Al Goldfarb, Western Illinois University President, speaks to Monmouth-Roseville Junior High School students Friday during a school assembly.

Family history lost

WIU president tells students of his experience as child of Holocaust survivors

Saturday, April 28, 2007

MONMOUTH - Al Goldfarb had some questions.

"How many of you know one of your grandparents?" Goldfarb asked. "How many of you know an aunt or an uncle?"

Most of the students gathered in the gym of Monmouth-Roseville Junior High School raised their hands.

"You know what my answer would have been? No. Did I know my grandparents? No," Goldfarb said. "My history was taken away from me. My children's history has been taken from me."

Goldfarb, president of Western Illinois University, was at the junior high school to talk about his experiences as the child of two Holocaust survivors. The talk was the culmination of the Holocaust Remembrance Week. During the week, students learned about Holocaust-related topics in their classes as well as put up displays. To Goldfarb, the event in which an estimated 6 million Jews and other groups were systematically murdered, still resonates today. People like Goldfarb, he said, are missing part of their identities and family histories because so many of their relatives died or the survivors would not talk about their experiences.

"I had to realize very early that my family was very different," Goldfarb said.

Goldfarb's parents survived the Holocaust in different ways. His mother was 12 years old in 1939. After Germany invaded Russia, she and her family, who lived in the Ukraine, were placed in a ghetto and her father was taken to a forced labor camp. He was beaten to death. Goldfarb's mother and other family members eventually escaped into the Ukranian forest. Goldfarb's great grandmother, great aunt and uncle all died or disappeared during the family's years under cover.

Eventually, Goldfarb's mother and her surviving aunt made their way to a displaced persons camp after the war's end. There, Goldfarb's mother met his father, he said. His father had survived incarceration at Flausenb<0x00FC>rg, a labor camp. The two married at the camp in 1947 and emigrated to the U.S.

Goldfarb grew up in New York City with his parents, brother and his great aunt. The rest of his family and all their possessions were lost in the war.

"The oldest thing I have is some silverware my parents bought in 1947 in Germany when they got married," Goldfarb said. "I try to tell groups that the Holocaust still has personal effects."

No physical reminders of the families, such as photographs remain either.

"I don't know what they looked like," Goldfarb said. His mother's aunt used to tell him that he looked like his mother's brother, who disappeared. "She thought he was very good looking so I thought that was a good thing."

None of Goldfarb's relatives spoke much about their experiences, he said. They did not want him or his brother to worry or to feel different. Despite this, Goldfard said he still feels the difference and lack of family brought on by the Holocaust today.

"You need to not view the Holocaust as ancient history," Goldfarb said. "I'm the example of that."


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