Santa Clarita is home to many Jewish people, and their heritage and life stories add to the cultural richness of our valley. But Newhall resident Erika Schwartz has a particularly important life story to share.
Born in Hungary in 1944, Schwartz is the youngest Holocaust survivor still living in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Because she was an infant, Schwartz has no personal memories of World War II, but the stories told to her by her mother about their life back then are poignant and powerful.
Accoriding to the tales she heard from her mother, Schwartz’s father was in a labor camp in 1944 when he got word that she had been born. He managed to escape to reunite with his wife and daughter. “My father was one of the few people in Hungary who believed all the rumors about (the existence of) the gas chambers,” said Schwartz.
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Looking to avoid that fate for his family, Schwartz’s father was able to convinced the authorities to let him move his wife and baby to Budapest, where they lived under the guise of being Christian. “Pretty much the only Jews in Hungary that survived were the ones in Budapest,” said Schwartz, “because those were the only ones that had not yet been sent to Auschwitz when the liberators came.”
Though Schwartz and her mother managed to hide from the Nazis until the liberation, her father was not so lucky. “The only time he saw me was when I was a week old, when he got us out of the ghetto. He didn’t want to stay with us after that because he was afraid that if he was captured, we’d also be caught.” Her mother never saw her husband again.
Schwartz’s aunt was also a victim of the Holocaust. According to Schwartz, her mother’s younger sister was living with them in a small apartment in Budapest when she was betrayed by a friend. The 19 year-old woman was out looking for food one day when a Nazi sympathizer recognized her and shouted to a nearby official that she had spotted a Jew. The officers chased Schwartz’s aunt into a building where she tried to escape out a window but fell to her death.
Schwartz and her mother were the only ones in her family to survive the war. “I had three little cousins…a three year-old little girl and two little boys who were 8 and 10…who all died in the gas chambers. My mother’s older sister died in a gas chamber, and her mother and grandmother.” The men in the family all perished in labor camps.
A few years after the war, Schwartz’s mother was finally allowed to emigrate to the United States, but was not allowed to bring her young daughter with her. So her mother left her in Hungary with a married couple whom she trusted. But the childless couple soon decided to kidnap the little girl and keep her as their own. Schwartz’s mother had to hire a detective in Hungary to find her daughter and bring her to the United States. It was just after Schwartz’s fourth birthday that she was finally reunited with her mother in the U.S., where she was raised.
Schwartz and her husband lived in New York and Maryland before settling in Santa Clarita in 1987. And though she is still haunted by the horrors of the Holocaust, Schwartz finds comfort with her new Jewish family at Temple Beth Ami in Newhall.
“Two years ago we joined Temple Beth Ami and became acquainted with Rabbi Mark Blazer, and immediately fell in love with him,” said Schwartz, who feels blessed to have found a home in the SCV. “It’s a wonderful congregation and great community.”
To listen to the complete podcast of this interview, go to http://hometownstation.com/podcasts/khts-special-broadcasts/holocaust-survivor-interview-khts-34151
- SCV Woman Is Area’s Youngest Holocaust Survivor
- Source: Santa Clarita News
- Kevin Kelton
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