San Francisco

94-Year-Old Auschwitz Survivor “Slipped Away” From Holocaust Death March, Continues to Tell Her Story

Woman is one of about 4,000 Holocaust survivors who lives in the Bay Area

Helen Farkas is one of a dwindling group of Holocaust survivors still alive to relay the horrors she experienced.

At age 94, the Romanian-born woman is still an active speaker, telling children and civic groups how she scrambled for scraps of bread and escaped the infamous Auschwitz death camp march with her sister in 1945, during a guard shift in the middle of the night.

"We just slipped away," she told a group of students this spring. "Very slowly."

Farkas, who lives in Burlingame, a small city just south of San Francisco, is one of about 40 regular speakers at the Jewish Family and Children's Services Holocaust Center in San Francisco still around to tell her story. By the center's estimates, Farkas is one of 4,000 Holocaust survivors still living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of 7,000 Auschwitz prisoners in Poland, Farkas's eyewitness accounts are even more poignant.

"I want people to remember the Holocaust," Farkas told NBC Bay Area on Monday. "I teach tolerance. I want future generations to know what has happened and what can happen."

Morgan Blum Schneider, director of education at the JFCS Holocaust Center, also wants to keep Farkas's and other Holocaust survivors' stories alive, even after the survivors have gone. Most survivors, like Farkas, are already in their 90s. Many have died in recent years.

"We are looking at an era, the post-survivor era," Blum Schneider said, "that with each day, a person loses their life, or their memory."

To keep the stories present in people's minds, however, the agency has created new speakers groups to engage the children, and grandchildren, of Holocaust survivors. A few grandchildren of survivors have offered to to tell their grandparents' stories of death and survival throughout the Bay Area. Each year, the JFCS Holocaust Center reaches 20,000 students through their educational programs. 

In addition, the agency also has created the Tauber Holocaust Library and Education Program Oral History project, where 2,000 audio and video testimonies have been collected for all to see.

Blum Schneider said the goal is not only to study how Jews were tormented and killed during the Holocaust, but to learn how they lived, as well.

Farkas's oral history is indeed a window into how people lived in Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp during World War II. At one point, Farkas remembered trying to survive on crumbs.

"I've got to save these two bites of bread for tomorrow morning, because if I am able to put two bites of bread into my stomach, then I can start the day," Farkas recalled.

But what she also remembered was the humanity of those in the camp with her. "Everybody wants to survive," she said. "But I cannot remember one incidence that somebody would have harmed the other, or would have stolen the bread from those who saved it."

What Farkas wants most now is for children to remain interested in the genocide and in preventing another one, anywhere, in the future.

"I want them to see how lucky they were, being born in a free country," she said. "We have to be alert so that it will never happen again."

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