Regina Roth Dembo’s story begins with a series of losses and separations from a comfortable life and from people she loved. How does a young girl of twelve cope with her father’s disappearance at the hands of the Nazis, with her forced immigration to America while caring for two younger sisters, and with a fear that proved to be true: that she would never again see her mother and brother?
Regina began her life in Vienna, Austria. As Austrian natives, she and her siblings qualified for the Austrian quota of immigrants permitted to come to the United States. Their parents, born in Poland, were unable to procure the necessary papers to leave. Trying to access the required paperwork was tedious; the lines were interminable.
Regina’s father was arrested and forced to leave Austria. He returned to Poland, but ultimately disappeared. The Germans confiscated his business, his car, and their apartment with all of their belongings. They found their life changing rapidly from one of comfort to one of struggle for survival.
“Life changed. Doctors and lawyers were scrubbing the streets. The Nazis had a good time making the Jews miserable,” she recalls.
Just a week before the war broke out in 1939, the three girls left Austria for the United States. Years later, Regina wondered how her mother could bear to send them away – three young girls ages twelve, ten, and eight. They assumed that their mother and brother would follow them shortly – no one realized how horrendous it would become for the Jews – there had been so many pogroms, and they had survived all of those atrocities. They never imagined that their mother and four-year-old brother would be sent to a camp and gassed.
Their trip to America reflected their transition from childhood to adulthood. Not a soul helped them during their journey. They arrived in New York City not speaking a word of English. After living with an uncle for several months, they were placed in an orphanage.
“We learned English in a great big hurry, then,” she says.
Three year later, they were placed in three different foster homes. Regina expressed a desire to go to college and her foster parents encouraged her to do so.
In 1951, Regina married Michael Dembo. They eventually settled in Huntsville, Alabama, where they had two children.
Regina had finally come home.