Malvina Rosengarten, 88; antiques dealer fled Holocaust
Malvina (Langberg) Rosengarten grew up in the small Austrian town of Krems along the banks of the Danube River in the 1930s. Her idyllic childhood began to crumble when the Nazi regime detained her father Saul and closed down her Jewish high school.
Her parents sensed the impending danger and fled with Malvina to China at the dawn of World War II. They spent the war living in a ghetto in Shanghai. Her passport eventually was stamped “NATIONLESS.’’
“We missed our Vaterland [homeland] and could not comprehend being Jewish was to be driven to live somewhere else and being homeless and without any means of support. Our parents were so devastated having lost all their worldly possessions. We had no explanation for our terrible life and hoped that in a short time Hitler will be defeated and we can return to our former life,’’ Mrs. Rosengarten wrote in a family memoir.
Mrs. Rosengarten, a retired Cape Cod antiques dealer, died Aug. 30 at an assisted living facility in Peabody from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. She was 88.
Her relatives who remained in Europe perished in the Holocaust, including Mrs. Rosengarten’s 10-year-old cousin Elifee, who was murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz in her mother’s arms, her family said.
In China, Mrs. Rosengarten and her family faced persecution from Japanese forces that invaded Shanghai and planned to continue the genocide. They were saved when the war ended, and they immigrated by ship to San Francisco in 1947.
She met the man she would marry, Erich, in their ghetto in Shanghai. Their marriage license is written in Chinese on a scroll. On her wedding day, Mrs. Rosengarten wore borrowed nylon stockings and celebrated by splitting a stick of chewing gum with her husband, she told her family. They were married 55 years and had two children. Erich died in 2002.
The Rosengartens eventually moved from California to Connecticut and then to the Bronx, where Erich worked as a kosher butcher in New York. They came to Boston in 1956, when her husband was offered a job with the meatpacking firm of Morrison & Schiff.
Mrs. Rosengarten struggled to cope with her new life of postwar prosperity and peace, her family said.
“She never felt safe,’’ said her daughter Susan Fader of Marblehead. “She lived with constant fear . . . She was a wonderful woman who lived on a daily basis with what she had been through.’’
Mrs. Rosengarten assimilated with the help of her friend Helen Copeman. The women met when their daughters were in the fourth grade in Newton schools in the 1960s and they chaperoned a class field trip into Boston to see historic sites.
“She was the most elegant, warm-hearted person you ever want to meet,’’ Copeman said. “She was a true friend, and she was a survivor.’’
Mrs. Rosengarten began collecting antiques to decorate her home and later started her own business. She ran a shop called Malvina’s Antiques in Osterville in the 1970s, according to her daughter.
“She always dressed impeccably and [had] marvelous taste,’’ Copeman said. “I just really miss her terribly.’’
In addition to her daughter Susan, Mrs. Rosengarten leaves a son, Bert, of Medfield. Services have been held.