Third Generation Holocaust Survivor honors grandparents’ experience through new business
BY MATT FRANZBLAU
Dana Rogozinski, an active member of the Jacksonville Jewish community, has turned the love for her grandparents, Ella Rogozinski and Jakob Rogozinski (of blessed memory) and her appreciation of their past into a newfound endeavor, called The J & E Legacy Collection. This collection was inspired by the numbers ‘A5674’ which were tattooed on her grandmother’s arm and ‘56512’ which her grandfather was assigned, and carving them on precious pieces of sterling silver and 14k gold pendants, necklaces and cufflinks.
“I knew I wanted to do something to honor my grandparents’ legacy and sacrifice while giving back to our Holocaust community,” said the J & E founder. The notion of commemorating the stories of survival and ultimate heroism on something tangible was one that the third generation Holocaust survivor had deliberated for years, but it wasn’t until recently that she found the most dignified way to do it. Seeing the number fade on her 90-year old grandmother’s left forearm over the years, inspired Rogozinski to design and eventually create these Holocaust Remembrance Pieces.
“I wanted something that I could touch, feel and hold,” Rogonzinski said. “Something that I could have with me at all times, regardless of where I am. Jewelry is what came to mind. It is a very special thing to have because when you look at the piece, you remember why you have it, when you got it and who gave it to you.”
The very presence of jewelry holds a unique meaning as a result of her grandmother’s given trade as a jeweler. “My Nana was self-taught and spent her career at Underwood’s after moving to Jacksonville. On the weekends, I would go to her house and sit at the kitchen table as she taught me what she had learned throughout the years,” the young entrepreneur fondly remembered. Now the younger Rogozinski is taking a different kind of lesson from her grandmother and showing the rest of the community what she learned, and that’s the story of survival.
“The tattooed number on her forearm became a teaching tool, representing survival, resilience, courage, love and faith,” Dana explained. “During and after the war, their numbers were their identities. They lost their home, possessions and most, if not all of their entire family. Slowly, as they reclaimed their lives… the number became their story.”
With a purpose and a plan now in her view, the last piece of the puzzle was a most fitting one, asking for guidance from the very business that gave her grandmother a place to call home for nearly 50-years. “When I called Michael Richards, Senior Vice President at Underwood’s, he said ‘absolutely let me help you. If there is any way to honor Ella and Jakob, we’ll do it,’” she remembered of their initial conversation. Mr. Richards was eager to help make Dana’s dream come true as her grandmother played a pivotal role in the VP’s life, as they had a unique bond working side by side for more than 25 years.
In the throws of collaborating with Mr. Richards and Underwood’s, Dana made Aliyah to Israel for a year where she studied, worked and gained inspiration for her line. As her ideas and designs were exchanged, her concept became an International project.
Fast forward 10 months and the first ‘piece of history’ was born. The finished product was a simple and profound representation of the past, carrying hope for the future. “It’s not something that’s supposed to be elaborate. I want it simple, elegant and respectful. I want people to notice it and question its meaning,” Rogozinski described of her designs.
This small pendant with numbers on it created a powerful, lasting impression among family members. “It was supposed to be a keepsake for family and me,” she explained. Dana’s parents gifted her uncles a pair of carved-numbered cufflinks. “Immediately, my aunt and uncle called me in Israel and said they were the most magnificent tributes. My aunt Jeanine was so overcome that she immediately ordered necklaces and pendants for her entire family,” she remembered.
Instantly, The J & E Legacy Collection was established, out of a necessity and a need to keep these stories alive for generations to come. “When you first hear what I’m doing, you need some time to process it because there is nothing like it out there,” she explained. “What I’m trying to do, is remove the darkness behind the number and extract the essence of the Jewish people and their will to live.”
Now, Second and Third Generation Holocaust Survivors as well as those who want to carry on the legacy of survivors and souls lost in the genocide can do so in a dignified manner by putting these numbers on a variety of different wearable pieces. “Before we go any further,” Dana interjected, “a portion of every piece of history that is purchased will be donated to Holocaust Education, Scholarships and direct aid to survivors of the Shoah in Jacksonville. If I can make a difference, my life would be more meaningful,” she said.
“The Collection, which is generational, includes necklaces, pendants and cufflinks for men and women. Currently, all pieces come in either sterling silver or 14 karat gold,” Rogozinski explained of her evolving product line. “When you receive your piece of history, a legacy card is included with the jewelry. The card tells you the story of the victim or survivor so you know whose legacy you are carrying on.”
Unlike Ella, Jakob was not tattooed, but was assigned a five-digit number as his identity while in several forced labor camps. Dana’s grandmother was in Auschwitz and ultimately liberated from Bergen-Belsen. Her grandfather was in Lodz Ghetto before being moved to Auschwitz for a month and then sent to the Gross-Rosen labor camp for the majority of the war. Even though the two grew up in different countries, she in Czechoslovakia and he in Poland, they both survived torturous and treacherous conditions at separate camps. The pair’s paths did not intersect until they met at a displaced persons camp in Marktredwitz, Germany following liberation.
“I believe two weeks after meeting, they got married,” Dana recounted of her grandparents’ love story. “My grandmother and both of her sisters who also survived, all were married there in the same wedding dress within weeks of each other.” Jakob and one of his brothers were just two of six siblings to survive the Holocaust, while Ella and two of her three siblings and an aunt survived. A total of 75 members of both families perished.
“It wasn’t until the early 90’s when a local professor approached the Jacksonville Jewish Center asking if there were any survivors who were willing to talk about their ordeal that she began to talk about it,” Rogozinski remembered. “The professor wanted someone to come speak to his class and my Nana’s name came up; she ended up speaking about her experience to his class.” For the next 20 years, Ella spoke to Churches, Synagogues, Universities, Organizations and Schools about her experience.
“My designs have become a part of me and I never take them off because I feel like my grandparents are with me all the time,” Dana said. “What it did for my family and me was give us some type of closure and coping mechanism for what our grandparents and our family endured. We should never forget and if it can do that for us, I would love for it to help other families as well,” she explained of her feelings. “As the numbers fade and our loved ones are no longer here, these pieces of history stand as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices they made.”
To access The Collection or begin customizing ways to carry on your own family’s legacy, log onto jakobella.com. If you don’t have a Holocaust victim or survivor in your family, Rogozinski is happy to assist those searching for a number. You will need to provide a name, date of birth and city and country of birth to help find the number.
Through the J & E Legacy Collection, Dana, a Third Generation of Holocaust Survivors, hopes to perpetuate the dreams and memories of all who survived and the millions who perished.