What would I do if someone marched into my home right now and hauled my family away?
What would I do if I was then forced to ride in a cattle car for three days without food or water or a bathroom?
What would I do if I was then, at my destination, made to get into a line where someone would decide at that moment whether I would live or die?
I wouldn’t have gotten passed that point. Of that I am sure. I would then have been ordered into a gas chamber. I would have died.
This is what Magda Hertberger faced. Only Magda did not have my attitude. Magda was determined to live.
We were privileged to have 90 year old Magda Herzberger speak this week in chapel. Witnessing her story is one of the most remarkable things I have ever heard. Magda’s goal was to keep the memory of those who died in the Holocaust alive. She accomplished that goal. I will never forget what I heard her speak that day.
On that first day in Auschwitz Magda passed inspection. She was not sent to the gas chamber. She was considered useful. Unlike anyone under fourteen, anyone older, anyone sick, or anyone pregnant all those were immediately exterminated. Magda credits her survival at this point to her uncle who was adamant in teaching her fencing as a child. So at the time of her arrest, eighteen year old Magda considered herself a strong girl.
And that beloved uncle who taught her? He perished in the Holocaust along with Magda’s father. She never saw them again after that first day in Auschwitz.
We could call her “lucky” to have survived the gas chamber that day. But was she really? Why was she considered useful? Because they needed people to drag the hundreds of corpses to be burned.
Magda Herzberger survived three different extermination camps. Barely.
But what amazed me as I listened to Mrs. Herzberger speak was her attitude. I had expected someone full of hatred and sorrow. But that is not what I found. I watched someone who was humorous and full of life. I heard someone who was filled with faith. In fact she told us that throughout her time in the Holocaust that she wanted to maintain her belief. She even prayed to God to not let her be filled with hatred. Her motto was faith, hope, and love. Magda Herzberger is an amazing lady. She has been through more horrific times than anyone I can imagine. Yet she speaks the message of hope like no one I’ve ever heard.
I will never forget her, or her message.