Holocaust survivor speaks at West G.
by Matt Solomon, Staff Writer
In the sheltered, sometimes- privileged lives of the average West G student,
terms like genocide, Auschwitz and the Holocaust can have a hollow meaning of
something terrible, without any connection to how awful they truly are. Recently
some students had the opportunity to get a real perspective on the horrors of
that era. Mrs. Erika Taubner Gold, a holocaust survivor, came to speak to Mr.
Jeff Oviatts classes in the library.
Gold, accompanied by Rabbi Matthew Eisenberg, shared her experience as a child growing up in Hungary when Hitler was in power. The presentation began with Eisenberg sharing wisdom and giving an explanation for why he and Gold came and why it is important to look to the past and to elders. A society that does not honor its elders is doomed to destruction, said Eisenberg. He continued, We learn from the experiences of others, both good experiences and ones we would never, ever want to go through.
After Eisenbergs brief introduction, Gold then began speaking of her childhood. I was born six months before Hitler came into power; my whole life I knew we had to be afraid, she said. Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1932, Gold came from a middle class family. Her father owned a mens store, which was taken away when the Nazis took over Hungary in March of 1944. By the time they reached Hungary, they were very organized. They did in six months there what took five years in other places, she said. Immediately all Jews were forced to wear yellow stars on their clothes. Soon after, her father was sent away to a nearby work camp in a Shell Oil refinery. Due to the size of Budapest, the extermination process was much slower than in rural towns surrounding it, where Jews were immediately rounded up and brought to Auschwitz. Unbeknownst to Gold and her family at that time, her grandfather and great-aunt were gassed in a death camp because they were in their seventies and declared too old to work. We didnt know where they went; people in the United States knew more than we did.
Immediately after the Nazis began capturing the women in Budapest, Golds mother was able to get both her and Gold jobs working in a factory making soldiers uniforms, where they were protected as employees (in the same manner as those protected by Schindler). Soon after though, all Jews in the factory were rounded up and forced onto trucks. At one point when the trucks came to stop in a crowded marketplace, in an incredible act of daring, Gold and her mother jumped off the trucks, dropped their coats that bore the yellow stars, and walked away. Gold looks back at her incredible luck: They just didnt notice us; if they had, I wouldnt be here to tell this story today. They were able to take refuge with a former, non-Jewish housekeeper, where they hid from multiple threats. While they were never found, a man hiding in an apartment nearby was found and shot in the hallway. It was mostly confusion and chaos I knew I had to be scared and be quiet, said Gold.
While they were in hiding, a Swedish official, Charles Lutz, began secretly handing out papers stating that the Jews were under Swedish protection. They were able to get one of these papers to Golds father, saving him from being sent to a death camp. He left the Shell plant and lived in the Budapest ghetto.
On January 15, 1945, the Russian army liberated the city, driving out the Nazis. They didnt help us. They just didnt kill us, said Gold. Golds father found them very soon and they were able to return to their old apartment. Despite some semblance of their old life, the family felt uncomfortable living in Hungary. We didnt want to live in a country where we couldnt trust our neighbors, she said. Golds father had siblings in Cleveland, but they were unable to obtain visas to come to the U.S. In 1948, Cuba began selling visas and Gold lived there for two years before being able to come to the U.S. in 1950. She graduated from Cleveland Heights High School and Case Western Reserve University.
Before leaving, Gold and Eisenberg imparted some advice. Quoting an old Hebrew saying, Eisenberg said, In a place where there are no human beings, strive to be a human being. Golds parting words were, It is important to study and be serious. Vote, know who you are voting for, and always study. When asked what she thinks of the pleas to release elderly Nazi war criminals from incarceration, she says, If they could murder my grandfather when he was 75, then theyre not too old to be punished. As for how her experiences have shaped her life, she said, I dont worry about little things; the only thing that matters is whats in your head. Study as much as you can, help people as much as you can. She says she gives these speeches because, We wont be around much longer and we must tell our stories; some are denying that it ever happened.
Mr. Oviatt, who has had Holocaust and Vietnam speakers in the past, got in touch with Gold, who was a volunteer speaker, through a student of his who attends the same synagogue. He says he has speakers like Gold because, It humanizes history; students can get perspectives of people who went through the things they only read about in books. Oviatt said that he was very happy with Gold as a speaker and believes his students gained something valuable from it. The students seem to agree. Victor Huggare, sophomore, said, We dont realize the depth of what these people went through it shows that we should make sure to be a good person, no matter what the consequences.
The fact that Gold was never in a Concentration Camp has stirred mixed feelings. One sophomore said, It would have been better and more impactful to have someone who was actually in a concentration camp. Another sophomore, Sarah Huntsburger, disagreed: It was interesting that she was never in a camp; she gave a different perspective and made it very realistic it also made me realize what a good life we have. Regardless of the specifics, overall all of the students seemed to feel that the speech was valuable, informative and something that should definitely be done for future classes.