A Daughter’s Tribute to Shimon ben Shraga

I recently finished The Watchmaker’s Daughter, a sensitive  and touching memoir by Sonia Taitz. Taitz grew up as the child of Holocaust survivors in Washington Heights, New York City, where my husband and I also lived for a time. It turns out that we attended the same synagogue as her parents.

Toward the end of the book, Taitz, who attended Barnard College (because her father didn’t want her to travel as far as New Haven), Yale Law School, and Oxford, pays tribute to the mother she once treated with disdain:

I never learned to make that cake, chopped liver, flanken, or matzoh balls. All I can do is order in, and I blame feminism for that, for my contempt for her thankless domestic sacrifices. I am thanking her now as my children and I begin to try her old recipes.

They praise Mother Theresa for devoting her life to others, so why not Gita Taitz? The soup for housebound Mrs. Schroodel, the packages of warm clothes for relatives stuck in Siberia, the fish sandwiches in onion rolls for my father, and the spaghetti and ketchup for my brother and me . . .

When I told my husband about the book, he wondered aloud whether Taitz might have been related to the elderly Mr. Taitz we knew as Shimon ben Shraga. Sure enough, he was Sonia Taitz’s father.

Taitz mentions how much her father enjoyed chanting the prayers. Shimon ben Shraga’s slow and sonorous chanting of the maftir, at Mt. Sinai Synagogue, was legendary.  One Shavuot my husband left shul at the beginning of the haftarah and ran to his apartment several blocks away to put something in the oven. When he returned Shimon ben Shraga hadn’t yet finished. The haftarah usually takes only five minutes or so.

We only knew Simon Taitz as an old man. We were surprised to learn from Taitz’s memoir about an incident during their family trip to Israel in the 60’s, when some people suddenly stopped him on the street.

“What did you say? Is it him?”

“Can it be?”

“Taitz-the-Watchmaker?” one says, as though that is the essence of who my father is.

. . . That day, I learn that my father rescued many people in the war, in his watchmaker’s workshop at the Dachau concentration camp. Like a Jewish Oskar Schindler, he had gathered one man after another into the safety of his shelter, teaching them how to lean over a workbench, loupes in their eyes, tools in their hands, and act as if they were fixing watches. He himself did the technical work, and meanwhile, the other men within the growing workshop stayed indoors during the harsh winters.

If only we had known that about Shimon ben Shraga, back during our time at Mount Sinai. May the memories of Simon and Gita Taitz blessed.

You may also enjoy:

The Story of the Treblinka Extermination Camp

Review of The Lost, by Daniel Mendelsohn

10 Books I Loved in 2012


  1. Thank you for this review, Hannah. You captured my interest. I am glad she eventually recognized her mother’s hard work. In response to her father … it is good to hear that people like that existed. I wonder why it was so hard for her as a young person to relate to her parents, but then, I know others who are children of survivors. Not easy.

    • Isn’t it hard for all of us at that age to relate to our parents’ experience? Especially when it involved a completely different reality.

    • I think also that her parents probably didn’t talk about their experiences. Many Holocaust survivors didn’t, so they were not unusual. That would explain why she only found out about her father’s activities on that trip to Israel.

  2. Thanks for sharing.I find her attitude to her mother also interesting. Over time she began to appreciate how self -directed, autonomous and creative her mom was

  3. Thanks for sharing.I find her attitude to her mother also interesting. Over time she began to appreciate how self -directed, autonomous and creative her mom was . Because her father had his own career it would apear to a feminist that he would be more self-fulfilled. Women get less words of appreciation and gratitude for the work they do in the home

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