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Help Rella: Holocaust survivor robbed by caretaker

$39,617 of $100,000 goal

Raised by 798 people in 13 days
Created August 5, 2019
Micah Herman
on behalf of Leonard and Rella Herman
Rella is a 93 year-old Holocaust survivor. Not only has she had to endure the trauma of the concentration camps and losing her own mother at Auschwitz, but now she is the victim of elderly exploitation and grand theft. Beginning as early as 2011, her caretaker started exploiting her fragile condition by stealing small amounts of money. Then in 2015, Rella's only son passed away from cancer. The caretaker seized upon Rella’s fresh grief and began making exorbitant fraudulent charges with Rella’s credit cards that she unknowingly paid off, effectively stripping her of retirement funds, much of which came from Holocaust reparation checks from the German government. Florida state forensic investigators estimate the theft to be over $100,000.00. While the caretaker has been arrested, Rella and her ninety-one year old husband have been left reeling and can’t afford even the most basic home care. Any help you can provide will go a long way towards providing them stability in the twilight of their lives.
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Good news! The New York Post just wrote an article about Rella and Leonard and how the GoFundMe campaign is helping save their home. It’s the first time Leonard has ever been interviewed by a reporter and he did a great job.

It’s incredible to think it’s only been ten days and we are almost half way our goal of replacing the life savings the caretaker stole. Thank you so much!

Here is the New York Post article to read and share:

https://nypost.com/2019/08/16/scammed-holocaust-survivors-family-fights-to-save-their-home/
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Many of you have asked about Rella’s past:

Rella grew up in Satu Mare, Hungary. She was a young girl of fourteen when she and her family were rounded up by he Nazis and transported to Auschwitz. She would remain at the camp for over two years, until she was liberated during a death march in 1945. While Rella survived long enough to be liberated, her mother and grandmother did not. When she returned to Satu Mare, she found the only house she’d ever known had been seized by complete strangers. With almost her entire family wiped out and nowhere to go, Rella was allowed save passage to America, where her biological father had moved before the war and worked as a tailor. Rella arrived to discover her father had remarried and had two new daughters.

Only able to speak Hungarian, Rella spent many afternoons in theaters watching movies to learn English. Soon she met her husband Leonard and although they had a hard time speaking, the language of love made things easier. The two married and settled in Pittsburgh, where Leonard’s family owned a chain of grocery stores. Then came the Great Appalachian Snow Storm of 1950 (one of the worst in Pittsburgh history). Rella and Leonard decided they’d had enough of shoveling the driveway and packed their bags and moved to sunny Florida.

Leonard and his brother decided to get into the building business. They negotiated a large acreage of land from a hermit living in rural south Miami. At the time, the area was mostly strawberry fields filled with snakes. But Leonard and his brother saw potential and turned the land into Herman Manor, building over 300 homes in what is now known as Pinecrest. Leonard and Rella started a family. Rella never thought she would live to have a child of her own. She was living the American dream.

But Rella’s past still haunted her. Nobody wanted to talk about the atrocities of the Holocaust, and Rella didn’t want to worry her own children with the stories of what she endured. She rarely spoke about her time in the camp. Once a neighbor asked her why she always wrote her telephone number on her wrist — Rella had her prison tattoo removed the following year.

Over the years, Rella began to open up more about her experiences. As a grandson, I think it was easier for her to speak to me than even her own children. She told me of the horrors she endured in the camps. But also the beautiful moments that brought back her humanity and dignity after. One of her fondest memories is seeing a butterfly land on a barbwire fence. She would speak about it ever so often, raising her hands and closing her eyes, replaying the moment over and over in her mind. And I think I know why. That butterfly symbolized hope. After what has happened with her caretaker, Rella seemed to finally have none left. But you have given her hope again. There are so many beautiful and loving and caring people in the world. Thank you for helping her.

Below is a photos of Rella at 14 years-old, a few months before she and her family were transported to Auschwitz. She still has that same smile.
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I wanted to share with you all a little bit about what it’s been like for Leonard and Rella since the investigation into the caretaker began in early 2018.

