- Stories & Articles by Sonia
Articles and Stories by Sonia Pressman Fuentes
- Sonia's article, "How Being an Immigrant Shaped My Life," appeared in the summer newsletter of the Jewish Genealogical Society of SW Florida, published on April 3, 2019, and on its website. You can read the article in .pdf format here.
- On Jan. 14, 2019, Sonia's remembrance of her late, feminist friend, Dr. Bernice "Bunny" Sandler (known as the "Godmother of Title IX"), who died at the age of 90 on Jan. 5, 2019, in her Washington, D.C. condo, was published in the "We Remember" section of the Jewish Women's Archive (JWA).
- Sonia's write-up of her experiences with Hurricane Irma in Sarasota in September of 2017 appeared in the Cornell Alumni Magazine of July/Aug. 2018 in the Class Notes for her class, the class of 1950, on page 69.
- On March 20, 2018, Mary Wilson, president of the Greater Orlando, FL chapter of NOW, put Sonia's write-up on how she became a feminist in the chapter's enewsletter.
- In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, 2018, The Forward newspaper shared its readers' stories.
- Sonia participates in a one-hour webinar set up by the National Women's History Project (NWHP) on Jan. 13, 2016. 1) Click here to read about NWHP. 2) To listen to the oral comments and see the written comments, click on "webinar archive" toward the bottom of your screen. On the "webinar archive" screen, it is, however, very difficult to move the written comments up or down. 3) To get a clearer view of the written comments and to be able to move them up and down easily, click on "Chat Log." 4) Click on "Final PowerPoint Presentation" if you would like to see that.
- Sonia's article on the second wave of the women's movement: its origin, accomplishments, and the problems that remain--both in the U.S. and globally--appeared on June 14, 2015, on the website of the Institute for Science and Human Values.
- Sonia's write-up appeared on the Facebook page of the Red Star Line Museum commemorating the 81st anniversary of the arrival in the U.S. from Germany, via Belgium, of Sonia and the rest of her immediate family. (May
- "My Jewish Weekend in Sarasota," sent by Sonia to her friends, Nov. 16, 2014.
- "History Without Hitler?", Op-Ed in the New York Times and its international edition, October 26, 2014. This Op-Ed was written by Sonia's friend, Timothy Ryback, and edited by Sonia.
- "End of Life Issue," October 16, 2014.
- “Top 18 Issues Challenging Women Today,” The Shriver Report, May 5, 2014.
- Sonia’s letter of April 16, 2014, to Bishop Frank J. DeWane, bishop of the Venice, FL diocese, is on the blog of Bridget Mary Meehen.
- On Nov. 1, 2018, a paperback anthology of writings by older women about their lives entitled “You’re Doing What?: Older Women’s Tales of Achievement & Adventure,” edited by Marjorie Penn Lasky, was published. In a section called " A Life of Activism," it contains a piece by Sonia named "Eighty-five years old in Sarasota County, Florida." The book can be purchased from Amazon. For purchases in bulk, Regent Press (email@example.com) will take orders for 10 or more books and provide them at a discount.
- “The Second Wave of the Women’s Movement—Past, Present, and Future,” Women You You Should Know website, March 26, 2014.
- Sonia reminisces about her three British feminist friends, March 25, 2014.
- Sonia’s article about her trip to the Catskills appeared in the Jewish News of Sarasota-Manatee (Jan. 2014, Vol. 44, No. 1, p. 23A).
- Three-part series by Sonia in the Sullivan County Democrat, a newspaper in the Catskill Mountains of New York State.
- Sonia’s submission to the book Mother Knows Better - Sense and Nonsense from American Moms by Patti Murphy is one of over two hundred momisms in the book.
- Sonia’s article about the travails of The Forward after Superstorm Sandy appeared in Der Bay (Vol. XXIII, No. II, Mar.-Apr. 2013, p. 12).
- NOW (National Organization for Women) Founder Sonia Fuentes Gives Back To Education.
- "A heart-healthy diet is easier to adhere to than it may seem, especially with plenty of grocery and restaurant choices in Sarasota," December 7, 2012. (To see this article, which first appeared in the online Sarasota News Leader, once the large picture appears, scroll down to the article.) On April 27, 2015, the article was published on the website of Vegan Everyday Stories. On May 22, 2015, a shortened version of the article appeared on the website of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.
