The following was originally published in The State on Sunday, September 10, 2006
When Bluma Goldberg sits down to a special dinner with Elie Wiesel and more than a dozen other Columbians on Tuesday (Sept. 12, 2006) before his lecture, the two will share a poignant and powerful connection.
Both are survivors of the Holocaust, both spent harrowing months in Nazi concentration camps, and both lost their beloved parents and other family members to the crematoriums.
They also share this: Both believe it is important to share their stories, to be a witness for those who died.
Goldberg, 80, who was born Bluma Tishgarten, was only 13 when she and her sister fled their Polish town in 1939 as Nazi invaders began to systematically persecute Jewish families.
The two sisters were the only family members to survive.
Both married after the war, Bluma, to the late Felix Goldberg, and Cela, to David Miller. The couples emigrated to the United States and were "assigned" to Columbia.
Goldberg lives in Forest Acres and stays close with her three grown children. She speaks of her memories and the importance of fighting oppression.
ON THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR
"We heard from people that the Germans are trying to get all the Jewish people into the crematoriums. But we didn't believe really that could happen. I had a sister who was four years older than I, and (my mother) she gave us some money and jewelry and whatever, and she said you all go into the woods and see if you can save yourselves.
"I guess they almost believed that something terrible is going to happen to them. We didn't want to go. We cried and said whatever happens to you we want to be together. But eventually we went, and we went in the woods, and we stayed there for three months (before turning themselves in)."
ON THE BERGEN-BELSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP
"In Bergen-Belsen, they took everything away from us. We didn't have anything anymore: any clothes, any jewelry, any money. They took everything away from us and gave us the striped clothes you see on TV sometimes.
"There was no crematorium there, but that was a camp that they sent us to die . . . because you get up at 5 in the morning, and they give us cold coffee and a piece of black bread. And they counted us: so many dead, so many alive.
"People were just dropping dead, from hunger, from typhoid fever, from God knows. We stayed together. That's why we survived, really survived, really. If I was ever by myself, I couldn't have survived. . . .
"At lunchtime, they gave us another cup of coffee and nothing. At dinner, they gave us some soup with a cabbage leaf in it. Naturally, we lost weight every day.
"We lived in a little barrack. There were 30 girls. There were no beds, no mattresses, we just stayed on the floor - on the concrete floor and icicles on the windows. You couldn't turn. You could just sleep on one side.
"There were people there that were smacking their heads against the walls, just going crazy, talking about things that nobody could understand. When you are in this type of situation, or condition, you cannot think normal.
"I don't know what to say. When you see people dropping dead, you wished it were you. Because you couldn't live like that, starving from hunger, and sick and cold. What can I say?"
ON TELLING THE STORY OF THE HOLOCAUST
"I am so thankful that someone of Mr. Wiesel's stature is coming, and it is a great honor for me to meet him personally.
"Since World War II has ended many survivors such as Mr. Wiesel and myself have told our personal tragic stories. Even though I will forever continue my efforts to tell the world what happened, I personally don't think oppression in the world will end.
"I feel terrible that the people in these African countries are being oppressed and murdered. It is the same manner that my family members were murdered by the Nazis. There is no evidence of anyone coming to their aid - just like no one came to help us until the Americans did."
ON HER LIFE IN AMERICA
"I feel lucky to be in Columbia. I have wonderful neighbors. . . .
"I've had a good life here.
America has been good to us."