How a Family Cabin Helped Create a Legacy

In 1950, Harold Greene, a metalworker living in San Bruno, and his sister Eleonore Gruenebaum, wanted to buy a weekend getaway. Harold and his friends liked to hike in the Boulder Creek area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and one day he stumbled upon a cabin for sale.

The cabin, built in 1902 with old redwood on half an acre of the land, offered just what Harold was seeking — hiking, seclusion, and perhaps most of all, a happy reminder of his and Eleonore's childhood in the Black Forest of Germany.

Harold and Eleonore's cabin
 

Harold and Eleonore bought the cabin for $3,500 and it has since appreciated 100-fold. This year, he and Eleonore gifted these proceeds to the Federation in the form of two life Charitable Gift Annuities, in each of their names, ensuring them both a supplemental income for life with the remainder going to support the Jewish community.

“It brought a part of our childhood, which was the blessed part, into our memories," says Harold from the breakfast nook of the house he and Eleonore share in San Bruno.

Harold, 94 and Eleonore, 93, grew up with their mother in a small town in the Black Forest where they owned a farm that had been in their family for generations. It featured an orchard, a vegetable garden and berry patch, as well as various hiking trails. For young Harold and Eleonore, it was paradise.

A childhood portrait of Eleonore and Harold
 

In the early 1930s everything changed.

The Nazi Party began its persecution of the Jews. In 1936, Harold’s mother managed to get 12-year-old Harold to the United States on a children’s transport — an organized rescue effort that took place prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, where children were placed in foster homes, hostels, schools, and farms. The situation worsened. Two years later, the synagogue in their town was burned.

“I was in school in Freiburg when that happened," says Eleonore. “I came back home, but as soon as we got there, they took us to a concentration camp."

Eleonore spent two years in a concentration camp before a Jewish organization helped a number of children escape and hid them in a convent basement in France.

“Whenever the Germans came through [the convent], the nuns would put us with French families pretending that we were maids or watching after children,” she says.

Meanwhile, Harold had settled in the Bay Area, as a local Jewish agency had placed him in a home in San Francisco.

Harold was a country boy, he hated the city, so he was subsequently sent to live with a German Jewish family in Los Altos that had an orchard and a chicken ranch. However, he was forced into doing manual labor including household chores and farm work, which left little time for his schoolwork. When he was 15, he ran away. Harold eventually returned, and upon his request, was placed with another family nearby. This turned out to be a better fit and allowed him to focus on his studies and graduate from Mountain View High School. “I was part of a family,” he says.

Harold found work as a sheet metalworker at Western Pipe in South San Francisco. He worked hard, saving money to be able to support his sister and mother, in case they survived the war.

In 1945, Harold and Eleonore found each other again.

“That was a miracle,” he says. “She was in France while it was occupied by the Germans. She was hiding, and she was even part of the underground. But she knew, from the period before the war, that I was living in Los Altos. Through the Red Cross she sent a 25-word card, written in French under an assumed name. I received the card and couldn't read it, but I recognized the handwriting.”

In 1946, Eleonore arrived in New York by boat. Harold bought her a plane ticket for San Francisco. He was 21 and she was 20, and they were reunited for the first time in nearly 10 years. Their mother sadly, did not survive the concentration camps.

Fast forward a few years later. They bought the Boulder Creek cabin and it became the center of their lives.

Harold working on the cabin
 

Harold expanded the cabin, initially adding a road to make it accessible to automobiles, then a bridge over the creek, two more bedrooms, a breakfast area, a new kitchen, and a carport. Over the next 70 years, they rarely missed a weekend visit up there.

This past summer, as aging made traveling more difficult, Harold and Eleanor decided to put the cabin up for sale. With a strong desire to give back to the community that supported them when they first came to California, they contacted the Federation to make their gift.

“Both of us have to thank the Federation and the United States for giving us the chance to live a life," says Harold. "Let’s say we felt very grateful for having opportunity to live the life we did."

Categories: Community, Philanthropy

Posted

November 19, 2018

Author

Jackie Krentzman

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