Survivor STORY

Phyllis Podber (born as Fagela Sonschein) was born in Shedletz, Poland, a town near Warsaw, in 1928. Her father Alter Rubin was a shoemaker, her mother Pesa was a housewife. Phyllis had a normal childhood; she attended school, and her family was religious.

When war broke out on September 1, 1939, the family fled Shedletz for Bialystok, a large city in northeastern Poland. They stayed with cousins in Bialystok for a night and then continued their journey eastward, trying to reach the Soviet Union, which had not yet invaded Poland. The family boarded cattle cars and took a train into Russia. The Russians placed the family into a refugee camp in Siberia and gave them one room in a barrack. While Phyllis’s parents worked in a factory, she attended school and learned to speak Russian. The family earned extra money by selling goods on the black market. In 1943, Alter Rubin was operated on because of a stomach ulcer. He died a few days later.

The family remained in Siberia for the duration of the war. After the German surrender, having no surviving relatives in Poland, the Sonscheins went to Germany itself. Settling in a town named Nauen, Phyllis met and married a man named Abe in 1949. Phyllis’s mother had a brother in Argentina and obtained immigration papers from him. However, Abe wished to go to America or Israel instead. Ultimately, the family decided to go to America.

Pesa and Irving were sent to Atlanta by HIAS, and Phyllis and Abe joined them six weeks later. Despite being over 20 years old, Phyllis went to a high school to learn English. Abe and Phyllis purchased a store on Amsterdam Avenue in Midtown. For the first time, Phyllis was exposed to the mistreatment of Southern blacks when black men would constantly step off the sidewalk to let her pass. Initially confused, Phyllis later learned of and was shocked by segregation. The supermarket catered to a mostly black neighborhood, and Phyllis recalls her customers as being extremely friendly and understanding of the store’s closure on Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Phyllis and Abe had three children, all born in Atlanta and named after relatives that perished during World War Two.

Phyllis had many friends in the Atlanta Jewish community that also survived the Holocaust. She often played cards or went on vacation with them. She has four grandchildren and enjoys spending time with them.

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Phyllis Sonshein Podber