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Friday, July 20, 2018

How Mumbai streets gave new lease of life to 2 generations of Jew family

History has repeated itself for two generations of Jews from the same family who found comfort on the streets of Mumbai...

Written by Shyam Bhatia | London | Published: January 13, 2009 1:03:20 am

History has repeated itself for two generations of Jews from the same family who found comfort on the streets of Mumbai as they sought to avoid and evade the attention of murdering anti-Semites.

In fact,the unchanging generosity and comfort offered by ordinary Mumbaikars helps to highlight what happened to Herschel Cinowitz during the World War II and 67 years later to his grand nephew,Jonathan Ehrlich.

Back in 1941,Cinowitz was one of the few survivors from the small Polish town of Yedwabne that was overrun by the Nazis. Their storm troopers forced local Jews to dig their own graves into which they were interred after being burned alive.

Cinowitz was one of the lucky ones who managed to escape and make his way to safety and salvation in Bombay,later Mumbai. He never forgot the Nazis,but he also never forgot the kindness and help he received from ordinary Indians on the streets of Mumbai.

Fast forward to November 2008 when the son of Cinowitz’s nephew — his grand nephew Jonathan Ehrlich — found himself trapped by terrorists.

His heart-rending account of survival,documented in blogs,has been praised for its Pulitzer-winning quality of writing.

Vancouver-based Ehrlich,who works for an Internet company,was visiting Mumbai last November when the terrorists launched their deadly attacks on the Taj and Oberoi hotels,as well as the Chabad Jewish centre on Nariman Point.

Fortunately for Ehrlich,who was staying at the Trident,he did not respond to the knock at his door late one night as the terrorists swarmed across the hotel corridors looking for victims.

He had an early morning flight to catch,so he turned down an invitation to join some friends for a drink in the hotel bar. He describes that as his life-saving decision number 1.

An hour later,there was that fateful knock at his door,followed by the ringing of the doorbell. “I thought who the hell is knocking at my door? Turndown service? This late? Forget it. So I just lay there and hoped they would go away,” he added. For him,this was life-saving decision number 2.

“Two minutes later,there was a massive explosion. The whole hotel shook,and I knew something was wrong,” Ehrlich explained in a blog that has been circulating around the world,prompting readers to praise its high quality of writing.

“I ran out into the hallway,I heard the word bomb. Then adrenalin just kicked into an overdrive. I went in,threw my stuff together and picked up my bags,ran down the stairs [and went into the lobby area.”

Explaining that there were no hotel staff or police in the lobby,only puzzled guests milling around,Ehrlich went on,“It’s not a good scene. There was glass everywhere,blood and stuff. I took a couple of steps in and realised it was not the way to go,so then I went back in [the lobby and people were still standing around. I just said,‘We got to get out of here!’ so I started running towards the exit.”

As he ran out of the hotel,he heard police yelling “run!”

“I started screaming ‘airport,airport’ and one of the guys from the hotel grabbed me and my bags and threw me in a cab and took me to the airport.”

Ehrlich remains eternally grateful to the hotel chef who found him a cab for the mad dash to the airport,and to the cab driver.

Small wonder,then,that the Vancouver businessman believes he is both blessed and lucky to be reunited with his family. He describes how he is married to the “kindest heart on the face of the earth” and blessed with four happy and healthy children.

Nor does he forget the “kind,kind people of Mumbai,including the wonderfully kind hotel staff. That cook. My cab driver who constantly said ‘relaxation’,‘relaxation’,‘l help’ and other people in traffic who literally risked life and limb to stop traffic to let us get by”.

To friends,he says Mumbai is “a tragically beautiful place. Incredibly sad. But I am convinced that its inhabitants are definitely children of some troubled but immensely soulful god”.

Back in the safety of his Canadian home,Ehrlich now has time to reflect on the historical irony of what happened to grand uncle Herschel Cinowitz in the middle of the World War II as he looked for help,any help to survive.

“At the time Mumbai was his salvation. I’m only seeing it now.”

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