About a week ago I saw a story in the news about a woman named Gerda Garbatzky of Long Island, New York. Gerda died March 16 from complications related to COVID-19, she was 90.
Gerda was born on Nov. 28, 1929, in Vienna, Austria. She was an only child who, at 6, lost her mother to breast cancer, and, who, at 9, saw her father and remaining family taken away to a concentration camp, where they all died. Gerda managed to escape on the Kindertransport, a train organized by British Jews to bring thousands of Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Poland to live with foster families in England.
Though her new home in Birmingham, England, was destroyed during the bombing of England during World War II, she survived. After the war was over, she was at work one day when her foster parents called her to say her only surviving relative, an aunt who had fled Austria before the war, had sent a ticket for her to come to New York.
She was 17 when she arrived in New York on March 1, 1947. She met her future husband, David, in a coffee shop in New York. David had been born in Germany, but his family had fled to New York before the war, and he had enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in the war against the Germans. They married in June 1949.
Gerda and David lived in Manhattan and raised two daughters. Gerda did the books for the laundromat they owned, and after David died in 1987, she lived alone, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, until she moved into a senior living complex in Huntington, near where Michelle (her daughter) lived, in October 2010.
Her grandson, Geoffrey Sorensen, Michelle’s son, visited her often.
“The first thing I would say is she was full of love,’’ Geoffrey Sorensen said. “Everything she did was for her family.’’
“She was born in a tough time, and she died in a tough time,’’ her daughter said. “She had a lot of happy times in between.’’
Her story touched me so deeply and reminded me of my own grandmother whom we lost almost a year ago to sepsis. My Grandma Vidalina was about the same age as Gerda and I was just so thankful in that moment that I had been able to be on the phone with my grandmother when she passed and that my mom was singing to her...the same song I sang at my grandfather's funeral 20 plus years ago.
When I heard the story of Gerda, they said she had a thing for butterflies and I immediately knew I needed to do something special in her memory. The women in my family also have a special connection to butterflies and I knew I had the perfect fabric to do something special. I contacted Gerda's daughter and with her blessing and that of Gerda's family I am doing this mask called "Gerda's Butterflies". A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this mask will go to Gerda's favorite charity, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.