Three Holocaust survivors shared their experiences with more than 900 Valencia High School students on Tuesday as a part of their 10th grade Modern Civilization history course.
Each of the speakers had a very different experience in captivity, but they each shared the pain, the heartache and the horrors they witnessed with the gathered students.
The first of the three speakers, Eva Trenk (née Juskovicova) was no more than a young girl of 4 when she was first placed into a concentration camp, as she explained to the gathered teenagers before her in the Valencia High School theater.
Born in 1937, Trenk grew up in Backov, a village in eastern Czechoslovakia. In 1939, it was a part of independent Slovakia that had declared allegiance to Nazi Germany.
As a part of a well-off family, Trenk lived a comfortable life. Her grandparents owned a textile company, which would be taken from them when it was ruled that no Jews were allowed to own a business.
By late 1942, the Jews of Backov — including Trenk, her parents, brother and maternal grandmother — were ordered to pack one suitcase each and were taken by bus and train to Zilina, a transit and labor camp in northwestern Slovakia, 170 miles from their home.
There, 4-year-old Trenk was immediately separated from her family. While they were kept within the same camp, the men, women and children were kept apart. Trenk saw her parents only occasionally, with weeks going between glimpses. Her older brother, Artur, stayed in the boys’ dormitory next door.
In the summer of 1943, her mother, Berta, learned that Trenk’s father had been deported to Auschwitz. Deciding that the remaining family should escape from Zilina, she bribed an officer to assist them, using gold jewelry she had smuggled into the camp.
“He knew other soldiers. It would have been impossible to do alone,” said Trenk. “But because he had those connections to other soldiers, he was able to take us away.”
An accomplice took Trenk, her mother, brother and grandmother away from the camp and brought them to the home of a Christan family in Slovakia, who helped them get fake paperwork with new Christian identities. Overnight, Eva Juskovicova became Margaret Sabor.
After nearly a year of freedom, Trenk’s mother was arrested by Nazi soldiers in the summer of 1944 on charges of treason and accusations of being a member of the resistance, a partisan.
Her mother was held in custody and abused for the next two weeks, before Berta convinced the Nazis that she was an innocent Christian woman and they released her. Trenk never learned the true extent of what happened to her mother during those two weeks in captivity.
The next day, the family boarded a bus and fled to a camp in the mountains of central Slovakia, where they hid, along with resistance fighters and other Jews, sleeping on piles of leaves in makeshift campsites.
In the fall of 1944, Trenk’s family was recaptured. They were marched down to waiting trucks, and were bundled off to Sered concentration camp in western Slovakia.
Everyone worked in the camp, even the children. For 7-year-old Trenk, that entailed caring for the camp’s white rabbits, which were raised for wool.
One day in March 1945, Trenk was with her brother when they saw the sky fill with airplanes. These “silver birds,” as an 8-year-old Trenk called them, are now believed to have been American airplanes.
On April 1, 1945, Eva and her family were awoken by the sounds of gunfire and screaming. The Russian Army had arrived. The family stayed hidden within their barracks until the sounds of fighting died down.
“In May 1945, the war was over, finally. Everybody was happy, there were lots of emotions, there was lots of shooting because the Russians were fighting with the Germans. It was hard,” said Trenk. “But it was over.”
After the war, the surviving family met an Auschwitz survivor who said that they had seen Trenk’s father just before the end of the war. However, he was never found, and Trenk believes her father was murdered in the camp.
“Trust me, even in my old age, I still miss my father. It is very emotional for me, because I was a child losing a father, and to perish in such an unfortunate situation, it is very tragic,” said Trenk.
Trenk’s surviving family returned to Backov, only to discover that the city had been “burnt down to the ground,” destroying any remaining photos of Trenk’s father.
The family moved to a nearby town and attempted to start over. Trenk’s mother and grandmother worked, and the children went to school.
“I didn’t have one Jewish friend because there were no survivors my age,” Trenk said.
Trenk tells her story so that the coming generations can understand the reality and true price of the Holocaust.
“I lost 80 percent of my family… It is very important for young students to hear this experience, because many times people still don’t believe it happened. The Holocaust really happened. Six million Jewish people, why did they perish? Because of one person … devastating the world,” said Trenk. “Why did I have to suffer? Can you imagine? You are 3, 4, years old, and you are losing your family, you are losing your comfort, you are losing everything.”
While Trenk does not have a number tattoo, she did mention that is the most common question she receives from students.
When questioned on how such mass genocide could have occurred under the blessing of the society in which it occurred, Trenk credited the fact that the harmful rhetoric had started with the youth.
“He first started getting the youngsters on his side,” said Trenk, referring to Adolf Hitler. “In every place, you have people who want to be different, and then you have one person who comes up with an idea, and so the people will follow them.”
For many students, this was their first exposure to the true impact of the Holocaust, as evidenced by their rapt silence during Trenk’s presentation.
While the students knew conceptually that between 1941 and 1945, 6 million Jews had been systematically murdered across Europe, it was still very different to hear and see the impact that such events had on people first hand, students said.
“It was very informative and emotional; I learned a lot. I didn’t know about the separation. I did know that they were going to the camps, I knew that there were different jobs that had to be fulfilled within the camps, I just didn’t know that parents and children had to be separated, specifically at such a young age,” said Valencia senior Camila Suarez. “I think this is important for high school students because we’ve learned so much about history, but no one really gets to experience it… Hearing somebody who has lived through the camps and had those kinds of experiences, it hits different.”
The educators who planned the event noted they were incredibly pleased with the reaction they got from the more than 900 students, noting that students were making real connections between what they were learning in the classroom, what they were hearing and what modern events they were seeing on the news.
“That’s what makes the difference, hearing any type of firsthand account,” said Valencia History Teacher Michelle Brown. “I’ve shown videos of survivors before, but to actually have the person here in front of them, talking, it makes history come alive.”Do you have a news tip? Call us at (661) 298-1220, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t miss a thing. Get breaking KHTS Santa Clarita News Alerts delivered right to your inbox. Report a typo or error, email Corrections@hometownstation.com
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