A Holocaust Survivor's Tale


Herta, Herbie and Erica


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By Gemma Blech

Throughout this time, Herbie would only eat strictly kosher food so he lived for the most part on bread and fruit. However, he insisted his young wife and child should eat whatever was available so, once in a while, they got chicken soup from their righteous gentile hostess. During daylight hours these hidden Jews were allowed to move and even have brief trips into the garden. But, once the ambassador was home there was to be no noise of any sort and so young George never wore shoes! He might have had no shoes, but he was the only child in the house and he was spoiled rotten, with extra pieces of chocolate smuggled in from the outside!

Suddenly, the Swiss Ambassador was recalled and they were told they would have to leave the ambassador's residence – which was surrounded by wealthy, Czech Nazi homes. It was the last night of Hannukah, and as an act of faith and rebellion, they lit the 8 candles of Hannukah, saying it was the time of miracles, and this would equip them for the lion's den outside. Herbie insisted that these candles were to be left to burn in the window of the house, although Erica would have much preferred that they played safe and left them on the table inside! Erica and her husband felt they could survive OK on the run, even back in their old home, on their own, but not with little George. So, Erica approached her remaining sister living out in the villages.

Although Ilse was living in a deeply Catholic village, where she had to wear a cross and make the sign of the cross at daily prayers, she agreed to take little George. She told her hostess that he was her much loved nephew, [which he was], and George stayed there until the end of the war. But, all the kids of the village ran round almost naked and small George was told that at all times he was to wear pants - so no one would see he was circumcised. He was also instructed that he should come to his aunt every time he wanted to go to the bathroom. This form of 'terror' had a long time effect on poor George who for years would scream over dressing, undressing and going to the bathroom.

Six weeks before the war ended, Erica's husband was picked up by the Gestapo, and sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Even though not as bad as Auschwitz, Theresienstadt was no picnic, and once the threat of the allies approached, the Germans put everyone onto buses – 'to move them to safety'. But of course they were simply shot, not far from the camp, and the bodies thrown into a local ravine. Once again the family had an amazing escape. When Herbie's turn came to be loaded onto the bus, 'there was just no room', and in the mêlée which followed he escaped and hid. He finally found Erica some three weeks after the war ended – and of course neither she nor George had any idea until that reunion, whether or not he had survived either his 6 weeks in Theresienstadt or the 'death buses' which had emptied the camp.

By this time it was clear there was no question of starting life again in Bratislava, and the decision was made to come to Palestine. Huge sums of money were deposited and they got the passes to come – but at the last moment the Jewish agency rejected Herbie as he was a Revisionist – a supporter of Jabotinsky who taught of the need to fight for the Jewish homeland. The Jewish Agency rejected him and his Right Wing views, preferring instead a Mizrachi family. Erica and the family lost all the money and the family moved to Australia. (The story of the way the leaders of the Yeshuv in those days both before and after the establishment of the State, worked to their own private agenda, demands an article of its own.)

Israel's loss was Australia's gain and the family blossomed in the Land of Oz, in spite of all the initial difficulties. Erica finally moved here to Israel after the death of Herbie. He had remained an ardent Zionist and a committed Jew until the end of his life. He had established a Jewish school in Melbourne, introduced kosher meals and ensured that both the boys [Tommy, the 2nd son was born in Melbourne], were brought up in a strictly orthodox life style and as committed Zionists.

Herta and Erica in Australia, 1950
Herta and Erica in Australia, 1950

Once settled in Australia, Erica became a fashion buyer for a large and prosperous designer business. She has never lost her flair for dress, design and presentation! She is now surrounded by numerous grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren [at the last count!] here in Israel, all of them quite as observant as any of their righteous forebears – and just as committed to taking care of their amazing grandmother!

Erica Today, 2007
Erica Today, 2007

For more articles on the Holocaust, see our Holocaust archives


from the December 2007 Chanukah Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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