The Museum lost a beloved member of our volunteer family on July 18, 2020 with the passing of Mrs. Jeannine Burk. Jeannine earned over 357 volunteer hours at the Museum beginning in July 2018. Although Jeannine was a relatively new addition to our volunteer corps, she was an integral member and seemed to have always been a part of the Museum family.
Jeannine was encouraged to volunteer by her friend and fellow Holocaust survivor Anne Skorecki Levy. Anne connected Jeannine with the Museum after she attended a panel discussion on March 21, 2018, Women of Courage: Anne Levy and Nicole Spangenberg, presented in partnership with the Junior League of New Orleans and the National Council of Jewish Women Greater New Orleans Section. During this program, Anne spoke about surviving the Holocaust with her family in Poland, first in ghettos and then in hiding. In 1949, the Skoreckis came to Louisiana and Anne graduated from high school in New Orleans. Jeannine came to New Orleans as an adult, where she joined Anne as a member of the New Americans Social Club, a group incorporated in 1961 by Holocaust survivors in the New Orleans area, both as a support network and as an agent against hate and Holocaust denial.
Jeannine Rafalowicz was born into a Jewish family in Brussels, Belgium on September 15, 1939. When she was three, Jeannine was taken on a streetcar ride with her father and a packed valise to the home of a Catholic woman. She was left there for two lonely and solitary years as a Hidden Child. After the war, Jeannine was briefly reunited with her mother, sister, and brother. The family searched for her father, asking groups of liberated Jews if they heard what happened to him to no avail. Her father had been taken by the Nazis, sent to Auschwitz and subsequently murdered. When her mother died of cancer, ten-year-old Jeannine remained with her sister (their much-older brother had started a family). The Rabbi at her Yiddish school recommended her as a good candidate for a charity designed to benefit war orphans by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) based in New York City. She and four other children from Allied countries were chosen to receive tuition and clothing. They were invited to go for a six-week stay in the States to thank the charity. The children’s photos along with the story made headline news in the papers. It was through this visit that distant family members got in touch with Jeannine’s sister. Jeannine came to America the day of her twelfth birthday, alone and with the chance of a better life. After a winding path from Brussels to the Bronx to New Orleans that included many unhappy years, Jeannine met the love of her life, Maurice, and had six children and many grandchildren. In 1985, Philadelphia played host to a survivor’s reunion. Jeannine and other survivors from New Orleans attended and it was there that she read in the meticulous German records that her father never made it out of Auschwitz. For the first time in her life, Jeannine stopped looking for her father and fantasizing that he would find her in New Orleans.
Jeannine was featured in Elizabeth Mullener’s 2002 book War Stories: Remembering World War II in which she addressed the pain involved in recounting her story, many decades later, “Sometimes I can tell my story without crying. And sometimes I can’t.” Nearly 20 years later, when Jeannine was profiled at the National WWII Museum by National Geographic as part of their series for the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, she stated, “I am 80 years old, and I still cry.” However hard it was for her, Jeannine told her story to visitors to the Museum. Fellow volunteer Lew Schuman said, “Jeannine relished in talking to young people about her experience whenever she was on duty as a volunteer.”
Jeannine’s warm presence blessed all those she met. Jeannine was a loving and caring person, looking after her fellow volunteers, especially WWII veterans. Lew Schuman remarked about Jeannine’s pride and love for her grandchildren, “Who else do you know with a personalized license plate with the word BUBBIE?” Jeannine became fast friends with everyone in the Museum. She was someone who was filled to the brim with light, life and pure joy! Jeannine’s smile, warmth and tight hugs will be sorely missed by everyone who interacted with her especially every Thursday.
Jeannine Burk’s oral history interview conducted by Oral Historian Hannah Dailey can be viewed here: https://www.ww2online.org/view/jeannine-burk
Collaboration by Kim Guise and Hannah Dailey