Bar-Ilan honoree Czuker recalls escaping Auschwitz

"Through the dark years of Hitler’s inferno, I don’t know that I could have ever imagined that, decades later, I would be in my own homeland."

Susanne Czuker (photo credit: Courtesy Susanne Czuker)
Susanne Czuker
(photo credit: Courtesy Susanne Czuker)
Bar Ilan University awarded an honorary doctorate this week to Hungarian Holocaust survivor Susanne Czuker, who escaped Auschwitz at a young age, in recognition of her “profound commitment to Jewish education, continuity and heritage, and her devotion to the State of Israel.”
The university dedicated the lobby and main auditorium of its Jim Joseph School of Education in her name and that of her late husband, Jan Czuker, who passed away in 2010 after having survived five Nazi concentration camps.
Although Czuker, who now resides in the United Stated, admits she was “born with a silver spoon in [her] mouth,” her journey fleeing the Nazis was “far from being a luxury ride.”
She recalls the day she, her parents and her brother left their home in Budapest with the intention of making their way out of the country.
“When we escaped, we left only with our clothes on our backs,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “We closed the door with the key as if we went for a walk, so no one would suspect that we were leaving for good.”
“We used to hide in haystacks during the day, so no one would see us, and at night we walked,” she explained.
As two such attempts to run away turned unsuccessful, Czuker and her family were sent back to a ghetto in Budapest.
During one of the ghetto roundups, she was taken away from her relatives and put on a train to Auschwitz along with 80 to 100 other people shoved into a wagon with only room to stand.
One night, as the train stopped, a man next to her noticed a round-shaped opening on the roof.
“He pushed that lid out and about three or four men pushed me out the hole,” Czuker told the Post. “I was young and skinny and athletic at the time and was able to step out, land on the ground and run away.”
Little by little, armed with her perfect accent-less German, she managed to make her way back to Budapest and found her former housekeeper, who took her to her parents and brother, who by then had managed to escape and were hiding in a safe house. Shortly afterward, Hungary was liberated.
Although she refuses to share her age at the time, Czuker stated that “it is inconceivable that such a young girl made it back to Hungary by foot.”
“Until this day, I cannot believe I did the things I did when I did them,” she said, “but to tell you the truth, I know in my heart that if ever needed, one of my 15 grandchildren can also do it.
“I think it’s hard for my grandchildren or even my children to understand what the will to survive is,” she added.
“It’s an indescribable, very hard to explain phenomenon. You have no choice, and survival was to try to go to a free land, a free country and believe that it will get better.”
Decades after the war, Czuker and her late husband built a life in New York and a successful business and dedicated their lives to supporting Israel through various philanthropic ventures, including involvement with Israel Bonds.
“Through the dark years of Hitler’s inferno, I don’t know that I could have ever imagined that, decades later, I would be in my own homeland, surrounded by such accomplished people,” she said. “When I’m in Israel, we are all family.”
“I used to come once or twice a year with my husband, and every time the plane circles the shore I have tears in my eyes. There is nothing like coming home to Israel.
“My 15 beautiful grandchildren were all brought up with the love of Israel,” she added. “I consider them and their generation the ultimate victory over those who wanted to kill the Jewish people.”
Czuker said she was very moved and humbled to receive the honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan, even though her donation to the university, she stressed, was a simple act of giving, which to her is only “a spit in the ocean compared to what others do or could do.”
“As Holocaust survivors, my husband Jan and I believed that we were destined to pass the torch of our heritage from generation to generation and educate young and old alike,” she said.
The Jan & Susanne Czuker and Family Main Lobby and Auditorium, where the dedication took place on Wednesday, are designed to hold receptions, largescale lectures, public evnts, professional conferences and conventions.
“Bar-Ilan University is what brings together my love for the State of Israel, our beautiful heritage and the future for our children and grandchildren,” Czuker stressed. “Education is the key to survival in this world, and the State of Israel is the home that holds the Jewish nation together.”