Education and Remembrance: Eva Nathanson's Powerful Testimony

Education and Remembrance: Eva Nathanson's Powerful Testimony

During an All-School Meeting (ASM) on January 23, 2024, Marlborough had the privilege of hosting Ms. Eva Nathanson, a Holocaust survivor, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Her poignant, first-hand account of the Holocaust underscores the enduring relevance of survivor testimonies, especially in a world in which hatred and Holocaust denial persist. 

Sophia M. ’27, Maya N.G. ’25, and Ruby F. ’26—who all serve on the Holocaust Museum of LA’s Teen Advisory Board—introduced Ms. Nathanson to the community. Ruby began by sharing the significance of having Holocaust survivors recount their harrowing experiences. “Ms. Nathanson being here to tell her story is especially significant as we are the last generation to have the opportunity to hear first-hand testimonies from those who survived the Holocaust,” Ruby shared, “Her story reflects the lives of millions who faced the tragedy of the Holocaust.” Sophia continued by sharing her goal for the ASM: “I encourage you to keep the memories of the Holocaust, its survivors, and those who tragically died alive in pursuit of shaping a better future for humanity and a more knowledgeable and empathetic community at Marlborough.”

Ms. Nathanson, born in Budapest, Hungary in 1941 to a successful and wealthy family, began recounting her harrowing experiences during the Holocaust. She spoke about the impact of discriminatory laws, the requirement to wear yellow stars, and the fear that accompanied being marked as “undesirable.” She shared a sorrowful story about her family attempting to shield her from the full impact of what was happening in Hungary. When the law was passed requiring Jewish people to identify themselves with a yellow star patch on their clothing, her family gathered all the children together and told them they were working on an art project. “I remember clearly: when I walked into the room, all the adults had tears running down their faces and everybody was whispering,” Ms. Nathson reflected. “What I couldn’t understand as such a small child was how the artwork could be so sad.” After all the trauma she endured in the years to follow that sad art project, Ms. Nathanson made a special note to mention: “I am 83 years old and I still don't wear yellow.”

Her personal narrative continued to unfold with details of hiding, fear, and resilience. At the end of 1942, her grandfather was turned in for being a leader of the underground movement rescuing Jewish people from neighboring countries. Nazi soldiers arrived soon after to the Nathansons’ estate and kidnapped every family member present. In a daring, heroic act, Ms. Nathanson’s governess hid her away and saved her life. Ms. Nathanson was then reunited with her mother in Budapest where the pair spent the next several years in hiding. From being hidden in cabinets, basements, dresser drawers, and dingy attics, Ms. Nathanson’s story shed light on the unimaginable challenges she faced—all before she turned four years old. Ms. Nathanson vividly described moments of terror, the constant anxiety over the threat of discovery, and the perpetual state of fear and trauma in which she lived for three years. 

After narrowly escaping imprisonment, deportation, and murder on more than one occasion, she recalled a moment when she was taken by the underground movement to a house with other Jewish families. When two soldiers entered the room, Ms. Nathanson described her panic. She remembered, “The two men had guns on their shoulders and at their waists. I was trying to hold my breath because I was petrified. I didn't know the difference between the uniforms of the different armies. All I saw was guns.” As one of the soldiers approached her, he reached into his pocket and placed a piece of chocolate in Ms. Nathanson’s mouth. These soldiers were from the Soviet army who were, at that time, in the process of liberating Hungary from the Nazis. This simple act of kindness amid fear became a symbol of her liberation for her. Smiling at that memory, Ms. Nathanson shared, “If you look in my freezer, there is always a lot of chocolate.”

Even after Hungary was liberated, fear persisted among the Jewish community, unsure of where they might encounter hostility and violence. Ms. Nathanson’s trauma extended well beyond liberation. At the end of the war, she was terribly sick and was in and out of hospitals for another couple of years. She and her mother also had to face tremendous loss—96% of their family was murdered by the Nazis. 

Yet, with remarkable strength and determination, Ms. Nathanson and her mother rebuilt their lives. She enrolled in school in Budapest, yet the anxieties remained. Her mother would not let her visit classmates’ homes for fear their family might harbor antisemitic hatred. When Ms. Nathanson was 16 years old, she moved to Los Angeles where she started working and rebuilding her life once more. With indescribable resiliency, Ms. Nathanson pursued higher education—earning two bachelor's degrees, two master's degrees, and an art degree—all while establishing a successful career in healthcare administration. As she concluded her talk, Ms. Nathanson proudly said, “I am an artist, a grandmother, a mother, a sister, and—hopefully—a friend.”

Following her talk, students were able to join Ms. Nathanson to braid challah together as part of a program called L’Dough V’Dough run by the Holocaust Museum of Los Angeles. Meant to evoke the Hebrew phrase l’dor v’dor, meaning from generation to generation, students were invited to reflect on the importance of passing stories between generations. While they kneaded and braided the dough, Ms. Nathanson walked around to talk with students and answer their questions. Students seized this special opportunity to engage deeply and thoughtfully through this one-on-one interaction with Ms. Nathanson.

Ms. Nathanson’s story is a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of educating future generations about the Holocaust. Through her story, students were reminded that firsthand accounts are invaluable in shaping a more knowledgeable, empathetic, and compassionate community. As we honor the survivors and remember the past, we commit ourselves to preventing history from repeating its darkest chapters.

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In the image that accompanies this article, Ms. Nathanson stands behind a wooden podium with her hands on her cheeks as an expression of deep emotion crosses her face while she speaks.

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