Ever since we discovered this awful crime happened and reported it to the police, Rella’s world has been turned upside down. She and Leonard have been unable to afford a new licensed caretaker and have instead relied on nonprofit organizations for help. And although that has been a blessing, the chaotic revolving door of nursing assistants with limited availability, and financial stress has had a detrimental effect on Rella’s health and mental wellbeing. And that was all before her story became national news.

But I want to let you know that your incredible outpouring of goodwill and kindness is truly making a difference. Leonard has been reading your messages and has gained so much hope! The majority of their friends may have passed on, but now Rella and Leonard feel like they have friends all over the world.

The coming weeks will not be easy. The arraignment for the case against the caretaker is set for September 3rd. I will continue to post updates in the coming days, weeks and months. In the meantime, please share Rella and Leonard’s story with your family and friends. Elderly exploitation has become an epidemic, and whether you are a son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter, it is up to us to protect the elderly people we love!
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Many people have asked, “How could this have happened? The truth is, we as a family asked the same question ourselves. But I will do my best to answer that question for you.

Leonard and Rella are in their nineties and live in the same home that Leonard, a contractor before he retired, built back in 1963. The majority of Leonard and Rella's closest friends have passed on, and their son (my father) succumbed to cancer in 2015. The loss of my dad sent Rella into a deep depression, after which she and Leonard rarely left the house. Instead, they depended on their trusted caretaker to purchase drug prescriptions and groceries.

Leonard was responsible for paying both his and Rella’s credit card bills every month. But the credit card statements started disappearing from the mail box for months at a time.
Leonard would call the credit card companies to complain. He received several card replacements, and never suspected that the caretaker was hiding the bills from him. When he did receive his statements, he saw the same places — Publlx, Walgreens, CVS — but he couldn’t understand why the totals were so high. All the cards were supposed to be used for were things like buying prescriptions, a challah bread, gas, and a morning coffee at McDonalds.

Leonard spoke to the fraud management departments of the card companies on multiple occasions. The fraud department investigated the claim and determined they did not see any signs of fraud taking place.This is something that I am still shocked by. I later learned that credit card companies do not monitor gift card transactions, even though according to Miami police gift cards are one of the most common forms of money laundering in Florida. Leonard wasn’t sure what to do. He was no longer working and afraid if he didn’t pay the bills he would lose both of their credit cards.

Finally, my grandfather asked me to help him figure out what was going on. Although he owned a computer, he didn’t know how to work it. It took me all of ten minutes to plug in his desktop, fix his internet and log in to his account. What I found was an incredibly high frequency of charges at two local Publix grocery stores. Sometimes there would be up to four or five total trips to two different Publix grocery stores in the same day! It was obvious something was wrong…

I took the statements and credit card numbers to one of the grocery stores and asked a manager to print out all my grandparents' itemized receipts for the last few months. I sat there waiting for 45 minutes. When she returned, her face was ashen. The manager told me the card had clearly been compromised — whoever was making the purchases had been buying exorbitant amounts of gift cards. I was surprised, but not shocked.

I returned home and had a terrible pit in my stomach. How was I going to tell my grandparents that the caretaker they had trusted for almost seven years had been stealing from them? I collected all of the itemized receipts I could and put it into a big folder. I sat my grandparents down on the couch and told them the terrible news. At first they were stunned, almost in shock. My grandmother couldn’t believe it. She was absolutely traumatized. To be betrayed like this after everything she went through was too much.

My grandfather is a proud man, a stable provider— always private about his finances. I could tell he was embarrassed. It’s a very shameful thing as a man who has worked his whole life to admit they had been a victim of something like this. Myself? I was angry. I live in California and visit once or twice a year, but still feel I should have been able to do more. I was determined to make sure my grandparents’ case was taken seriously by local police. I called the department and insisted they look into the fraud. This caretaker could not be allowed to do this to someone else.

The devastation to my grandparents has been staggering. Now in their nineties they are afraid they may lose their home. But this story is far from over. The overwhelming goodwill, generosity, and kind words have given them hope. And that is something no one can take with a credit card.
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$39,617 of $100,000 goal

Raised by 798 people in 13 days
Created August 5, 2019
Micah Herman
on behalf of Leonard and Rella Herman
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