, 90, died March 22 at home with her family around her. A graveside service in her honor was held at Arlington Memorial on March 25.

Dziewinski and her family had sailed into Boston harbor in the fall of 1949, en route to Denver, thanks to the American Jewish Federation. Erna Schneiderman, Dziewinski’s oldest daughter, said, “The plane to Denver was full,” but the Jewish Federation told her mother, “We have seats on the Atlanta plane and people to help you in Atlanta.”

Several months later the Jewish Federation helped her hometown friend, Friedman, to Atlanta. On June 6, 1950, “We walked up a flight of stairs, and knocked on the door,” Friedman said. “The lady of the house opened the door and when she saw me, she almost fainted, and so did I. It was Maria Dziewinski.”

He said she was his “bridge” from European culture to American culture. “She eased me out to all the things I was not familiar with, and she was very protective of me. She helped me to find a job, she arranged for my first blind date. She was a sister to me, she really was.”

Her daughters would say Dzieweinski was also a bridge from culture to culture and language to language for them, as well as many others.

“No German, no Polish, no Yiddish,” Schneiderman remembers her mother ordering. “Speak English. We’re American.” Schneiderman remembers going to the movies with her mother as often as possible to immerse herself in English. “The first time through the movie we wouldn’t understand anything. And then the second time through we could put the words together with what we saw on the screen and start to figure things out.”

To provide for their family, Dziewinski and her husband, Herman, worked side by side at a small grocery store off of Magnolia Street, Herman’s Market on Magnolia Street.

Dziewinski had met her husband in a concentration camp at Plaszow. Herman smuggled food to Maria and others who were starving. They fell in love and promised to meet later, if they survived the war. And they did.

According to Schneiderman, her mother was on her way back to Krakow with her sister after being liberated in Czechoslovakia when she saw Herman walking down the street toward her. But Rosie Meyers, Dziewinski’s second-oldest daughter, heard from a cousin that their postwar reconnection came only after her mother heard from a friend that Herman was “with another woman,” eating at a restaurant. “In any case, they did get reunited by accident in Krakow,” Meyers said.

Dziewinski and her husband worked in their store until retirement. They eventually saved up enough money to invest in surrounding properties.

“She was the hardest, hardest, hardest worker,” Schneiderman said. “After what they went through, the most important thing to her was her children and providing that her children would have what they didn’t have, or what they lost.”

Dziewinski taught her daughters that paying her taxes was a joyous opportunity when she exuded enthusiasm during tax season. “She enjoyed paying her taxes,” Meyers said. “I never met anyone in my life who wanted to pay their taxes. And she would say to us, ‘It is an honor to pay the taxes.’ ”

Schneiderman chimed in, “And it’s a blessing to be able to.”

Her personality and love for fun also gave her “cool mom” status. Her daughters reminisced about how their mother would always know the latest dances and songs. They remember practicing the “bandstand” dance in the kitchen with friends. “She was right there with us all the time,” Schneiderman said. “All of our friends thought she was the coolest of all.”

Friedman also mentioned Dziewinski’s love of dance. “She liked to dance, she was a good dancer,” he said. “She used to lead me.”

“Everybody loved her wherever she went.” Susan Kolotilin, the youngest daughter, said.

Despite the horrors she experienced during the Holocaust, Schneiderman and Meyers said a lot of her friends were surprised by her confident resolve every day of her life. She was a survivor who never forgot to live.

“I’m going to miss her,” Friedman said. “Knowing that she’s not with us creates a void.”

In addition to her daughters, Dziewinski is also survived by two grandsons, Brian Block and Adam Kolotilin, as well as two great-grandsons, Nathan and Jacob Block.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Atlanta Memorial Fund of Eternal Life-Hemschech,1440 Spring St, NE, Atlanta, GA 30309, for Holocaust Education, Ahavath Achim Synagogue, 600 Peachtree Battle Avenue, NW, Atlanta, GA 30327 or Weinstein Hospice, 3150 Howell Mill Rd., NW, Atlanta, GA 30327, or a charity of your choice.