'How could I pretend to be an orphan?'
SYDNEY — Edith Schwalb Gelbard’s childhood memories are marred by the invasion of the Nazi regime and subsequent Second World War, which led to the Holocaust and killing of six million Jews.
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Edith Schwalb Gelbard’s childhood memories are marred by the invasion of the Nazi regime and subsequent Second World War, which led to the Holocaust and killing of six million Jews. She spoke about her experiences recently at the Temple Sons of Israel Synagogue in Sydney.
Schwalb Gelbard was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1932. Her early life was uneventful until her fifth birthday when her Jewish family was forced to leave as the Second World War approached.
“Bullying started with me when I was five and a half,” she told the packed audience at the Temple Sons of Israel Synagogue in Sydney.
“It didn’t affect hurting me physically, but I wasn’t allowed to go to school anymore. We weren’t allowed to go to the park or go to a movie. We weren’t allowed to play with the friends we had before, and it was kind of like bullying.”
In a nearly three-week journey with her father, Schwalb Gelbard was taken to her aunt and uncle’s home in Brussels, Belgium.
For a girl of her young age, it was a traumatic experience.
“You have to say goodbye to your mum, your grandmother, your sister. You don’t know if you’ll see them again,” she said.
In Belgium, the majority French speaking population frowned on her family from Austria, all of whom spoke German.
In school she had to deal with another form of bullying — discrimination.
“We were immigrants, we were Jewish and we didn’t speak the language. Even the teachers at that time were not nice.”
Following Hitler’s invasion of Belgium in May 1940, the family had to leave everything behind in a panicked move to southern France.
The French authorities were loyal to the Nazis at that time, and arrested Schwalb Gelbard and her family in 1942. They were sent to a holding camp.
While her father was taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp, she said her mother was able to convince the authorities to release the female members of the family and the children.
Schwalb Gelbard went into hiding, as did her mother and sister in separate locations.
She said that in the French town of Moissac in southern France, she was told she would take on a new identity.
The community was known to hide Jews among them.
Fake birth and baptism certificates now claimed she was a French Roman Catholic.
She also had to act like she was an orphan. Now 11 years old, Schwalb Gelbard said forgetting about her true identity and family was a difficult process.
“How could I pretend to be an orphan? I know my mother is in hiding and my father was taken away but he will come back from the camp. But I had to pretend.”
Shortly after the war ended in Europe, Schwalb Gelbard was reunited with her mother, sister and younger brother. Her father, however, died after being liberated from Auschwitz.
She moved to Canada in 1955 with her new husband.
Schwalb Gelbard lives in Toronto, and has been speaking about her experience of living through the Holocaust for the past 15 years.