Couple to recall childhood struggles at Holocaust Remembrance event

At a Holocaust event, Dr. John and Toni Rinde will recall their experiences.
Dr. John Rinde and his wife, Toni, were able to escape the Nazi persecution of Jews by pretending to be Catholic in Poland. Sherry Keenan/Best View Photography
Dr. John Rinde and his wife, Toni, were able to escape the Nazi persecution of Jews by pretending to be Catholic in Poland.Sherry Keenan/Best View Photography
Published January 21 2015
Updated January 21 2015

YBOR CITY — Dr. John Rinde turned 7 in the Lvov ghetto, confined there with all the other Jews from his town of Przemysl, Poland.

Rinde said unlike most, his family managed to flee to Lublin, Poland, where they forged identity papers and lived as Catholics "with a more Polish-sounding name until the summer of 1944." They chose Lublin because it was a bombed-out city where government birth records were largely destroyed.

His wife, Toni Igel Rinde, daughter of an Army officer and also from Przemysl, was given to strangers when she was 16 months old. They renamed her Marisha and brought her up Catholic from 1941 to 1944. Her parents fought the Germans with a band of partisans hiding out in a forest, reuniting with Toni when World War II ended.

The Rindes met in New York in 1957 and have resided in Largo for many years. They will speak of their childhood experiences Sunday at a Holocaust Remembrance Day program sponsored by the Tampa Bay Consular Corps, co-hosted by the United Nations Association of Tampa and the Florida Holocaust Museum.

Frank Towers, 97, also will speak at the event. Towers served as a young lieutenant liaison officer with the U.S. Army's 30th Infantry Division in April 1945 and helped liberate a Nazi train carrying 2,500 Jews from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to the Theresienstadt (Terezin) death camp.

"A bridge had been blown up and the train was just sitting there because they couldn't cross the river," said Towers, who was appointed convoy commander. The U.S. military rounded up jeeps, trucks, ambulances ­-— "any vehicle we could get" — and took the survivors to a town we had liberated the day before with a hospital. It was a stinking mess."

Years later, using the German transport list, Towers tracked down 275 Jews, "from Australia to Israel," via a website he created. He expects four of them will be there Sunday.

"This year marks the 70th anniversary, of the liberation of the death camps," said Vincent Genovese, consular correspondent of Italy for Tampa Bay. "The United Nations General Assembly established Jan. 27 as a day of remembrance which we organize locally on the nearest Sunday so more people can attend."

Other participants include: Col. Andre J. Briere, vice commander of MacDill Air Force Base; Nathaniel Doliner, chairman of the Florida Holocaust Museum; and Stanlee Stahl, executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello and consuls general from Italy, Germany, France, Canada, Greece and Israel will assist six survivors lighting candles in memory of the six million Jews murdered by Nazis. Aiello, the first and only female rabbi in Italy, serves congregations in Sarasota and Calabria, Italy. She is known for her work advising Italians discovering their Jewish roots.

Rabbi David Weizman of Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater, pianist Joy Katzen-Guthrie and the Bay Area Cantorial Association will also take part in the program.

Admission is free to attend the event at the Italian Club in Ybor City, but reservations are required. Seating begins at 2 p.m.

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