Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, has selected Newhall resident Erika Schwartz to represent the 38th Assembly District during the 9th annual Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony in Sacramento. On April 8th the California Assembly and the Holocaust Memorial Project will honor Holocaust survivors, the second generation, and liberators during Holocaust Memorial Week.
Erika (Hornstein) Schwartz was born in the Jewish ghetto of Nyiregyhaza in Nazi-occupied Hungary in April 1944. Because the Hungarian Jewish population outside of Budapest was virtually annihilated in early May of 1944, Erika is one of the youngest Hungarian survivors. “I am thrilled and honored to be a part of the Holocaust Remembrance Project” said Schwartz, a 16 year resident of Santa Clarita.
“It is an honor to ask Erika Schwartz to participate in the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony,” said Wilk. “It gives me great pleasure to have Erika on the Assembly floor to remind us of this horrific tragedy so that it’s never repeated again.”
Erika has been married to her husband Bill for close to 50 years and they have two sons. Along with her work as a local business owner and entrepreneur, Erika is very involved the local community.
Because she was an infant, Schwartz has no personal memories of World War II, but the stories told to her by her mother about their life back then are poignant and powerful.
According to the tales she heard from her mother, Schwartz’s father was in a labor camp in 1944 when he got word that she had been born. He managed to escape to reunite with his wife and daughter. “My father was one of the few people in Hungary who believed all the rumors about (the existence of) the gas chambers,” said Schwartz.
Looking to avoid that fate for his family, Schwartz’s father was able to convinced the authorities to let him move his wife and baby to Budapest, where they lived under the guise of being Christian. “Pretty much the only Jews in Hungary that survived were the ones in Budapest,” said Schwartz, “because those were the only ones that had not yet been sent to Auschwitz when the liberators came.”
Though Schwartz and her mother managed to hide from the Nazis until the liberation, her father was not so lucky. “The only time he saw me was when I was a week old, when he got us out of the ghetto. He didn’t want to stay with us after that because he was afraid that if he was captured, we’d also be caught.” Her mother never saw her husband again.
Schwartz’s aunt was also a victim of the Holocaust. According to Schwartz, her mother’s younger sister was living with them in a small apartment in Budapest when she was betrayed by a friend. The 19 year-old woman was out looking for food one day when a Nazi sympathizer recognized her and shouted to a nearby official that she had spotted a Jew. The officers chased Schwartz’s aunt into a building where she tried to escape out a window but fell to her death.
Schwartz and her mother were the only ones in her family to survive the war. “I had three little cousins…a three year-old little girl and two little boys who were 8 and 10…who all died in the gas chambers. My mother’s older sister died in a gas chamber, and her mother and grandmother.” The men in the family all perished in labor camps.
A few years after the war, Schwartz’s mother was finally allowed to emigrate to the United States, but was not allowed to bring her young daughter with her. So her mother left her in Hungary with a married couple whom she trusted. But the childless couple soon decided to kidnap the little girl and keep her as their own. Schwartz’s mother had to hire a detective in Hungary to find her daughter and bring her to the United States. It was just after Schwartz’s fourth birthday that she was finally reunited with her mother in the U.S., where she was raised.
Schwartz and her husband lived in New York and Maryland before settling in Santa Clarita in 1987. And though she is still haunted by the horrors of the Holocaust, Schwartz finds comfort with her new Jewish family at Temple Beth Ami in Newhall.
“Two years ago we joined Temple Beth Ami and became acquainted with Rabbi Mark Blazer, and immediately fell in love with him,” said Schwartz, who feels blessed to have found a home in the SCV. “It’s a wonderful congregation and great community.”
To listen to the podcast interview with Erika Schwartz, go to http://hometownstation.com/podcasts/khts-special-broadcasts/holocaust-survivor-interview-khts-34151