- “A Journey of Discovery,” Sonia’s article about her September 2011 week’s trip to Germany exploring Jewish life in Germany, published in two parts.
- "Finding My Identity as a Feminist" - This article appeared in the online magazine, Identity, on September 21, 2011.
- "My Story" - This article appeared in HavaMag, Issue 4, August, 2011.
- To access the article:
- Click on the arrow to the right until it takes you to the Table of Contents on the left.
- Click on the first item in the Table of Contents, which is the article about Sonia, on page 10.
- When you come to the article, double click on each page to make the type readable.
- To access the article:
- "First Woman: Sonia Pressman Fuentes," appeared at the end of July 2011 in Ms. JD, an e-zine for women law students and lawyers.
- “Judging Our Future: Supreme Women Move Up,” about the increasing percent of women judges on the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts, went online in the Café section of On the Issues e-zine on December 21, 2010. In February of 2012, the article was added to the featured news & comments section of the website of Cornell University’s Avon Global Center for Women and Justice.
- "Advancing Rights: 1964 Marks the Beginning of a New Era" - This article was published in On The Issues Magazine, Café section, on August 25, 2010, in celebration of Women’s Equity Day, the 90th anniversary of suffrage, August 26, 2010.
- Sonia has written articles for Scitable, a website for women in science, or been introduced as a resource on women and employment law for Scitable, as follows:
- Sonia decries American women’s ignorance of the legal rights they have achieved since the early 1960s and lists those rights. (August 13, 2013)
- Sonia discusses breast implant ruptures and leaks. (Mar. 21, 2011)
- "Sonia Pressman Fuentes on Pregnancy Leave, Parental Care Leave, and the Law" - Sonia explains the law on leave and benefits in connection with pregnancy, delivery, and post-delivery. (July 28, 2010)
- Correction to posting of June 3, 2010, introducing Sonia as Scitable’s resource on women and employment law. (June 4, 2010)
- Sonia is introduced as Scitable’s resource on women and employment law. (June 3, 2010)
- "My Life After Divorce" - Sonia discusses her life after divorce for a “Divorce and Women’s Success” series. (2010)
- "A Negative Experience, A Positive Outcome" - The lucky day Fuentes was fired. (2009)
- "First Wedding at the Fontainebleau," an unpublished anecdote, November 23, 2008.
- Added as a Luminary on inspiremetoday.com, Oct. 2009, and updated in Nov. 2013.
- “If You Build It, They Will Come—The Birth of A Yiddish Club,” published in Der Bay, The International Anglo-Yiddish Newsletter (Vol. XVII, No. 9, Nov. 2007). Sonia starts a Yiddish Club in Sarasota, FL. Also published in the Gantseh Megillah. (Nov. 14, 2007, Issue 8.10)
- "My Fortuitous Escape from the Holocaust and My Life Thereafter" - This article is published on a Web site called "Women and the Holocaust." (2006)
- “A Love Letter to Ostuni” (2005)
- "My Visit to Piltz" - A sequel to "A Visit to Piltz." (2005)
- "Three-hour Tour Turns Unforgettable" - This article, by Fuentes, recalling the saga of her trip to the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford estates in Ft. Myers, FL, appeared in The East County Observer, a newspaper in East Manatee and Sarasota Counties, Florida, January 16, 2003.
- "I Lucky Everything: The Story of a Real `Miss Saigon'" - Along with a manicure, a reminder of how immigrants revitalize our nation. (2002)
- "A Visit to Piltz" - This article is about Fuentes' August 2001 journey to her parents' birthplace, a village called Piltz in Poland. (2001)
- "How I Built a Life in Retirement" - Sonia had a difficult time adjusting to retirement, and then she entered the best years of her life. (2000)
- "How I Published My Memoir: A Lawyer-Feminist's Story" - This is the story of the six years Fuentes spent in researching, writing, publishing and marketing her memoir and making the transition from being a lawyer to a writer and public speaker. (Also see: "How I Got Published in South Africa) (2000)
- "A Seder in Shanghai" - Fuentes participates in a seder in a most unlikely city, Shanghai, China. This piece appeared previously in JoyZine and on Harry Leichter's website. (1999)
- "HUD Goes to the Moscow Trade Show" - This article was originally published in Sparks 28. March - April, 1999. (1999)
- Breast Cancer and Ruptured/Leaking Breast Implants - The story of Fuentes' experience with breast cancer. (1998)
- "Three United States Feminists: A Personal Tribute" - This article is about Fuentes' most memorable encounters with Alice Paul, the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, and Catherine East (1998). Later that year, a slightly different version of this article was published in Moondance.
