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Welcome: The Birke Story

May 13, 2010

Dear Friends:

Thank you so much for visiting this special site dedicated to a truly remarkable story: that of my parents, Nathan and Sally Birke, and the community they created in their adopted home of Lowell, Massachusetts. It is in their honor that I helped produce the hour-long documentary film “Browsing Through Birke’s,” which highlights the journey my parents made as Holocaust survivors in Poland to entrepreneurs and business-owners in the United States. This site was not just created to honor their spirit, but to continue telling their story through the eyes and voices of all of those who met or befriended them.

As you learn more about their journey and the circumstances that brought them to America, I hope you will keep in mind your own stories of family, friendship, and success. I hope you will use this website to stay connected to us and to share your own memories and thoughts of the Birke family, including our beloved Birke’s Department Store. Feel free to leave your comments on this page anytime or contact me personally at

Thank you for visiting, and please stay in touch!


Szifra Birke

Visit the Birke’s Department Store Photo Gallery with amazing photos by Kevin Harkins

15 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2010 10:18 pm

    Hi Szifra,

    What a wonderful project! I hope to come to your screening at Life Alive —

    With Cheers and BRAVO!


    • September 15, 2010 8:46 pm

      Thank you, Lisa.
      I am so sorry I didn’t see this earlier.
      I so appreciate your encouragement.
      Just got the new version of the film–complete with extras and the introduction I did on May 18.

      Hoping you are well and continuing your exciting and helpful ventures. I was glad to be introduced to laughing yoga by you.
      Thank you.


  2. September 3, 2010 6:13 pm

    I just watched your Introduction at the showing of Browsing Through Birke’s… and I laughed and I cried. Thank you for your courage and perseverance with this project. Your voice and messge will reach many people an so many levels. Your impact will be felt in ways you never expected.
    Good luck!
    Now I am going to watch the film,
    Thank you,

  3. November 29, 2010 11:28 pm

    I remember shopping at Burkes and I never got kicked out! As a young adult in the restaurant business, every time I would go in, your dad would ask me to get him fried scallops. I would return to the restaurant I worked at, cook him a plate and to your moms dismay, I would bring him a dinner. I know it was not good for his health but for what he did for my family, I couldn’t say no. Who could say no to Nathan? My mom was Pauline Ryan and as a young child we use to shop with May Bouchard. Your mother and father were great Friends with May and Pete. May introduced my mother to them and to the store. I grew up in the Chelmsford Street Housing Project with seven brothers and two sisters. My mom raised us alone. Good Irish Catholic. Nathan was always very nice to my mom! Sally was even nicer. They use to give my mom discounts on clothes at Easter for the girls and we all were dressed each Christmas with Birkes attire! I seem to remember a book that use to document a credit account for my mom. She paid faithfully! All the boys in my family were dressed in Harris Tweed! I loved those jackets with the patch on the elbow. The saying in my house was “the first one out was the best one dressed”. These are only a few of the great memories I have of Sally, Nathan and Birkes! My mom passed away ten years ago this past September at only 69. May and Pete Bouchard have been gone for many years. I did see your mom about five years ago at the “Taste of Tewksbury”. I was a restaurant sponsor at the Assisted Living Community. Please let her know she is in our thoughts and prayers and I could never have enough wonderful things to say about her and my buddy Nathan. He wasn’t as bad as people say, you just needed to find his soft spot. For me that was fried scallops!

    • December 3, 2010 12:52 am

      Thank you so much, Bob. What a great set of memories. Mrs. Bouchard was a great friend to my mom and always so nice to us. I’m so sorry your mom passed away so young.

      What restaurant did you/do you have? I could bring my mom in and we could catch up!

      Thank you again for writing; I so appreciate you taking the time to share these memories.


