An elderly Holocaust survivor is going to be returning to her Bensonhurst apartment, and her family is vowing to do something to help other people who, like her, have been unfairly evicted.
Eta Eckstein — a 92-year old grandmother — was evicted last month from her 8750 Bay Parkway home while she was in a Coney Island nursing home recovering from a fall, despite the fact that her rent was regularly paid by her son, with her landlord claiming that she had abandoned her apartment.
Upon learning of the eviction, her family immediately mobilized to make sure Eckstein could return to the place she has lived for over 40 years, an effort that was met with success earlier this month when Eckstein’s family and landlord Moshe “Morris” Piller entered into an agreement vacating the eviction during a stint at Housing Court in Brooklyn.
Aiding their cause was the fact that, even after securing the eviction in December, Piller made sure to cash the rent check. He also disregarded the instructions of the court, which had ordered him to place Eckstein’s possessions in a secure area,by tossing some of them out the window and putting the remainder in the basement in an insecure area.
“My family and I have talked about helping others,” noted Eckstein’s grandson Idan. “In one sense, she was very fortunate, being able to fight this. We realize other people in her situation aren’t as fortunate, and we are talking about ways to help those families. People need to be aware that when something like this happens, there’s recourse, that there are resources available. I can only imagine what someone would do at the age of 92 if they didn’t have family locally.”
One possibility, he said was forming some sort of organization to help connect people in his grandmother’s situation with help. But, he added, “We don’t want to recreate the wheel, so if there is something out there already, we definitely want to be involved in it.”
Family members were steamed that Eckstein had been dragged to Housing Court, subpoenaed a day earlier, at 3:30 p.m., by the attorney for her landlord.
“It was only done to harass her,” averred her grandson, Amyt, who was in court with her.
The jury is still out as to whether Eckstein’s apartment will be ready for her return by the court-ordered deadline of March 23rd. Eckstein’s initial return to the apartment, planned for last summerbefore the eviction, had been delayed because of a leak in the bathroom, which caused the ceiling to collapse, leaving a mess which the landlord had taken three months to repair.
“I’d hate to second-guess that he’d go against the court order,” Idan remarked.
Nonetheless, noted Amyt, Piller has ignored court orders before. The necessary work “can be done, but I’m a little skeptical,” Amyt told this paper.
Even if the apartment is completed in time, Eckstein will not be able to move right back in, he added. “At that point, it’s kind of rebuilding her life, reassembling the furniture to the extent that it hasn’tbeen destroyed.”
In addition, thanks to the careless treatment, it’s still unknown how much has been lost in terms of treasured possessions, some of which Eckstein had preserved through the horrors of World War II, including photo albums and her son’s birth certificate. “My dad picked some of those things out of the garbage in the basement,” Amyt said.
Of all of her things, it is the relics of family history that concern them the most, both brothers stressed.
The Ecksteins have trouble believing that Piller didn’t try to evict the elderly woman because she was paying only about $600 a month to live in her rent-controlled apartment. “This situation is so crazy,” noted Idan. “The rent was paid. Her stuff was there. While he said it wasn’t to make more profit, that would be the only reason to do it.”
The Bay Parkway apartment has the indelible feeling of home to the entire Eckstein family. Her grandsons recall walks along the promenade overlooking the Narrows, trips to Carvel and Roy Rogers on Bay Parkway, and afternoons spent at the park with Eckstein feeding the pigeons.
Perhaps most of all, they remember the amazing food she prepared in the apartment kitchen. “Everything would revolve around being in the kitchen in her home,” noted Idan.
“She used to make the most amazing little knishes,” added Amyt. “And the most amazing gefilte fish.” The latter was so good, he went on, that his grandmother once prepared it for Julia Child as part of a traditional Jewish meal.
As she cooked, the boys would get underfoot. “We’d play under the kitchen table with old metal cars,” Amyt remembered. “Then, we would get ushered into the living room.”
By press time, Piller had not returned a call requesting comment.