The Bornstein monument serves a dual role, that of a gravestone for Erla Bornstein and a cenotaph for her husband and two daughters who died in the Holocaust. Walk around both sides of the monument to see the four people remembered here.
In 1914, during World War I, Germany invaded the Russian Empire, which included Poland. Bernhard Bornstein, born in Kielce, Poland in 1891, was one of the many Polish men deported by Germany to work as laborers in the Humboldt factory in Cologne, Germany. While there he met Erla Glücksman, a Cologne native born in 1895, who was working in her father’s bakery. When World War I ended in 1918, Erla and Bernhard married and had four children: Anna born in 1920; Ella born in 1922; Walter born in 1924; and Harry (Hersch) born in 1933.
In October of 1938, a year before World War II began, the Nazis deported Bernhard and his father from Cologne back to Poland along with many other Polish citizens. Bernhard was sent to Lodz, where his brother lived. The family received one postcard, but never heard from him again. It is believed that he died in the Warsaw Ghetto sometime between 1940 and 1945.
Erla was left with four children ranging in age from 5 to 18. As things worsened for the Jews under Nazi control in Cologne, Erla tried to escape Germany with her family. Walter, who was fourteen at the time, fled on his own to Holland. Erla and the three remaining children fled to Brussels. Walter joined the family in Brussels at the beginning of May 1940 and the family felt safe from the Nazis. Unfortunately, one week later Germany invaded Belgium and the family was once again under Nazi control.
Walter was taken by the Germans to work as a slave laborer along the coast of France building the “Atlantic Wall,” a fortress meant to prevent an invasion by the Allies. While moving from one labor camp to another he was able to escape and make his way back to Brussels to look for his mother and siblings. When he got to Brussels they were nowhere to be found. Walter joined the Resistance, survived the war, and emigrated to Rochester, NY. He did not find out what happened to his mother and siblings until a few years after the war ended.
Shortly after Walter left Brussels, the Nazis came to the apartment where Erla was living with the remaining three children and ordered that Anna and Ella leave immediately for the assembly camp in Malines (Mechelen), halfway between Brussels and Antwerp. They were told they were being rounded up to work, but that was just a pretext. This was the last Erla heard of her daughters. According to The Memorial Book of the Bundesarchiv (the National Archives of Germany) both Anna and Ella Bornstein were deported from Malines to Auschwitz Concentration Camp on August 4, 1942 and died in the gas chambers about one month later in September 1942.
When the girls were taken, Erla brought Harry, about 8-9 years old, to a Catholic orphanage and found a Gentile family willing to take her on as a servant. Harry feared the other boys in the orphanage would discover that he was circumcised, so after a short time he ran away. As a fair-haired child with green eyes, he hid in farms and fields, passing himself off as a young Catholic boy. Although just 12 years old in 1945, he survived to the end of the war. He worked his way back to Brussels and found his mother about a year after the war ended through the Red Cross. Erla and Harry continued living in Brussels after the war. Harry could barely read or write as the war ended, since he had not attended school. Between 1945 and 1949 he learned French, Hebrew, English, and took classes in math, science and social studies to catch up.
In May of 1946 Walter was given passage to New York City by a Jewish welfare organization. After a few days there, he found the chaos, bustle, and dense population to be too much. Someone suggested that he move to Rochester, a smaller city in upstate New York with a good university and a thriving Jewish community. In 1949 the Red Cross notified Walter that his mother and brother were alive and living in Brussels. He was able to bring them both to Rochester and assist them in starting a new life. Walter married his wife Ricka, also a Holocaust survivor, and they had two sons, Jonathan and Daniel. After moving from Rochester in 1965 and working in various cities, the family settled in California. Walter’s personal story, captured in the book, The Bornstein Identity, was the basis for our understanding of the Bornstein grave marker in Mount Hope Cemetery.
Harry, meanwhile, changed his name to Hersch, attended Franklin High School in Rochester, earning a Regents’ diploma in two years. He then attended the University of Rochester, where he earned a degree in Electrical Engineering. He married Lydia Samuel, the daughter of Holocaust survivors Eric and Thekla Samuel, whose graves we will also visit on this walk. Hersch and Lydia had three daughters, Ellen, Jenny, and Liza. He married his second wife, Caroline Singer, who contributed much of the information about the Hersch’s story included in this narrative. Hersch died in April of 2020 and is buried in Pittsford Cemetery.
Erla died on July 29, 1970, was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, and her gravestone includes cenotaphs for her husband Bernhard and two daughters Anna and Ella. A cenotaph is a monument erected to remember someone whose remains are elsewhere.
The Friends of Mount Hope Holocaust Committee would like to give special thanks to the following Bornstein family members who gave so generously of their time in allowing us to interview them:
Liza Rochelson, daughter of Hersch Bornstein
Carolyn Bornstein, wife of Hersch Bornstein
Dan Bornstein, son of Walter Bornstein
Photos of Anna and Ella Bornstein were found on their Deportation Transit Cards in the State Archives of Belgium.
Photos of Bernhard and Erla Bornstein are from the book The Bornstein Identity by Walter Bornstein
The grave markers shown below are the two sides of one stone. On one side are listed Erla and Bernhard Bornstein, while on the other side are their two daughters, Anna and Ella. Only Erla has a birth and death date (1895-1970), while the other three have “Martyred 1940 ~ 1945” after their names. These dates reflect the time after they were rounded up by the Nazis up to the end of World War II. No exact date of death is known for Bernhard, Anna, or Ella. Near the top of each side, a pair of lions is shown holding the Ten Commandments. The Lion of Judah is a common Jewish symbol representing the tribe of Judah, from which King David descended. The Ner Tamid (eternal light) above the Ten Commandments symbolizes the menorah (seven branched candlestick) that burned continuously in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem.