Auschwitz survivor Goldie Szachter Kalib, 88, reflects on her time there on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp.
Goldie Szachter Kalib’s memories of Auschwitz are as clear as the number — A-14313 — the Nazis tattooed on her left forearm when she arrived in the summer of 1944.
There were the days in a suffocating train car to the concentration camp. The 5½ months of pushing away dark thoughts of whether she and her family would be the next selected for the gas chambers. She and her mother being among the last picked to die.
Barely 13 years old, Kalib wasn’t freed when Auschwitz, the infamous death camp where 1.1 million people were killed, was liberated 75 years ago today. She and those family members who survived had already left, driven nearly 500 miles on a death march at gunpoint to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where the unburied corpses of their fellow prisoners lay everywhere, such that they couldn’t avoid stepping on them, she said.
But the 88-year-old, who now lives in Pikesville, recalled the lack of any sort of jubilation among those who survived to be liberated: They had lost too much. Her life’s mission since has been to share her story, detailed in her 1991 memoir “The Last Selection: A Child’s Journey Through The Holocaust,” and hope that people will listen.
“My whole world disappeared,” Kalib said. "My whole family perished. ... I am trying, as much as possible, [to ensure] that this should not be forgotten.”
Such a milestone is a chance to reflect on the genocide of the Holocaust and to contextualize the events that led to it, especially in light of the anti-Semitism and other prejudice again rearing its nasty head in today’s society, said Jeanette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust programs for the Baltimore Jewish Council.
Focused on the importance of building connections among different racial, religious and socioeconomic groups, teaching the history of the Holocaust and rooting out bullying, discrimination, prejudice and hatred, the Baltimore Jewish Council hosts nearly 300 students and their teachers from schools around the region in events each year, she said.
“The Holocaust or the Shoah has implications for today’s world,” Parmigiani said, using the Hebrew word for catastrophe. “It’s just important to see how humanity descended into such bestiality and genocide.”
The workshops, held throughout the year, often involve students from different schools and backgrounds “sitting at a table, talking," she said.
“We aren’t trying to convert anybody or change anybody; we just want them to open their mind,” she said. “They get to know one another, as individuals, not just as a group.”
While Kalib had departed on the death march when Auschwitz was liberated, she had barely survived that infamous camp.
She and her mother had been part of the final group of Jews selected to die in the concentration camp’s gas chambers, and they were spared that fate only by an 11th-hour order from the Nazi high command to destroy the gas chambers and incinerators before the Soviet Army arrived.
“As events turned out — and they were miraculous and, we feel, divinely ordained — that selection was not carried out,” said her husband, Sylvan Kalib, who helped write her memoir. “It was the only one that wasn’t. It was the last one. And that’s why we titled her memoir ‘The Last Selection,’ for indeed it was.”
Countless members of her large Polish family were not so lucky. Her father, a brother and many cousins, aunts and uncles were among the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Kalib’s mother, whom she and her sisters had physically carried so she wouldn’t fall behind and be shot during the death march, died four months after she was liberated. She and her two sisters who survived couldn’t bear to talk about the horrors their family had endured, Kalib said.
“It was too unpleasant. We rarely brought it up,” Kalib said. “There were so many incidents where my life was five minutes away from death."
But Holocaust survivors have endless wisdom to share with today’s society — and many of them repeat a similar mantra to Kalib’s: “Never Forget,” said Lisa Shifren, a Baltimore photographer who has photographed dozens of them for a documentary series of portraits.
Shifren, too, believes telling their stories is key to preventing future genocides.
“I think that it’s important to remember the Holocaust, specifically the discrimination and events that led up to it," she said. “We need to educate people so that it does not happen again.”
"My whole family perished. ... I am trying, as much as possible, [to ensure] that this should not be forgotten.”
Goldie Szachter Kalib, 88, Holocaust survivor and Pikesville resident
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Musicians and actors in the Baltimore area are marking the Auschwitz liberation anniversary with performances honoring those who faced the concentration camps.
High school students from the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts will perform “A Cantata: We Will Never Be Bullied Again,” a free, 40-minute program directed and adapted by Toby Orenstein, at 7 p.m. Monday at the Oakland Mills Meeting House in Columbia. The Baltimore Jewish Council is co-sponsoring the “heart-rending” and “powerful" performance, Parmigiani said.
On Sunday, Molly Jones gave a presentation about the lives and legacies of two Jewish composers, Gideon Klein and James Simon, at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Both composers were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.