Holocaust Survivors’ Garden

The Paul and Gabriella Rosenbaum garden commemorates a family's survival.

| June/July 1995

  • A classically formal tubular steel gazebo is the focal point of the Paul and Gabriella Rosenbaum Garden, a gift to the City of Chicago on behalf of the survivors it has sheltered.
  • A planting bed that includes ornamental salvias, artemisias, and catmints, and a brick walkway curve gently within the bounds of a tightly clipped, 3-foot-high alpine currant hedge.

Chicago offers its visitors innumerable cultural jewels. It boasts some of the best modern architecture in the United States, the world’s tallest building, a fine Impressionist collection, and a bounty of ethnic restaurants. And, of course, there’s great shopping: on State Street and the “magnificent mile” that is Michigan Avenue, you can buy fine furs, fine art, more fine food.

But for no money at all, you can visit a fine garden. A stroll up Michigan Avenue to its northern tip, where it intersects Oak Street, brings you to a small, triangular park that is home to the Paul and Gabriella Rosenbaum Garden, one of the city’s newest gems. Brimming with about 150 species of perennials, including many herbs, and thousands of individual plants, the garden attracts even the attention of motorists whizzing by on adjacent Lake Shore Drive.

If you step into the gazebo that is the garden’s focal point, you’ll find a plaque stating that the garden is a gift to the City of Chicago “on behalf of all the survivors to whom she has given shelter, from one family of survivors on the fiftieth anniversary of their safe arrival.” The date reads, “October 2, 1939–1989.”

The garden’s history begins in the mid-1930s when the Rosenbaum family lived in Nitra, a city in eastern Czechoslovakia (what is now western Slovakia). Paul Rosenbaum was in the roofing business; his wife, Gabriella, operated a school of eurhythmics (an artistic discipline involving movement and music). However, her plan to practice eurhythmics in Munich had been denied because she was Jewish. That experience, together with their commonsense response to ominous events reported in the newspapers, convinced the Rosenbaums that they must emigrate. Paul left for the United States in 1938 and, with the help of relatives already here, began arranging for visas for Gabriella and their two daughters, aged ten and four.

By the time the visas were available in Prague, Hitler had closed the border between Bohemia and Slovakia, and Gabriella, disguised as a peasant, was unable to get across. Transferring the papers to the next nearest American embassy, in Vienna, took months. Without knowing whether the transfer had been completed, Gabriella packed herself and her daughters onto a Vienna-bound train. Her elder daughter, Madge Goldman, remembers the SS officer who boarded the train, saw the word “Jewish” on their passports, yet grudgingly gave them clearance for a twenty-four-hour, one-time-only visit to Austria. What she now calls “the Rosenbaum luck” was with them: when they got to the crowded American embassy, they discovered that, despite the chaos, their papers had arrived.

Able at last to leave Czechoslovakia, the threesome boarded a train for Paris, but German troops were on the move, and their train was often delayed. A trip that should have taken hours took three days, and they quickly ran out of money because Gabriella had been permitted to take only 10 marks, roughly $50, out of Czechoslovakia. For one night’s meal and lodging, she borrowed money from another Jewish woman whom she had met on the train. On August 29, 1939, Gabriella and her daughters crossed the German-French border. The next day, the Germans closed the border to Jews.

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