On Wednesday, the eighth graders at River Dell Middle School held their annual Holocaust Education Day. Survivors and liberators spent the day talking to students about their experiences during World War II and shared their stories. This is just one of the many inspirational stories told.
Sonia Goldstein was 16-years old when the Nazis forcibly took her away from the only life she knew, to begin, what was to become, a four-year death march.
“Every day was a death sentence,” Goldstein said. “During those four years, not one person showed any kindness towards me until the day I was liberated.”
Goldstein recounted those 1400 days in painstaking detail describing how the women were starved, deprived of sleep, and worked to sheer physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Yet, every day she held out hope that the Russians would come liberate them.
The end of Goldstein's ordeal began when the Nazis took the women from their tents and had them embark on what she described as a death march to a small town in Poland near the Baltic Sea.
“We were hungry. Starving. Some women’s bellies were swollen from starvation,” she recalled. “My mother couldn’t even open her lips they were so swollen from hunger.”
Goldstein told the eighth graders that they were forced by their Nazi overseers to march for weeks like this, some dying along the way only to be left behind by the soldiers without even so much as a glance backwards.
Finally, she recalled, they were marched to the top of hill. Below there was a valley with a barn. Goldstein described seeing the peasants removing the livestock from the barn, because, she said, "animals were more valuable than human life."
Once the barn was emptied of the animals, the Nazis forced the women inside. Being the first ones in, Goldstein, her mother, cousin and aunt ran to a wall where they fell down from exhaustion into the filth. No sooner had they sat when they heard tanks and the loud blasts of gunshots being fired. Before they could react, the wall beside which they sat collapsed. From the rubble, Goldstein could see tanks and realized that they were Russian tanks.
“I was the first to see them and I immediately started screaming, ‘The Russians are here! The Russians are here!’ I knew that they had come to liberate us."
Goldstein said that if the Russians had come five minutes later, she and all the women would have been dead.
"The Nazis put us in the barn and put canisters of gasoline around it with the intention of burning us alive," she said. "The Russians were watching the Nazis trying to carry this out from their position on the hill."
Goldstein said when the Russians charged down, the first thing they did was to kill all of the Nazis.
According to Goldstein, the Nazis decided to burn the women alive because the concentration camps were too far away and they did not have time to drown them all in the Baltic Sea.
As the Russians ushered the women out to safety, Goldstein paused by the body of one of the main Nazi captors who was lying on the ground dead with his tongue out.
"The Russians had shot him in the mouth," Goldstein said. "I cannot stand the site of blood, but when I saw he was dead, I jumped on his body and started to dance."
After being liberated, the Russians took the girls to get medical care. According to Goldstein, many of the girls had contracted typhus and dysentery. Once healthy, Goldstein and her mother went in search of her father and brother who had been sent to the concentration camp in Dachau.
Goldstein recounts the day that she found her father. "I was just looking around and saw his face. I cried, 'Papa!'"
Eventually, Goldstein and her family emigrated to the United States with nothing but a few pieces of clothes. It was in the United States where her family was able to rebuild their lives, where she married and raised a family.
Still, those four years cast an eternal shadow beneath which she lives her life. A shadow filled with hunger for all she has lost, a shadow filled with fear of what might have been, but also a shadow from which she will always derive hope.