"Hearing one person tell their story gave a completely different perspective to what happened, as it wasn't about statistics or about a nation as a whole, but one person who lost his family and home." ~O. Avery (student)
Erica Herz Van Adelsberg
You can easily download and print Erica's biography here (pdf)
Erica Herz Van Adelsberg was born on October 2, 1928 in Munich, Germany. In 1933, she moved with her parents and brother to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where she started elementary school. Life was normal until May 1940 when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands.
When she was thirteen years old, the Nazis transported Erica and her family to Westerbork, a transit concentration camp. They remained there for two years while her parents worked grueling hours and she worked in the camp hospital lab. On the weekends, without interference from the Camp Commandant, she joined a Youth Group for discussions, observance, and Judaic studies.
In February 1944, the Nazis deported her family to Bergen-Belsen where food rations were below minimal. Here, thousands died from starvation, including her grandfather.
On April 9, 1945, the Nazis forced Erica, sick, dehydrated, and starved to march 7 kilometers and board a cattle car with 2500 other inmates, destination unknown. For 14 days they rode east under conditions so horrendous that hundreds died, including her grandmother. On April 23, 1945, two Russian soldiers on horseback liberated the remaining prisoners, including Erica, her brother, and her parents. This became known as the “Lost Transport.”
They returned to Amsterdam where Erica gratefully attended high school after missing three and a half years of school. An Uncle in Vineland, New Jersey and the Friends Service Committee helped bring Erica to Philadelphia in 1946, where she received her bachelors and masters degrees and pursued a career in education. Erica is married to another Holocaust survivor and has two children and four grandchildren.
Now retired, Erica is involved in several community projects and speaks several times a year to groups about her story. She always asks her audiences to define persecutor, victim, bystander, and rescuer, and it is her hope to make the audience understand them because these terms apply to all acts of violence.
From an article entitled in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday, February 25, 2008.
By Daniel Rubin.
Holocaust Lesson for the Young
The French, agitated over their president's proposal to teach the Holocaust to 10-year-olds, might learn something from a tiny Wynnewood woman named Erica Herz Van Adelsberg.
She gives her talks a few times a year and steers clear of what she calls the gruesome things. They're not appropriate for the younger audiences, and the older audiences, well, she says, they know the story.
Only afterward, when she's back in her City Avenue apartment, do the emotions catch up, and she has to rest.
A couple of weeks ago, most of the eighth graders at the Truebright Science Academy in North Philadelphia had never heard of the Holocaust, says their teacher, Katelyn Rigg. Then they read the play version of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.
So they were somewhat prepared one day last week when the 79-year-old sparkplug stood before them in the charter school's library and introduced herself.
"I'm a Holocaust survivor," Van Adelsberg began, "which means that I spent the war years, more than 60 years ago, in concentration camps. Anne Frank was six months younger than I was. We were in the same grade. I did not know her."
She wrote some words on the board, and invited her audience to define them:
Persecutors. Victims. Bystanders. Rescuers.
Hands flew up along the two long tables filled with young teens in blue, white and khaki uniforms.
One boy defined persecutor: "Isn't it a lawyer?"
"That's prosecutor," she said. "That's a good word. This is a bad word. It's a person who harasses, who gives pain to others."
She was 13 when the Nazis rounded up her family and transported them to Westerbork, a Dutch concentration camp. They had 24 hours to pack one suitcase each and store the rest of their possessions with Christian friends.
When she was the age of most of her Truebright audience, she worked in a lab eight hours a day, taking blood from fellow prisoners. Westerbork was not a death camp, she explained. But twice a week, trains came for them. She didn't knew what awaited them in the East.
"Every Tuesday and Friday we were petrified. Would we be on the list?"
The Nazis needed her father to be a record-keeper. This, she said, saved them from Auschwitz.
After two years, when they were headed by passenger train to the Bergen-Belsen camp, she wrote a farewell poem in German to her friends.
She paused to ask if anyone wanted to read a translation aloud, and four girls jumped to their feet:
Now that I am departing from here.
And perhaps won't see you in many a year.
I wish you all the best; may things go well for you.
Stay strong as iron; hold on to your courage, too.
We'll do the same; oh, all right let it be.
A Ride East
Bergen-Belsen had no gas chamber, but it was deadly nonetheless. "It was a starvation camp," she said. "Many of my friends perished there. I do not want to go into very detailed cruelty. You all know it happened."
In April 1944, Van Adelsberg was forced to march seven kilometers to awaiting cattle cars. They were headed to Auschwitz.
She was sick. There was little food or water. Allied planes were attacking the rails, so the passengers had to keep finding cover. She was in a town, separated from her parents and younger brother, when she saw the Russians - two soldiers on horseback.
Her story told, she asked if anyone had questions. The students said they wanted to know more, what it felt like.
Why didn't she go into hiding like Anne Frank, one girl asked. "It cost a lot of money."
How did it feel to be liberated?
She recalled walking through Leipzig and seeing her first American soldiers, sitting on a wall.
"One jumped down and gave me a Hershey bar. I hadn't had chocolate in I don't know how long. He was African American, very handsome. To this day I remember it."
Does she see movies about the Holocaust? "As few as possible."
An hour has passed. She looked out over the room, complimented the students on their "very fancy" uniforms, and offered a prayer of sorts.
"All I can hope is that you have a good life and are able to do things for others and will resist when things are very bad, and you'll say, 'We can't all be bystanders. We all have to be rescuers.'"