Magda Rosenberg has lived in Long Beach for more than 60 years, and in 2012, superstorm Sandy nearly drove her out of it.
“The water came up to here,” Rosenberg said, gesturing about a half a foot above her living room floor. “If I had stayed in the basement, I would have drowned.”
But the 89-year-old is resilient, and she’s a survivor.
Rosenberg was the lone member of her family to survive the Holocaust. They were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942, and then she and her sisters were forced to work at a munitions factory in Germany, where she lost her left arm.
“I never thought I would come to America,” she said. “I was far from even hoping that would happen.”
She settled in Long Beach in the 1950s, where she raised her family of four, and has been there ever since.
Rosenberg's clean, white cottage sits uniform with the rest of the homes neatly lining her block. A scrawled note with the word “knock” is taped to her front door.
She teaches an exercise class for senior citizens at the Long Beach Public Library; a flyer with her photo pinned to its busy bulletin board. Down the road is the Lido Kosher Deli, where Rosenberg has ordered countless knishes and chats with the owner, whom she knows on a first-name basis.
When Sandy hit, it uprooted Rosenberg’s life in Long Beach.
On the first day of the storm, Rosenberg lost electricity. She was able to contact her son Maury — who lives in Rochester — thanks to a tenant who lent her a cellphone.
“I said to him, ‘Come and get me,’” she remembered. “And he didn’t quite know what was going on, not to the extent that was happening.”
Maury was able to get into Long Beach by the following evening in his Chevrolet cargo van. By the time he arrived, it was around midnight, he said. He and his mother packed up her belongings and headed to Rochester, driving in stormy conditions throughout the early morning. She wouldn’t return to Long Beach for two months.
Meanwhile her older son David, who works in construction, helped her by hiring workers to come repair her storm-damaged basement right away. Over the course of all the repairs, ultimately, she said, “I emptied out my bank account. Every bit that I saved went for reconstruction.”
When she was able to move back in, she found that there was still a lot of work to be done.
“The city of course was in trouble,” she said. “We had nothing. People were going to Kennedy Plaza, which is the center of our city, to get food and water. And of course we had no toilet. Basically, everything was flooded.”
With help from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers, her living room walls were rebuilt and repainted. Once her home began resembling what it was before, she started hosting her exercise classes at home, as the library was being repaired.
Little by little, her students showed up at her front door.
“We had no furniture,” Rosenberg remembered. “The place was empty so we had chairs there, chairs here. I was sitting [up front] so everybody could see me. I think we had about 40 chairs. That’s the way I felt I could help, because I was maybe even one of the first ones that came back to Long Beach, where I could live again in the house.”
Once the library reopened, Rosenberg’s classes moved back in.
Rosenberg has been watching the news and following the coverage of the three major hurricanes this season: Harvey, Irma and Maria. It’s easy for her to feel helpless, she said, and she knows from personal experience how those unaffected by this kind of trauma may have a hard time empathizing.
“As individuals, unless we can go down there and be useful, there is really nothing we can do other than cry,” she said. “[The hurricane coverage] affected me very badly, and it’s like how many people don’t really care about the Holocaust [when] you don’t go through it.”
Rosenberg feels strongly about future generations learning about the Holocaust and its aftermath. She also has faith in the volunteers offering their time and resources during this hurricane season.
“When people are in need, in a situation like Sandy or any other disaster, there is help,” Rosenberg said. “It’s beautiful. There is help. I was very happy with how things went after Sandy. Everything, for me, worked out fine.”