From Goldberger to Gold
A son recounts his father's exodus from Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen to Vancouver.
May 05th, 2021
David Goldberger always knew he had a story to tell and remember; he just never found a voice for it. It was his Vancouver-raised son, Joe Gold, who compiled his father’s story into a book.
After three days and two nights in a cattle car crammed with 100 people sharing a single bucket for waste and a single pail of water, David Goldberger arrived at Auschwitz on April 20, 1944. Dr. Josef Mengele directed him to the right. He could live.
All his possessions were confiscated. Goldberger stood naked with the other lucky ones while their heads were shaved and the crevices of their bodies were searched for valuables.
It wasn’t until David Goldberger’s Vancouver-raised son Joe was himself in his seventies that his father’s story of faith, perseverance and family love made its way into print as a book, Two Pieces of Cloth, One Family’s Story of the Holocaust (Page Two, 2021).
Much of the text that Joe Gold prepared to honour his family’s story was gleaned from interviews conducted with David Goldberger decades before by Robert Krell.
In remembrance lies the secret of redemption. That idea is from the teachings of the Polish mystic Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer who is regarded as the founder of Hasidic Judaism. Vancouver businessman David Goldberger always knew he had a story to remember and tell. He just never found a voice for it.
After the home and the textile business of the Goldberger family in Spisske Vlachy was confiscated because they were Jews, the Slovak government proceeded to solve its so-called unemployment problem that ensued by deporting Jews in the spring of 1942.
In keeping with the philosophy of so-called Aryanization, the first train to Auschwitz from the Poprad transit camp in Slovakia departed on March 25, 1942 carrying 1,000 unmarried Jewish women between the ages of sixteen and forty-five in cattle cars.
Family transports commenced on April 11. Jewish males were dispatched to labour battalions in 1943. After German troops occupied Hungary in March of 1944, bribes were less viable to avoid detention. Almost half a million Hungarians were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau between May 15 and July 9.
“The speed with which the Hungarian authorities cast out Jews from society, and robbed, segregated and deported them, was unprecedented in the entire history of the Holocaust,” Joe Gold claims.
David Goldberger first worked as a slave labourer in 1944 in one of the 32 factories of the Manfred Weiss Steel and Metal Works. (The wealthy Weiss family had been allowed to immigrate to Portugal but their enormous art collection was confiscated.)
David Goldberger was ultimately transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen on February 17, 1945. Exactly 303 days after he boarded the cattle car, he was liberated from Bergen-Belsen among 60,000 ghostly inmates. By then, David Goldberger—known as Deszer, or Deszy—weighed sixty-five pounds.
Yugoslavia was the only government that came swiftly to rescue its Jews. Seemingly too skeletal to travel, Goldberger was told by the camp’s liberators to wait for the arrival of Slovakian troops. The concentration camp was rife with typhus. The risks of remaining were lethal. He opted to take flight with a group of men to reach Hanover, 50 kilometres away, in northwestern Germany. It was there he was given two pieces of woollen cloth that would enable him to begin anew.
“My father noticed a large building which housed a textile company,” his son Joe Gold says. “He recognized the name of the company as one of his woollen fabric suppliers before the war. He walked inside and introduced himself to the owners. When asked how they might be able to help him, my father replied ‘If you are able to give me two pieces of cloth—two times three metres—I will be able to start my life again.’ Three metres of fabric would be sufficient to make a suit. It was with these two pieces of cloth that my father was able to barter for other merchandise and necessities and to move on and support his family once again.”
In Two Pieces of Cloth, we learn that several thousand Jews fled from Czechoslovakia to Hungary aided by Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Ungar. In the voice of David Goldberger, his son Joe Gold recounts his father’s successful return to Budapest after the Holocaust to find his wife Aurelia and their first-born son, Andrew, who had been in hiding with false Christian identities
Andrew was disguised as a girl.
“Andrew’s hair was long and beautiful. It was imperative that Andrew be dressed as a girl in case we were ever stopped by the gendarme. They would check any suspicious boys for circumcisions.”
Although the story is mainly told from the perspectives of the separated couple, it opens with Joe Gold, as a child, discovering a book of concentration camp photographs hidden in his father’s fabric store. “It made sense that my father, upon arrival in Canada in 1948, would open a fabric store,” Gold says. “Having successfully managed and owned textile businesses twice (both before and after the war) in his native country of Czechoslovakia, it was the natural way for him to make a new start once again.” This precious and rare album that Joe Gold first saw in 1952 went missing for seventy years until Joe Gold traced its origins just before Two Pieces of Cloth went to press.
“For as long as I can remember,” Joe Gold says, “I have thought of the Holocaust every day.”
Joe Gold’s mother Aurelia was born in the Czech lands of the
Austro-Hungarian empire in 1915. The independent state of Czechoslovakia was
not established until 1918. Born in Benedikovce one year earlier, David
Goldberger, the youngest of eight children, apprenticed in the textile business
and later became highly successful in Canada’s clothing sector with a prominent
store for Gold’s Fashion Fabrics on Granville Street in Vancouver. Born in
Czechoslovakia in 1947, Joe Gold worked in the family business and also found
time to play keyboards in an R&B group. He says the inspiration to complete
his family story arose from a poem written by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis in the
High Holy Day prayer book, Backwards and Forwards:
Looking backward, we recall our ancestry.
Looking forward, we confront our destiny.
Looking backward, we reflect on our origins.
Looking forward, we choose our path.
Remembering that we are a tree of life, not letting go,
holding on, and holding to, we walk into an unknown,
beckoning future, with our past beside us.
Joe Gold’s grandfather perished in Sobibor. The uncle he was named after died in Majdanek. Joe Gold’s father survived Auschwitz/Birkenau, Gross Rosen, Chelmno and Bergen-Belsen.
In his tribute to his father, Joe Gold notes that Dachau was the first concentration camp, established in 1933, and that Bergen-Belsen had the lowest survival rate “from which not five percent came home alive.”
Initially, as of 1941, Bergen-Belsen held thousands of Soviet prisoners; then in 1943 it was also used for Jewish hostages who were kept in case international agreements could be made to exchange them for German prisoners of war being held overseas.
Overcrowding and lack of food led to outbreaks of typhus, as well as tuberculosis, typhoid and deadly dysentery. Prior to liberation, more than 35,000 prisoners died before the British 11th Armoured Division arrived on April 15, 1945, and discovered the ghoulish presence of 60,000 starving prisoners.
It is seldom cited that Canadian troops were also among the liberators. In Bergen-Belsen, British and Canadian troops found approximately 13,000 unburied corpses.
In 1944, a new part of Bergen-Belsen had been established as a “women’s camp” accommodating around 9,000 women and young girls, beginning with Poles from the failed Warsaw Uprising. Among the last women to arrive at Bergen-Belsen were two sisters, Margot and Anne Frank, who died in either February or March of 1945.
Anne Frank had the misfortune of being allotted a sleeping stall near the main door. During the bitterly cold winter months, each time the door was opened, it was impossible to stay warm. Even though there were no gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen and it was supposedly designed as a centre for recovery and the bartering of souls, it is estimated that the cumulative death toll for Jews, Czechs, Poles, intellectuals, homosexuals and Roma at Bergen-Belsen exceeded 50,000.
After David Goldberger eventually emigrated to Canada with his family, he changed his last name to Gold and established his well-regarded business, Gold’s Fashion Fabrics.
THIS ARTICLE IS AN EXCERPT FROM ALAN TWIGG’S FORTHCOMING BOOK, OUT OF HIDING: HOLOCAUST LITERATURE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (RONSDALE PRESS).