Zelda Fuksman of Boca Raton, who frequently speaks to groups about the Holocaust, posed a question to about 30 Palm Beach Atlantic University students gathered recently at the University’s Fern Street Theatre.
“How many of you have met a Holocaust survivor?” she asked, nodding as four students raised their hands.
Today “you’re meeting child survivors of the Holocaust,” she said, referring to herself and two companions, Herman Haller and Judith Evan Goldstein. “We are the last witnesses.”
|Herman Haller (from left), his wife Lore Haller, Zelda Fuksman and Judith Evan Goldstein share a light moment with Palm Beach Atlantic University student Mark Miller at the University's Fern Street Theatre.|
Fuksman, Haller and Goldstein spoke to students in the cast and production team of the University’s production of “Cabaret,” which opens Thursday. The 1966 Broadway musical is set in Berlin during the beginning of the Third Reich.
This year April 7-14 has been designated Holocaust Remembrance Week in the United States. Associate Professor of Theatre Don Butler said he invited the survivors to speak in order to help the students establish a historical context for what are experiencing in the play.
“The Holocaust is not just one thing,” Butler said. “It’s as varied as the places and the people who were involved.”
Associate Professor of English Dr. Lee Prescott, who has studied the Holocaust extensively, served as a moderator for the discussion and offered additional historical background. She is the author of “Imagery from Genesis in Holocaust Memoirs: A Critical Study,” which examines the role of Genesis in the autobiographies of survivors.
Of the three panelists, only one lived in Berlin in the years leading up World War II. Born in 1924, Haller was a teenager during the Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” during which the Nazis destroyed Jewish businesses and synagogues in Germany.
He said he remembers going outside that evening to investigate. “I couldn’t ride my bicycle because the streets were littered with glass,” said Haller, whose wife, Lore, joined him for the presentation.
Haller eventually was forced to labor in several concentration camps, including Auschwitz, where he remained for more than two years. Haller still bears the tattoo he received in the camp.
In 1945, as the Russian army drew close, Haller and the other occupants of the camp were forced to go on a death march. “It was the most horrible experience of my life,” he said, adding that many people died along the way.
When he and other survivors were liberated by the U.S. Armed Forces, he weighed just 55 pounds, he said. “The Americans treated us well,” he added.
Like Haller, Goldstein also experienced life in concentration camps. As the war began, her family was forced to live in a ghetto with other Jewish professionals for two years in Vilna, Poland.
Food was scarce and disease was rampant, she said. “It was hell on earth.”
Later she was sent to the concentration camps. Goldstein said she would not have survived if her mother hadn’t been there to protect her. “I always say, I went through the tunnel of death, but I came through to the other side.”
Today Goldstein is an artist, poet and musical composer. Many of her works are featured in her book “The Voice of Color,” and she appears in the award-winning 2008 documentary “As Seen Through These Eyes,” narrated by Maya Angelou.
In her artwork, “I never give up color no matter how sad the theme is,” she said.
Fuksman also grew up in Poland. She recalls hiding in forests with her family as the German army approached and then escaping to Russia.
After the war, her family tried to return to Poland. “We were welcomed with stones and jeers,” she said. “We couldn’t remain in our own country.”
After fleeing to Germany, her family eventually came to the United States, she said.
Today Fuksman is vice president of the Child Survivors/Hidden Children of the Holocaust of Palm Beach County. She reminded students that “you have one thing that nobody can ever take from you, and that’s your education.”
The Theatre Department will present “Cabaret” on April 11-13 and April 17-20 at the University’s Fern Street Theatre, 500 Fern Street, West Palm Beach. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. each day with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Assistant Professor of Theatre Allen McCoy will direct. Tickets are $15 general admission or two for $25, $10 for seniors 65 and up and $5 for students with I.D. Contact Ticket Central at 561-803-2970 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a complete listing of upcoming theatre, music and dance performances, visit www.pba.edu/performances.