Magda Mozes Herzberger might look like a typical Jewish grandmother, but her life was far from typical.
Herzberger, 90, grew up in northern Romania and was caught in a roundup from the Cluj ghetto in 1944 when she was 18 and sent directly to Auschwitz with family members and friends.
After seven weeks, she was moved to the Bremen slave labor camp. After enduring life-draining conditions and such hard work as hauling sacks of concrete, she was sent on a death march to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to die.
At Bergen-Belsen, she had the job of hauling bodies to be piled up. Once a robust, athletic young woman who excelled in fencing, Herzberger finally collapsed amid the corpses shortly before the camp was liberated by British and Canadian troops April 15, 1945.
An involuntary movement shocked the Allied soldiers looking at the pile of humanity, and Herzberger was pulled out and taken for medical treatment. Her life was saved by a miracle.
Am Yisrael Chai (www.amyisraelchaiatlanta.org), a Holocaust remembrance and anti-genocide organization whose signature program is the Daffodil Project, brought Herzberger to Atlanta from Arizona to share her story with an audience of more than 800 people at the Westin in Sandy Springs on Sunday night, Jan. 22, to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27).
Her presentation was peppered with amusing and painful memories of her saga to survive.
Eighteen local Holocaust survivors participated in a candle-lighting ceremony at the beginning of the event. Also in attendance were diplomats from Israel, Germany, France, Ecuador, Japan, Taiwan, Ireland and many other countries.
Herzberger rebuilt her life and married a fellow Romanian, who became a recognized neurosurgeon. She has written books of poetry, music, and a memoir, “Survival,” and dedicates her life to speaking about her Holocaust experiences.
(Herzberger, whose appearances while she was in Atlanta included speaking at an Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screening of Holocaust film “Paradise,” granted a two-hour phone interview to the AJT in advance of her visit. We plan to publish excerpts from that interview this spring.)