Stat Counter

View My Stats

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Stubborn Man

Morris Trukenberg died last night. He was around 96 years old. The best guess is that he was born in 1913, although he teased the date so often that no one now alive can be certain.

He was a stubborn man.

A few years ago, I received a call to come to the emergency room at Kaiser Hospital. Morris had fainted and been brought there for examination. When I arrived, I heard his distinctive voice shouting, "There's nothing wrong with me. I don't need a doctor. You're keeping me here a prisoner."

The loud complaints were accompanied by some unpleasant references to the presumed heritage of the nurses. I apologized to one of them. "He can be a bit stubborn at times." The nurse smiled, said, "You don't get to be 90 unless you are very stubborn."

His stubbornness probably save his life, not once but many times.

He was 26 years old when the Germans occupied his home town of Radom, Poland. Morris was living with his large family, but apparently acting independently from his parents. He told me that one night he and his friends were harassed by some German soldiers - a rifle butt in the small of his back for "no good reason except we were Jews."

Over the objections of his parents, Morris decided to leave with friends, to go to the east, to Russia, to evade the advancing Germans.

Over the next years, he would travel to a city, look for work, and occasionally be arrested by Russians, who mistook him for a German spy. His reddish hair, fair complexion, name, were circumstantial enough to force his detention several times until he was finally able to persuade some commissar of his true identity, which was the second worst thing to be in the eyes of Soviet officials: He was a Polish Jew, not a German spy. It was then on to the next city.

Eventually, he met Esther Teitelbaum, who had fled her home in Lodz, Poland, with a sister and brother, traveling east. The brother had dropped out in a border town, where his girlfriend's family lived. The girl's father convinced him to stay - the Germans could be "dealt with." Esther later discovered that her brother, along with all the members of his girlfriend's family had been murdered.

Morris and Esther married, continuing to move east, to Stalingrad, and by persistent step east and south (to avoid the bitter winters) to the Caucas. A daughter was born on VJ Day (August 14, 1945), while they were in Orsk in the Urals.

Returning to Poland, Morris found that his family was gone, all but a brother, Chaim, who had been exiled to Paris before the war. Chaim had been "deported" to forced labor, but survived and was back in Paris.

Morris packed up and came to Paris where he and Chaim began a "schmatte" business, making clothes and selling them from a cart. When frictions arose between the brothers and their wives mostly over competition and jealousy, Morris took a chance by 1954 to emigrate to Los Angeles where some cousins and friends from Radom had alit.

It is hard to realize that Morris lived for another 55 years after moving to America.

Learning another new language - Morris was in his 40's - Morris got jobs painting houses in the new developments in the San Fernando Valley.

He and Esther survived, thrived in fact. They scrimped and bought a house on the West Side, raised their daughter and then, when Morris was over 50, had a second daughter, whom they raised with a new generation of parents.

He survived his wife and first child, lived to see and enjoy three grandchildren, leave them a legacy of stubbornness in the face of obstacles that would seem to make survival, much less some measure of material success, a highly unlikely proposition.


  1. beautiful post. we'll miss him. but what a remarkable life!

  2. Great work. I will always remember his Thanksgiving praise of Joe Stalin. Being able to focus on the challenge just ahead (where Stalin saved his life), instead of the big picture (where Uncle Joe was one of History's great monsters), is a secret to survival in the darkest times. He was indeed a survivor.

  3. Michele,
    With love, my heart goes out to you and your family.

  4. Michele, my cousin Marianne just told me about your dad. I'm so so sorry. I will let my mom and dad know tomorrow. They are in the Jewish Home in Reseda. My prayers are with you.
    Peggy (gotlieb) Laine
    909 717 7393
    Please pass this on to Michele. My dad and MOrris owned a store together in the 60's

  5. Hi

    My name is Uri Bornstein - I live in New Jersey.

    I came across Mr. Borenstein's story.

    I am 43 years old. my grandfather came from Radom. my father asked me to try and find any survivors from Borenstein family in Radom.

    Can I have Mr. Morris Borenstein contact information?

    Thank you

    Uri Bornstein

  6. Dear Uri,
    I received your comment to my blog post regarding Morris and your inquiry regarding Radom Borensteins.
    Let me clarify. Morris was Morris Trukenberg, who was born and raised in Radom. He was my father in law. His story is the one I referred to in "A Stubborn Man."
    There was a man named Izak Borenstein, who was from Radom and published a survivor story on line. His url is:
    I referred to it in my own post,
    I hope that helps you and your grandfather. My own grandfather, Herschel Borenstein came to the US around 1900 from Warsaw.