105 years and counting

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Thursday, March 16, 2017 1:48 pm EDT

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Thousand Oaks Acorn

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In 1939, on the eve of World War IIMarta Broido, 27, did her part to help 650 Jews escape Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.

Last week, she celebrated her 105th birthday at Sunrise Senior Living in Thousand Oaks.

Broido was born Marta Steiner on March 6, 1912, in central Europe. She grew up in Czechoslovakia and enjoyed a comfortable childhood in an atmosphere of knowledge and culture. Her father was a professor of language in Prague, the country’s capital.

Her father died in 1930, and in the following years Adolf Hitler gained power. He became chancellor of Germany in 1933 and eliminated rights for Jews and non-Aryan ethnic groups. In 1938 Germany invaded an area of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland.

“The surrounding world had become throbbing. A threatening dragon was about to swallow us. Excitement among all the people, and Jews in particular, was high,” Broido wrote in a narrative she used when she spoke to students and groups about her experience.

Fearing for their lives, many Jewish families in Czechoslovakia sold all their goods and prepared to leave the country.

“The price was exorbitant, but nobody cared,” Broido said.

In 1938, she and her mother, Kamila Steiner, and sister Valery registered with a group coordinating transportation of unsanctioned refugees to Palestine.

Broido became a leader in the undertaking, helping to register people for the journey and encouraging her relatives to come along.

“She saved my life,” said Broido’s cousin, Richard Jilovsky, who was 6 years old when he and his parents joined the transport.

“My parents weren’t sure what to do, but Valery and Marta talked them into leaving. Otherwise we would have perished in the Holocaust,” Jilovsky said.

Hitler’s troops occupied Prague in March 1939. A month later, Broido and the other refugees left on a train to Vienna, where they took a boat down the Danube River to the Black Sea in Romania, finally boarding a cargo ship called Frossoula that was to take them to Palestine.

The sea voyage began April 30 and took much longer than anticipated, partly because Britishruled Palestine was restricting entry for Jewish refugees.

“The British wouldn’t let us in,” Jilovsky said

The ship was allowed to land in French-ruled Lebanon, where the passengers stayed in a camp for about two months. Later they were able to gain passage on another transport ship, the Tiger Hill, that was carrying 750 Jewish refugees to Palestine.

The Tiger Hill, now with 1,400 unsanctioned refugees on board, ran aground in Tel Aviv on Sept. 1, 1939.

“They intentionally ran the ship onto the beach. When that happens you can’t be turned back,” Jilovsky said.

He and Broido lost their maternal grandfather, as well an uncle and his wife, in the Holocaust.

Broido met Adolf Daniel Broido in Palestine. They married in 1940 and had one child, Tami, in 1942. In 1946 they immigrated to the U.S.

Marta Broido was a professional model and did some acting. She lived in Woodland Hills for many years with her husband, an industrial engineer who died in 1976.

Broido, who has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, has lived at Sunrise for 11 years. Her family and caretakers joined her for a birthday celebration March 5.

“She’s a riot,” said Angel Gonzalez, a care manager at Sunrise who gently serenaded her during the party. Broido smiled and her eyes glimmered as Gonzalez gave her a birthday kiss. Broido speaks six languages, is adept in math and interested in technology. Even at 105, she doesn’t take any medications.

Her daughter, Tami Eckhart, chalks up her mother’s long life to innate curiosity.

“She always wanted to live forever to see what’s next,” Eckhart said.

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