New book reveals Holocaust plight of La Guardia's sister
Among the millions of Jews who were detained at concentration camps during WWII, it is little known that Gemma LaGuardia Gluck, the sister of New York's illustrious Mayor Fiorello LaGaurdia was among them.
It was that illustrious name, though, that helped survive.
Dr. Rochelle Saidel spoke about Gluck LaGuardia's time in the camps at a recent presentation at the Holocaust Museum and Study Center. Founde of the Remember the Women Institute, Dr. Saidel recently published Fiorello's Sister: Gemma LaGuardia Gluck's Story a newly edited version of My Story by LaGuardia Gluck. Originally edited by S.L. Shneiderman and first published in 1961, the book detailed the LaGuardia family history, LaGuardia Gluck's Jewish roots, and life during the Holocaust in Hungary, and as a political prisoner in Ravensbruck, a notorious women's concentration.
The newly edited version of the story has had "no major changes," according to Dr. Saidel, but includes new photographs and documents, including one of LaGuardia Gluck's arrest by the Nazis that accused her of being both a Jew and the sister of a mayor who was staunchly anti-Hitler.
Dr. Saidel, who lives in Jerusalem most of the time, says she stumbled upon LaGuardia Gluck's story while working on her prior publication The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Dr.Saidel first visited the Ravensbruck Memorial in 1980 and worked for more than 20 years to find information on the camp's Jewish victims. She was at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum when she discovered the document of LaGuardia Gluck's arrest, and was struck by the story of a prisoner whose brother at the time of internment was none other than mayor of New York City.
When asked by a member of the audience why she chose to focus her next book on the story LaGuardia Gluck, she responded, "I just fell in love with La Guardia Gluck". LaGuardia Gluck was "strong, very independent, almost feminist," said Dr. Saidel. Born in New York City to Italian immigrants, LaGuardia Gluck emigrated to Budapest, Hungary with her aristocratic Italian-Jewish mother, and her U.S. army bandleader father because of her father's job.
LaGuardia Gluck met her Hungarian-Jewish husband, Herman Gluck, while teaching English lessons in Budapest ( he was one of her students. When Gluck proposed, LaGuardia Gluck told him: "I have no wealth, I have no dowry. What I need to take into my marriage is my piano, my sewing machine, and my mother."
The two married and were living in Budapest when the Nazis overtook the city and ordered her arrest. Originally deported to Mauthausen with her husband, LaGuardia Gluck was later sent to the women's camp Ravensbruck. But because she was a political hostage, she was not made to do forced slave labor, and used her position to help other women in the camp, embroidering gifts for them and raising their spirits. Although La Guardia Gluck was treated slightly better than the other prisoners due to her position, she still faced many hardships. La Guardia Gluck's daughter and her grandchild were held in Ravensbruck for a year unbeknownst to La Guardia Gluck, who assumed that they had perished until an S.S. auxiliary guard informed her of their whereabouts.
During the time of La Guardia Gluck's internment, her brother Fiorello was back in New York hosting anti-Hitler rallies and speaking out against the atrocities of the Nazis. He had assumed that his sister was dead, until a war correspondent hooked the two up via radio. He was, however, unable to rescue his sister at that time as she had lost her citizenship by marrying a foreign man. A year after their radio reunion, however, LaGuardiawas able to get his sister to Copenhagen. La Guardia Gluck came to the United States in the spring of 1947, where she lived in housing projects in Queens until her death in 1961, around the time that the original version of her story was published.
Dr. Saidel is a senior researcher at The Center for the Study of Women and Gender at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil and has been a research fellow at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research. In addition to her books about LaGuardia Gluck and the women of Ravensbruck, she has also published, Never Too Late to Remember: The Politics Behind New York City's Holocaust Museum and The Outraged Conscience: Seekers of Justice for Nazi War Criminals in America.