Dehydrated and starving, she dragged her frail and famished body under a tree stump in the depths of a birch forest.
As she sat down on the grass littered with rotting human corpses, she hoped and prayed for someone to rescue her. Every day of starvation brought her closer to the death she was fighting. Her prayer was answered and the British liberators came to save the remaining captives.
For more than a year, Holocaust survivor Magda Herzberger was held in three concentration camps, Auschwitz, Bremen and Bergen-Belsen.
More than 80 percent of her family was killed, Herzberger said.
“You know it is hard even to really lose one relative, but imagine when your family is wiped out,” she said. “I am not talking about only one or two relatives I talk about many people, whom you loved, and then suddenly you lose all at once. You lose all of them.”
Through all of the brutality and death that surrounded her, Herzberger maintained her values of faith, love and compassion, which were instilled in her as a child.
Her strong personality was not broken while being held captive. Her best traits are her high level of integrity and honesty, her husband Eugene Herzberger said.
During the late 1930s, anti-Semitism spread through Europe and into Herzberger’s home city, Cluj, Romania. Many laws were enforced by the Schutzstaffel and adopted by anti-Semitic citizens.
One of the laws made it mandatory for Jews to wear the yellow Star of David, which symbolized a “dirty Jew.” They were also banned from using public transportation and were fired from powerful jobs, Herzberger said.
Her family did not anticipate that the anti-Semitism would escalate to the extent that it did.
“We always thought that it was temporary, the government would change, [and] something was going to make it better,” Herzberger said. “You see, we did not think that things would be that bad .who would, in their right minds, would think that this is going to happen?”
The life that her family knew was completely taken away when they, along with the rest of the Jews in her city, were forced into ghettos and later into concentration camps.
Auschwitz was the first concentration camp she was taken to. When she arrived, her family was split apart. Her father and uncle were taken in one direction, and she was taken in another.
“I was separated from my father and uncle, and I never saw them again because they both perished in the concentration camp of Dachau,” Herzberger said.
She stayed in Auschwitz for seven weeks and then she was taken to the Bremen concentration camp.
“I was taken to my second camp, and after I was taken to my second camp, I heard that two months later my whole Hungarian [and] Jewish lady camp was gassed and cremated, because they were already in bad condition,” Herzberger said.
In her autobiographical book, “Surivival,” Herzberger described Bremen as a place where she and the other captives were forced to clean up the rubble of the continuously bombed city. Her day consisted of the constant danger of being bombed and one small portion of soup that did not contain the nutrients her body needed.
The last concentration camp Herzberger went to was Bergen-Belsen.
“Bergen-Belsen was a true horror camp. The camp, when we arrived, was littered with corpses, the ground of the camp, in all types of decay,” she said.
“There were pyramids of corpses [that were] naked and rotten . the barracks were infested with lice, with illness, with rats, [and] with dead bodies. We had to drag the corpses. There weren’t even places in the barracks when we arrived. We had to sleep next to the corpses. The stench was terrible. You know it was epitome of horror.”
Through her traumatic experience, Herzberger tried her hardest to keep a hopeful frame of mind while she fought for her life. She created a meaning for her life in order to escape the rough conditions of the concentration camps.
“So what meanings could I give to my life in those circumstances to justify that I chose life. Number one, I said that I am too young to die. I can’t die at age 18. I have so many things I want to do in my life,” she said.
“Second, I don’t want to be buried in a mass grave and dragged as I dragged the corpses of my fellow prisoners. I don’t want that. I wanted to survive. Maybe I can do something for the others maybe I can talk about this. What would be the other reason that I wanted to live? Naturally I wanted to see my family, and I said that if I died and they came back and I don’t, it would be such a terrible grief for them.”
Herzberger used these meanings of her life as her reasons to live. She was liberated by the British from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 15, 1945.
Six months after liberation she went back to her hometown of Cluj, Romania where she found her mother.
After surviving the Holocaust, Herzberger became an author, public speaker and music composer.
“One of my very important missions in life is to keep alive the memory of all of the victims of the Holocaust, but also I want to present the beauty of life through my music and words,” Herzberger said.
She has four published books and has told her Holocaust experience to numerous synagogues, universities, and schools.
On April 29 at 10:30 a.m., Herzberger will speak at an event held by the Ben David Messianic Jewish congregation at the Eastside Christian Church on Yorba Linda Boulevard.
Jerry Sands, member of the Ben David Messianic Jewish congregation membership team, is anticipating the event.
“I think no matter if you’re Jewish or Gentile, a believer or a non-believer, it is very important that the six million Jews and the many other gentiles and gypsies and the many of people that perished under that terrible genocide, that story needs to be told so that people can be aware of it and remember it,” Sands said. “And above all we can’t let that happen again.”