FROM: IRVING A. SMOKLER
DATE: MAY 4, 2009
It is with much sadness and a deep sense of JDC history that we inform you that Paula Borenstein died today in Paris after a long illness. The funeral will take place on Wednesday in Paris.
Paula Borenstein began working for JDC in France in November 1948, using her knowledge of Yiddish to record speeches given by delegates from the Displaced Persons countries at JDC’s third postwar conference. Her initial contact with JDC, however, came three and a half years earlier, when she arrived in Paris in May 1945 with a group of Holocaust survivors known as “the youngsters from Buchenwald.” With no knowledge of French, without a trade, and with no family or contacts in Paris, she and her friends were cared for by JDC, directed to a place where they received hot food and clothing, and sent to a special home for three months of recuperation. As she would later recount to hundreds of American audiences, “When we arrived, broken in spirit and body – skeletons, shaved and barefoot – the first dress, the first warm meal, the first love was given to us by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. And, most importantly, you gave us back our names, our humanity.”
Pessele—as she was known affectionately to friends and colleagues—always considered the Joint a part of her family. Over the next five decades, she served as Public Relations Officer in JDC’s Paris office, retiring in December 1998.To members of the media in Paris and to countless participants in missions organized by the Federations and what was then the national UJA, Paula was the public face of JDC.
During her decades with JDC, Paula brought thousands of American Jews to Poland on UJA/Federation missions, escorting them to Auschwitz, Treblinka, and the site of the Warsaw ghetto on visits that she made unforgettable. She impressed upon them JDC’s unwavering commitment to help care for the region’s lonely and aging Holocaust survivors. And cognizant always of the generation of Jewish children murdered by the Nazis, she spoke of the importance of teaching young Jews in newly emerging post-Communist communities about their Jewish culture and history—thereby helping to ensure that they did not become another “lost” generation.
Paula often said that there were two types of Holocaust survivors: those who became completely detached and unresponsive to their people’s needs and those who were determined to spend the rest of their lives relieving Jewish suffering and enriching the lives of Jews everywhere. Through her life’s work and her dedication to JDC, to Israel, and to the needs of the Jewish people, Paula Borenstein placed herself firmly among the latter, and she did so with charm, with a Yiddish heart, and with an elegance of manner that matched her Parisian environment.
May Paula’s memory be for a blessing for all those who knew and adored her.
Baruch Dayan Emet.