After surviving the Holocaust on the run for six years, the adventurous and boisterous Bronislawa Taler would eventually build a home in America and raise a family who would carry on her legacy.
The Annapolis resident died on Saturday of congestive heart failure. She was 93.
Family and friends remember Taler, or “Bronka,” as they liked to call her, as “kind and elegant,” as Temple Beth Shalom Rabbi Ari Goldstein put it, who was extremely active and involved in her community and synagogue, where she was a member since its founding in 1963.
“She was just a gracious, lovely, elegant woman,” her daughter, Gustava “Gusty” Taler, 61, of Baltimore, said. “She loved her family and was a big proponent of promoting community and a great friend to everyone she came in contact with.”
The daughter of Leopold and Gustava Frenkiel, Bronislawa “Bronka” Frenkiel was born and raised in Krakow, Poland, the youngest of two children. Her father was a cigarette distributor, and she enjoyed a sophisticated lifestyle growing up that was filled with books, music and paintings.
Bronka was 15 years old when Germany invaded her country, and almost immediately, her family was herded into a ghetto. Neighbors informed her when she returned home from school on one fateful afternoon in 1939 that Nazi soldiers had taken her parents and her brother, Mark.
“My mother was told that the soldiers were looking for her,” her son, George Taler, 67, of Severna Park, said. “The neighbors said to her, ‘You better run.’ Her whole life changed in the matter of minutes, with absolutely no notice. She also found out that her two girlfriends’ parents were taken, too.”
In response, Bronka grabbed some personal belongings — consisting mostly of family photos and clothes — and put them into a satchel and immediately fled. She spent the next six years on the run with her two close friends, traveling throughout Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania doing whatever she could to ensure her survival.
There was a night, for instance, she and her friends were thrown in jail and thought they were going to be turned over to the Nazis. But, to their surprise, they were released the next morning after one of Bronka’s friends did “a favor for one of the guards,” Gusty recalled.
As trains shuttled Jews to death camps, Bronka roamed the streets and worked odd jobs thanks to false identity papers forged by the Polish Christian underground.
“Toward the end of the war, my mother was so excited that she had been invited to a Passover seder dinner in either Hungary or Romania,” Gusty said. “But right after she got there, she noticed she had been hired as the help. I think that really crushed and devastated her.”
When World War II concluded, Bronka returned to Krakow to try to track down her family.
Her parents died in the Holocaust, as did a number of Krakow’s nearly 70,000 Jews. Her brother managed to survive the Auschwitz concentration camp, and Bronka was reunited with him six years after they were separated.
“I think that was a very emotional moment for her, to have the opportunity to reconnect with her brother, because there were just so many unknowns at that time,” George said.
Seventy-two years later, the number of Holocaust survivors is diminishing fast. Some will share their memories, some will not, which George and Gusty said they learned firsthand.
George and Gusty grew up knowing they were the children of Holocaust survivors. Their father, Joseph, who died in 2012 at the age of 89, also survived the Holocaust with the help of the Poland Christian underground.
Joseph spent part of his retirement as a lecturer on Holocaust studies and was very open about his experiences. In addition, he wrote a book on the Holocaust, “In Search of Heroes,” and a second memoir, “Polish Indians and Short Stories.”
Bronka, however, was much more reserved to discuss the horrors she endured, Gusty said.
“It was a time in her life she really didn’t like to talk about and something we didn’t ask much about as kids,” Gusty said.
Goldstein, who has led the Temple Beth Shalom congregation since 2004, echoed those sentiments, saying, Bronka was a private and reserved woman. “Joseph was more verbal and vocal,” Goldstein said. “When describing life during the Holocaust, he would talk, and she would not.”
Still, decades later, Bronka was no more the ragged soul of the dark nights and cold winters of Eastern Europe.
Gusty said her mother always reminded her to remain upbeat and have a positive attitude despite any challenges life would throw her way.
Through art, music and culture, Bronka again found the simple pleasures in life she had developed in her youth. Gusty recalled her mother as an “avid reader, making good use of public libraries” and completing as many as three novels per week. “I think that’s how she was able to perfect her English,” Gusty said.
Bronka loved to cook, entertain, play bridge and patronize the community. She was a frequent patron of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, becoming an audience fixture at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts at 801 Chase St.
She also was a “real explorer,” Gusty said.
Bronka returned to Poland only once after World War II ended as part of a tour with the Smithsonian Institution. She visited every continent except Antarctica and traveled to Italy 13 times.
But make no mistake: Annapolis was home.
She lived until her death in a Pendennis Mount residence overlooking the Annapolis skyline and Severn River, where she and Joseph built a home in 1967.
“They loved that house,” George said. “It was just so magnificent. You can’t beat the picturesque setting that placed provided.”
Bronka married Joseph in 1948, three years after Joseph’s father, a lawyer who was helping her brother, introduced the couple at a New Year’s Eve party.
Under the sponsorship of the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, now known as HIAS, the couple and 2-year-old George immigrated to the United States in 1951. They settled into a home in Baltimore City after a short stay in New York City; they later moved to Glen Burnie, and in 1956, Gusty was born.
Bronka was also instrumental in helping her physician husband grow his family practice, which started in Glen Burnie and moved to North Arundel Hospital — now the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center. She worked for 20 years as a lab technician until her husband’s retirement in 1992.
Funeral services for Bronka were held at Temple Beth Shalom on Tuesday.
In addition to her son and daughter, she is survived by a daughter-in-law,