WALTHAM – Growing up in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, Magda Bader, a Holocaust survivor, recalled a happy early childhood. The youngest of 10 children, her family lived a modest but comfortable life in the town of Munkacs. Like other Jews in the region, her family was Orthodox.
Jewish holidays were a festive time when her older siblings would visit. At the time, she and three of her sisters lived at home with their parents as well as an older sister and her baby.
But her pleasant childhood was torn apart in the spring of 1944 when the Nazi occupiers ordered her family to vacate their home in what was now Hungary. Along with all of the town’s Jewish residents, they were rounded up and resettled in a ghetto. Magda had just turned 14.
They were soon forced to walk to a large area of factories. In May 1944, when the Nazis began the liquidation of the ghetto, she and her family were piled onto crowded cattle cars with only a single bucket of water and one for waste. The trains headed east, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration camp.
“Until then, we did not know that a place like Auschwitz existed,” Bader said.
As they disembarked the trains, she held on desperately to her mother’s hand but she and her sisters were separated from their parents.
“That’s the last time I saw my mother, my father, and my sister with the baby,” Bader said, holding back tears. They were killed at the camp along with about 28,500 Jews from the town and its surroundings.
Bader, 92, of Chestnut Hill, shared her harrowing and courageous story of survival on Oct. 2 to a hushed audience at a Yizkor service in memory of the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust.
The somber service, held annually, was sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants of Greater Boston in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. The gathering of more than 50 people was held on a cloud-covered, windy day at the Berlin Chapel at Brandeis University.
The moving program also served as a remembrance of local survivors who died in the last year.
Bader and her sisters were subjected to another transport, from Auschwitz-Birkenau to a sub-labor camp at Bergen-Belsen. In an act of courage, the sisters managed to escape one night in a moment of chaos and fled to the nearby forest, when guards had abandoned their posts just before the camp was liberated on April 15, 1945. Bader had just turned 15.
After working as a translator for the British Red Cross assisting displaced persons, she immigrated to England, where a brother had survived. She eventually resettled in the U.S., where Bader attended college and graduate school, led a full career as an art teacher, and married and raised a family. Today, the sprightly Bader has six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
At the Yizkor service, Bader, who attended the program along with one of her daughters, lit the first candle in memory of the six million Jews who perished.
“Each and every person who survived the Holocaust was a miracle,” said Janet Stein Calm, the president of the AAJHS Greater Boston and a second generation Holocaust survivor.
“Regardless of how each person survived it was a miracle,” Stein Calm said.
Stein Calm recounted a story about each of the 10 survivors from the Boston area who died in the last year.
Among them was Israel (Izzy) Arbeiter, a cofounder of the New England Holocaust Memorial, and an indefatigable speaker at schools and community events here and in Germany, Poland, and beyond. He was remembered as a stalwart in assisting survivors in need.
Stein Calm shared a personal anecdote about the late Fred Manasse, a physicist-turned artist, a survivor who walked down the aisle with her husband, Fred Calm, at the couple’s wedding.
A candle was lit in memory of Aron Greenfield (Grunfeld), who died just a few days before the service. Greenfield, the owner of a popular children’s clothing shop in Norwood, was recalled for his devoted leadership with the survivors’ association.
Later that afternoon, JCRC trained 11 new docents for the New England Holocaust Memorial, according to Emily Reichman, the organization’s director of community engagement.
“We are excited to restart our in-person tours of the memorial and have a new group of enthusiastic volunteers to guide visitors,” Reichman wrote in an email. Jack Arbeiter, son of the late Izzy Arbeiter and Anna Arbeiter, helped lead the orientation. Most of the new volunteers are second or third generation survivors who are stepping up to share their family’s stories, Reichman added.
“As firsthand survivor testimony becomes harder to experience,” Reichman wrote, “this is more important now than ever.”
Other area Holocaust survivors who were remembered at the ceremony were: Harvey Lewin; Alan Kronenberg; Rachael Kot-Lewis; Lester Izbicki; Nathaniel Jeff Resnick; Monique Stern, and Elsie Jacobs.
For information on scheduling a guided tour of the New England Holocaust Memorial, visit nehm.org/visit/guided-tour