By Ashlynn Worley
Survivors of the Holocaust are dwindling.
The pain of the past haunts survivors to their graves and many remain silent. Marguerite Mishkin is not one of those people.
Instead of letting her horrific past control her future, she decided to open up about her experience. Over 40 people from the Quincy community and university attended a live storytelling event.
The event was held one week after the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania where 11 people were murdered.
Mishkin made it a point that people should be aware of their word choice when speaking of the Holocaust and events like the Synagogue massacre. She said people should avoid using phrases such as ‘lost their lives’ or ‘died’ because that is simply untrue.
She says all those people were murdered.
She said the synagogue shooting reminded her of the Holocaust in a way because people were murdered simply because of their beliefs.
“History repeats itself but not in the same way,” Mishkin said.
Mishkin has traveled around Illinois and beyond telling her story to anyone willing to listen. After tragedies like the synagogue shooting, she wonders if she should continue sharing her story.
She said the problem is the people who gather to hear her speak choose to be there whereas the people who need to hear her story the most are the ones who will never listen.
Mishkin still feels the good people outweigh the bad people in today’s society. At 77 years old, Mishkin appeared to still be physically and mentally tough. She was accompanied by her faithful companion that travels with her everywhere she goes.
Her small dog hopped on her lap and sat with her the entire time she spoke.
She used an analogy to begin her story that she uses when speaking to children to help them grasp what the Holocaust was like. Imagine Quincy’s government passed a law that said you were not able to own any pets and if you were caught, the police would take them away.
Many children said they would simply hide their pets or take them to a friends house in another city.
But Mishkin told them the reality was their pets would be killed and they would be punished for trying to hide their pets and anyone who tried to help them would be killed as well.
With mostly adults in the room, Mishkin told a far more detailed and disturbing story of the accounts of her life. Born in Brussels in 1941, Mishkin knew very little about her mother and father.
Her father was murdered in a concentration camp in Auschwitz shortly after she was born.
Approximately 11 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, including one million Jewish children alone. As a child during Hitler’s regime, Mishkin and her sister were known as hidden children of the Holocaust. Mishkin’s mother wanted to save her children from the Nazi death camps, so she sent them away with a priest who had contact with a Catholic couple in Belgium.
One month before the camp in Auschwitz was liberated, Mishkin’s mother was transported there and murdered. Mishkin had nothing but kind words to say about the family who took she and her sister in because they knew very well the consequences of harboring Jewish people.
She said how hurtful it was when her mother left them with a strange family but later understood the bravery and sacrifice her mother endured to save them.
After World War II, the girls were sent to a Jewish orphanage. Mishkin described horrible times at the orphanage. The Catholic woman who took care of Mishkin and her sister begged the orphanage not to cut their long hair, but they did.
Mishkin said this was a visual tactic of betrayal and trust.
She described herself as a very finicky eater and at one point she refused to eat or drink anything while staying at the orphanage in Belgium.
At one point, she was adopted by a New York family that sometimes sent her gifts, but they never physically adopted her. She remembered one toy in particular- a doll that Mishkin described as one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen.
Mishkin later donated her doll to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
In 1950, Mishkin and her sister were finally adopted by a Chicago rabbi and his wife.
Mishkin was not even 18 years old when she and her sister came to America.
She said she did not feel completely accepted at first.
One young man who listened to Mishkin’s story felt moved by her experiences and believes more people need to hear what she has to say.
“I felt that it was very impactful and I believe that a lot more people my age should want to hear a story like hers,” Tavion Neal said.
When Mishkin finished telling her story, she asked the audience if they had any questions. One man asked how she continues to re-live her past over and over again.
Mishkin replied, “the trauma is always with me.”
She referred to the old saying of ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’ by adding, “but words will break my heart.”
She went on to say that while her brain may not remember everything, her body still does.
Mishkin does not feel that the hidden children, and other survivors of the Holocaust, received the help they needed to heal. Telling her story to others is a part of her healing process.
She concluded her story by saying, “America is the best country I know, but it still has it faults.”
Mishkin then asked the audience to ponder on this- 50 years from now, what will your contribution to the world be?