by Danielle Lyons
UMKC Alum Judy Jacobs has lived a rich life. She is one the few remaining holocaust survivors left. She is the 2016 recipient of UMKC’s Defying the Odds Alumni Achievement Award. She graciously shared her story with UMKC in a speech entitled, “Memories of a Child: Life Before, During and After the Holocaust”
Judy Jacobs was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1937. She describes her childhood is idyllic. Her family camped in the Buda Mountains in the summer and ice-skated in the winter. Her father owned his own radiology practice while her mother worked as an interior designer. She described the anti-Semitic laws as gradual. As the new laws kept rolling in, they stripped Jewish Citizens of their basic human rights. Businesses were seized and their rights to communicate and congregate were stripped as well. Radios were also taken. She told the audience, “Knowledge is power.” She explained that the opposite is also true. That their lack of knowledge about the happenings rendered them helpless.
A deal was struck with Nazi henchman Adolf Eichmann. 1,000 Jewish lives for money. While the deal was completed, Judy and her family boarded an overcrowded train on an eight-day journey. As they boarded the Nazi’s brandished guns and whips as they cried out nasty insults. She lived five and a half months in Bergen-Belson concentration camp. They survived on roughly 350 calories a day, if even that. Their rations included black coffee, bread, cold rice and a repulsive excuse for soup.
Although times were grim, her mother urged her to keep up hope. Her parents did what they could to keep up spirits of their child and the community. Her father preformed medical services for the other captives. Her mother, a trained artist, provided art classes for the children of the concentration camps. With merely sticks and dirt she taught them how to draw beautiful things rarely seen in their camp.
At the end of 5 and a half months, they were ordered to get ready. They were boarded to a Switzerland bound passenger train and given sardines and chocolate. She recalls the sound of church bells and said it had been the most beautiful thing she had heard in a long while.
After a few years in Switzerland, Judy and her family migrated to America to live with family. She described the experience of acclimating as difficult but she powered through. She went on to marry and have children. She pursued a MBA and a Ph.D. in Higher Education at UMKC.
After her incredible account, she was met by two standing ovations.