Marguerite Mishkin and her sister Annette had hellish childhoods.
Marguerite was born Marguerite Lederman on May 8, 1941, in Brussels, Belgium.
Her parents had moved to Belgium from Poland because of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. But when the Nazis invaded Poland in May of 1940, the lives of the Marguerite, her sister and her parents were once again in danger.
Speaking before a crowd of about 250 who attended the Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance program held Sunday at the Tri-City Jewish Center in Rock Island, Mishkin told of her life as one of the few thousands of hidden Jewish children who, through the daring and dedication of others, survived Hitler’s attempt to wipe out the European Jews and live a fruitful life.
On Oct. 31, 1942, her father was taken by the Nazis on Transport 16 and sent to the Auschwitz death camp where he was murdered less than a month later.
Mishkin explained that Moses was the first hidden child, whose mother fashioned a basket of reeds to send him safely down the Nile from Pharaoh.
In 1943, her mother approached Andre, a Belgian resistance worker, to help her hide Marguerite and Annette. Through a local priest, they were placed with a Catholic farm family where they were loved.
Mishkin said that her mother’s basket for her children was not made of reeds, “but through the goodwill of a number of honest, brave, righteous people we were hidden people also.”
On July 31, 1944, two weeks before Belgium was liberated, Mishkin said her mother “was placed on transport number 26, the last one to leave Belgium. It reached Auschwitz on Aug. 2. Sometime in December of 1944, she was murdered. Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets in January of 1945.”
Mishkin said that she and her sister lived with their Belgium family until 1946, until they were placed in a Jewish orphanage in Brussels.
“It was a very loving home, a miracle in that time,” she said.
An example of the futility of judging a whole group of people by their ways occurred in the Café that the family owned.
“One of the Nazi soldiers that came there regularly took a great liking to me,” Mishkin said. “He would bring me little toys and chocolate whenever he came. He would sit me on his lap and let me play with the insignia on his uniform.
“But at the same time he was so nice and kind to me, he would be saying the most negative and derogatory things against Jews,” she said. “He indicated how much he hated them. They were lower than vermin. They did not deserve to live.
“To further indicate his hatred towards Jews, he would state that he could smell a Jew 10 miles away,” she said.
The two were adopted by a Chicago Rabbi and his wife in 1950.
“As the Talmud states whosever preserves a life is considered as if that person has preserved the entire universe,” Mishkin said. “My sister became an exemplary wife and mother of five and a grandmother of 27. And had she lived longer, she would be a great-grandmother of one and soon to be two.”
Mishkin graduated from Roosevelt University and became a teacher.
“The world still needs healing,” she said. “It still needs righteous and heroic men, women and children who will choose life, who will choose justice and mercy daily in their own lives.
“I am here because people made those choices under some unimaginable hard conditions,” Mishkin said.
Allan Ross, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Quad-Cities, said that it is vital that people learn about the Holocaust.
A recent survey by Schoen Consulting found that 41 percent of Americans and 66 percent of Millennials do not know what Auschwitz is.
“It’s a broad-based failure across the country,” Ross said before the start of Sunday’s program. “There are not enough organizations teaching the Holocaust, there are not enough schools teaching the Holocaust, there are not enough teachers trained enough to teach the Holocaust because we’re losing survivors every day, and in 10 years we probably will have hardly anybody left.
“So it’s up to the children and grandchildren of survivors, like me, and educators to train our kids,” Ross said. “But I will say we are very fortunate here in the Quad-Cities because we do have a strong and large cadre of educators, most of them not Jewish, that are teaching about the Holocaust and they’re bringing Holocaust survivors into classes to teach about the Holocaust.
“We have a much better program than most communities do,” he said. “Teachers are very willing to bring speakers in and teach about the Holocaust.”