- “Representing Women,” a 17-page article, originally published in Frontiers, a Journal of Women Studies (Vol. 18, No.3, Nov. 3, 1997), by the Washington State University Press, is available by emailing Sonia at firstname.lastname@example.org and asking her to email it to you or by purchasing it at jstor.org. This was Sonia’s first published article about women’s rights.
- "House of History" - A history of the Sewall-Belmont House, one of the oldest houses on Capitol Hill, is the story of the current headquarters of the National Woman's Party. (1996)
- "Magnolias" - A Washington, DC, love story. (1996)
- "Family Past Unfolds Like Detective Story" - Research Leads to Ship's Records, a Movie and Snapshots. (1995)
- “Impressions: The Status of Women in Southeast Asia,” published in the Common Law Lawyer (no longer in existence), Sept.-Oct. 1978. (To enlarge the print on machines using Windows, hold down the control button of your computer while moving the wheel of your mouse. If viewing through Adobe Acrobat, enlarge the text with the plus button, or use the percentage dropdown list.)
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Sonia Pressman Fuentes
Family Past Unfolds Like Detective Story
Research Leads to Ship's Records, a Movie and Snapshots
by Sonia Pressman Fuentes
I am writing a memoir of humorous stories about my life and that of my parents. One would think that in writing a memoir, research would be unnecessary. After all, one is writing about what one knows, largely through memory.
But I found, to my chagrin, that almost every line I wrote required research. Little did I know that my research would transform what I knew about my family.
I could not always remember pertinent details; I could not always be sure of the facts I needed to flesh out the stories. And no sooner do you learn the answer to one question than others arise. But since I had to do research, I was lucky to be living in the Washington, D.C., area, which has abundant research facilities.
My book begins in a shtetl called Piltz where my parents met and married. But I knew little about Piltz and nothing about Bendin, which my father had always pronounced "Benjean," the town to which my paternal grandmother moved after my father left Poland for Germany.
Friends suggested I go to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum since its computer has information on towns where Jews lived before the Holocaust. At the museum I learned that the computerized information was incomplete; it did not yet contain data on all towns where Jews had lived.
I found no information on Piltz. I did find something on Bendin and learned that its Polish name was Bedzin and that it is now called Bendsburg.
In the museum's fifth floor library, a staffer brought out a reference book entitled Where Once We Walked, A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust by Mokotoff and Sack. This work contains the names of Jewish communities and lists reference books where information on those communities can be found.
I learned that Piltz has been known by a variety of other names, such as Pilica, Pilitsa, Pilitz and Pilts. One of the reference books listed, the Encyclopedia Judaica, contained no real information on Piltz. Most of the other reference books were not available in the museum library. The librarian told me where I might find some of these reference works, including the Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, which is located in the museum itself. The Memorial Books Collection also contains information on individual towns written after the Holocaust by survivors and former inhabitants.
In addition, the librarian told me that the library had a list of people who have done research on various shtetls. I took the names and addresses of several of those people and wrote to them.
And I called the Polish Embassy. The embassy said the current name of Piltz is Pilce and gave me the addresses of government offices in Poland to which I might write for information. Embassy workers also informed me there were actually two towns called Bendin in different provinces.
After conferring with family members, I concluded that the Bendin where my paternal grandmother had lived was in the province of Katowice. I wrote to the appropriate government offices in Poland.
Then I received an answer from one of the people I'd written who had done research on Piltz. She wrote that there were actually two towns with the name of Piltz, one in Radom Province and one in Katowice Province: one came from the on-line computer service Prodigy and the other from a chapter called "On the Destruction of East European Jewry" in a book titled Kiddush Hashem, Jewish Religious and Cultural Life in Poland During the Holocaust by Huberland.
In response to a letter I'd written to an official at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the reference archivist sent me the listing of reference books on Piltz and Bendin contained in the introduction to Where Once We Walked. He checked those that he said were available either at the museum's Reference Desk or in the Memorial Books Collection.
left: Sonia Fuentes' paternal grandmother Udla Olmer Pressman and aunt
Reizel Pressman Fischel in Bendin, Poland.
