Longtime Scarsdale resident Martha Greenebaum Jakes died Aug. 25 in Aventura, Florida, at the age of 97.
Mrs. Jakes was born June 3, 1922 in Oselce, 60 miles southwest of Prague, to Hermine and Rudolf Zenker, the oldest of three children. She married Karl Bloch, M.D. of Prague in 1941, and trained at the Hospital of the Jewish Community in Prague as a practical nurse. But the newlyweds’ life was upended in 1942 when they were deported first to Teresienstadt, then in late 1944 to Auschwitz. Mrs. Jakes was shipped to Kurzbach, a subcamp of the Nazi Gross-Rosen concentration camps, to join a forced labor battalion digging tank traps against advancing Russian troops. Dr. Bloch was murdered in Dachau in 1945.
Mrs. Jakes escaped a death march in Poland near Breslau, as the Germans retreated in January 1945, hiding with two friends in an abandoned house until advancing Russians transferred the women to a center for liberated Allied POWs. The three women then continued their attempt to return to Prague but avoiding the active battlefronts in Germany and Poland. From March 1945 until the end of the war, Mrs. Jakes and her two friends worked again as nurses at a state hospital at Humenne, Slovakia, a town recaptured by the Russians in late 1944.
When Mrs. Jakes returned to Prague in May 1945, she discovered her entire family had been exterminated. She worked for the Joint Distribution Committee, helping other Holocaust survivors find family locally and abroad. She then received a scholarship from the National Council for Jewish Women to study social work at Tulane University; she transferred to Columbia University’s New York School of Social Work, where she earned a master's degree in 1949. She supervised foster children's placement through the Jewish Child Care Association of New York from 1949 to 1952. Though it was her intent to return home to Prague to continue her work with survivors, the Communist coup in 1948 precluded that.
In 1952 Mrs. Jakes married Richard Greenebaum, a lawyer and business executive with M.H. Greenebaum Inc. They were active members of the Scarsdale community, the Jewish Community Center in White Plains — now Kol Ami — and the Westchester Association for Retarded Citizens. They had two children. Mrs. Jakes worked as a social worker at Grasslands Hospital in Valhalla, and as a psychiatric social worker at the Jewish Guild for the Blind/Home for the Aged in Yonkers. In 1974 she joined the faculty of NYU School of Social Work, mentoring students engaged in field work at The Home for the Aged Blind, as an adjunct assistant, then associate professor.
Mr. Greenebaum died in 1972.
In 1983, Mrs. Jakes married Walter Jakes of White Plains, a founder and chief executive officer of the Santa Fe Manufacturing Corp. in the Bronx, and later a computer programmer. He predeceased her in 1989.
Mrs. Jakes helped and resettled new immigrants in America, volunteering with such organizations as the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council of Jewish Poverty, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Congregation Kol Ami. In addition, she spoke to youth groups about her experience in the Holocaust and the capacity for good that she believed existed in all human beings.
In her later years, Mrs. Jakes was a hands-on grandparent, shuttling children to after-school activities, always with a copy of The New York Times or The New Yorker on hand to lighten the waiting time. She also introduced her grandchildren to an appreciation of the arts by taking them to the opera, concerts and museums.
Mrs. Jakes was known as the rare person who embodied grace, resilience, wit and charm no matter the circumstances, her family said. While she had a strong moral compass, she was compassionate to those who erred. She loved her family and friends dearly and could be counted on to provide a warm welcome to anyone in need.
Ms. Jakes is survived by her children and step-children and their spouses Ellen Greenebaum, Michael Greenebaum, Simeon Schwartz, Peter Jakes, Karen Jakes, Michael Jakes and Nikki Jakes; grandchildren and their spouses: Faye Schwartz, Ariel Schwartz Siller, Ethan Siller, Joseph Schwartz, Elisa Rigol Schwartz, Susan Jakes, Jeffrey Prescott, Aaron Jakes and Tania Abbas; and great-grandchildren Zoe, Margot, Miriam, Noam, Elizabeth, Amalia and Phoebe.