When the first oral history interviews with Holocaust survivors appeared, they tended to focus only on wartime experiences. Archivist Barbara Kaiser of the Wisconsin Historical Society thought this approach was flawed, since it artificially isolated the horrors of the Holocaust from the rest of the narrator's life.
So Kaiser designed a series of interviews with Wisconsin survivors that discussed not only the Holocaust but also their family history, their childhoods, their post-war lives, their experiences as immigrants, and their opinions of America. In 1979 and 1980, she arranged 22 of these interviews, including this one with Magda Herzberger. All the Wisconsin interviews are online in their entirety at wisconsinhistory.org.
Magda's is one of the most remarkable. It opens with her descriptions of a loving family in the Jewish community of Cluj, Romania, during the 1930s. It recounts her teenage years, when Hitler's rising shadow spread eastward and her adolescent pleasures gave way to anti-Semitic persecution. Then, at an age when most young people are enjoying high school, Magda endured the nightmare of Auschwitz, performed slave labor in Bremen while Allied bombs fell all around her, and barely
escaped death at Bergen-Belsen.
But this interview is more than a Holocaust memoir. Magda also describes returning home, starting medical school, and falling in love. She explains how, witnessing the rise of Stalinism, she and her husband fled their native land for Palestine, only to be imprisoned by the British. She relates how
they endured more than a year in an internment camp on Cyprus.
eyewitness account of the birth of Israel and of starting a new life in
the United States in 1957. She shares her feelings about her adopted
country, about parenting and family life, about being Jewish in a small
town in the Midwest, and about deciding to speak and write publicly about
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