Hopewell News (Virginia)


Holocaust Survivor Shares Her Story

by Cliff Davis

News Staff Writer


African violets soak up the spring sunshine in Edith Gubkin's front room on a quiet Hopewell street.

It is a peaceful, timeless place and gives the impression that she's always been here.

But sit for a moment and talk and it will become readily apparent that the friendly, smiling woman who lives here has seen other worlds - terrible places filled with blood and horror and inconceivable human cruelty.

Her life began on a bright note in Miskolc, Hungary more than 70 years ago. But that happy childhood came to a terrifying end when the Nazi storm blasting Europe finally blew into her homeland in 1944.

"The world should not forget what happened," Edith Gubkin repeats many times as she tells her story again on this March afternoon.

She takes out a framed certificate signed by famous film-maker Steven Spielberg. It is a personal note of thanks for her contribution to the Holocaust Museum - her words preserved forever on video, that forgetting and denial of the Holocaust of WWII may be pushed one step further back.

"On March 19, 1944, Hitler came to Hungary and changed everything," Gubkin began. "The war was almost over when they took us - the whole family in a cattle car. Eighty people in one car, they took them to Auschwitz (a Nazi concentration camp)."

Once there, the first grim selection began.  

"Young people went left. Mothers with children went right. It was the end of you if you went right. You'd go to a shower, then came the gas," she said.

That was the first separation. She never saw any of her immediate family again.

Hitler's troops were far less selective than some people realize, Gubkin said. In addition to Jews, they rounded up Gypsies, Poles, Slavs - people of all different nationalities - she said.

"It happened to millions of people. Six million people died for nothing," she said, growing passionate.

"What's the saddest part, the German people were smart, high-class. How could they allow the killing of so many people for nothing?" she asked.

Spared the first time, more horror was still ahead for the young woman. Just a few months later, she again appeared before the infamous "Angel of Death," Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed ghastly medical experiments on prisoners and is said to have sent 400,000 people to the gas chambers.

The women were stripped naked and forced to stand in line before Mengele. With a gesture, Mengele sent them either on their way to a work camp, or sent them back, to eventual and certain death.

Once, twice, she and her cousin Agnes were rejected. "We were skinny nothings," Gubkin said. A third selection was made. This time, Agnes was "selected." Gubkin was again sent back.

For one moment, Mengele looked down to retrieve something from his pocket. In that one moment, Gubkin acted.

"I used that second to live or die. I took a chance and ran between the people selected," she said.

Her cousin was waiting with hugs and kisses. Gubkin told her, "You know if we're together, we're going to survive."

They were then sent to an underground munitions factory in Germany where they worked with "terrible poisons" - chemical compounds that turned their skin yellow and their hair red. Each night they were given a glass of milk to counteract the effects of the toxic fumes.

Months went by. Then an Allied bombing attack on the compound gave Gubkin and the l5 other girls a chance to escape. After a miserable three day trek through the war and winter-blasted countryside, they found something of a refuge at a farm.

In time, American soldiers came to their rescue. Precious to Gubkin was her reunion with a cousin who'd resettled in America many years before, and come back to Europe as a soldier. With his help, she survived the confusion as the war wound down.

Gubkin married and moved to the United States, eventually settling in Hopewell.

Today those terrible days seem long ago and faraway, but, Gubkin repeats, they must never be forgotten. And so Gubkin is willing to walk again in memory through those dark days, that the revisionists and the ignorant may be confounded by the powerful testimony of one who lived through it all.

She clasps tightly to her the two videotapes given to her of her presentation for the Museum. They are her gift to a world still racked with hate, still cursed with genocide. They are her offering of hope and healing.