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Survivor shares his experience as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | 6:53 p.m. CDT; updated 9:33 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Holocaust survivor Guenther Goldsmith talks to MU students about his experience fleeing Nazi Germany via the Kindertransport, Tuesday in Ellis Library on the MU campus. The talk was part of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), which this year falls on Wednesday.

COLUMBIA — The story 87-year-old Guenther Goldsmith told of his time as a Jewish boy living in Germany during the Holocaust stirred emotion throughout the audience.

Kelly Durante, a scientist at the MU School of Medicine and Jewish woman, was moved to tears when listening to his story. 

"I guess that the first-hand perspective of the decline of the Jews is what was so hard to think about," she said. "I had extended family members that died during the Holocaust." 

Goldsmith told his story of survival Tuesday at Ellis Library in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. His presentation was part of a week of events sponsored by the MU Jewish Student organization and the MU Hillel House.

The presentation began with the audience members standing up and reading off the names and information of those who died in the Holocaust.

Durante's paper contained the name of a woman from Poland. It hit close to home for her, as her extended family members that died during the Holocaust were women from Poland. 

Ten million people were killed during the Holocaust; six million Jewish individuals and four million others over a span of 13 years, Goldsmith said. Goldsmith related that number to the populations of Kansas and Missouri combined.

Goldsmith began sharing his story about 11 years ago, he said. He first started by telling his children, then his grandson and eventually the public. 

"I could have talked about it sooner, I guess," Goldsmith said. "I never thought about it until my grandson had to make a movie in seventh grade and interviewed me about the Holocaust."

The beginning

Goldsmith attended elementary school in Borgentreich, Germany. He said he remembers his first class every morning was about religion, but that class was eventually turned into one about the superiority of the German race and then the students were taught about anti-Semitism.  

"At that time, I had to run home from school to avoid getting beat up by my former best friends," Goldsmith said. "Instead of playing games after school, I had to help my grandpa take care of the cattle because he couldn't find help (because he was Jewish)."

In November 1938, when Goldsmith was 13-years-old, his father — a man whose only conviction was his religion, Goldsmith said — was arrested and taken to a concentration camp. It was the last time he saw his father alive.  

That same year, Goldsmith and his mother moved in with her sister, the sister's two daughters and Goldsmith's grandmother. They had to wear yellow armbands that represented their Jewish heritage, and the kids had to attend a segregated all-Jewish school.

Leaving Germany

Goldsmith's mother found a way to save her son via Kindertransport. He said a Kindertransport was a way to transport Jewish children safely away from the dangers of Germany to England. Goldsmith believes he was on the last or second-to-last Kindertransport out of Germany.

"I was put on a train with 10 other children in Berlin to Spain and then got on a boat and four weeks later arrived in New York," Goldsmith said. "The next day I was on my way to St. Louis."

More typically, Kindertransports were sent to England, and the children would be set up with families that were sponsors. A few Jewish children were sent to the United States because their families had made arrangements for them to live with families there.

Goldsmith arrived in St. Louis in 1941, at the age of 15. He moved in with an uncle and began high school.

Goldsmith traveled with just 10 marks (about $2.50), a small suitcase of clothing and a photo album with pictures of family members and letters, he said. He still has every letter he brought with him from Germany to the United States.

Goldsmith never saw any of the family members he left in Germany again. In December 1941 when all Jewish people were taken to concentration camps, he stopped receiving letters from them. In 2005 or 2006, Goldsmith finally found out that his mother died in a camp, he said.

After high school, Goldsmith was drafted on behalf of the United States to fight against his native country in World War II. 

"To me, that was the greatest honor I had ever received," Goldsmith said. "I got to fight for my new country."

Three months after being drafted, Goldsmith became an official United States citizen. 

While fighting in Germany, Goldsmith and a commanding general drove a jeep to all the towns he used to live. He said there were no Jews left in any of the towns he visited, but he did get to stay overnight in the house he used to live in. He also visited his father's grave.

Durante said she was most surprised about Goldsmith's heroic return to Germany.

"I wasn't expecting a silver lining," she said. "He got to return to his home country and fight against it." 

Today

Goldsmith said he tells his story so that people will always remember this terrible part of history.

"I don't hold any grudges against the Germans themselves," Goldsmith said. "I am very disappointed that they didn't stop what was happening. They sat back and watched.

"It's still difficult for me to understand and believe that those young, German men could be that brainwashed to do those things and not feel any guilt," Goldsmith said. 

When he arrived to the United States, he "never, not once" experienced any anti-Semitism — not in school or the Army — nothing was ever said about Jewish people, Goldsmith said. 

As for how his legacy will continue and his story will be passed on, he looked to his grandson.

"Talk to this guy right here," he said. "Will you pass on our legacy? Will your parents carry on our legacy?"

His grandson nodded and smiled and answered with a yes.


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