Tema Bauer, who was one of the oldest Holocaust survivors in Illinois until her death at 105, seen here at her 100th birthday celebration.

Tema Bauer, who was one of the oldest Holocaust survivors in Illinois until her death at 105, seen here at her 100th birthday celebration.

Provided

‘Nobody came back alive’ — Tema Bauer, one of Illinois’ oldest Holocaust survivors, has died at 105

She lost all 38 family members and her right arm to the Nazis but found a new life in Chicago with fellow survivor Morris Bauer, who ‘told her that she need not worry about the future because he would always take care of her.’

SHARE ‘Nobody came back alive’ — Tema Bauer, one of Illinois’ oldest Holocaust survivors, has died at 105
SHARE ‘Nobody came back alive’ — Tema Bauer, one of Illinois’ oldest Holocaust survivors, has died at 105

Tema Bauer made delicious kreplach, borscht, chicken matzoh ball soup and mandel bread.

Everyone wanted second helpings of her cinnamon-scented kugel and apple slices.

Her gefilte fish — a dish at risk for becoming gelatinous goo in the hands of inexperienced cooks —were fluffy patties of briney goodness.

She chopped, seasoned and stirred, kept a spotless house and sewed her children’s buttons.

At times, Mrs. Bauer needed a little help lifting a heavy pot. A Holocaust survivor, she’d lost most of her right arm in an explosion at a factory in Leipzig, Germany, where she and other slave laborers were forced to make munitions during World War II.

Always, her husband Morris was there to help.

When he saw her walking down a street in Lodz, Poland, after the war, he recognized the pretty girl he’d noticed years before at his brother’s wedding.

“He saw that she was missing her right arm,” their son Michael later wrote, “and told her that she need not worry about the future because he would always take care of her.”

Tema and Morris Bauer in the 1940s.

Tema and Morris Bauer in the 1940s.

Provided

They had survived hunger and forced labor and death marches and lost all of their closest relatives in the Holocaust.

But they immigrated to Chicago and built a life, opening a shoe-repair shop on Devon Avenue in East Rogers Park, living behind a plywood divider in the back of the store. They raised two sons: Michael, who became a lawyer and political strategist, and Jerry, who became a neurosurgeon.

“They were inseparable,” Jerry Bauer said of his parents. “They were a team.”

When Morris Bauer began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease, Mrs. Bauer nursed him for eight years until her husband of nearly half a century died in 1995.

“She took care of him in the same way he took care of her,” Jerry Bauer said. “She would never consider putting him in a nursing home. It was like payback. With one arm, she was taking care of him.”

Once, after visiting a nursing facility, “Tema looked straight at me and told me that Morris had saved her life, and she wasn’t going to put him away anyplace,” Michael Bauer wrote in a 2018 story about his parents for Jewish Chicago magazine. She found a caregiver to help, and “Morris stayed at home.”

“She provided the moral code in our family,” Jerry Bauer said. “She taught us how to think and how to be nice to other people.”

Mrs. Bauer, of Morton Grove, who died March 23, was 105 years old and had been one of the oldest Holocaust survivors in Illinois.

“That she could go through such a nightmarish experience and come out to be such a gentle and loving individual, I just think she’s the most remarkable person I’ve ever met,” Michael Bauer said in an oral history for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Growing up in a Jewish family in Lodz, she was the youngest of Hendel and Chil Posalska’s nine children. Her father Chil dealt in cattle.

When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, her siblings decided to move the parents to a smaller town, thinking it might be safer, according to a 2016 tribute to Mrs. Bauer entered into the congressional record by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Young Tema — known then as Temcia — was supposed to close up the family home and follow them. But she was ordered into the Jewish ghetto in Lodz. And her relatives were sent to Chelmno, which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum describes as “the first stationary facility where poison gas was used for the mass murder of Jews.”

She’d never again see the 38 members of her family —her parents, her siblings Shmiel, Frania, Gutcha, Yosef, Barrish, Herschel, Mania and Sarah, their husbands and wives and 21 nieces and nephews.

“Nobody came back alive,” Mrs. Bauer said in the oral history in the museum’s collection.

For a time, she worked in the ghetto, first in a kitchen, then at a shoe factory.

“It was very bad: hunger, cold, sickness,” she said. “One bread, a small bread a week.”

In 1943, she was sent to the slave labor camp Skarżysko-Kamienna. During the three-day train journey to get there, the packed cars had “no room to sit, no water, no food and no bathroom facilities,” according to Schakowsky’s tribute.

Then, she was sent to work in the munitions factory in Leipzig, where she was injured during an explosion. Tema — who was right-handed — lost her right arm. A Jewish doctor helped her survive, amputating it above her elbow without any anesthesia or antibiotics, her son Michael wrote.