  4. Scott permalink
    December 2, 2010 4:38 am


    I used to live in Lowell and shopped Birke’s almost weekly from the mid-90’s until I moved to Boston in 2002. I got to know Sally well and usually stopped through just to say hello. She was always amazingly nice. I would send her cards during the holidays and bought her lunch on a few occasions.
    Birke’s had a raffle one time with 10 prizes. I came in 7th. She gave me this giant yellow piece of cardboard with a hand drawn ‘7’ on it and told me I could cash it in anytime… I told her I liked the piece of yellow cardboard with the ‘7’ on it and that I was happy with that prize. I still have it to this day as one of my most cherished possessions!!
    I’m so happy that someone has made a documentary about the place. I can’t wait to see it!!
    Should bring back lots of great memories.

    Thanks, (dziekuje bardzo!!)
    Scott Pittman

  5. December 3, 2010 12:58 am

    Scott, what a tribute. Thank you so much. So, you knew my mom after my dad died, and the store was a vintage place…Did you stop in to see my mom? My sister Roz recently told me that a high school friend of hers used to come to see my mom when she felt bad because being around my mom made her feel better.

    Thank you for making my mom feel special. I’m sure she lit up with your cards, lunches, and visits. And, the number 7 story! That so touched me. I can’t wait to share this with all the members of my family.

    Best to you, and let me know what you think after you watch the film.


  6. Anonymous permalink
    July 13, 2011 2:18 pm

    Szifra: Thanks so much for posting your notice in the most recent Bostonia magazine (CAS ’68) which, belatedly, made me aware of your wonderful documentary film. Growing up in Lowell was great fun, highlighted by the end-of-summer shopping trips to McQuade’s, the Thorndike Factory Outlet and of course, Birke’s. Wonderful memories to be sure. The very best of everything to you and yours.

    Pedro Pappas

    • July 16, 2012 2:21 am

      Hello Pedro, I so appreciate your writing and am so sorry I have not seen your post until now!
      It’s always great to hear any Birke’s-related story; thank you for reminding me how much back-to-school shopping at Birke’s was so important for so many Lowell-area families. Best to you, as well. And, again, thank you for taking the time to write.

  7. Richard permalink
    January 2, 2013 8:04 pm

    Szifra and familty… read of your Mom’s p;assing in the Globe today. Wish I had visited Lowell to meet your family. Sympathynto the family on her passing 12/28/12. She was a part of world history.

    • February 13, 2013 2:56 pm

      Thank you. We’re hoping to put a link so you can watch the Memorial Gathering on the website- so you can feel like you were there.

  8. Harvey Byers permalink
    January 5, 2013 12:16 am

    Zifre,I as a child remember your folks living in the Temple.My dad who was a local business man was one of the few who admired your folks.Your mother invited us to dinner when you lived on Gorham st.Sally served pork chops.My mother almost fainted .I spent many an hour in the store I tell stories of the Birkes today.Steven Speilberg could do a wonderful movie.I’ll be there Saturday .I have some great stories,Harvey Byers

    • February 13, 2013 2:57 pm

      Sally serving pork chops to your parents. That’s so funny! My dad LOVED pork chops…

  9. Mark Greenberg permalink
    January 14, 2013 2:09 pm

    Szifra, I met you many years ago in your parents store. I lived in Lowell with my grandparents for awhile, and you might have known them, Rose and Leo Stern of Stern Hat & Cap Co. on Middle St. I used to work there when I was a kid and learned to be a road rep. from my grandfather and father as they ran the business, but I remember your parents well especially your father. He was quite commical and always made me laugh. I remember one time, walking with him and my father downtown, and my father had a brand new coat on and your father felt the coat and said it was a piece of shit. Well I laughed til the tears rolled down my face. But reading your story and reading other peoples comments, brought back alot of memories. So sorry about your mom and I know your parents will be missed. Best wishes, Mark Greenberg

    • February 13, 2013 3:00 pm

      Wow, what memories you’ve brought back, Mark. That story about my father saying your dad’s new coat was a piece of shit made me laugh out loud. My dad was not afraid to say what was on his mind!

      Thank you for taking the time to tell this story.

      On another note, was Zelda your cousin?

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