Holocaust Survivor Magda Brown Shares Experience with Seventh Graders

March 19, 2014

Magda Brown calls herself a “high tech great-grandma” who regularly Skypes and types messages to out-of-town friends. That is not so unusual. However, it is the fact that these friends helped her recover and build a new life in America, after the Holocaust, that makes her life a bit different from many 80-something year-olds. 

On March 19, she addressed seventh graders at Maple School, who are currently learning about World War II and the Holocaust in social studies class. The Holocaust was the genocide of approximately six million Jews during that war by Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

She began her story of survival by telling the students, “A survivor of the Holocaust does not look like an amputee; however it is on the inside that a survivor is damaged or feels as if he/she is missing parts.  We all lost family members, and we were starved and sick during that horrific time. Our possessions were taken, and by the end of the war, we had no self esteem left. I no longer had a name, I was just number 23673.”

Ms. Brown grew up in Hungary, where she lived until the Nazis overtook the country in 1944.  The Hungarian police or “jandarm” were very brutal, and sided with the Nazi party. She and 447,000 other residents were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1944. They were crammed into boxcars that were meant to fit 25 people, but over 80 people stood in them for three days with one bucket of water, and one bucket to use for a toilet. At Auschwitz-Buchenwald, she was immediately separated from her mother and father.

Months later, she was one of a thousand Jewish Hungarian women who were transported to Allendorf, Germany, where she worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, under dangerous conditions using poison to make bombs and rockets. She reminded the audience that the normal adult ingests 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day. The prisoners in concentration camps received less than 300 calories a day in the form of thin soup and bread, usually made with sawdust. In 1945, she described how she and some friends were miraculously able to escape during a death march to Buchenwald. After three days of sleeping in ditches, they were found, and liberated by two American Armed Forces.

“My friends and I were only 17 years old. We were smart, brave and a little stupid for trying to escape, but our self esteem was gone, and we felt it was our only hope for survival. If we died, we died,” she explained, with still just a hint of an Hungarian accent.

After liberation, Ms. Brown was an orphan, she was starving, she had no clothes and no money, and she had no country.  Fortunately a group of volunteers and mentors helped her learn English; and she was able to go to America and live with family to start a new life. She married her husband in 1949, and they had two children. She said she is blessed to be a grandmother and great grandmother.

“That is how life goes,” she said with confidence.
"There are some messages I want to impart to this young audience. The first is that freedom must always be protected. Slavery should never be perpetrated. The second is to think before you hate. Ask yourself why you are having these negative feelings,” stated Ms. Brown.