Holocaust survivor Hannah Turkow died July 28 after being struck by an out-of-control car in Northeast Philadelphia the previous afternoon.
The 89-year-old had just completed a trip to the dry cleaners and stood on the sidewalk waiting for the bus home when she was hit by a swerving car and thrown into the street.
Philadelphia Police Department Public Information Officer Tanya Little offered additional details in a statement, noting the car’s model as a 2016 Toyota Rav4 and citing the time of the accident at approximately 2:10 p.m. on July 27.
The operator of the car, who Little described as a 65-year-old female, remained at the scene for questioning. According to the statement, “There is no indication at this time that drinking was a factor, no arrest at this time, and the investigation is ongoing with the Accident Investigation District.”
Two other vehicles were hit, but Little said no other injuries were reported.
The accident occurred near the intersection of Grant Avenue and Krewstown Road. Turkow was taken to the nearby Aria-Jefferson Health Torresdale Campus emergency room in critical condition, although she was still conscious.
At the hospital, a nurse attempted to affix an oxygen mask to Turkow’s head, and the severely injured woman told her, “Watch out for my hair because I just got it done yesterday.”
Turkow succumbed to complications related to leg, arm, torso and internal injuries. She was pronounced dead at 1:56 a.m. on July 28.
Her family remembered her as strong-willed, noting that, at 89, she lived alone and did almost everything independently.
Born in Kaunas, Lithuania, Turkow (née Magidovitch) spent her early childhood surrounded by her extended family. The Nazis entered the country in 1941, forcing the 11-year-old and her mother into the Kovno ghetto, separated from their relatives.
“They watched what was happening in the ghetto for three years as more deportations took place, and more people were killed inside and outside the ghetto. It kept shrinking,” cousin Donni Magid explained.
In June 1944, the remaining women and children were transported by cattle freight trucks to Stutthof concentration camp in Northern Poland. Within four weeks, Turkow’s mother contracted typhus fever and was exterminated by the Nazis.
By mid-July, the Nazis foresaw the war’s imminent end, and relocated Turkow and other workers to dig trenches for the Germans’ retreat. It took nearly a year for liberators to save the prisoners, but on May 2, 1945, Russian forces arrived at the trenches.
Turkow was one of the only Russian speakers among the captives, so at just 16 she led the effort to aid the Russian soldiers.
“She spoke Russian, translated and directed Russian personnel as to who the guards were, where the storage of armaments was. She provided a lot of information for the Russians,” said Turkoff’s cousin Ze’ev Magid.
“She was indomitable and independent,” Donni Magid added. “That’s what helped her survive the war and also make her way through the rest of her life, keeping her independence until last Thursday.”
Turkow had no siblings and did not know the whereabouts of her extended family. So after the war, she stayed in Germany for five years, living on a kibbutz with fellow survivors, her cousins said. It was there that she met her first husband, Lauffer. The two immigrated to New York in 1950, but they divorced within five years.
Various New York Jewish organizations assisted Turkow in connecting with lost aunts and uncles upon her arrival in the U.S. She learned of an aunt in Philadelphia, with whom she immediately began corresponding.
Also in New York, she met Henry Turkow, a fellow Holocaust survivor and former kibbutz resident. Married in 1957, the two remained together until his death in 1988. They operated a dry cleaning business, which Hannah Turkow supplemented with work at a Jewish watch importing company.
Henry Turkow had family in Uruguay, and he and Hannah Turkow frequently visited them and other relatives in Israel, Australia and England. After Henry Turkow’s death, Hannah Turkow continued to travel the world on her own, usually with a tour guide.
“She made all the arrangements herself,” Donni Magid said, citing trips to China, Europe and South America.
A product of her intercontinental life, Turkow spoke six languages: Lithuanian, Yiddish, Russian, Hebrew, German and English. She also “could have a conversation in Spanish,” Ze’ev Magid added.
Aside from travel, Turkow’s biggest hobby was family, and she moved to Philadelphia in 1988 to be closer to her relatives.
“She was interested a lot in family, keeping close contact with family in the States, Israel, Australia, England. She kept my father’s first letter from 1950. She treasured it,” Ze’ev Magid said.
She adored Donni and Ze’ev’s kids and grandkids, whom she called her “little cousins.” “She loved all her little cousins,” Donni Magid said, noting Jewish holidays were one of her favorite times to be together.
He mentioned that the entire extended family was recently together for a July 4 picnic. “She was part of everybody’s life,” he said.
Turkow brought the family together again July 31, when she was remembered fondly at a memorial service.
“It is a tragic irony that she was taken in this way after surviving all that she had survived,” Donni Magid said. “She was an exceptional human being.”