Rachel and Imre Lefkovits, A"H

It is our honor to highlight the legacy left by Imre and Rachel Lefkovits A’H for their family, RPRY, the Edison/Highland Park community, and the Jewish world at large.


Rachel Goldenberg-Chajmovich was one of six siblings born and raised in the small village of Dolha, Czechoslovakia. Her father was a glazier who fixed windows and picture frames. Rachel’s mother was a homemaker. Like everyone in the village, they were very religious. Rachel’s father wore a streimel and bekishe and was a true Talmid Chacham.


When the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia, Rachel’s father and brothers were sent to work in a forced labor camp. Her mother remained home with her. In April, 1944, all the Jews of Dolha were rounded up and taken to the train station. Waiting for them were their non - Jewish neighbors with whom they were always friendly. They were dressed in Nazi uniforms, and it was they who brutally forced the Jews on to the cattle-cars. They were taken to a ghetto and soon after, in May of 1944, once again forced onto a cattle car. Rachel turned 18 during the three-day cattle car ride to Auschwitz. Unbeknown to her, this would be the last time she would see her mother, 14-year-old brother, sister, nieces, nephews, grandmother, aunts, and uncles - as they were all sent to the gas chambers to die.


Rachel, devastated but determined to live, escaped getting a number tattooed on her arm, by daringly switching to a line where they needed women to rebuild a munition factory. The very day that it was completed, the factory was bombed and destroyed. B”H of 2000 women, she was among only 200 who survived. Rachel never lost Emunah in Hashem and felt that she survived only because of the multiple miracles that occurred to her. Towards the end of the war, Rachel and the remaining survivors of Auschwitz were on a brutal “death march" without coats, nor real shoes. Rachel’s feet became numb, cut, and frostbitten. She was aware that those who couldn’t continue the march would be shot on the spot. On the day that she knew she couldn’t go any further, she awoke to find out that the war was over and she and everyone who survived were free. What a miracle!


After the war, Rachel was nursed back to health in a hospital and then in a DP camp. When she returned home, she discovered that three of her brothers and one cousin miraculously survived the war. Wanting to leave the pain of their losses behind, Rachel, one of her brothers and her cousin decided to go to America. They left Czechoslovakia on a boat which transported only orphaned children. Although she was 19 years old, she was told by HIAS staff on the boat that people in America would foster children under 16. She reinvented herself as a 15-year-old during the trip (as did all the orphans on the boat). Rachel ended up settling in Detroit.


Imre was born in Debrecen, Hungary. He was the oldest son of nine children. In the 5th grade, he had to leave school, and apprentice to become a tailor to help his father support his siblings. Although he was no longer in school, he took it upon himself to escort his rebbeim home, because they were regularly beaten up by the antisemitic locals in the town. Young Imre was brave and strong and although at times, he returned home beaten and bloody, he never failed to protect his rebbeim from harm. It was because he was short changed from receiving a true schooling experience- that education became one of his passions.


Several years later, when Imre was a teenager, the Nazis entered his town. As they looked for certain craftsmen to work directly for them, Imre was identified by townspeople as being the best tailor in town. Thus, Imre and 400 other Jewish people were forced to work for the Nazis. In his role as tailor to the SS officers in Budapest, he was one of the few permitted to travel after curfew hours. One night, on his way back from a tailoring assignment, he was alerted in the darkness by an acquaintance that a few Jews had overtaken the Swiss embassy. They claimed that they could make him false papers, but they had to be out by the morning. Imre insisted that papers be prepared for all 400 Jews with whom he worked, otherwise he wouldn’t accept one for himself. They worked all through the night and Imre miraculously came across an opportunity and succeeded in obtaining 400 false papers for himself and the other 400 Jews from his town who were forced to work for the Nazis. Thanks to Imre, all 400 were afforded the opportunity to leave Hungary.


In another incident, while Imre was on a tailoring assignment he randomly entered a Jewish town. The mayor of the town mistook him for a German SS officer, because of the knickers and boots that the Nazis required him to wear. When the mayor saw Imre enter his town, he nervously assured Imre that the Jews had been notified and they would gather in the town square with their belongings within 2 hours. Imre, realizing what was about to take place, instructed the mayor to have the Jews brought to the town square immediately, even without their belongings. When the Jews of the town arrived, Imre alerted them that the Gestapo was on its way to deport them. Imre told them to run for their lives. It is not known how many lives were saved as a result of his bravery and quick thinking. This story was told to Susie for the first time by two of Imre’s brothers during shiva for Imre after his passing.


