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  • Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia

Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Articles about Sonia are also contained in the section on Belgium.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes

The Making of a Jewish American Feminist: Sonia Pressman Fuentes

By Lisa Katz

Part 2: Book Synopsis - A Meaningful Contribution 

Berlin

In 1933, Sonia's family lived in Berlin. Her father, Zysia, rented and managed a men's clothing store and factory. The family also owned a building that consisted of forty apartments and four stores that it had bought recently as an investment.

Sonia's brother, Hermann, was concerned about the growing power of Hitler and the Nazis. He watched as various neighbors and business associates were terrorized and even killed.

One day a group of six thieves came into the family's store. In response to a call from Hermann, the police came and chased the thieves away. But as the police were leaving, their leader said to Zysia, "We came this time, Herr Pressman, but don't call us if it should happen again because we won't come. You areJuden."

Hermann told his parents that it was time to leave Germany. Zysia would not listen. He had lived in Germany for over twenty years, was the prosperous owner of a men's clothing store and factory, and had just bought an apartment building.

Hermann left alone. He went to Antwerp, Belgium. For months, Hermann asked his parents to join him in Belgium, but instead Hinda Leah and Zysia asked him to come back home to Germany. Hermann told them that he was fearful of returning because he had heard that those who returned to Germany were met at the train station by Nazis and never seen again.

Finally, Zysia decided it was time to leave Germany. He met with a small group of Nazis who agreed to let the family leave Germany in exchange for turning the store, factory and apartment building over to the Nazis for a fraction of their value.

Antwerp

In July 1933, Zysia, Hinda Leah and Sonia joined Hermann in Antwerp. For months Zysia explored business opportunities in Antwerp, Paris, Czechoslovakia, and Palestine. None of his plans were realized. He blamed Hermann for persuading the family to leave Germany.

During the long months in Antwerp, Zysia learned how to read Yiddish from a friend. He was reading the Yiddish newspaper one day when he discovered that ships were leaving for the United States. Since they had Polish passports, the family was able to get permission to go to America within the Polish quota. On April 20, 1934, the Pressman family boarded a ship in Antwerp. They arrived in New York ten days later.

The Bronx

The family rented an apartment in the Bronx, and Zysia opened a men's clothing store with a partner in Manhattan. The business did poorly, however, and Zysia disliked the fast pace of life in New York City.

In the summer of 1935, the family took a few weeks' vacation in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the summer resort area for New York City's Jews. Shortly after this vacation, Zysia decided the family would move to the Catskills, where he would operate a resort business.

The Catskills

For five years, Zysia and Hinda Leah rented and managed a kokhaleyn, a rooming house, during the summer in Woodridge. In 1941, Zysia bought fifty acres of land in Monticello, about ten miles northwest of Woodridge. There he built a bungalow colony with a house for the family, twenty-five bungalows, a swimming pool, handball court, and general store.

Thus, Sonia grew up in the Catskills. She felt different, however, from the other children. Her parents were European, they were older than the parents of her classmates, and she was European herself. She felt she was not free as other girls and women were simply to marry, raise a family, and pursue happiness. Because she had been born only because her mother's favored abortionist was out of the country, because she had escaped the Holocaust, and because she was bright, she felt she had been saved to make a contribution to the world--but she had no idea what that was to be.

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