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Holocaust Survivor Forgives Through Her Hope in God

Magda Herzberger was born in 1926 in Cluj, Romania. She remembers a happy childhood and the principles her parents taught her as a little girl.

“My grandfather was a businessman. He was very successful.  My father was a manager in a large engine factory.  We had a good life. I was the only child to my parents, but we had an extended family, many cousins and many uncles and aunts, because my grandfather had 12 children. And uh I grew up uh with a great love for Almighty God my parents instilled in me and those wonderful principles to be a good person, to be loving.”  

Magda was 18 when Hitler’s troops occupied Romania.

They occupied it in 1944, March 27th.  After they came in, that we were forced, all of us, our Jewish faith, to so sew on our clothing the six-pointed yellow star of David, which is the humiliation of our religion.  The yellow color symbolized the dirty Jew. Can you imagine walking on the street with that uh sign of discrimination and they were anti-Semitic elements who could beat you up, who-who could attack you.  From that time on, we lived in fear.

A month later, Magda and her family were exiled to the ghettos on the outskirts of Cluj.  Not long after, they were forced into cattle wagons, taking them to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where they were separated through a degrading selection process with several phases — first, the men and women were divided.

“My father, in his last words, when we were separated in Auschwitz, you know, Birkenau, was ‘I want you to follow the path of love, forgiveness, and tolerance. Hang on to the three pillars, strongest pillars of life; faith, hope and love. And never, never let hatred enter your heart, because hatred is an evil force and ultimately it will destroy you."  

Ahealthy teenager, Magda was considered useful and was assigned to gather the lifeless bodies and dig graves.  

And so I went through different stages.  After the stage of – of emotional outrage, it's emotional pain, undescribable because you realize that it's true, – it is a present which is a nightmare. And then what you have to do in order to survive, to accept it.  Now, this is the hardest thing.  How can you accept something like that, you know?  But you have to bring some positivity, some hope into yourself, and say, and maybe it's not going to last forever.”

After seven weeks in Auschwitz she was shipped to a second camp in Bremen. Her health declined as she endured forced labor, starvation, and frigid conditions in the winter of 1945. Then, she was moved to a third camp in Bergan Belsen and by the end of the third week there, Magda was near death.
And then one day I collapsed by the trunk of an old birch tree and and I prayed to God.  I couldn't move anymore hardly.  I couldn't speak anymore.  I knew that I’m dying.  And I accepted that as the will of God.  But I asked God to help me to have an easy death. And I asked God to take my soul to heaven.  But on that day I also said, "Almighty God, only you can make a miracle of this sort.  I don't know, but if you give me a second chance, I'll dedicate my whole life to keep alive the memory of all those who perished there and the memory of the holocaust. "

That day, the camp was liberated by the British. A soldier lifted Magda from among the corpses that surrounded her.  I call him my guardian angel, found me.  He came to – there were thousands of corpses.  I was lying in – surrounded by corpses.  And he noticed that I was alive.  Maybe I blinked.  And he picked me up and put me – and took me along to get help.

Magda eventually reunited with her mother- -she lived until she was 93. Magda and her husband Eugene immigrated to the U.S. in 1957. She is a former marathon runner, skier, and mountain climber.  Eugene is a retired neurosurgeon who practiced for 20 years.  

The couple, in their 90s, reside in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Magda is a lecturer and author of 14 books including her autobiography as well as poetry.  She says it’s only through God that she has been able to forgive and fulfill her mission to never let the holocaust be forgotten.

Despite all my suffering and all the horrible things that I experienced, I'm still a loving and forgiving person.  My desire for peace, harmony, love, tolerance, forgiveness and brotherhood on earth is best expressed in one of my prayers which is enclosed in my book:

Almighty God, upon you I call
Don't let evil spirits possess my soul
Don't let hatred strangle my love
Or despair crush my hope.
Tie me with the rope of patience
To the pillar of strength,
When anger erupts in my mind, don't let emotional blind my reason
Teach me the psalm of faith and restore my calm
Dispel my doubts and fears while the bells of life toll my years
Let the warm rays of affection and compassion conquer my spirit
O Lord, our God, please disperse the seeds of peace and brotherhood upon the earth
As times rolls on the wheels of the universe.

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