Holocaust survivor Magda Altman Schaloum speaks out on behalf of all Holocaust survivors and their families. Born and raised in Hungary, she endured acts of antisemitism throughout her childhood, and in 1944 and 1945 Magda was sent to several concentration camps. She lost both her parents and her brother. Magda met her husband, Isaac Schaloum, in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. Isaac was from Salonika, Greece. They emigrated to Seattle in 1950, where Isaac became a tailor and businessman, and they raised three children. Although of Hungarian descent, Magda became an active and beloved member of Seattle’s Sephardic community. She volunteers for many Jewish organizations, including the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, and continues to bear witness to the horrors of hatred and antisemitism.
“In Hungary the Germans decided that the Jews would get oil. We never cooked with oil in Hungary, so when my mother started to cook with oil she said, ‘Don’t tell anybody because if they find out we are OK with the oil, they would have taken away the oil, too.’ Now comes the Seder [Passover]. No matzah. So my mother exchanged the dishes and we had seder without matzah.
“They took us away from our home on April 1, 1944. We had to put on the yellow star. They put my father down in a coal mine. My mother, my brother, and myself were taken to another city, there was no food. Somehow we got some non-kosher food but my mother wouldn’t touch it.
“About the middle of June they put us in the cattle wagons to be taken away. We didn’t know where they are going. On the 21st of June, which was my brother’s 15th birthday, we arrived. We saw the name, Auschwitz. They took my brother away. My mother was so weak. She was sent to the left, and I was sent to the right, and so I tried to run after my mother, and they grabbed me back and they said, ‘Just go ahead, she will go take a shower, and we will meet.’ So I yelled out, ‘I love you mom and I'll see you later.’ That was the last I saw my mother.
“Passover came. I decided, ‘No, I’m not going to eat any bread,’ and so for three days I tried, but then I couldn’t do it. So now we go back again to Yom Kippur. Now the Germans knew that Yom Kippur is a fast day, and they sent out food, a big container of food, and they prepared the best, nice tasting soup. And of course, I just couldn’t touch it, just the memory of my parents, I couldn’t do it.
“We had two ultra-religious girls with us. I don’t know how they did it, they had a little siddur [prayer book]. They said, every morning, every night, the prayers, and the night of Kol Nidre [Yom Kippur], one girl who had a beautiful whistle knew the melody and she was whistling, and these girls were praying the Kol Nidre. During Yom Kippur day we took the two girls, put each of them inside a big metal barrel, and we said, ‘You just pray and we will work.’ And that’s what we did.”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.