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Museum Musings

5.27.16: A Perfect Fit: A Place to Volunteer Together

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The Perfect Fit

A Place to Volunteer Together


Have you ever noticed that some of the most patriotic Americans are immigrants?  This has been my observation, both as a child and as a wife. Therefore, I share below the very abbreviated stories of my two favorite immigrants to America: my father and my husband.


My father, Warner S. Victor, was born in 1905 in Berlin Germany, where his family had lived for centuries. That did them no good as the Nazis did not consider Jews citizens and stripped them of their civil rights in 1935. My father saw the "writing on the wall" when he was not allowed to complete his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and was subsequently arrested. He managed to escape Germany in 1938 with the clothes on his back and a Torah which my grandfather had purchased for each of his twins at their birth.


My father loved America in spite of the fact that it was very difficult to get into the country and that the government was not welcoming. He became quite an expert in American Naval history. He also insisted that he and his friends speak only English on the street and when among Americans in order to avoid making the latter feel uncomfortable.


After Dad retired from the export/import business in New York City, then he, my mother, my brother, and I moved into our home in Philadelphia. He had always contributed his time, finances, and expertise to Jewish scholarly institutions and continued to do so until his mid-eighties. He volunteered at the Philadelphia Geriatric Center, where male volunteers were at a premium, once a week. But his great love was researching and publishing an annotated bibliography for the Music Department of Gratz College, an endeavor for which he was honored in 1983.


My husband, Roland D. Turk, had a very different immigrant experience.  He was born in Nazi-occupied France in 1940. The first 5 years of his life were spent in hiding with his mother in the mountains of central France. He was taught that he was Jewish when he was inside with her, but Catholic when he was outside. They moved constantly—sleeping in barns until the Nazis got too close and then moving further into the mountains. This continued until Roland's mother found a job as the housekeeper for an extremely anti-Semitic farmer whose wife had deserted, leaving him and their child. (Roland's entire story can be found at the Shoah Foundation Testimonies web site.)


When the war ended in 1945, Roland's father, who had been fighting in several armies, found them quite miraculously. Two sisters were born later. However, France remained so anti-Semitic that Roland still could not admit to being a Jew. The family of five left France in 1951. Becoming a U.S. citizen and living openly as a Jew is something that Roland never takes for granted! He values his rights and responsibilities, and particularly the freedom of religion.


When we retired, we looked around to find just the right place to volunteer together. The National Museum of American Jewish History turned out to be the perfect fit. We eagerly look forward to volunteering each week as we meet people from all over the world (Jews and non-Jews), learn from lectures and the inspiring core exhibition, and ponder the blessings that we Jews experience in America.


Roland and Helen Victor Turk

This was an excellent and touching story. I can't recall whether you told me about this when we were neighbors, but it's so inspiring to me now. Thanks for sharing. I will share this with my friends.
Posted by: Robin Marks at 8/28/2016 10:43 AM

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