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Rabbi Eva's Yom Hashoah Remembrance Remarks

05/06/2019 01:48:29 PM


Rabbi Eva took part in the Yom Hashoah Remembrance at Manny Cantor last week.  We are proud to present her moving story of her mother's Holocaust survival.

I dedicate my participation this evening to the memory of my mother, Ruth Sax, Rachel bat Pearl v’ Yitchak, who died only 4 months ago at the age of 90.

It is the early 1950s: The Holocaust experience permeates the air of our home, although never overtly spoken about as I was growing up in Chula Vista, a small border town in Southern California. My childhood was plagued by frightening Holocaust themed nightmares. When I shared these images with my mother, she could not respond and early on, I understood that her past was still raw for her, as she did not have the words to comfort me. I was curious about the tattooed number on my grandfather’s forearm, about the gray dress with Juden markings in my grandmother’s closet, the yellow cloth star hidden amongst mom’s colorful scarves and the delicate hankies I would play with.  

Sunday afternoons were a time reserved for survivor families to gather at the shores of the Pacific or at a local park, young children overhearing stories exchanged with other survivors in foreign languages by their parents and grandparents about their respective experiences. My mother shared little with me; perhaps she was still in shock or perhaps to prevent me from absorbing the trauma that I had already inherited in the psyche of my DNA. One of my few memories is her bringing me into her bedroom and showing me a special box. This box housed her treasured miniature toys made of bread dough that had survived with her throughout her years in the camps. A validation of a time of meager sustenance, yet of great hope.  


Oh yes, and there was the time in elementary school that my teacher asked me to invite my mother to talk with my class about her experience in the Holocaust. The curriculum had just been expanded to mention this ‘event’ in our WWII history lessons. I reluctantly made an excuse that my mother was unavailable as I did not want her to relive her experience. I also wanted to hear from her first hand, and not learn as one of the students. It wasn’t until I moved across the country to attend college that my mother began to share her personal narrative in synagogues and public venues. She once showed me the myriad journals filled with detailed notes she maintained, a testament to how she would fortify and preserve her memories. Yes, details, what a memory mom had for names, dates, and places.

Ruth Goldschmied was born on July 6th, 1928 in Moravski Shumperk, a small town in the Czech Republic.  As an only child, she and her parents, Erna and Oskar moved to Brno where they were active in the Jewish community. Until Hitler came into power when my mother was 10, she led a very comfortable life, integrated into the secular and Jewish communities. Her first knowledge of Hitler’s infiltration was when both sets of her grandparents were forced by the Nazis to move from their respective nearby towns and to flee to join the extended family in Brno. It was obvious that something monumental was happening in the city, as covert talk of annihilation was the buzz. First, privileges for the Jews were restricted, such as limited shopping hours; then they were forbidden to attend functions and all cultural events.


On March 14, 1939, after a birthday celebration for my grandmother, my grandfather abruptly instructed my mother and grandmother to quickly get dressed. A taxi was waiting for them downstairs, which would take them to my grandfather’s factory.  He had secretly set up a short wave radio in his apartment to gather information, and he had a premonition that Hitler was preparing to occupy their country within the next 24 hours. When they arrived at the factory, they were met at the gate by the new Director who was flashing a swastika on his coat and boasting that he was now in charge of my grandfather’s factory. He informed them that the Nazis would now occupy the country and handed my grandfather a letter that declared him “Jewish and Vital for the Economy”. The taxi driver panicked and refused to drive them, the Jews, back home so they had to take the train. The streets were already lined with civilians, Nazi sympathizers, who had joined Hitler and cleared the way for the invasion of the Nazis.


However, upon returning to their home, a band of SS officers were waiting for them at the door and confiscated my grandfather’s new Praga- Piccolo car and rummaged through their home like a tornado before they could enter it.  That was the turning point in my mother’s carefree innocent childhood to one of uncertainty, anguish and fear.


Throughout the next two years, life became progressively more restricted. Now having been forced to leave their luxurious home for a small room in the City ghetto, my mother’s family was stripped of communication devices, such as radios and telephones. Their valuables and personal treasures including gold and jewelry were taken away, unless they were preemptively able to give them to non-Jewish friends. Their synagogue was burned and other Temples and shtiebels were used for storage. All of their books were burned. Yellow stars with inscriptions “Yehuda (Jew)” were attached to their clothing.  My mother and her family could shop for only two hours in the afternoon, mostly in open markets as the standard shops displayed signs: “Entry for Jews forbidden.”  Finally, my mother was told she could no longer attend her beloved public school nor socialize in integrated clubs. When she could leave her home, she gathered with other Jewish children and were taught in safe private spaces by older students.


