April 16, 2009

Overcoming Obstacles: One Woman’s Success Story

Some people crumble when faced with adversity, but not Alta Frohman. The 89-year-old native of Poland has encountered considerable obstacles over the course of her life, but has always overcome them with remarkable fortitude and grace.
As a young woman she survived the Holocaust, enduring 18 months in a work camp in frigid Siberia. She married what ultimately turned out to be a selfish man, unwilling and unable to support her and their children. She left him, traipsing across continents, seeking a better life for her two children. Defying the social mores of the time, the single mother went to work, never asking for handouts from the government.
Her strong, independent will, combined with her positive attitude and determined work ethic, set a wonderful example for her children and grandchildren, who are now all grown and very successful.
“My ambition was to raise my kids well, like my parents raised me,” said Frohman, who has certainly fulfilled her vow.
The resident of Woodbridge recently reflected on her life. She was born Alta Rozenes in 1919 to a middle class family in Silesia, Poland, near the German border. Her father operated a small shop in Bendzin, selling chocolates and other traditional European goods. Her parents sent her to high school (a fact she is very proud of), while her younger brother, Abraham, attended a yeshiva.
At age 18 she was beautiful, educated and had a good job working at a bank. She married a cousin, a rabbi named Moshe Frohman. Life seemed promising; however Germany annexed Bendzin and conditions began to deteriorate for Polish Jews. Her husband suggested that they go to Palestine, so the couple fled to the Russian side of Poland, hoping to escape to what is now the state of Israel.
Alta was forced to leave her family behind. “I never saw my parents again,” she says with tears in her eyes. She later learned that they perished at Auschwitz.
While en route to the Russian side of Poland, Alta and Moshe Frohman were captured and sent to a Siberian work camp where they were forced to cut down trees and clear railroad tracks of snow and ice.
“It was 40 degrees below zero for three-quarters of the year,” recalls Frohman. While they were not beaten, she said the daily food ration was very meager — a few small blintzes and a tiny piece of bread with stones in it. After a year and a half, political alliances shifted and they were released because they had Polish citizenship.
She spent some time in Uzbekistan, on the border of Iran, and her first child, a son, was born. After the war she bounced around Europe, trying to locate her lost family. In time she had another child, a daughter. She began corresponding with an aunt in Israel, who informed her that her beloved brother Abraham was still alive and living in Israel.
With her marriage unraveling, she fled to Israel in 1951 with her two young children, Dov and Chaya. Her husband left for the United States, settling in Philadelphia.
Although she reunited with her brother, life in Israel was less than ideal. Staying in a camp for new arrivals, Frohman was shocked at how limited the resources were in the newly established state.
“My kids were war kids. They gave us one egg a week,” said Frohman, who yearned to provide her youngsters with steak.
In 1955 she made the decision to immigrate to the United States. “I arrived in America with nothing. I had two suitcases for three people,” she said. Although her estranged husband was working as a rabbi in a synagogue, he didn’t want to help her financially and wanted no contact with his children.
Fluent in German, Polish, Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew, she tackled English, which she now says is her best language. With resolute determination she went to work, which was unusual for women in that era.
“I heard about a gentleman who owned a military equipment company. I applied for a filing job. I told him: If I’m not good, I’ll leave on my own. You won’t have to fire me,” she said. She wound up working for the company until her retirement at age 70.
Like many other hard-working immigrants, Frohman went to night school to learn bookkeeping, and she became an American citizen. With her modest salary, she was able to provide her daughter with braces, send her son to college, and eventually purchase a condo in Philly.
“Look at what I did,” exclaimed Frohman, who is grateful to this country for giving her the opportunity to succeed.
In 2000 the perky and diminutive senior returned to her homeland with members of her family. In Poland they paid an impromptu visit to the house she grew up in. After a nice chat, the delighted owner presented her with an oil painting of the house — a gift that she cherishes.
After suffering a fall in Phil­adelphia, her son Dov Shazeer, who lives in Swampscott, brought her to Woodbridge. She has lived there now for two years.
An avid reader, she has gone through almost all the books in the Woodbridge Library. The octogenarian also likes to sew and is adept with a computer.
Her tidy apartment is filled with photographs of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Gazing at the pictures and qvelling over their achievements fills Frohman with joy, for despite all she has personally accomplished in life, her greatest ambition was to raise a nice family, and she has done just that.