Holocaust survivor to recount tale of horror
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Magda Herzberger’s early years were happy and simple. With the help of her uncle, she beat out the boys to become a junior fencing champion. Her father was an international businessman who filled their middle-class home with music. It also was filled with love, respect and compassion.
Everything changed in 1944, when she was 18 years old.
Herzberger was deported with her family from their neighborhood in Cluj, Romania, to extermination camps during World War II. After a British soldier found Herzberger barely alive in a pile of corpses at Bergen Belsen camp, Herzberger learned that her father and adored uncle had died. She and her mother survived.
Now as she enters the age of 92, Herzberger is a poet, composer, author of 13 books and speaker. Grand Canyon University students have the opportunity to hear Herzberger’s story at 5 p.m. Tuesday on the fourth floor of the Library. In her detailed autobiography, “Survival,” Herzberger relates her experiences and her struggle to survive during her captivity in the three German concentration camps: Auschwitz, Bremen and Bergen Belsen. Herzberger had been used to dig graves and collect corpses.
Herzberger is full of life, but there was once a time when she resisted committing suicide and found God’s strength to survive.
“I did not want to become a hateful person after this happened to me,” she said. “I decided to take attention away from my own misery and be the spokeswoman of those who were silent forever. I know what it is like to die and to become a prisoner because I was there in hell itself.”
Between 1939 and 1945, the Holocaust claimed the lives of millions in the Nazi-occupied Europe. As the number of survivors declines, Herzberger looks to speak about the Holocaust with a certain urgency.
“People have to know the right information about what the Holocaust was really like because it is minimized. At times, there are people who say it never happened,” she said.
Herzberger said that to survive she needed to condition her mind “to have no fear and to believe to see another day. You had to put a ray of hope inside when all you saw was darkness.”
She said her decision to live overpowered everything else: “I knew I was going to fight to come home.”
Herzberger remembers the pain of revisiting those memories to write her autobiography. For more than 20 years, Herzberger suffered from nightmares and depression before she began writing.
“I cried and I screamed and I would stay up and have nightmares return – because I struggled with regular nightmares when I came home,” she said. “But I knew that I had to revisit hell to leave behind a legacy forever.”
When she eventually found her new purpose, Herzberger began sharing her story whenever she could.
“I have been speaking for many years because I love the kids and I love the young people,” said Herzberger. “I have received thousands and thousands of letters.”
Despite the experience of radical evil, Herzberger, who lives in Fountain Hills with her husband, Eugene, 98, has forgiven the Nazis and shares a message of grace and hope.
“As I get older, my motto is: Start the day with a smile and not a tear; but with courage and no fear,” she said.
Herzberger’s presentation is hosted by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Herzberger last visited the campus in 2014.
“Magda honors us by her incredible story of survival and resilience in the face of unfathomable suffering and despair,” said Dr. Sherman Elliott, the CHSS dean. “Through her public outreach and published works, she allows each and every one of us to bear witness to the tragedy of the Holocaust in hope that it never happens again.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or [email protected]