“I begged him not to help me. I wanted to die,” Mrs. Bauer said in her oral history. “I didn’t want to be left with one arm,” convinced that, unable to work as she had previously, it would mean “a bullet in my head.”

Two months after she lost her arm, she and other women laborers were ordered on a six-day death march toward the Elbe River.

“We were eating the grass, the dirty grass, from the fields,” Mrs. Bauer said in the oral history. “Cold, rain, without clothes . . . wooden shoes.”

As Allied forces drew near, the Nazi captors fled.

Seeking news of her family, she returned to Lodz, where she saw her future husband Morris, then called by his Yiddish name Moishe. He’d survived at least seven camps, their son Jerry said. German soldiers needed boots, and his skill as a cobbler kept him alive.

Tema and Morris Bauer lived in a displaced persons camp in Europe in the 1940s.

Tema and Morris Bauer lived in a displaced persons camp in Europe in the 1940s.

Provided

In 1945, they got married and wound up in a displaced-persons camp in Germany. They hoped to immigrate to Israel, but, because of the injury to her arm, “Israel wouldn’t or couldn’t take anyone who wasn’t capable of working or fighting in the Army,” Jerry Bauer said. “They were stuck in this displaced persons camp, which is where I was born.”

“Temcia was determined to prove that she would do with one hand what any other wife could do with two hands,” her son Michael wrote. “She was especially proud when she received an award one month for having the cleanest home in the [displaced persons] camp.”

Morris Bauer outside one of the two shoe-repair shops he operated at different times on Devon Avenue in East Rogers Park.

Morris Bauer outside one of the two shoe-repair shops he operated at different times on Devon Avenue in East Rogers Park.

Provided

In 1949, they arrived at Ellis Island and went on to Chicago. They lived for eight months or so on Grenshaw Street on the West Side before settling in East Rogers Park.

Her husband borrowed $1,758.38 from the Jewish Family and Community Service organization to open a shoe-repair shop on Devon Avenue. In time, he would also start doing custom work for orthopedic surgeons, modifying children’s shoes.

The Bauers were proud to say that, by 1956, they had paid back every penny of the loan.

A loan document for a loan from the Jewish Family and Community Service organization that helped the Bauers open their shoe-repair shop.

A loan from the Jewish Family and Community Service organization helped the Bauers open their shoe-repair shop.

Provided

Their friends were other Holocaust survivors.

“They would get together and talk — ‘I remember when you were beaten up, and I didn’t think you would make it,’ or ‘I was starving, and you gave me half a potato,’ ” Jerry Bauer said. “As a kid, it didn’t make any sense. As I got older, the significance really took hold.”

He said that he and his brother realized their family history was different from those of their classmates.

“We were talking about family vacations, and the teacher asked, ‘Did you see your aunts, uncles, cousins?’ I was thinking: What is that? I didn’t understand. What is a cousin exactly? I never knew my grandparents. Never had any aunts or uncles or cousins. My family was my mother and father and brother.”

Holocaust survivors Morris and Tema Bauer were married for nearly half a century.

Holocaust survivors Morris and Tema Bauer were married for nearly half a century.

Provided

“Mama Tema” would kvell over her three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, attending every birthday party, bar and bat mitzvah, graduation, recital, sports event and wedding.

Services for Mrs. Bauer have been held.

“When I was a young boy, my father said to me, ‘Someday, you’re going to be a famous doctor,’ ” Jerry Bauer said.

Then, he would turn to his other son Michael and say, “And you’re going to be a famous lawyer.”

Michael Bauer became a lawyer and political fundraiser who helped elect LGBTQ candidates including Mayor Lori Lightfoot before his death in 2019 from melanoma.

“We did what we could,” Jerry Bauer said, “to make them happy and proud of us.”

Tema Bauer (center front, wearing purple jacket) surrounded by her family at her 100th birthday celebration. Her son Jerry Bauer is seated to her left ,and son Michael is in the center of the back row.

Tema Bauer (center front, wearing purple jacket) surrounded by her family at her 100th birthday celebration. Her son Jerry Bauer is seated to her left, and son Michael is in the center of the back row.

Provided

The Latest
Lucas Giolito worked out of trouble early and finished strong over six innings of one-run ball Wednesday, exiting with a 2.63 ERA.
Ross said he took issue with the umpires not meeting to discuss whether Reds reliever Hunter Strickland had intentionally hit Cubs slugger Patrick Wisdom in the ninth inning.
After Monty’s unexpected death on Montrose Beach May 13 — and Rose’s unexpected absence — volunteers and piping plover fans came together to honor the couple’s memory.
Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone. After eating tart cherries, melatonin levels rise significantly in test subjects which often contributes to improved sleep.