Name: Magda Herzberger (1926 – )
Birth Place: Cluj, Romania
Arrived in Wisconsin: 1960, Monroe
I had no idea that those were the furnaces, because no one could imagine such a thing.
— Magda Herzberger
Magda Mozes Herzberger was born on February 20, 1926, in Cluj, Romania. On August 30, 1940, Romania was annexed by Hungary, an ally of Nazi Germany. Life for Cluj's nearly 17,000 Jews grew steadily worse over the next four years. In March 1944, the Germans occupied Romania and took large-scale anti-Semitic measures. The Mozes family, along with thousands of other Jews, was forced into the Cluj Ghetto. It was liquidated only a month later. Magda and her family were sent to Auschwitz, where most of them perished.
After six weeks in Auschwitz, 18-year-old Magda was shipped to Bremen, Germany. She did forced labor as the city was bombed by Allied forces. In March 1945, Magda was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her job there was to dispose of thousands of bodies that had accumulated in and around the barracks. On April 15, 1945, she collapsed from exhaustion. Magda was near death when she was found among the corpses by a liberating British soldier.
Magda returned to Cluj late in 1945. In April 1946, she began medical school, where she met and married Eugene Herzberger. Fearing persecution under communism, the Herzbergers fled Romania for Israel in 1947. The British, who severely restricted immigration to Israel, captured her ship in the Aegean Sea and brought it to Cyprus. The Herzbergers were held in a makeshift prison camp until permitted to leave for Israel in January 1949.
In 1957, after nine years in Israel, the Herzbergers immigrated to the U.S. They and their two children settled in Monroe, Wisconsin, where Magda's husband practiced medicine for 20 years. The Herzbergers moved to Dubuque, Iowa, in 1976 and to Arizona in 1994.
Magda has spoken extensively about her experiences. She has published two memoirs (Eyewitness to Holocaust and Survival), and several volumes of poetry and fiction. They are available from her website. Magda is also a former mountain climber, skier and runner. She competed in a marathon the summer this interview was conducted.
Audio and Transcript Information
Below are the highlights of each tape. They do not list all topics discussed. Recordings of only one tape side are marked: (no Side 2). Documents may be printed or downloaded at no cost. See Rights and Permissions. Also, Magda has published this interview in paperback with an audio CD. See Amazon or her website to order.
Listen to Magda's testimony and view transcript
Tape 1, Side 1
- Magda's reasons for sharing her story
- Family background
- Jewish life in Romania in the early 20th century
Tape 1, Side 2
- Schooling and anti-Semitism
- Annexation of Romania by Hungary, 1940
- Occupation by German troops, March 1944
Tape 2, Side 1
- Family and religious life in Cluj before the war
- Zionism and early immigrants to Palestine
- Growing anti-Semitism
Tape 2, Side 2
- Knowledge of Hitler and the Third Reich
- Oppression by Hungarian police, 1940-1944
- Increased anti-Semitism
Tape 3, Side 1
- Living conditions under German occupation
- Creation of the Cluj Ghetto
- Her family's imprisonment in Cluj Ghetto
Tape 3, Side 2
- Brutality of life in the ghetto
- Deportation to Auschwitz, June 1944
- Magda's first impressions of Auschwitz
Tape 4, Side 1
- Conditions at Auschwitz
- Selection of inmates for forced labor or death
- Description of crematoria
Tape 4, Side 2
- Life at Auschwitz
- Tortures and beatings
- A typical day
- Emotional and psychological condition of prisoners
Tape 5, Side 1
- Smuggling at Auschwitz
- German collaborators
- Futile acts of resistance
- Forced labor in Bremen
Tape 5, Side 2
- Bunkers and Allied bombings in Bremen
- Conditions in winter
- Transfer to the Bergen-Belsen death camp
Tape 6, Side 1
- Attempt to escape Bergen-Belsen
- Magda prepares to die
- Last-minute rescue and liberation
- Rehabilitation and repatriation to postwar Cluj
Tape 6, Side 2
- The fate of her family
- Magda returns to school, 1946
- Entering medical school
Tape 7, Side 1
- Meeting her husband
- His background and their courtship
- Their time in medical school
Tape 7, Side 2
- Deciding to leave Romania
- Imprisioned by the British in Cyprus for one year
- Immigrating to Israel, 1947
Tape 8, Side 1
- Life in Israel, 1949-1957
- Immigrating to the U.S.
- Impressions of New York, Connecticut and Georgia
- Settling in Monroe, Wisconsin, 1960
Tape 8, Side 2
- No Jewish community in Monroe
- Magda's first speaking engagements about the Holocaust
- Family life and children
Tape 9, Side 1
- Children and family life
- Relations with Christians in Monroe, Wis. and Dubuque, Iowa
Tape 9, Side 2
- Americans' understanding of the Holocaust
- Magda's social life
- Her daily activities and reading habits
Tape 10, Side 1
- Depictions of the Holocaust in the media
- Travels in Wisconsin
- Anti-Semitism and American Nazis
- Attitudes toward American culture and politics
Tape 10, Side 2
- Anti-Semitism in the U.S.
- Feelings on speaking out about the Holocaust
- Magda sings two of her musical compositions
- Score for Magda's composition "Seduction"
- Score for Magda's composition "Prayer"
About the Interview Process
The interview was conducted by archivist Sara Leuchter on July 21 and 22, and August 27, 1980. The conversations totaled 10 hours.
Magda comes across as enthusiastic and charming. She had a clear memory for facts and a candid appreciation of the emotional and spiritual effects of her experience. During the interview, Magda read several poems about the events described.
Audio and Transcript Details
- Interview Dates: Jul 21, 1980; Jul 22, 1980; Aug 27, 1980
- Interview Location: Herzberger home, Dubuque, Iowa
- Interviewer: Archivist Sara Leuchter
- Original Sound Recording Format: 10 qty. 60-minute audio cassette tapes
- Length of Interviews: 3 interviews, total approximately 10 hours
- Transcript Length: 207 pages
- Rights and Permissions: Any document may be printed or downloaded to a computer or portable device at no cost for nonprofit educational use by teachers, students and researchers. Nothing may be reproduced in any format for commercial purposes without prior permission.