As the Germans invaded Lodz, Poland, the Libitzky’s grocery store, which had served the larger community for years, was pillaged. Polish neighbors, who had chatted with Eva Libitzky’s family while shopping at the store only weeks before, grabbed items off the shelves and shouted anti-Semitic slurs. Eva’s father was beaten, humiliated, and then forced to dig ditches across town. Synagogues were burned down, Jewish people’s bank accounts were frozen, and Jews were prohibited from riding public transportation.
Yet, even as her people’s basic rights were stripped, her family refused to postpone her brother, Moishe’s wedding. In late September 1939, Eva’s family gathered in the home of the bride’s family. Fifteen-year-old Eva stood on the sidewalk, warning guests to be quiet when she saw German soldiers approaching. But once the danger passed, a fiddler resumed playing music, and the family danced and sang.
Eva wrote in her memoir, Out on a Ledge, “For a single afternoon, we put the war out of our minds and celebrated a simcha, a joyous event, the last time I would experience anything like that with my family.”
Only about two-and-a-half years later, Eva’s brother and his young wife were gassed at a concentration camp.
The Holocaust marked the end of Eva’s youth and the beginning of a life that was unimaginable to a girl who had grown up in a large, loving family that was rich with Jewish traditions. During the next six years, Eva saw her father die of starvation. Her mother was torn away from her and then killed at Auschwitz. Her first love and most of her family members were murdered. She was transferred from the hellish Lodz Ghetto to Auschwitz to a slave labor camp and to Theresienstadt, where Eva survived the Holocaust, weighing 65 pounds.
Eva and her husband, Martin, went on to rebuild their lives after the Holocaust in Germany and then in the United States, an experience that was still filled with many challenges — including a run-in with the law in Germany, which forced Martin to flee their home for a year before the charges were dropped, as well as a tumultuous stint as chicken farmers in rural Connecticut.
About four decades after surviving the Holocaust, Eva began sharing her story. Together with their son, Moses, their daughter, Anne, and their spouses, Eva and Martin traveled back to Poland in 1990. They returned to the sites of their childhood and to the concentration camps where their families were horrifically killed, and they talked about their experiences.
Since then, Eva has spoken to thousands of youth and adults all over the world about her experiences and has led March of the Living trips to Poland and Israel. Today, Eva has a drawer filled with letters from students, thanking her for sharing her story with them.
Encouraged by her three children, she also wrote Out on a Ledge in partnership with the writer, Fred Rosenbaum. The book, which is narrated by Eva’s strong, straightforward voice, recounts her childhood, her tragic experiences during the Holocaust, and the hardships she faced while rebuilding her life from destruction.
“I had terrible dreams writing the book and reliving moments from my past,” said Eva. “But if we don’t teach our children what happened, it will be forgotten and then history will repeat itself again and again.”
Today, Eva is 95 years old, and she continues to educate those around her about the Holocaust. During a recent appointment, Eva gave her doctor a copy of her memoir. Not only did her doctor read it, but his daughters did too. They asked Eva if they could meet with her to learn more about her experiences during the Holocaust. Eva agreed, inviting them to her home for lunch.
“So many of the students who I’ve spoken to never knew about the Holocaust before hearing my story,” said Eva. “They ask me how I survived and how I could handle everything. I tell them what happened to me. I tell them to appreciate the country they live in. I tell them to appreciate their families. I tell them to never forget what happened because we need to make sure it never happens again.”
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