Holocaust issues are more than just a vague human rights concern for me; they’re deeply personal. My grandmother, Miriam Goldberg, survived Bergen-Belsen and my grandfather, Samuel Goldberg, survived Auschwitz-Birkenau. I grew up hearing my grandfather’s stories and, in the mid-nineties, my parents and I traveled to Eastern Europe with my grandparents to visit their hometowns. They had not returned since liberation. I stood with Papa Sam in Auschwitz, as he pointed to one area – telling me, “This part was the Gypsy camp.” One of the most profoundly disturbing moments in his entire life was the night he saw the smokestacks above one crematorium billowing smoke all night long, only to discover that all the Roma in the camp had been killed and burned that night. He looked up to God, and referring to prayers we say during Yom Kippur, asked, “All these people committed the same crime that they should be burned?!” It shook his faith to the core, and I don’t think it ever recovered from that.
Toward the end of the war in Europe, the Nazis rapidly evacuated Auschwitz. My grandfather found himself on a death march. Those that did not die during the march were loaded onto a train headed to the Tyrol, where a mass execution was planned. Out of nowhere, the train was suddenly stopped. The door to the cattle car opened and a soldier reached up toward my grandfather. In a daze, Papa Sam tried to hit the soldier, thinking he was a German about to kill him. The soldier cried out, “Stop! I don’t want to hurt you. I’m an American.”
And so began my grandparents’ devotion to the United States. They immigrated to America and built new lives. It was their experience that ultimately drove me to serve my country in the State Department. They loved America so very much. Papa used to say that this was the Messiah’s time, here in the United States. My profound appreciation for all that America has done for my family pushes me every day to do my best work for my country.
Watch Sam Goldberg’s testimonial in the following United States Holocaust Memorial Museum link: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn503602