After the war, Imre preceded his family in coming to America and settled in Detroit in 1944. His family remained behind, B”H they all survived. In 1956, after the Hungarian revolution, Imre brought his parents and all of his siblings to Detroit.


Rachel was fostered by a family and attended high school for a year. She was a great student and quickly learned English. But, she felt that she could no longer lean on her kind foster family and decided to leave school and earn money to support herself. She started as a cashier in a supermarket, then worked in a clothing boutique, which she eventually owned.


Imre and Rachel met in Detroit in 1950. He spoke Hungarian and she spoke Yiddish, but that did not prevent them from getting married. Eventually, they learned each other’s languages.


Early in their marriage, they eked out a living however they could, with Imre doing numerous odd jobs. Eventually, he bought a dry-cleaning business in Detroit, working morning to night, sometimes sleeping in the store. Naturally, his tailoring skills enabled him to fix any clothing that needed repair.


Imre’s family left Detroit and settled in New York. In 1963,Imre and Rachel uprooted themselves and moved to New York in order to join Imre’s family. Imre worked with his brother-in-law in the screen and storm business, then used his tailoring skills to open a leather coat factory. Eventually, he went into the nursing home business.


Rachel and Imre had 3 daughters – Susie, Judy (A”H) and Debbie. Living in Brooklyn, they davened first at Beach Haven Jewish Center and then Aat Kingsway Jewish Center, where Imre was the Gabbai, the candy man, and the High Holy Day Aliyah auctioneer. As co-president of Rambam Yeshiva, he was instrumental in building their new facility. Their daughter Judy had special needs and thus they became involved in special needs philanthropy. They helped build the New Hope Community, a predecessor village to HASC.


By 1993, Imre and Rachel relocated to Highland Park to be near their daughter Susie, Moshe, and their three grandchildren Tzippi, Eli, and Avi. They became members of Congregation Ahavas Achim and instantly bonded with Rabbi Schwarzberg. In no time, they integrated into their new community. Brooklyn’s loss became Highland Park’s gain.


In 1999, Imre and Rachel took their daughters back to their roots. There they saw, with their own eyes the destruction of Jewish life in Europe as they knew it. Their beautiful shul was destroyed, barren and empty of all of the beloved Sefrei Torah. They made a promise to Hashem, that they would devote their lives to rebuilding all that was destroyed. That would be their greatest revenge on Hitler. 


Imre and RachelThey had a mission and together spent their lives fulfilling the promise that they made to Hashem. They wrote two Sifrei Torah, helped renovate and rebuild their shul, Ahavas Achim, which was named the Rachel and Imre Lefkovits Synagogue. They also dedicated the RPRY Beit Midrash, and our mikvah. Rachel dedicated a United Hatzalah Ambulance in Israel, contributed to the first Edison/Highland Park Hatzolah ambulance, and the Chaim v’Chesed house at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. Not only did they financially contribute, but they devoted themselves and selflessly dedicated their time to so many institutions and worthy causes and thus became the pillars of each community in which they resided.


Neither Imre nor Rachel ever shared the stories of their pain and survival during the holocaust. Thus in 2014-2015, when Susie brought the Names not Numbers program to RPRY, it was the first time Rachel ever told her story. Unfortunately, Imre had already passed away and most of his story remains unknown. In the years that followed, Rachel told her story three times as part of the Names, Not Numbers program. Four of her great-grandchildren and their classmates were zocheh to record her story for posterity.


In addition to their children, Rachel and Imre B’H were Zocheh to be blessed with three generations:  3 daughters and sons-in-law, 6 married grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, who are all following in their footsteps.


Imre passed away on June 10,2010 [Tet Tamuz]. Rachel left us just over a year ago, on May 13, 2023 [Chaf-Bet Iyar]. Both she and Imre are sorely missed. Theirs is a story of Emunah, resilience, and a fierce desire to rebuild what was lost. 


May their memory be a blessing.

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