By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Daniel Goldsmith looked out at his young audience of sixth- through eighth-graders and told them, “You are the last generation who will hear the witness of a Holocaust survivor. I’m 86, and I’m one of the young ones.”
And so there was a sense of urgency in Goldsmith’s words and tone as he shared his moving story of surviving the Holocaust with students in St. Paul School, Princeton, April 18.
“I’m pleading with you, do not hate. You must be tolerant of other people, of other faiths, colors and backgrounds.
“The lesson here is you should be decent to everybody,” he continued. “Be righteous human beings. When you see something wrong, say or do something, but don’t turn your back and walk away silently.”
Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) takes place in the U.S. and Israel annually on 27 Nisan (April/May); the Days of Remembrance for Victims of the Holocaust, an eight-day period, are observed from the Sunday before Yom HaShoah to the Sunday after.
Goldsmith, who has spent decades raising awareness about the Holocaust, had come to St. Paul School as part of the Holocaust Remembrance Education Program conducted by the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., Fegelson-Young-Feinberg Post 697. Accompanying Goldsmith was Allan Silverberg, the committee’s chairman.
They were invited as part of the Holocaust Studies unit, a joint program in social studies, religion and language arts classes. Seventh-grade teacher Sally Chrisman has been teaching about the Holocaust for about 10 years, and Goldsmith visited the school in 2015.
In his introduction, Silverberg quoted loosely from writer and philosopher George Santayana, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,” and Edmund Burke, “For evil to flourish, all it takes is for good people to do nothing.”
“So it’s important that we all do something to make this a better world,” he said.
Struggle to Survive
Goldsmith lived through the Holocaust beginning as an 8-year-old boy in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1940. Son of Chaim and Ruchel Goldschmidt (as their name was spelled then), he watched as citizenship and rights were stripped from the Jews, registration was enacted and families were torn apart, as men – including his father – were ordered to board trains to labor camps.
“My father and mother didn’t know at that particular time, and most people in the world didn’t know, that this was the initiation of the ‘final solution’ – the total destruction of European Jews and the existence of concentration camps,” Goldsmith said. “Most of us found out about it after the war was over.”
Goldsmith, his mother and baby sister, Lillian, managed to avoid capture by the Germans during a nighttime raid of their street by hiding on a rooftop; baby Lillian was miraculously quiet and didn’t give away their location. Goldsmith’s mother was able to hide the children in a Catholic convent, where only the mother superior knew their identity, while she returned to Antwerp, working in the Belgian Underground as a courier.
Learning of the convent’s imminent raid by Nazis, Ruchel moved the children separately; Lillian went to live with a Catholic family who concealed her as a “distant relative visiting during the war,” while Goldsmith went to a boy’s orphanage run by a Catholic priest, Father Ivor Cornelissen, who was hiding several other Jewish boys in three separate facilities.
“He changed my name to Willie Peters, a typical Belgian name,” Goldsmith recalled, “and he gave me false baptismal papers, so that if anyone would question me, I would have documents to show I was Catholic. I went to parochial school and Church every day, and I even became an altar boy to blend in.”
In May 1944, the orphanage was raided, and Goldsmith and five other Jewish children were taken to a prison. One night, many were put onto a freight train. Thanks to the quick thinking of a teenager, the children were able to escape from the train while it slowed, pushed out one by one through a hole created by prying boards loose with a steel shank the boy had hidden in his boot.
Through the intercession of another Catholic priest, Goldsmith was placed with a French Belgian Catholic family and lived silently for several months in an attic room with his foster family, who accompanied him in the backyard during the night – the only safe time for him to go outside – even gifting him a pet rabbit for company.
Standing Against Evil
“Many [people] did not go along with Hitler – there’s not enough publicity, for instance, given to the thousands of Catholic priests who died because they didn’t go along with [him] – and he got rid of them.”
After several narrow escapes and relocations, Goldsmith was finally reunited with his mother and sister. His father, sadly, died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
“The youth is the future of our country, and they are the ones that will be able to counteract what I call the revisionists,” he said. “They will be able to tell people, ‘Yes it did happen – I saw a live Holocaust survivor speak; he told us [his story].’ So youth is very important.”
Goldsmith thinks students can be catalysts for changing the conversation.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I believe that this new generation won’t just stand by, but they will do something. I am in awe of the young kids who came out and spoke after the high school shootings ... they can do it. Hopefully they will try to make this a better world.”