Piroska Winkler, Hungarian-born survivor, dies at 84

After their father died in 1989, Linda and Vera Winkler accompanied their mother, Piroska Winkler, back to Hungary to see where she was born. They also accompanied their mother to Auschwitz, where she had been incarcerated during part of the war.

"It was heart-wrenching to see mother there," said Linda Winkler. "She didn't talk much about it while we were there; it was more that we should just understand it by seeing it."

Piroska Winkler died in San Francisco on April 16, the first night of Passover. She was 84.

Born Piroska Fenyes in 1918, Winkler came from Kemesce in Hungary. Her father was a rancher and her mother a housewife.

In 1937 she married Miklos Winkler, who was a farmer. They had two children, a daughter born in 1939 and a son in 1941.

When the deportations of Jews began in Hungary, the Winklers were sent first to the Warsaw Ghetto. Then, Piroska and Miklos spent the duration of the war in several camps, including Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt. They were both liberated in 1945, but their two children died in the camps.

Then Winkler gave birth to a third child after they were liberated, but he died at his brit.

In 1950, the Winklers moved to New York, and she worked in the garment industry. In 1957, they moved to Petaluma, following on the heels of other survivors who became chicken farmers.

The Winklers adopted twin sisters, Linda and Vera, in 1958. In the '60s, Winkler studied to obtain her real estate license and then became a real estate broker. They stayed in Cotati until 1970, when they decided to move to San Francisco.

"She wanted to be more involved in the Jewish community," said Linda Winkler.

While she attended services at Congregation Beth Sholom every Friday, her mother socialized more with other Hungarian immigrants, said Linda Winkler. But she was also active with Hadassah and the World Jewish Congress.

Piroska Winkler was generous and warm-hearted but also could be somewhat strict and overprotective, her daughter added. "We understood because of what she went through."

Winkler did not speak much about the war, but she always made note of her murdered children's birthdays, her daughter said. Passover was also a particularly hard holiday for her, since it was then that the family was deported to Auschwitz.

Winkler is survived by her two daughters, both of San Francisco.

Contributions can be made to Congregation Beth Sholom, 1301 Clement St., S.F., CA 94118, or the Holocaust Center of Northern California, 601 14th Ave., S.F., CA 94118.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."