She was born in Rohatyn in 1904 into a large, well-established family of merchants. The Horn family had multiple businesses and residences in the town and had lived there for generations. Rohatyn was then at a bustling railroad cross-roads in eastern Galicia that connected major cities like Kraków and Lwow with smaller market towns (Tarnopol, Stanislawow, Czernowitz). It was the golden era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Bronia, like her older sister Jute, would be educated in prestigious European universities : Vienna, Lwow, and Kraków. At the University of Lwow, Bronia would pursue her passion for German language and literature. After graduation, she would take a “gap year” in Vienna to deepen her knowledge in these fields so she could then pursue a master’s degree at Jagiellonian University.
Then, in 1936 Bronia would be persuaded to leave all she loved—family, career, and homeland—for Palestine. She would pass away in K'far Saba in 1992.
Israeli Probate File for Bronia Horn - 1992
But, in between—beginning in 1955 until the early 1960s—Bronia would emigrate to New York and obtain American citizenship.
A question kept nagging at me: Why would Bronia, as a middle aged woman, decide to leave America and return to Israel? As far as I knew, she had no family and no friends still living there. What pulled her back?
I contacted a friend who went to the Israeli State Archives to obtain Bronia's probate file. It was from reading Bronia's Will that I learned the answer: Lotte.
Lotte and Bronia— a friendship that would last more than 65 years and span three continents.
In her Will, Bronia bequeathed all her personal possessions to one individual, a woman named Hana living in Israel. In October 2012, I found Hana, then aged 99, through her daughter Dalia. Hana's memory was now gone due to age and illness, but Dalia's was not. Dalia remembered my Bronia. Accompanying her mother, Dalia had regularly visited Bronia at the Vera Salomon Home where Bronia lived until her death in 1992.
And, Dalia had the key as to why her mother Hana had been named as sole heir in Bronia's Will: Hana's older sister Lotte had always been Bronia's oldest and dearest friend.
Thus, 85 years on, a niece (Dalia) and a great-grand-niece (me) reunited Lotte and Bronia and their lasting and profound friendship.
Bronia's Lifelong Friend Lotte - 1935
Bronia and Lotte likely first met in 1924 at the University of Lwow where Bronia was a student. The First World War had ended, the Austrian Empire had collapsed, and a thirst for knowledge and the arts had firmly taken hold in a Europe emerging from the devastation of war. The coming worldwide Depression was unimaginable. Optimism and civil engagement swelled the academic rolls and city cafes. Galicia was now under Polish rule.
And, Lotte was also a student at the University of Lwow. Both Bronia and Lotte were studying in the foreign language and literature department. They both concentrated on German. They both lived in Lwow. Only one year separated them in age, and only a handful of kilometers separated their hometowns of Rohatyn and Tłuste. They likely had classes together in the University's Philology Department. Perhaps they even had common friends back home.
By 1929, Bronia was in Kraków doing graduate work at Jagiellonian University. She had always yearned to teach. The following year, Lotte too was settled in Kraków. The friends were again united in the Philology Department.
Fast forward 83 years and the year is 2012. I am retracing Bronia's footsteps. I am in Kraków to meet with the University archivist to see Bronia's academic records. There are hundreds of pages of records for her in their files, including her handwritten graduate school application, CV, class schedule, professors, grades, and even post-graduate correspondence.
What a snapshot of Bronia's life from 1929 to 1931!
There are addresses in the files where Bronia lived between 1929 and 1932. I visit ul. Bozego Milosierdzia 4 and ul. Wolska 15, both of which are not far from the apartment I have rented on ul. Dietla to spend three months in Kraków to learn about Bronia.
The University archive also has Bronia's 50-page master's thesis on the "Problems in the Dramas of Gerhardt Hauptmann.” It is written in German. I feel Bronia with me as I stare at the fine, even, delicate penmanship written by her hand in 1931.
Marla Osborn at the Jagiellonian University Archives
Kraków - 2012
I buy a copy of the directory of Jewish students who attended the Jagiellonian University in the inter-War period. In it I find an entry for Bronia: Bronisława Hornówna of Rohatyn.
Later, in November 2013 I find an entry for Lotte: Lotti Krämerówna of Tłuste.
I go back to the archivist and learn where Lotte lived while a graduate student. I plot the distances between Bronia's apartment and Lotte's using Google maps. The two friends are never far from each other.
Dalia fills in the details behind Lotte's academic records.
I overlay that onto what I know of Bronia's life.
