Are you ready for another incredible layer to the Olomouc Torah story?
On our walks to-and-from the Hotel Arigone to the Jewish Community building in Olomouc we always passed by the Olomouc Art Museum (Denisova 47, 771 11 Olomouc, Czech Republic [tel.: +420 585 514 111; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ].
~1939, The Olomouc Art Museum
The Art Museum hosted the historical exhibition of the old Jewish Synagogue building that was destroyed by the Nazis on the first day of their occupation of Olomouc in 1939. They hosted a gala opening ceremony during our visit, on October 19th at the Archbishop’s Palace to a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds of people.
The Olomouc Art Museum was the place where us tourists, with some degree of bemusement, watched the “hanging guy” (as we called him) traverse his way along the ledge every hour on the hour, grunting and yelling and squirming as he went. It is actually the work of artist David Černý and is a mechanical moving sculpture, that dangles from the museum facade, slowly creeping along its ledge. I’m told it is supposed to represent an “art thief” making his escape. Even if it wasn’t supposed to be funny, we all laughed!
The so called “Hanging Guy” from the Olomouc Art Museum.
Well, it turns out there is another connection to our trip! It starts with the story of Kurt the Hairdresser. What’s that you say?
All of the women in my Mom’s family have, for decades, been going to a hair dresser in Los Angeles named Kurt Ralston. My Bubbie Ruth Sternhill (Z’L) started going to him in the 1950s and she was followed at various times by my Mom, Sherri, her sisters Fritzi, Leslie and Maryl and their children Becky and Erin.
To hear Bubbie talk about him, Kurt was almost an honorary member of the family!
My Bubbie, Ruth Sternhill (Z’L). Kurt did her hair for years at his salon in Sherman Oaks, CA.
Literally as my plane touched down in SFO from Prague, My Aunt Leslie emailed me to tell me that Kurt is from Olomouc! And, according to Kurt’s wife, Judy,
Kurt lived in the building that today houses the Olomouc Art Museum!
“Kurt (Harry) Reichenbaum, and all his relatives (The Donaths) on his mothers side, were all born in the house that today houses the Olomouc Art Museum!”
How’s that for an incredibly small world?
As I wrote in blog posts before, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!”
Kurt’s “coming to America” story is amazing, in and of itself.
Kurt was a 9 year-old boy in 1938-39. Just days before his family left Olomouc, with the Nazis fast on their heels, Kurt contracted Scarlet Fever . Having no choice, Kurt’s family made the difficult choice to leave him behind, in the care of others.
When Kurt recovered, he made his was to New York City alone on a boat that he was told would be waiting for him in Italy. When the boat arrived in New York, no one came to meet him. Why? When a distant relative heard he was on the boat and came to find him, he told Kurt “We didn’t come to meet you because we thought you had died.”
But survive Kurt did, and he made his way to Chicago and then to Los Angeles where he attended Hollywood High.
Famous Hollywood High alumni include: Valerie Bertinelli, Vincent Bugliosi, Carol Burnett, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, Lon Chaney, Jr., Warren Christopher, Laurence Fishburne, John Huston, Alan Ladd, Carole Lombard, Sarah Jessica Parker, John Ritter, Jason Robards, Mickey Rooney, and Joseph Wapner, just to name a few.
At Hollywood High, Kurt was a star football player, and a self-proclaimed ‘jock.’ Kurt needed a job after graduating high school, so a friend with a hair salon in Beverly Hills convinced Kurt to attend cosmetology school. Kurt has been a hair dresser ever since. He reports that as a young man, “it was a great way to meet beautiful women!”
Kurt, and his wife Judy, live in Sherman Oaks. At 87, Kurt is still styling hair for the “beautiful women” of the San Fernando Valley. I’d like to think that list list of clients includes, my Aunts, their children and grandchildren, and occasionally my Mom.
Bubbie, if you’re reading this, I hope you are smiling down from heaven!
Bubbe’s Yartzeit dates through 2035
If you are ever in LA and need to have your hair cut/styled, check out Kurt’s salon at 13632 Moorpark St., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423. Tell him Ruth Sternhill sent you. Kurt will get a kick out of it! 🙂
(Post-script to this story. In late-2021, Kurt Ralston passed away at age 90.
Kurt passed away on August 28th at age 90 from Parkinsons and complications from a fall he took at the end of life.