A Jewish couple saved a church. Their generosity ended up saving Jewish lives
Solomon and Esther Ueberall raised the necessary funds to keep a church open in New York City. Decades later, during the Holocaust, their generosity was rewarded in a remarkable way.
Solomon and Esther Ueberall, a newly married Jewish couple, owned a small merchandise store on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn in 1913. Both were immigrants, he from Austria, she from Russia, whose families came to America to the United States. seeking refuge from religious persecution.
One day Father George Caruana, the young priest of the local Italian church in Saint Lucia, walked into the store to buy a pair of laces.
“What’s the matter? Why are you looking so sad?” Solomon asked him.
The priest explained to Solomon that the mortgage on his church storefront was due soon, but that he was unable to raise the additional $ 500 needed to pay it off. He had been going door-to-door asking parishioners to donate as much as they could, but it was still not enough to cover the considerable payment owed ($ 500 was worth $ 14,000 in today’s currency. hui).
Solomon and Esther Ueberall
Father George felt it was likely that they would lose their church. Saddened by the prospect of no place for Sunday worship, he decided to go for a walk and pray for guidance when he noticed Solomon’s store.
Listening intently, Solomon was touched by the priest’s words about these poor immigrants about to lose their place of worship due to lack of funds. As Father Caruana turned to leave the store with his shoelaces on, Solomon called him and reassured him, “Don’t worry, I’ll get the money for you.
The unbelieving priest simply waved his hand and continued. Solomon’s wife Esther was even more skeptical, unable to believe what she had heard.
They didn’t even have five dollars. Where were they going to find $ 500, valued at $ 14,000 at the time?
“Solomon, you know we don’t even have five dollars, where are we going to get $ 500?” ” she asked.
“Do you know those beautiful wedding gifts we received?” Well, we don’t need it right now, ”Solomon explained. “I can take them to the pawnshop and lend the money to the church. When they pay us back, we can get our gifts back, but until then people can worship in their church. “
With Esther’s agreement, Solomon brought all of their wedding gifts to the local pawnshop, but he was only able to receive a total of $ 250 for everything. Solomon was determined to keep his promise. He told Esther that he would borrow the rest of the money from members of his large extended family, uncles, brothers-in-law and cousins. Some were sympathetic to the cause, while others were reluctant. Eventually, little by little, he managed to get all of the $ 500 needed to pay off the church mortgage.
As promised, Father Caruana and successive pastors were at the Ueberall store every Monday morning with part of the Sunday collections until the debt to Solomon was fully repaid.
Father George Caruana
In 1914, the new church building was largely completed. When Father Caruana transferred to a church in Queens to be its pastor, he and Solomon said goodbye to each other. They lost touch as the congregation grew and the Ueberall Notions Store expands to become the Ueberall Department Store. After Solomon’s death in 1920 from a heart attack, Esther continued to operate the department store with the help of her family.
Calls for help
Years later, as Hitler’s army spread to other European countries, Esther began to receive letters from Solomon’s relatives and friends in Austria. They were asking for help in seeking admission to America to avoid Nazi concentration camps. Esther worked tirelessly to secure visas for many of them, but the letters continued to arrive as immigration quotas were filled. The letters were so heartbreaking that Esther was very grieved and did not want to give up. Just as her husband had persisted in collecting money for the church, she struggled to save the lives of her family members.
As Hitler’s army expanded to other European countries, Esther began receiving letters from Solomon’s relatives and friends in Austria asking for help.
As a last resort, she traveled to Washington DC, where she visited staff from various federal organizations and offices, including State Department immigration officials. No one had any solutions.
Reaching desperation, a young man from the Ministry of Labor told him that European refugees could still find refuge in Cuba if a prominent person vouched for them and assured the Cuban government that they would not become a burden on the State.
At first Esther felt encouraged by this information, seeing it as a beacon of hope. But on the way back to Brooklyn, her hopes were shattered when she realized she didn’t know anyone in Cuba. Then it occurred to him that Cuba was a Catholic country. She went directly to Saint Lucia Church where she met the current parish priest, Father Anthony De Liberty. She told him that she desperately needed his help. He gave her a letter of introduction and telegraphed to the papal nuncio in Cuba, informing him of the situation and of Esther’s imminent arrival in Cuba.
The priest in Havana
With many lives at stake, Esther wasted no time and flew to Havana two days later. As she got off the plane, a young boy gave her a bouquet of roses. Puzzled, she looked up and saw a slender priestly figure, dressed in red, standing there and smiling at him. Extending his arms outward he asked, “Esther Ueberall, don’t you remember me?
Looking at him in disbelief, she whispered, “Father Caruana…” and burst into tears.
He explained that he was now Archbishop and Pope’s Nuncio in Cuba, and fully aware of the purpose of his visit as described by the cable from Father De Liberty that he received. He promised Esther that he would do everything in his power to help her in this urgent situation.
Archbishop Caruana succeeded in getting more than two dozen of Solomon’s family members to escape Hitler and enter Cuba.
As they were led back to her office, she wondered aloud, “How come after all these years we would be reunited in Cuba, and you, Archbishop?”
He explained that in 1921 he was appointed bishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico and later assigned to papal diplomatic posts in Mexico and Haiti. Finally, in 1935, he was appointed apostolic nuncio to Cuba by the Vatican. This prominent position enabled him to deal directly with the Cuban government. His office became even more influential when his friend in Rome, Cardinal Pacelli, became Pope Pius XII in 1939.
Through hard and persistent work, Archbishop Caruana managed to get more than two dozen of Solomon’s family members to escape Hitler and enter Cuba. While awaiting visas for America, they were prohibited from working in Cuba and provided them with accommodation and food, including kosher meat.
Esther was eternally grateful to the Archbishop. A few years after the end of the war, he fell ill and was sent to a hospital in Philadelphia where Esther visited him before his death. Italian immigrants to Brooklyn also remembered the generosity of their Jewish benefactors. As they finished building their church, they inserted a Star of David in the center of the ceiling grids.
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