FORT ONTARIO, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Fort Ontario opened its doors 75 years ago to 982 of World War II refugees. Refugees were housed at Fort Ontario in Oswego from August 1944 until February 1946.
Among the many fleeing Europe was Suzanne Gurwitz and her family — the Krauthamers. Gurwitz now lives on Long Island with her husband and other family members nearby.
Gurwitz was five years old when her family arrived in Oswego. Running from the Nazis, her family spent nights in churches in France, used fake names, fake passports and hid their Jewish faith before finally crossing The Alps with hope in their hearts.
“My father, he found out there was a ship going to the United States and he tried to get us in and he did,” Gurwitz shared. “I understand that they wanted families that were intact. We were five people. My two brothers and I and my mother and father and we were lucky to be picked and there we were in Oswego, New York.”
While in their new home of Oswego — their faith traditions could carry on. Gurwitz’s brother Simon Krauthamer was bar mitzvah’d while living at Fort Ontario.
Gurwitz’s nephew, Moti Krauthamer, now reflects on all his father went through.
“My father lived in probably five countries or something like that. He went to 12 to 15 schools. He was always on the run,” Krauthamer shared. “He was born in 1932, pretty much the year Hitler came in power. He was constantly running. The ingenuity of my grandfather — my father’s father — just to stay ahead of the game. They had fake names, fake passports. My father was hiding as a Catholic in a Catholic home. He was Jewish but he had to hide and so it was just a constant running.”
After visiting Fort Ontario with his father years ago — he now returns from Seattle to meet his aunt and cousins to commemorate their perseverance.
“As hard as it was, it formed who he was,” Krauthamer said.
Being at Fort Ontario for the 75th anniversary is important to the entire family, but they say they plan to have future generations come here, from time to time, so they never forget their family’s Upstate New York history that started.
“Some people are saying it didn’t happen and even though I was very young, I know it did happen,” said Suzanne Gurwitz. “There’s a lot of children and great-grandchildren to show that we didn’t give up.”