Courageous women have been honored throughout Jewish history, from biblical times to the present day. Andre Gabany will proudly tell you he’s had two such women in his life — his mother and his wife.
Andre Gabany was born in 1930 in Debrecn, Hungary. His mother, Margaret Racz, was independent and outspoken, and even owned her own car. She divorced her husband shortly after Andre’s birth, and soon moved to Budapest to start her own successful business. But by 1939, Hitler’s anti-Jewish laws made life increasingly difficult so Andre and his mother moved to Sopron near the German border to stay with two uncles. Soon they were moved into a one-room ghetto apartment along with Andre’s new stepfather. Always perceptive, Margaret volunteered to work in the fields so they could go in and out of the ghetto. One day, they simply walked out and, as Andre says, “Between my mother and the God of Israel, we were saved!”
During the remainder of the war, Andre and his mother met with one terrifying crisis after another. But her courage never waned. At one point, armed with false papers, a “righteous Christian” neighbor took them in as his wife and son. Another time, Margaret went to the labor camp where her husband and his brothers were held and demanded that they be released. Later, they were arrested by the Gestapo and spent time in multiple jails. And as the war was coming to an end and they were back in Sopron, 14- year-old Andre was refused admission by a school principal since he was Jewish. His mother promptly responded, “You just wait a minute, I’ll go get this Russian officer and have you shot!” The principal quickly changed his mind.
In 1948, Andre made his way to Vienna and then New York. He remembers watching movies there all day so that he could learn English. Ultimately he landed in San Francisco, attended UC Berkeley and then graduate school in engineering at Stanford. He worked on the first satellites and went on to help design, build, and run operations for BART.
By 1964 when he was in his thirties, Andre was ready to share his life. He knew that the Emanuel Residence Club in San Francisco hosted lectures and programs. There he spotted Solange Cohen who was hosting a lecture on Ethiopian Jews. He thought that perhaps she might be “the right Jewish girl.”
Solange had her own story of courage. Born in Casablanca in 1938, Solange lived in a close Jewish community in a country where Jews had lived since biblical times. She attended a Jewish school and was also trained at an ORT school, learning to be a seamstress and pattern maker. Her family spoke multiple languages, and as she says, “We asked our parents questions in French and they answered us in Arabic!”
At just 18, she met an American G.I. who quickly convinced her to marry him. She knew this would be her ticket out of Morocco and so she agreed to marry and follow him to Spokane, Washington. It was not long before she had to divorce him and she recalls how the Jewish community there helped her through that very difficult time.
Solange’s family had by then moved to Israel so she decided to make her own way to San Francisco, taking a Greyhound bus there where she knew no one. She ultimately landed at the Emanuel Residence Club along with many young Holocaust survivors. She continued working in her profession for both Joseph Magnin and Saks Fifth Avenue, until she met Andre.
Solange and Andre were married in 1965 by Rabbi Morton Hoffman who, two years later, would become rabbi at Rodef Sholom. They moved to Marin and joined the synagogue where their son and daughter attended religious school. Today they count themselves very lucky to have their children and four grandchildren all living in the Bay Area.
When asked what lessons Andre recalls the most, he says, “Even at the end of the war, we still did not believe that the Nazis had killed so many. It’s an important lesson to remember.”