In life, we are given an opportunity to encounter people that change the lives of others and who inspire a new generation through their life experience and story. I was honored to cross paths in New York this past year with Inge Auerbacher, a child Holocaust survivor who became a successful chemist, writer and public speaker.
Auerbacher was born in Kippenheim, Germany December 31, 1934, and at the age of seven she was taken to the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Out of the 15,000 children imprisoned at Terezin, very few survived.
In 1946, she emigrated to the US and has lived there ever since. Auerbacher’s school career began at age 15 after a bout of tuberculosis contracted in the camp. The Holocaust caused a loss of eight years of education. This did not deter Inge, and she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and worked for 38 years as a chemist in medical research and clinical work.
She is the author of six books published in nine languages. Since 1981, Auerbacher has been lecturing on the Holocaust and has spoken to close to a million people of various ages around the world. Multiple documentary films have been made about her (some award-winning), and she is the recipient of two honorary doctorates, two prestigious awards from the government of Germany, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the Louis E. Yavner Citizen Award presented by the New York State Board of Regents and many more citations.
Auerbacher is also the author of a multitude of published poems, some of which have been set to music and recorded. She has appeared in many countries in print media and on the radio and television. One of the highlights of Inge’s life was when she was asked to speak on International Holocaust Memorial Day in 2019 at the UN. I recently had the chance to speak to Inge about her miraculous and moving story of survival and what she endured in her youth to become the amazing and accomplished woman that she is today.
What are some of your earliest memories of being in the concentration camp and the harsh conditions you endured?
My first actual memory and recollection of the era of the Holocaust started when I was just turning 4 years old with Kristallnacht. After that, my father and grandfather were sent to the Dachau concentration camp and (lastly) my world was totally changed forever when I was 7 years old and entered the Terezin concentration camp. My world and everything I endured was personified by isolation, hunger, disease and fear of something even worse coming. Every day I would think to myself “what will they now do that will be even worse to us?” In 1987, you published your first book about your childhood memories titled I Am A Star. What prompted you to open up after the 40 years that passed since the Holocaust in terms of writing?
There was an international meeting and World gathering in 1981 of Jewish Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem and I wrote a poem at that time which we shall never forget. Someone at the hospital where I worked at for 30 years joined me as a co-writer (we met in the dressing room of the hospital). A very nice non-Jewish woman helped me make it in to a song and that became the only original song at the first world gathering of Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem and I went to hear it being sung. Then I decided to write more songs and poems and collaborated with Cantor Sol Zin who made a record which included four songs that we co-wrote.
Please tell me the background story behind the doll that you kept throughout the Holocaust, its symbolism and where it is on display today?
My grandmother gave me a doll at age two and I brought it everywhere with me. Years later at one of my lectures in Germany someone saw a picture of me with the doll at a slide presentation that I gave and she said “you have a famous doll.” I asked her why? The doll was a very famous doll by the manufacturer that made her at the time, and she was manufactured in the mid 1930s (after the Nazi regime came to power). I found out as well that the doll’s name was Inge (same as my name) and it was the time of the Olympics in Berlin, Germany in 1936 and the style of the doll was to make it with blue eyes and blonde hair. We have a film about the doll: THE OLYMPIC DOLL. I never knew of this and I gave her the name Marlene, after the famous GERMAN movie star MARLENE DIETRICH and I ended up giving the doll to the Holocaust Museum.
What advice would you give to the future generations to never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust and what is the best way to battle antisemitism today?
I want the children of today to never have to grow up with hunger and prejudice. The anecdote and way to fight hatred is to get to know one another. You may hate people that you know nothing about. I live in a neighborhood in Queens (New York City), which is the most diverse place in the whole country. I live in a row house between a Muslim family that are very religious and a Hindu family (the houses are attached). Next door to the Hindu family there is a Christian family. Four of the major religions living next to each other, living right near each other and getting along. Why you may ask? We are not fearful of each other and know each other. Having an idea in your head or a preconceived notion that these are bad people and basing it on religion and false stereotypes is incorrect. You get to know these good people of all backgrounds and religions and you realize that they are just like us. There is no room for hatred and scapegoating. The only way that you can bring children and adults together is when you get to know a person personally and to make good choices in life. The children must be educated and get to know other cultures whether they go to any House of Worship. I have a Jewish friend, a Muslim friend, a Christian friend and know all cultures. That’s the way you build friendships and an understanding of one another. That is the true way you can live in harmony and get to know both each other and have a full and true appreciation of one another. The writer received his undergraduate degree in business cum laude from Yeshiva University, and his MBA with double distinction from Long Island University. He is a financial adviser who resides in New York City and is involved in Israel-based and Jewish advocacy organizations