Steinberger (Part II)

What happened to your father?

My mother was under the impression that my father had died. I knew that I was a young girl and I wanted to live. At one point when things were really tough my mother suggested that she would take me to the Danube River and I could jump in so that I would not have to suffer any longer; but as young as I was, I understood and I refused. I even had to persuade her not to kill herself.

My father was taken to a concentration camp in Germany. As the men were being carted away, he made a last promise to his sister that he would take care [of] and save her husband. My father had emunah peshutah and he truly believed that he would be able to help him.

One night my father went to the office. On the way he was caught by a kapo. The kapo said to him, “What a stupid Jew you are! You think that at night you will get food or favors? You think you will escape?” My father spoke the German language well. He straightened his back and he said to the kapo, “When I arrived here they took everything away from me, including a picture of my daughter that I had, and I want to have that back.” Unbelievably, the kapo returned with the picture and gave it to my father. The kapo said to him, “If there is someone who is so crazy to actually risk his life to come and ask for a picture, then he should get it.”

One time a soldier came into the barracks requesting anyone who knew how to sew to come forward. My father was unsure if he should go or not but decided to take the chance. They gave him a jacket with buttons to sew on. The soldiers were extremely pleased with his work and rewarded him with an extra roll. My father saved the roll for lechem mishneh on Shabbos and divided it among all those present.

My father’s very strong emunah kept him going. Those whose emunah was not as solid could not survive.

Suddenly they caught sight of Red Cross cars passing in search of Jews who were trying to escape from the crematorium. They took my father to a hospital in Switzerland to recuperate, for his body was in very bad shape. When he was a little better they put him onto a train headed back for Hungary, where my father hoped to find his family.

How did you find each other?

My father wanted to return to Budapest where we were separated, hoping to find us. One day we heard a knock on the window and, lo and behold, there was my father. I was overjoyed for I always believed and tried to instill in my mother the same enthusiasm that my father is alive and that one day he was going to return to us.

The Russians arrived, screaming, “German kaput, German kaput — we have finished them off!” My mother was extremely scared of the Russians …. The Russians brought us a lot of food but everyone tried to keep their distance. On one occasion the Russians burst into the home [in which] we were staying. Everyone was really scared. Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave my mother an insightful idea. She asked me — her little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl, to get up and sing for the Russians. The Russian soldiers began dancing; they danced and danced, and this appeased them.

Once you were liberated, where did you go?

We did not even have identification papers; we needed to find relatives to help us. Both of my parents came from large families but very few remained alive. We traveled to many places along the way before arriving in America. We stopped in Uruguay where my father opened a garment-manufacturing business and I was a saleswoman. In addition, I was a big help to my parents because I learned many languages.

I was educated while we were in Switzerland. I realized early on that unless I get a high education I will not be able to make anything of myself. First I taught in a school for special education. Once I got my PhD I became a professor in a university.

What message can you impart to today’s generation?

Believe and trust in Hashem and then everything will work out. Put effort into your studies and your work and you will enjoy the fruits of your labor. Good things don’t happen on their own; you need to show your hishtadlus.


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.