Local Holocaust survivor, Magda Herzberger writes
August 23, 2007
Author and poet Magda Herzberger, 81, started writing when she was 10 years old. She wrote prose about what she knew best ” a peaceful, happy life in Cluj, Romania. After Hitler and the Nazis invaded her country in 1944, a soldier appeared at her family’s doorstep and ordered the young girl to collect her most prized possessions. Magda grabbed a small notebook of short stories that she had written throughout her childhood. The soldier asked to see the packet and tore it to shreds before her adolescent eyes. He then led Magda and her family to cattle cars where they were transported to Auschwitz, a German concentration camp.
“I remember thinking, you can tear away my book, but you cannot tear away my thoughts,” she said.
Two-and-a-half years later, after World War II ended, Magda was liberated and treated for severe medical problems. She was haunted by vivid nightmares. It wasn’t until she started writing again that she found inner peace.
While attending medical school, she fell in love with a neurological doctor named Eugene Herzberger. She quickly realized that both of them could not go to school and support a family.
“In 1963 I was thinking, what could I do for myself,” she said. “What do I want to do? I spoke enough of the English language to start writing poetry. It came to me out of the blue one day. And once I started I couldn’t let it go. I wrote when I was 10, but that was different. I had to create a new future. You see, no one can create meaning in your life except you.”
In the beginning, afraid of acknowledging the horrors she had witnessed in three different concentration camps, Magda started writing about more pleasant topics.
“I wrote lyric poetry, and I wrote about everything but the Holocaust,” she said. “I stayed away from it. Maybe that’s why I started writing poetry. I didn’t want to write prose because I would write about the Holocaust. Then, something amazing happened. I could not stay away from the Holocaust. It just cried out. So I started writing about it in poetry form, but I didn’t go too in depth. In the beginning, I started writing about the Star of David or the drive to concentration camps but I couldn’t finish it, so I locked up those thoughts for 10 years.”
It wasn’t until Magda started speaking about the Holocaust at various events in 1973 that she found herself able to write about it.
“I was invited to talk about my experiences,” she said. “Then gradually, I started writing. And that’s how ‘The Waltz of the Shadows’ was born. It was so painful. It was my autobiography in poetry form. You are going to find that it talks about the war and the persecution. That book was born though the course of time. But, through a negative thing, something positive was born. The shadows will always be there. But a Holocaust survivor has wounds that leave invisible and permanent scars.”
In addition to writing poetry, Magda, who played piano before the Holocaust, started writing music and lyrics.
“I wrote ‘Requiem’ in memory for all the victims of the Holocaust,” she said. “I included prayer for assistance and the music for it, for piano and voice. It was my first musical composition and I wrote it in 1975.”
Magda’s piano was one of the few saved items she found in her house after liberation.
Slowly, as Magda continued to write, she came to difficult terms with her experiences as a Jew in Nazi territory. “I am encased forever in the memories of the Holocaust,” she said. “For 15 years, I had nightmares about the Holocaust. I still occasionally have nightmares. When I wrote my book, ‘Survival,’ I had nightmares. I was screaming at night. It was very painful for me to write this book. For two and a half years, I had to be in the camp, I couldn’t get out of it. Because every single day you had to write and be there, be there. So you don’t break the images.”
On Aug. 27 from 6 – 8 p.m., Magda will be discussing her newest book, “Tales of the Magic Forest,” at the Bookworm in Edwards.
“I started writing it in 1981 and I finished it in 2001, but it wasn’t published until January,” she said. “It’s poetry and prose intertwined.”
“This is completely different from my other books,” she said. “This is geared for older kids and all ages. I’ve read these stories to high school and middle school kids, and adults. The spirit of creativity and poetry appears to the children and it takes them around on a fantastic, exciting journey into the land of imagination and fantasy. The first stop is the magic forest.”
Magda’s daughter, Monica Wolfson created the illustrations throughout the 211-page novel.
Several parts of “Magic Forest” allude to Magda’s experience during the Holocaust. “There are four stories within my book,” Magda said. “Each story has a strong message. The story of the giant eagle explains how evil, if not recognized, can have terrible repercussions. It can lead to disaster, to death, to destruction, to war.”
Another story discusses prejudice and injustice. Magda identifies most with a story about droplets. “The story of the water drops has many similarities to my own life story, so there are lessons in that,” she said.
For Magda and Eugene’s 60th wedding anniversary, Magda compiled several poems that she wrote throughout their history together and convinced her publisher to create a book. Because of the long publishing process, Magda presented the final copy to Eugene the following year.
“My husband gets emotional,” she said of his reaction to her work. “He starts crying. I always write for him my poems.”
Once again, Magda’s daughter created the artwork throughout the short book.
“I feel like I have a physical presence in this book, because my daughter drew my hands,” she said of the illustrations.
The first poem, “If You Truly Love Me” carries the title and instills in the reader a true admiration for their insurmountable love. Magda has it memorized and recites it with a deep Romanian accent.
“My husband is really so supportive,” she said. “I am very grateful to him. It is so important for me. He supports all my writing. When I started writing my book, ‘Survival,’ I was unsure about how graphic I was. He encouraged me to write all the details. He told me not to be afraid and just write it. That way, people really understand what it was like. I thank God I have a husband like this.”
Magda, who has over 300 of her poems published, says she will never stop writing and encouraging others to do so. Her advice is simple.
“What it means to write a story ” you have to be natural,” she says. “My desire is to instill love in the heart of people for poetry. Because it’s not in schools any more. Poetry is the hardest thing to publish because people think it’s symbolic. Poetry is a form of writing you can do anything with it. Psalms are poetry. You can write stories, you can do anything. I want to share it. I call myself ‘the people’s poet.’ I like simplicity. Tell what you see and don’t dress it up. Be simple and genuine.”
Still, after all she’s gone through, Magda maintains a positive attitude about her past and her future.
“I was a slave laborer, I was a corpse dragger, but I wasn’t humiliated in any other way,” she says. “I was so weak and I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say thank you to the soldier who saved me. I couldn’t talk. He took me to the medical station and then he disappeared. And I never saw him again. He was a guardian angel. That’s why, I would say, in any adverse situation, you should never see the black because there will come a change for the better. Nothing lasts forever. I am very lucky and I explain that in my books. Everyone should have impossible dreams ” I had impossible dreams that came true.”
“As long as I’m living, I will be a writer,” she said. “If I’m not writing, I feel like I’m missing something. Writing is a part of me and it will never go away.”
Magda can be contacted through her website at http://www.magdaherzberger.com. Her books are available at Verbatim bookstore, the Bookworm, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.