1931: Lotte works on her graduate studies. Bronia takes a job as an apprentice teacher at A. Witkowskiego Gimnazjum, a Polish-German school for boys in Kraków. The school is not far from Bronia's apartment. I walk the halls of the school and peer into today's classrooms where Bronia once taught.
1932-36: These are the emotional years for both Bronia and Lotte, with big life events and changes.
For Bronia, she is finally doing what she loves—working as a paid teacher at Marshal Jozef Piłsudzki School in the spa town of Busko-Zdroj, 50 kilometers northeast of Kraków. In 1935, she poses with other teachers for a series of group photographs. I am pleased that the school in Busko-Zdroj still has Bronia's class records and the 1935 group photos. The school invites me in April 2012 to speak to the current students about Bronia, her pre-War life, and my research. The students are curious what would bring an American to Poland. The school invites me back in April 2013.
Bronia Horn, Teacher - Marshal Jozef Piłsudzki School in
Busko-Zdroj, Poland - 1935
While Bronia is in Busko-Zdroj, Lotte marries a man surnamed Margulies whose father was born in Rohatyn. A coincidence that this is also Bronia's hometown? Maybe not. In 1933, the Margulies emigrate to Palestine. They are aboard the same ship as Chaim Teichman, the man Jute Horn, Bronia's older sister, has married and follows the following year to Palestine.
By May 1936, Bronia is back in Rohatyn. I am surprised to learn this from the Archives. The files contain several postcards from Bronia to the University in late 1935 and early 1936 requesting copies of her academic records.
Changes are coming for Bronia and she is preparing for a voyage. She has left her teaching position in Busko-Zdroj. She has married a childhood friend from Rohatyn 10 years her junior named Jakub Hornstein.
Returning to Poland from travels in Palestine, Jakob is in Rohatyn in April 1936 for the express purpose of trying to convince his sister and her family to leave. He argues it is no longer safe for Jews in Europe. But his sister refuses. She does not feel the family can walk away from their businesses and homes. This is Bronia's family, too: Jakob's sister is married to Bronia's older brother David Horn. They have children. They have responsibilities. They have siblings and parents in Rohatyn which they cannot leave behind. They tell Jakob they plan to stay.
Jakob turns his request to Bronia. She agrees to leave with him. Jute, Bronia's older sister, is already married, settled, and working in Haifa.
Jakob and Bronia hastily marry in Rohatyn (divorcing a year later) and on July 13, 1936 are in Warsaw at the British Consulate. A passport is issued in the name of Jakob and Bronia Hornstein.
On August 2, 1936, they arrive in Haifa.
By 1943, the families that stayed behind in Rohatyn would all be dead.
Neither Bronia nor Jute would ever return to Rohatyn. Jakob would return in 1998 to participate in the dedication of memorials erected in the memory of the Jewish victims of Nazism.
I learn of Jakob in the fall of 1998 and we speak by telephone. He is 86 years old. He cries throughout our conversations insisting that his one-year marriage to Bronia had never been merely a marriage of convenience. He tells me he had loved Bronia; that he had always loved her. I love Jakob for telling me this.
I know he saved my Bronia's life.
In 1955, Bronia emigrates to America, and in April 1961 she obtains American citizenship. She is living at 320 West 89th Street in New York City. Sometime thereafter she leaves America to return to Israel. She never remarries and never has any children.
Dalia tells me that in the last years of her life, Bronia is especially withdrawn, sad, and unable to make friends. She is often angry. She feels alone. She misses Lotte. She is prevented from seeing her dearest friend because Lotte's controlling and jealous husband forbids Lotte from having a life independent of him.
The two lifelong friends are foreceably separated. Hana and Dalia visit Bronia in Lotte's place.
Dress Made by Lotte for Bronia in the 1930s While the Two
Were Students in Kraków
In October 2012, 20 years after Bronia's death, I receive a package from Dalia. It contains a silver-plated nut dish (with a broken handle) and a needle-pointed red bookmark. Both had belonged to Bronia. The bookmark had been made by her while in the Vera Salomon Home.
A second package from Dalia arrives a month later.
It contains a delicate, sheer, black dress made by Lotte for Bronia in the 1930s while the two were students in Kraków.
It fits me perfectly.
Bronia and Lotte: Best friends in the 1920s.
Now we too are friends.
Post-script: In April 2014, Marla will make her first trip to Israel to meet Dalia and her mother Hana in person.
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