Originally appeared in the Omaha “Jewish Press” in 2022
To pay homage to his parents, Fred Tichauer committed funds to the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation to create the Walter and Helena Tichauer Holocaust Survivors Reflection Garden on the JCC campus. Fred also established the Walter and Helena Tichauer Memorial Endowment for the Institute for Holocaust Education at the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation to cover future repair and maintenance costs of the garden. Fred said that initially, he did not plan on a memorial garden, but in discussing various opportunities to honor his parents, a memorial garden occurred to him. He said:
“I hope it will become a peaceful and beautiful spot for special events, and for anyone to sit, reflect, and dream. I could not think of a more appropriate memorial.”
Fred’s daughter, Kelly Kirk, agreed with her father about naming a memorial garden for Helena and Walter. Fred said:
“We wanted the garden to be a memorial for them, but there’s more. We also want to ensure the memories of the 6,000,000 Jews and others that perished in the Holocaust will never be forgotten.”
Helena Schulkind was born and raised in Krakow, Poland. She was 16 years old at the start of World War II. Helena, her brother, sister and parents lived a comfortable life before the war, with three-month vacations at resort locations during school breaks. Within a few days after the start of the war, the Germans reached Krakow, and a curfew was enforced. After four or five months, Helena’s family was sent to the ghetto, where they remained for a year.
Helena’s brother was sent to Auschwitz, where he died. Helena, her father, mother and grandmother were sent to the Plaszow concentration camp, while sister Lola was sent to a different camp. Helena’s grandmother was killed at Plaszow.
Helena spent a few months working as a forced laborer at an ammunition factory located away from Plaszow before returning to join her family. She worked long, hard hours with very little food. Towards the end of the war, Helena and her mother were sent to Auschwitz for two weeks. Helena protected her mother from the death selection process there, and they were sent to Bergen-Belsen and then taken to Birkenau for a short time. They then returned to Bergen-Belsen and remained there until the liberation.
After the liberation, they went to Hamburg and remained there until July of 1945. Helena heard of a transport to Sweden, and chose to take the transport due to her mother’s ill health. Helena’s mother was placed in a sanitorium, while Helena found employment at the Swedish facility. They remained in Sweden for a year.
Remembering that she had an uncle in Montevideo, Uruguay, Helena wrote a letter to the police department there asking for help in finding him. Her uncle was a successful and well-known man, and he sent Helena and her mother money to travel to Uruguay. Helena’s uncle and aunt welcomed her and her mother, inviting them to live at their home. Helena soon found a job taking care of a two-year old boy, who had a Romanian father and French mother. One day her employer had visitors who were originally from Krakow. The visitors knew Helena’s parents during the time they all lived in Krakow. This connection influenced her employer to help Helena. He purchased a delicatessen for Helena, which had living quarters for her and her mother. Regardless of her hard work, the shop was not particularly successful due to Helena’s lack of Spanish and not having the right equipment to run the deli.
Helena started to socialize once she was settled and employed. She became involved with the German society as well as the Jewish society. Through her new friends, Helena met Walter Tichauer. They were engaged a month after meeting, and married three months later. Helena and Walter had two sons, Carl and Fred. Fred said:
“Life was good for us in Uruguay because of my parents. They never complained or felt sorry for themselves. They did a fantastic job being role models despite their cards. I have nothing to complain about, mainly because of the hard life they lived.”
Walter immigrated to Uruguay after Kristallnacht. His parents had started the paperwork for his immigration before the war. Before the immigration process was complete, he spent a week at Buchenwald. Once the paperwork was approved, he was released. Walter was from Gliwice, Germany. He was a talented glazer and learned his craft at a prestigious school in Germany. One day after their marriage, Helena decided to close her delicatessen and turn it into a shop for Walter’s business. Walter found great success as a glazer in Montevideo.
Walter and Helena moved to Omaha in June 1963. With the unrest created after Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, the Tichauers did not feel completely safe in Uruguay. The family originally planned to move to Israel, but at the insistence of Helena’s sister, Lola Reinglas, they stopped in Omaha first. The family fell in love with the city and decided to stay.
Walter had a difficult transition from Uruguay to Omaha. He only spoke German and Spanish, never learning English. He was unable to work at the craft that gave him success in Montivideo, due to his age of 55. It took him some time to find employment, but eventually he did find hourly work at Builders Supply.
“My dad was special,” Fred said, “and the best role model any child could ask for. He never complained, worked hard, and was a very proud man.”
Helena was also hard-working and very enterprising. She owned a hardware store in north Omaha, she was a manicurist, she owned a wig shop, and she and Walter owned a Spanish import shop at the Westroads called Galeon Imports. Life in Omaha was harder financially, but the Tichauers worked hard to provide their sons with a good, safe and loving home.
“Despite their many challenges,” Fred said, “they gave my brother and me a wonderful life. I remember it as if it was yesterday, but the most important lesson they taught me was to work hard, not complain, find your way, and be productive.”
In Omaha, the Tichauer family faced the challenges of learning a new language, supporting their family and navigating in another new country. Fred, at 13 years old, was immediately enrolled in Monroe Junior High School summer school to learn English. The reading material was still very challenging to Fred when he enrolled at Lewis and Clark Middle School in the fall. Fred claims that there was a chair reserved for him in the Lewis and Clark’s principal’s office. He said that to compensate for his insecurities as an immigrant and new student, he tended to act up and he got into fights over anti-Semitic comments made to him and his friends.
Fred credits Steve Pitlor with being his first friend and mentor, and remaining a life-long friend. Steve’s parents, Norm and Rose, offered their help and guidance, which was very valuable to him. As far as his educational future went, he believes that sports were the reason he attended college. He became skillful at soccer while growing up in Uruguay. In Omaha he was invited to play soccer in an adult men’s league. In 9th grade he tried out for Lewis and Clark’s football team at the suggestion of his friend Barry Cohn. Fred was the original soccer-style kicker in Nebraska. He then went to Central High, where he garnered the attention of UNO’s coach Al Caniglia. He was offered a full scholarship at UNO, and kicked all four years for the university.
Helena’s educational and career goals were never realized due to the war. Fred said that his mother dreamed of becoming a physician, but that dream never came to fruition. In spite of Helena’s education ending at age 16, Fred feels that she achieved her own special title of doctor:
“She was a doctor in survival skills and life,” he said.
Despite their losses, the Tichauers never gave up and never sucombed to self-pity. They raised a family, and created new and promising lives for their sons in America.
“They taught us about perseverance, hard work, being ethical, and doing right by people, and most of all, they used to tell me that we could do anything we wanted in this country,” Fred said. “I am 100% certain that their life lessons were so critical that they helped me achieve some of my success. I know I am a product of the American dream because of them. They lost their freedom but regained it and made the best of their unfortunate situation. I am so proud of what they accomplished.”