Magda Schaloum was born in 1922 in Gyor, Hungary. Following the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944, the Nazis began systematically depriving Jews of their rights and forcing them into ghettos. They forced Magda and her family to leave their home and then deported her, her brother, and their mother to Auschwitz.
Through the window of the cattle car, Magda saw her father desperately trying to give them a package filled with food and essentials. The guards beat him brutally and took the package, telling him they would give it to his family. Instead, they kept it for themselves.
Magda's father was sent to forced labor in the coal mines and the Nazis eventually transported him to the Buchenwald slave labor camp in Germany. Magda's sister avoided deportation thanks to protective papers from the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg was later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
The Nazis deported Magda, her mother, and her brother. After riding for days in a squalid cattle car, Magda arrived in Auschwitz only to be separated from her brother, 15, and her mother, 56.
At the end of June, 1944, Magda was sent to the infamous slave-labor camp Plaszow, near Krakow. At the end of August, she was sent to Augsburg, Germany, to work as a slave laborer in a factory. She and other workers looked out a window and saw the first snow beginning to fall. In a chain reaction, one worker began crying, then another, until everyone was in tears and wondering what was happening to their families and loved ones. Were they out in the snow without any protection? Were they even alive?
In April, 1945 at Mühldorf, another slave labor camp, Magda met her future husband, Izak, a Sephardic native of Salonika, Greece. Their stay at Mühldorf was brief. The Nazis loaded them onto a cattle wagon with other survivors to be transported to an unknown spot to be murdered, but Allied troops liberated them along the way.
“When we heard about groups that denied the Holocaust, we decided that we had to speak out,” Magda says. “If you hear somebody deny the Holocaust, you can say, ‘I have seen and heard a survivor.’”
Magda Schaloum was an active member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s Speakers Bureau.