Barbara Bandler Steinmetz is the daughter of the second owner of the “old” Hotel Alhambra. She was last here when she was three, and now she’s back on Lošinj 77 years later. Her Jewish family had to leave the island in 1939. We met Barbara for an interview.
Can you tell us something about yourself and your parents?
My parents were from Budapest and I was born there too, but I spent my first three years on Lošinj. My father, Alexander Samuel Bandler, probably came to Lošinj in 1924 or 1925, as the first photos date back to these years. He was a clever, educated young man who simply found an excellent chance in Lošinj.
During a visit to Budapest in November 1928, he met my mother on the stairs of a hospital and fell desperately in love with her. They married in February 1929 and moved to Lošinj in April 1929 to open the Hotel Alhambra. My father truly loved this place.
Do you remember that time?
I was a very small child back then, and the only thing I can remember are the crooked trees. I can remember the stories of my parents and have many pictures from that period, so obviously I was here! I can recall many stories about this place, stories that are associated with great longing, love and sadness.
When did you have to leave Lošinj?
The decree to deport Jews came in November 1938. This applied to Jews who had come to Italy after 1919 and were residents there but who had not been born in Italy. My parents prepared everything and left their beloved Lošinj in March 1939, only to find out what was waiting for them next.
We stayed briefly in Hungary to bid farewell to our relatives. My father didn’t like what was happening in Europe, and was determined to leave the continent. That was his vision. From Hungary, we went to Nice and stayed there until 1940. We left the town in the dead of night, crossed Spain and reached Lisbon in Portugal. My parents had heard about an invitation from the Dominican Republic. This was the only country that was ready to offer refuge to fleeing Jews, but they only considered people who had experience in agriculture. My father succeeded somehow at an interview and passed the test. Our family went to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic on 29 June 1941, and stayed in the Sosua colony until 1942.
My sister Ann and I enrolled in El Colegio de Immaculate Concepcion in La Vega in September 1942. I was 5 and my sister was 9. Our parents gave us to the nuns in a Catholic college and returned to run a guesthouse in Jarabacoa. Jarabocao was a town that offered recovery and convalescence to refugees from Sosua.
How did you get to the USA?
My mother was a chemist and wanted to produce cosmetics. She needed some equipment, so she placed some ads in American newspapers. One day, a lady in Boston was wrapping packages in newspaper and the name Bandler caught her eye. She said: ‘I think I went to school with a Bandler, and a friend of mine is married to a Bandler!’ She too was an immigrant to the USA and so she wrote to my parents, helped them, and in 1945 we got a visa for the United States.
Today, you live in Denver, Colorado, talk to students and pupils, and tell them your story.
That’s right. I’m almost 80. Thank God I’m in good health. I think it’s my duty to tell my story to young people, but not because it’s my story. I hope that it can change them and help them understand how world events can shape individual destinies and how important it is to be there for one another. It doesn’t matter who you are and where you come from. We are here to help each other. This is my personal mission!
How do you feel when you see the hotel after so many years?
I was very nervous about coming here. I was overwhelmed with emotions that had been put aside for a long time. My parents have been gone for many years now, as have my husband and my sister with whom I shared these experiences. I have nobody from that time with whom I can share this.
What do Mali Lošinj and the Alhambra mean for you today?
This was our home. My family lived here and I’m happy that this little place still exists. I’m sorry that my family isn’t here to share it with me. I have googled Alhambra for many years now, but for many reasons it wasn’t possible for us to come earlier. The vision and the stories of our lives in Lošinj have been etched into my imagination all my life. I was imagining how it would have been to grow up on Lošinj and to live my life in the country that my father was so enthusiastic about.