Survivor, antiques dealer Tamara Katz, 90

Tamara Katz was a modern woman — the kind of person who could talk to her grandchildren about Puff Daddy, and read the business section of the newspaper every day, even though little of it was relevant to her.

She also had the savvy to keep herself and her son alive, while on the run, during the Holocaust.

Katz died on Sunday, Nov. 21. She was 90.

She was born Tamara Kaplinski on Feb. 10, 1914 in Lida, Poland. She was an only child, and her father was a lumber broker, with an excellent reputation in the community.

She attended the Gymnasium Ivrit, meaning that along with being fluent in Polish, Russian, German and Yiddish, she learned Hebrew as well.

Though she wanted to become a pharmacist, she instead became a bookkeeper. In 1937, she married Abraham Dworzinski, and in 1939, they gave birth to a son, Nathan.

In 1941, her parents and husband were rounded up and shot in a mass killing, leaving her widowed with a 3-year-old child. Katz always kept a few blades of grass from the mass grave in a handkerchief.

She and her son were put into the ghetto. But when it came time to be deported, Katz understood that she should try and avoid getting on the train. She took her son and hid in an outhouse behind the train station until it was dark. She then was able to get some peasants who worked for her father to hide her for several nights, until she could get word to a cousin.

But she appeared at the peasants’ home in good boots and a wool coat with a fur collar. The peasants realized her clothing could give her away. They outfitted her in old boots and clothing, to disguise her. Because her father had a good reputation in the area, and had many loyal employees, Katz found people who would hide her.

Once her cousin heard she was alive, he had someone bring her to the hideout of the Bielski brothers. In this little known story of the Holocaust, the partisans constructed a sort of shtetl hidden in the forest, and were able to save some 1,200 Jews. They also killed numerous enemy soldiers.

Katz stayed there for several months, until she was able to procure false papers. Because of her blue eyes and fluent Polish, she could pass as non-Jewish, and spent the rest of the war moving from hiding place to hiding place. While on the run, she met and married another partisan, Abraham Katz, in 1944.

At the war’s end, they found themselves in Austria, at first in a displaced persons camp. Their daughter, Ruth, was born in Austria in 1946, and in 1951, the family came to the United States, settling in San Francisco. Their daughter, Elli, was born shortly thereafter.

At first, Abraham Katz went to work in the shipyards, and then he opened a fish market, where she also worked.

She was widowed again in 1957, when he died from a kidney problem that began during the war. She went back to work as a bookkeeper in an antiques shop, where she learned the business. She and a partner then opened their own antiques store, called the Golden Era, on Clement Street.

For many years, she attended Anshey Sfarad, and was active with AMIT Women and Café by the Bay. She later joined Hadassah when her daughter became involved with it.

Ruth Levy of San Francisco said her mother had a wonderful sense of humor, and that “education and honesty and being a mensch in family” was of utmost importance to her. “Clothes don’t matter, they’ll recognize you anyhow” was a common refrain.

While she was open with her family about her experiences, Katz did not easily share it with strangers.

She was also fiercely independent, even into her old age. “That was her greatest strength, but it was also her great demise, too, as she got older,” said Levy. “She thought she could still do things, she would forget that she wasn’t 50 anymore.”

In addition to her daughter Ruth, Katz is survived by son Nathan Dwiri of San Francisco, daughter Elli Price of South Bend, Ind., and three grandchildren.

Donations can be sent to AMIT, 2232 Judah St., S.F., CA, 94122; Hadassah, 1715 Polk St., S.F., CA, 94109 or the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, Washington, D.C. 20024.

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."