Originally Published: April 17, 2007 4 a.m.
PRESCOTT Magda Herzberger was only 18 years old when her peaceful life in Romania changed forever.
"I was thrown into an environment where hatred and violence rules," she said Monday night, to a packed auditorium at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
What Herzberger referred to was the occupation of Nazi Germany, and her terrifying experiences in three concentration camps: Auschwitz, Bremen, and Bergen-Belsen, the same concentration camp where 13-year-old writer Anne Frank perished.
Temple B'rith Shalom, the Jewish Student Association of ERAU, and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Prescott sponsored a "Day of Remembrance" for victims of the Holocaust at ERAU's Davis Learning Center Monday evening. Herzberger spoke to an intent crowd about her encounters with the Nazis.
"One month after the occupation, all of us of the Jewish faith were forced to pin a six-pointed yellow star on our clothing, (pinpointing) a 'dirty Jew,'" she recalled, her voice filled with emotion.
She left her home in May 1944. "We were forced out of our homes, were exiled, and we were forced into a ghetto ... We slept outside on the bare ground. There was no running water in the ghetto," she said.
By the end of May, things became much worse. Nazi officers rounded up the Jews from the ghetto, including Herzberger and her family, and deported them to Auschwitz in Poland.
"We traveled three days and three nights with no drinks, no food, and there was no bathroom facilities for us to use," she said.
After they got off the cattle cars, the officers began separating the prisoners into two lines.
"We were standing in the selection line waiting for other people to unload the cattle cars. My father and uncle were standing right next to me," Herzberger said.
At this point, she recalled how her father taught her the three pillars of life: faith, hope and love. Her uncle taught her that through pain and sweat, one will increase his or her endurance. These lifelong lessons eventually carried Herzberger through her near-death experiences in the camps.
As she stood in line with her family, Herzberger promised her father and uncle she'd always remember what they taught her. "Shortly after that, the selection process began ... at that time, I was separated from my uncle and father. I never saw them again."
Both died in the camps horrific places that Herzberger described as infested with lice, rats and corpses. Her own body became a "walking skeleton," and Herzberger grew so weak hauling bricks and dead bodies, she collapsed into a pile of corpses one day.
The Romanian teenager lost 80 percent of her family to the Holocaust. However, her mother survived. Above all else, Herzberger remembers the day of liberation: April 15, 1945.
"One British soldier found me in a pile of corpses. He lifted me up and carried me. I couldn't even talk to say thank you," she said.
She remembered looking around at all the other bodies surrounding her, those that weren't as fortunate as she.
"I promised to God, if I survived, I'd keep alive the memories of all the victims left behind," she said.
Today, at 81, Herzberger has written four books, including some poetry and one autobiography. She'll publish her fifth book in June. She's been speaking publicly about the Holocaust since 1973.
Among those that came to listen Monday night, was Prescott resident Michael Veitsman. This Russian 73-year-old is a Holocaust survivor himself, who was a pilot for the Russians.
"It's a place for everyone to be," he said about Holocaust remembrance events. "For me, it's not just stories ... It's the memory of the lost people."