JEWeek: Holocaust survivor shares journey

Last week’s Jewish Education Week was organized to bring awareness to the Jewish population on campus and to encourage involvement in the programs put forth by the Hillel Society and the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, explained Carly Kalman, sophomore Jewish Awareness Month and social action chair of Hillel Society.

Vera Goodkin recounts her Holocaust story. (Jack Meyers / News Editor)

Both the AEPi Fraternity and Hillel Society decided to hold their event for the week of Nov. 7 because it is AEPi’s Founders Week, as well as the 100th anniversary of the fraternity, Bryan Halpern, junior president of Hillel Society explained.

The week began with Ask the Rabbi, an event held by Hillel, which welcomed students to join an open discussion session to talk about issues important to the Jewish faith.

Vera Goodkin, Holocaust survivor, spoke Tuesday, Nov. 5 on the hardships and terror that she experienced during one of the darkest parts of history. She first explained how for 37 years she was reluctant to speak about it.

“It’s difficult to make people understand what the experience was,” she said. “Human beings just don’t do things like that to other human beings.”

As she began her emotional story, she told the audience that the first time she was able to speak out was at an event held at Rider University to honor a man named Raoul Wallenberg, who was responsible for rescuing many children, including herself, from the holding prisons and death camps. He was known as the “Angel of Budapest,” she said.

Born in Czechoslovakia, Goodkin can only remember living in her childhood home for a few years, as people she did not know would come and go for reasons she could not understand.

She and her mother and father were kicked out of their home in October of 1939, and “that is how our career as professional escapees started,” she said.

Until March of 1943, she and her family ran for their lives, staying with non-Jewish friends and farmers, only for short periods of time, constantly hiding in attics and cellars.

She recalled an especially trying time in her battle for survival when she and her family were trekking through the dark muddy woods with a farmer as their guide. Goodkin leaned against a tree and thought, “Maybe this is all just a bad dream and maybe if I woke up it would be a different reality. If it was real I didn’t want to wake up.”

She and her family had been able to stay together, but they were split up after they were thrown in a medieval-looking prison, where they stayed in horrid conditions. People suffered from malnutrition and disease.

The children survived the best they could, she said. One day, a few men from the Swedish Red Cross visited the prison and deemed the place unfit for children. They then took some of them out. It had turned out that the men had worked for Raoul Wallenberg. He had the children sent to an orphanage to be taken care of.

Both she and her parents had come so close to death, but they were able to reunite in the end.

When a student asked Goodkin what had empowered her to continue on through some of the toughest moments, she responded that it was the instinct of living and intensity to show the enemy that they will not win.

“No matter how many times you hear the story of the Holocaust, everybody’s perspective adds a different dimension,” said Leah Lewy, junior computer science major and member of the Hillel Society on campus.

The week continued with activities put on by the AEPi Fraternity, such as the “Rock-A-Thon,” Bar/Bat Mitzvah games and a “Pie an AEPi member event.” The fraternity also collected donations and sold pink T-shirts for its philanthropy, which raises money to help families who have a member suffering from Breast Cancer, said Izik Gutkin, a fraternity member.

A formal Shabbat dinner concluded the week was a formal Shabbat dinner.

“Shabbat is a holiday that happens every Friday night to Saturday night,” Kalman said. “We made it formal to make it an exciting close to JEWeek, and we had a really good turn out.”