I returned to the museum library to look for a collection of books he had checked, Pinkas Hakehillot (Encyclopedia of Communities). This collection, published by the Yad Vashem Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, will eventually document all towns in Eastern Europe where at least 100 Jews lived before the Holocaust.
As of June 1990, 11 volumes had been completed, and seven more were planned. These volumes are organized along regional lines. However, the library did not have the volumes I requested, which would have included Piltz and Bendin.
The librarian suggested I write to the official in charge of the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, and I did so. He also brought me a book titled Bendin. Unfortunately, it was written in Hebrew, which I cannot read, but it contained pictures with names of residents of Bendin before the Holocaust. This book had been donated to the library by Jeffrey Cymbler of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York.
According to Cymbler, these photographs were taken from the confiscated ID cards of inhabitants of the Bendin ghetto, which was liquidated in 1943. The original photographs are at Yad Vashem.
I Xeroxed copies of five pages containing 60 of these pictures of people with the last name "Pressman" or "Fischel" (the name of one of my cousins). I sent these pictures to my first cousin, Fela, in Chicago, who was born in Bendin.
To my amazement, Fela called to tell me she could positively identify six of those pictures. They were members of my family, some of whom I'd never previously known about. There were pictures of Fela, her brother, my uncle and his wife, my aunt and my first cousin.
In the midst of this research, on March 16 I read in the Washington Jewish Week that on the following Sunday there would be a screening at the Biograph of a movie called Diamonds in the Snow. This movie was a documentary based on the memories of three women who, as children, were survivors of the Holocaust in Bendin!
One of those three women was the filmmaker Miry Reym Binford. Due to a prior commitment, I was unable to see the movie at the Biograph but did see it the following week on PBS.
Meanwhile, I was off on another research quest that surprisingly gave me information on this one. My immediate family and I had arrived in New York City from Berlin via Antwerp on May 1, 1934. My recollection was that the ship we arrived on was the Red Star Line's S. S. Westernland.
However, my brother thought we came on the Cunard Line. Through telephone information and my local library, I could find no current address or the phone number for the Red Star Line, so I wrote to the Cunard Line.
A friend told me that the National Archives and Records Administration on Pennsylvania Avenue has records of manifests of ships that arrived in the United States since 1800. The records are not complete: not all ships are included, and not all passengers are listed on the manifests. But I decided to try anyway.
At the archives I was directed to the Microfilm Research Room, room 400, where these records are kept according to the ship's date of arrival. I located a microfilm that was an index of passenger names for ships arriving on May 1, 1934.
But when the film was threaded into the projector, I ran into two formidable barriers. The first was that, due to the poor quality of the microfilm, I could not make out the names. The second was that the names were arranged in alphabetical order according to the first names of the passengers. But I could not tell whether the names were arranged first by last name and then by first name or only by first name.
I was expressing my frustration when a staff technician offered to help. I had been looking for the name of my brother, Hermann, since that particular microfilm ended with the letter "I." The technician asked for Hermann's age in 1934, and I gave it to him. He spent considerable time peering at the two columns of microfilm information, trying to make out the names.
Then he said, "Hmm. Hermann, and he was 19 years old. I think I've got him." He had found Hermann's name and with it the page and line number on the manifest.
He then secured another microfilm, of much better quality, which contained the ship's manifest. After threading that microfilm into the projector, he showed me the screen. First I saw "S.S. Westernland, Red Star Line" and then my parents' names, Hermann's name, my name, our places of birth and our last permanent residence. The manifest also contained the name and address of our nearest relative, my grandmother Udla from Bendin.
The technician Xeroxed a copy for me, and a few minutes later I held in my hand a copy of the manifest from the ship on which I came to the United States 61 years ago! I hate research, but sometimes it isn't all that bad.
This article first appeared in Washington Jewish Week on July 13, 1995, and is also available on www.museumoffamilyhistory.com.
© 1995 by Sonia Pressman Fuentes. Ms. Fuentes is a public speaker, writer, lawyer, and co-founder of NOW (National Organization for Women). She is also the author of her memoirs titled Eat First--You Don't Know What They'll Give You: The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter.