Sonia Beitch Diamond
??JANUARY 8, 2015
BY MELISSA GERR
Thanks to the efforts of her grandchildren, Jeremy Diamond and Lara Diamond, Diamond's story is well documented.
Born in Poland in 1922, Diamond and her family fell victim to the horrors of the Holocaust. She recounts her survival in a six-hour interview posted on Lara's blog that details her experience, which included sneaking out of the Senkevychivka ghetto in Ukraine to find food for her family as a teenager, being caught and miraculously let go; and hiding in barns, cellars and deep holes dug in forests, dependent upon her cunning, strong will and the grace of former neighbors, acquaintances and strangers.
She was able to obtain false papers because she spoke fluent Russian and Ukrainian in addition to her native Polish and Yiddish. She was able to "become an actor and lead someone else's life," she says in the interview.
She and her future husband, Paul, got lost from each other while in hiding but reunited and at one point were interrogated by Russian soldiers who thought they were German spies. For more than two years they kept barely a step ahead of the Germans and their allies, escaping from countless life-or-death situations, according to the family.
Sonia and Paul were married in Poland in November 1945.
"Our honeymoon was going through swamps and water in bad weather" on the way to a displaced persons camp in Leipheim, Germany, Sonia recalls in the online transcript. Two years later, they obtained visas to the United States, sponsored by relatives, and after a treacherous three weeks at sea on the cargo ship Ernie Pyle, they arrived in Baltimore.
"They didn't know the language, they didn't have money when they arrived," said Jeremy Diamond, 39, a member of Suburban Orthodox Congregation. "But they got a loan to buy a corner store [and lived above it] on 174 W. Cross St. in South Baltimore."
After a couple of years they sold it and bought another store on Harlem and Mount streets that they had for about 10 years.
"She was so thankful for what she was given, she spent so many years giving back," said the grandson. "She instilled that in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, [the importance] to volunteer your time, your money and to help others."
Jeremy added that Sonia and Paul hired other Holocaust survivors to work in their fast-growing grocery business, including as managers. "In some cases, they gave a percentage of ownership to [the survivors] as well. That was a common theme in the early times of their business."
Paul's brother, Dave, and brother-in-law, Ben Schuster, were also in the small grocery business. Then, in 1960, together they bought a full-sized grocery store at Liberty Road and Garrison Boulevard and named it Food-A-Rama. Within 10 years, the chain grew to five outlets, and by 1974 there were 11 stores. Ultimately, 19 Food-A-Rama stores served Baltimore City and its suburbs. At its peak, the company owned and operated 48 stores across the mid-Atlantic region.
Sonia, who split her time between the business and her philanthropic pursuits, was a devoted supporter of the Jewish National Fund and served on the boards of the JNF Sapphire Society and Israel Bonds. She also donated an ambulance to Magen David Adom in Israel. She was active with Hadassah and supported the AMIT program that educates and supports Israeli youth. Locally, she supported Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Schools, the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore and the Bais Yaakov School for Girls "not only financially," said Jeremy, "but also gave of her time and served on many committees and boards. She was always going to luncheons and board meetings; she really wanted to give back for what the Jewish community did for her and my grandfather."
Sonia served as president of the Suburban Orthodox sisterhood for 25 years, said Jeremy. "She gave her heart and soul to her synagogue."
Jeremy added his grandparents raised money to dedicate a new Torah for the congregation and were involved in many fundraising events to grow the congregation, which today numbers more than 300 families. "That was their home away from home," he said.
She was the matriarch of the family," said Andy Diamond, 34, also a grandson. "She was a bubbie to all of us, including my friends."
She would "never say no" to someone in need, he added. Her motto was "live for everyday."
Sonia Diamond passed away on Jan. 2, predeceased by husband Paul; she was devoted mother of Marvin (Linda) Diamond, Sidney Diamond, Susan Weiss (Jeremy) Ben-David and the late Abe Diamond (Adrian Diamond Wolf); dear sister of the late Molly Beitch and Herschel Beitch; loving grandmother of Michael (Irina) Diamond, Jeremy (Chaya) Diamond, Cheryl (Ziggy) Carl, Lara Diamond, Matthew (Stefanie) Diamond, Andrew (Lisa) Diamond, Keren (Eli) Perles, Daniel (Inbar) Weiss, Nachie (Roni) Weiss, Avichai (Avia) Weiss, Eitan Weiss, Lindsey Diamond, Benjamin Diamond, Jennifer Diamond and Ariela Diamond; also survived by many loving great-grandchildren.