Vail Valley Holocaust survivor’s book explains how to live through tough times | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Holocaust survivor’s book explains how to live through tough times

Magda Herzberger survived three Nazi death camps as a young woman

Author, poet, composer and Holocaust survivor Magda Herzberger has written a dozen books of prose and poetry. Herzberger survived three Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. Those death camps were liberated 70 years ago near the end of World War II.

EAGLE-VAIL — Magda Herzberger titled her latest book "Surviving Hard Times." It’s the apex of understatement.

A Holocaust survivor, writer, author and poet, Herzberger dedicated her latest book, "Surviving Hard Times: A Holocaust Survivor's Tools and Overcoming Life's Challenges," to her husband, Eugene, their children Henry and Monica and their grandchildren. If she had not survived three Nazi death camps — Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bremen-Farge and Bergen-Belsen — they would not be here.

"I faced the most extreme adversities that you can imagine," she said. "In order to have the physical and emotional strength to go on, I had to devise which I call Tools of Survival. I had to believe that with these tools I could miraculously survive under those horrific conditions in the camps."

Herzberger has lived through humanity's worst and now strives to bring out its best. Her father died at the camps. As he died, he told Magda to always keep the "gift of forgiveness."

Promises to God

The latest of her 11 books, "Surviving Hard Times" weaves gripping Holocaust accounts with common-sense lessons on surviving even the worst the world has to offer. Her stories are compassionate and inspirational, not lecturing. Among her jobs in the Nazi death camps was hauling dead bodies to piles of corpses to be disposed of in whatever way the Nazis decided on that day.

"People sometimes ask, 'How can you remember so much about the Holocaust?’" Herzberger said. "How could you ever forget? I promised God that my mission would be to do everything I can to make sure these people are never forgotten."

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Along with "Surviving Hard Times," the prolific Herzberger also has "Dream World" on the shelves. It's a powerful combination of poetry and prose that deftly and elegantly captures the beauty in a series of dreams over 10 years. Dreams, not nightmares, although she's had those, too.

Eugene and Magda Herzberger have walked hand in hand through history. Eugene Herzberger, M.D., is a neurosurgeon by training and an adventurer by spirit. He and Magda were among Israel's first settlers after it was declared a sovereign nation on May 14, 1948, surviving World War II and escaping the communist takeover in Eastern Europe. Their children Henry and Monica were among the first children born in Israel.

Being Jewish in a hatred state

Jewish oppression in the 20th century culminated with the Nazis and the death camps of World War II, but it didn't start there.

Magda was 7 years old and living in Romania when her father took her aside and explained the importance of education, and what it means to be Jewish. She soon learned the lesson the hard way. She was 11 years old and attending a school where the teachers and principal hated Jews.

"Jews stand up," the teacher told Magda and the other Jews in the classroom, then called them awful names.

After school the other children threw stones at them and shouted degrading anti-Jewish limericks.

Young Magda turned to her father and asked, "Why do they hate Jews?"

Her father told her they had to make sacrifices for what's important, and education is important. But the grades of Jewish students were routinely lowered to keep them out of better schools, Magda said.

In that part of Europe, students had to have exceptional grades and high scores on national tests to advance to better schools. If they didn't have the grades or test scores, they were funneled to trade schools.

Anti-Jewish laws prohibited Jews from holding management positions, and Magda's father was forced from his job managing an automobile manufacturing company. Jews were banned from public speaking and performing, they could not hold public office, their land and valuables were confiscated. Magda's uncles were forced at gunpoint to abandon their businesses. Jews' radios were confiscated so they couldn't hear the news. Jews couldn't travel, classrooms limited the number of Jews and lastly, Jews in Hungary were banned from schools completely … it went on and on.

"We really were surrounded and stuck," Magda said.

Jewish professors and teachers were fired, which turned out to be something of a miracle, one of a lifetime of Magda miracles.

Their rabbi, Dr. Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, launched two Jewish high schools, one for boys and one for girls, where many of those professors and teachers went to work.

"I had excellent teachers," she said. Magda was 12 years old and knew she wanted to go to medical school. She didn't make it.

"I was 18 when they came to take us," she said.

She was not quite finished with high school as the war raged all around. The Nazis rolled through her hometown, Kolozsvar-Cluj, Romania, on March 27, 1944. In April, Jews were relocated to a ghetto at the edge of town and forced to wear a five-pointed yellow Star of David any time they were outside.

"It symbolized a dirty Jew," Magda said.

In May 1944, the police gathered all the Jewish addresses from city hall and stormed from street to street, giving the families moments to pack before forcing them onto an open truck that would haul many of them to their deaths.

"What do you grab when you can only take one thing?" Magda asked.

She snatched up a book of short stories she'd been writing since she was small. Clutching it to her breast she started outside. A policeman barked questions and commands. When she told him what it was, he smiled the first truly evil smile she had ever seen. The police officer tore the book from her arms and ripped it to pieces.

"I was heartbroken at first," Magda said. "But I quickly realized that I was a writer when I was 10 years old. They could take my book, but they could not take my mind and my heart. I could write more. I can replace this."

Her father was away, working at his clandestine job as an accountant when the police kicked in the door to their house and took his family.

"I begged the gendarme to wait for my father, but they could care less if I ever see him again," Magda said.

He rode his bicycle up the street as he saw the truck pulling away. Pedaling faster than he had in his life, he caught up to the truck, threw his bicycle against a wall and swung on behind with his family.

"At least we were together," her father told Magda.

In "Surviving Hard Times," Herzberger explains how love and forgiveness really do overcome almost anything.

How to survive hard times

Vail Valley Holocaust survivor Magda Herzberger’s book “Surviving Hard Times: A Holocaust Survivor’s Tools for Overcoming Life’s Challenges,” explains how to live through truly tough times

Available on Groundbreaking Press, 8305 Arboles Circle, Austin, Texas 78737. Call 512-657-8780 or go to http://www.groundbreakingpress.com

Local Holocaust survivor Magda Herzberger is among this crowd of Auschwitz prisoners. She and her family were taken to Auschwitz after they were rounded up by the Nazis.