Today I am attending the funeral of my cousin, Stanley Glogover. As a boy in Poland his first name was rendered as Szlamek; in Hebrew he was Shlomo. Naming him after King Solomon was prescient, as it took all his wits and then some to get him through the six hellish years from 1939 until 1945. His father’s father was the brother of my father’s mother, making us second cousins. One of the fringe benefits of my moving to Florida in 1998 was getting to know Stanley up close.
Stanley grew up as a rich kid in Makowa, Poland, where his parents owned a department store. He was well-built, good-looking, a good talker, and by his own account he was a favorite among the girls in his age group.
He and a raft of cousins would pop into their grandmother’s house every Friday to get a foretaste of the Sabbath delicacies. This wealthy woman wore the same dress every day and gave all her liquid assets to charity. When the war broke out, she summoned all her grandchildren and told them not to worry about her; she had donned shrouds under her dress and was prepared to die. Her life had been filled with happiness, she said, and despite being widowed for many years she had no complaints to God.
Even after the Germans had taken over the town, before property was aggressively confiscated, the family’s money managed to save Stanley’s life. The Nazi commander demanded a public hanging of several people in reprisal for some act of sabotage. The Polish police still ran the jail and they took custody of the designated scapegoats, Stanley randomly thrown among them. His father was still able to ransom Stanley from the noose with a fur coat to the wife of the local constable.
After the ghetto years, they wound up in Auschwitz, where Stanley and his father were separated from their womenfolk. Later he met an uncle who confirmed he had seen them killed. At some point, his father broke a leg and was removed to the infirmary, which generally served as a death sentence. Thenceforth Stanley was all alone, although he occasionally encountered that uncle.
At some point, Mengele’s medical cohorts decided Stanley was an able-bodied specimen fit for grisly experimentation. They brought him to the infirmary and opened his skull using a chisel without anesthetic. He had the impression they were trying to determine if surgeries could be performed in that manner under battlefield conditions. While he was conscious, they sewed his scalp over the perforated skull and the operation was a success. They told the orderly, Bruno, to dispose of the body. Then these men of science and culture left to go listen to Wagner or whatever such refined humanitarians do for recreation.
Bruno, a Czech non-Jew (Stanley guessed he was imprisoned for homosexuality), decided to buck their orders and keep Stanley hidden while nursing him back to health. The patient spent weeks dividing his time between cowering in Bruno’s closet and lying under the bed. When he was strong enough, Bruno used his clout among the prisoners to get Stanley a “cushy” job, greeting the newcomers and taking their possessions. As part of that crew, he often grabbed babies from their mothers and handed them to old ladies, explaining that these sadists would kill mother and child, but an unencumbered young woman might be spared. Some mothers took their children back and died with them; others chose life in this grimmest of lotteries.
I read once in a memoir of a survivor named Raitzik that his childhood friend Szlamek Glogover saved his life by showing him which guard to bribe and helping him to raise the twenty dollars (!) that guard set as his price.
When the Holocaust Museum opened in Washington, D.C. it prominently featured the one extant photograph of this gory receiving line at Auschwitz. Research proved that Stanley was the only one still living among the alumni of that iconic photograph. (He did tell me that once in the elevator of a Manhattan office building he had met a fellow who served alongside him there and they stayed in contact afterwards.) This resulted in Stanley being flown to D.C. for the opening ceremony and getting invitations to speak at schools and memorial gatherings.
After the war he could not find a single surviving uncle or aunt or sibling amid the wreckage of Poland and Austria. Suddenly he heard there was one Glogover who was in a Displaced Persons camp in Bari, Italy. Still wearing a contraband S.S. greatcoat, he paid a smuggler to show him across the border from Austria to Italy. Somehow he had to get down a snowy mountain despite his fear of heights. He could not look downward without getting queasy, so he literally rolled down the mountainside. It took him an entire night.
In Italy he was arrested and brought before the nearest magistrate. When he explained his predicament, the judge gave him a document allowing him not only to travel freely through Italy but to travel for free! He had an adventurous train ride across the country, trading his last sausage links to a beautiful Gypsy woman so she could read his palm. She told him that the one he loves is still alive and he would meet him soon. Arriving at the DP camp, he was told that Mr. Glogover was working as the receptionist at the doctor’s office. Stanley was directed to the facility and he opened the door to a long corridor.
He could not believe his eyes. Way at the end, sitting behind a desk, was a man he thought long dead, his father! One or both fainted and then they had a tearful and joyful reunion. They were never far apart again. Apparently his father had been allowed to heal and had finished out the war at a work camp rather than a death camp.
In Bari, Stanley recovered his health quickly. He showed me a picture of himself, tanned and muscular, standing up in a boat at the edge of the Adriatic Sea. He looks like an Adonis, a figure of youth unmarred by turbulence.
He had been a member of Betar Youth before the war, so now he got involved in the illegal smuggling of Jews to Israel by Betar and Irgun under the British blockade. The British consulate in Bari was compiling extensive files on their activities with an eye to having them arrested by the Italians, so Stanley and his buddies blew up the clerical office of the consulate and destroyed the evidence. As recently as a few years ago, he was afraid to let me publish that story lest he be extradited at this late date. I chuckled but I didn’t push it…
He and his father arrived in the United States in 1947, under the sponsorship of my grandmother’s industrialist/philanthropist half-brother, Abe Cohen. They slipped some valuable Italian shawls and kerchiefs into their baggage as gifts for their beneficent relatives, and perhaps to also make a few bucks on resale. When Abe Cohen came to the dock to pick them up, he saw the Customs inspector rummaging earnestly through the suitcases.
In Yiddish, Abe asked: “Are you guys clean?”
The Inspector picked his head up for a moment and answered in perfect Yiddish: “And who’s looking?”
Once in New York City, Stanley enrolled at the Fashion Institute. He was so intensely motivated to succeed that he was the first student ever to complete the three-year curriculum in one year. He showed so much ability that they asked him to stay on and teach, which he did for a few years.
Afterwards, he became a legend in the fashion world, with designs and inventions galore. Among the patents he received were the first prototypes of the nursing bra and the maternity bra. At one time he was very prosperous but he had invested heavily in the Bahamas. When the islands gained independence from the British in 1973, the newly autonomous entity promptly nationalized the holdings of all foreigners, cleaning out much of his net worth.
Still, he enjoyed a comfortable retirement here in South Florida. He spoke often to the younger generation, testifying to the horror lest the world forget. He made a film of his experiences for the archives of Steven Spielberg’s foundation. He led a beautiful life and he gave people the dignity of beautiful clothing, as his revenge against an indecent regime that stripped humanity of that precious dignity. May his memory be a blessing.