The Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library at Chapman University is proud to be a contributor to the exhibit “Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away,” which recently opened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Including some 700 artifacts and 400 photographs, the exhibit displays many items that have never been exhibited outside of the Auschwitz Museum.
The Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library contributed a copy of the August 11, 1936 wedding photograph of Alfons and Felicia Haberfeld, leading citizens of the town of Oswiecim, as it was known before the German invasion in September 1939. In addition to her wedding photo, Felicia Haberfeld gifted the Samueli Library with a rare flask from the Haberfeld distillery, a photograph of her 4-year-old daughter Francizka, and original letterhead stationery that includes a drawing of the distillery, one of the leading employers in Oswiecim.
Felicia was born into a large family in Krakow, Poland on July 21, 1919. Remarkably for a woman of that era, she studied at Jagiellonian University in Krakow and in Vienna, earning a master’s degree in philosophy from Jagellonian. In 1936 she married Alfons Haberfeld, a leading industrialist in pre-war Poland, and the couple moved into the elegant Haberfeld House in Oswiecim. The couple played an active role in the civic and Jewish life of the town which had a large Jewish population.
In 1939, Alfons was invited to exhibit his distillery’s products at the World’s Fair in New York. Although Felicia would have preferred not to go, Alfons felt he must accept the extraordinary opportunity, and so the couple entrusted their 23-month old daughter, Franciszka Henryka, to the care of Felicia’s mother. Three weeks later, as the couple was returning home, their ship was intercepted by the British and the couple learned that Poland had been invaded and Germany and Britain were now at war. Interned in England and unable to return to Poland, the couple had to sell their personal belongings in order to pay for passage back to the United States.
Stateless and without money, the Haberfelds re-entered the United States through Ellis Island. Their single focus was on making contact with their family and doing anything and everything possible to bring their daughter out of danger. Eventually, in 1944, through second hand reports, the Haberfelds learned that after a time in hiding, their daughter, along with Felicia’s mother, had been transported to the death camp Belzec. After the war, the Haberfeld house and distillery were taken over by the Soviets. The couple fought a long and fruitless battle to regain their property. By 2003 the magnificent Haberfeld House had deteriorated so badly that it had to be demolished.
Felicia gave birth to a second child, Stephen, and the family moved to Los Angeles in 1948. There Felicia earned a degree in library science and the couple became founding members of The “1939” Club, now The 1939 Society. Felicia was an active supporter of the Holocaust program at Chapman University until her death in April 2010. Elegant and gracious, she loved meeting students with whom she shared the unforgettable message: “If you ever lose everything, there are two things you will be left with: your education and love in your heart.”
The wedding photograph of Alfons and Felicia Haberfeld will be displayed in the Auschwitz exhibition in New York until January 3, 2020. It is also included in the 240-page catalog for this exhibit, available at most online book stores. The Haberfeld photos and artifacts are on permanent exhibit at the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library in the Leatherby Libraries on the Chapman University campus. Guests may view these artifacts, as well as related items, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Group tours can be scheduled by contacting the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education.
To learn more about Felicia Haberfeld, view her testimony online.
Tiana Taliep is an Archivist for the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library and Archive at Chapman University since September 2017. Previously, she worked as a Processing Archivist at the New York Public Library. Tiana earned her B.A. in History from Brooklyn College, and Master’s in Library and Information Science with a certification in Archives and Preservation of Cultural Material from Queens College. She is a second-year student in the War and Society Mater’s program at Chapman University.