Holocaust survivor from Springfield area loses ability to speak out

Unrest, Conflicts and WarHealthDiseases and IllnessesHuman InterestParkinson's DiseaseThe Holocaust (1934-1945)Holocaust Remembrance Day

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- We are slowly losing the chance to talk directly with survivors of the Holocaust.  World War II ended nearly 70 years ago.  Thursday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Retired professor Harvey Saalberg, a Holocaust survivor, decided to speak out one more time before he loses his voice. 

Saalberg spends his time listening these days.  It didn't used to be this way.  When Harvey spoke, people listened.

"These are the conditions imposed on Jews.  You couldn't walk in the park; you couldn't go to a movie; you couldn't hire a lawyer," said Saalberg.

Saalberg survived the concentration camp known as Theresienstadt.

"Our concern all the time doing this forced labor in the concentration camp was a four letter word: food. The meal was always soup," he said.

He's told the story to hundreds over the years -- in speeches, in classrooms and on stages -- how 700 kids went to his school, and he's one of the very few who lived.

"I stole food when I could.  I recalled making a stick and lancing potatoes in the basement through the basement window.  Didn't get caught; if I had, I wouldn't be here now but those potatoes were wonderful."

Saalberg stayed out of the camp longer than others because his mother was Lutheran. After the Russians freed him, he quickly found his mother. 

"And I looked up the staircase and I yelled Mutti (mother), and I cry every time i think of that..  It felt awfully good to know she was there," he said about his hug with his mom upon arriving home.

Saalberg has told his story dozens and dozens of times.  Those days are ending.

"I have Parkinson's Disease."

The illness is robbing his ability to be an effective speaker.  The 81-year-old man sometimes loses his balance; other times he loses his train of thought.

"I'm at the end of my rope as far as presentations are concerned. I don't know if you can tell, but I'm not the man I was as a full professor."

Saalberg knows it will only get worse.  All these years, he felt a duty to speak out to honor the dead.  Soon, a disease will do what the Nazis didn't.

"Everybody dies."

Saalberg made it to the United States in 1946. He wound up getting an education here and serving in the Korean conflict. He's on a couple different medications but he'll slowly lose motor skills.  Right now, he gets frustrated when he loses his train of thought or falls from losing his balance.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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