It was now December 1941. About 10,000 Jews in Prague were ordered to gather in a school with their few belongings stuffed into a suitcase. Mom was always in the first row because her number was K-3; her parents were right behind her as K-4 and K-5, so they wound up together on the second transport to Theresienstadt, or as the Czechs say Terezin. When the three of them arrived, they were separated into two barracks, one for women, and one for men. A friend advised my grandmother and mom to start immediately peeling potatoes because that would guarantee them some peels to eat when hungry. No longer did they dine on fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, chicken or chocolates, nor the delectable Shabbat foods prepared by their private chef. Instead, their sustenance came from small rations of bread, perhaps a teaspoon of margarine, and occasionally a ladle of soup. As a special treat, they were given imitation coffee, a half dumpling, and once a week, a taste of horsemeat in the soup that made my mother sick for days. As working Jews, their daily total calorie count was approximately 300 for soft labor to a maximum of 800 calories a day for 10-14 hours of strenuous labor. They were each given an assignment: grandmother cooked for the officers, my mother tended the children’s garden and my grandfather was an exterminator for bedbugs and lice. Typhoid fever was rampant and a daily threat to them.


In 1942, my mother’s  grandparents arrived in Terezin. Only momentarily reunited, soon after, my great-grandmothers were cremated alive and their ashes thrown into the river, while my other relatives were sent to Auschwitz and were killed soon after their arrival. Mom and her mother were sent on the next to last transport by cattle wagons from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz. There, the infamous Dr. Mengele greeted them. Of the 1000 women on their transport, 200 survived, including my mother, grandmother, one aunt and a cousin. They were advised that the elders should be made to look young, and the young women, barely teenagers, should be made to appear much older. While in Auschwitz, my mother had to pass before Dr. Mengele stripped and shaven six times, yet always feeling fortunate to be sent to the ‘good’ showers. All the rest of the large extended Kohn and Goldschmied families perished.


If that wasn’t enough, my mother and her mother, still together, were sent to a labor camp in Oederon, a small town in East Germany. There, they were assigned to work in an ammunition factory, until mom, at the age of 15, was made to work throughout the cold winter with no coat or layered clothing, laying electric cables underground.


Medical and dental care was unavailable. My mother lacked calcium and other nutrients throughout the war, and subsequently suffered the ramifications in later years. Nevertheless, she remained strong, never separated from her mother throughout the three camps and five transports. They made a practice to pray together morning and night, never losing trust and belief in God. As my mother used to say, “God made a beautiful world and it is only people who can destroy it.”


On April 11th, 1945 my mother and grandmother were evacuated from Oderiin back to Auschwitz by train. This stop was temporary, for as the Russians closed in they were once again transported to Terezin. On this final leg of their journey, they were let out 20 kilometers before their destination in what was to have been their final death march. However, the overseers, fearing for their own lives, changed clothes and abandoned their mission. Arriving in Terezin, my mother and grandmother were released and put into typhoid quarantine for a month after the war ended.


There, miracle of miracles, they reunited with my grandfather. He had survived by running away with three friends from Auschwitz and going into hiding. Never in their wildest imaginations had they thought they would be together again.


It was only in the past few years since my father’s death, that my mother made it her focus to tell her story to schoolchildren, in colleges and to adults wherever and whenever she could. Confined to a wheelchair for the last many years of her life never deterred her from her mission to tell her story and inspire others to always have hope. How proud mom felt to get out in the community and achieve her mission of sharing her story with thousands of people. In fact, only last year, as she turned 90, she accomplished numerous acheivements: She was the “SuperHero of ComiCon bringing the message of NEVER FORGET to sold out crowds. She was honored in San Diego as an Eishet Chayil, a Woman of Valor and the County Mother of the Year. She even received an honorary doctorate at the local university for her dedication to Holocaust education . . . quite an honor for someone who only dreamed of higher education. And the ultimate accomplishment . . . last Fall, 100 days before her death, mom fulfilled her dream of becoming an adult bat mitzvah! Her message influenced so many as she spoke to them about never giving up hope, about working hard, persevering and trusting God.  


In recent years I tried to speak with mom about her end of life plans and she would always say “if I die,” never “when I die,” perhaps an indication of how she survived her years in the camps, perhaps indeed her expectation that she was going to fight death beyond what any one of us expected for her. I was always puzzled, perhaps a little mockingly, as I once asked her, “Why is it every human knows that they will die, but you always say ‘if’ I die, as though you had some agency about living forever.” Perhaps she understood something I am only now beginning to understand in my aging years and that is that life does not end with the last breath. One’s life continues as long as a person is remembered. Even in this final season of her life, speaking to endless groups of people and touching many hearts, she has left her own legacy, “Never forget, always remember!”


Wed, February 19 2020 24 Sh'vat 5780