EHe sat at the source, but he never tapped into it. Alexander Paz-Goldman never spoke to his mother about Auschwitz. She had been there. The number on her forearm testified to it. But her son would have none of it. “I hated her because she didn’t fight,” says Alexander Paz-Goldman in his living room in north Tel Aviv. The 67-year-old author of young adult books now thinks differently. But back then, as a boy, in the sixties, his mother and father seemed like weaklings. Whenever he heard them speaking Yiddish, their mother tongue, he shouted that they should stop. “It was the language of victims.” And Alex didn’t want to be a victim.
After all, Alex was a “Sabra”. People born in Israel sometimes call themselves that. It’s the Hebrew word for prickly pear, prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside, desert-worn. Alex identified with the young state in which he was born in 1955 to two Holocaust survivors, Lea and Eliyahu Goldman. Lea Goldman, born Lea Friedman in Poland, was the only one in her family to survive the Holocaust. What little her son knows about it today, he found out from documents after her death. His father, who came from eastern Poland, spent the war in a Siberian prison. The two first met in Israel and became a couple in 1954.
What was before was not a big topic in the family. Like large sections of Israeli society at the time, Alexander Paz-Goldman did not like to be reminded of the horror, not of the six million Jews who had been murdered by the National Socialists, not of the almost complete annihilation. “No one wanted to know.” The children of Israel had their own problems and had to assert themselves in several wars since the state was founded. They wanted to be proud of their country and not wonder why the German murder machine could run for so long and what humiliations and horrors had befallen their parents. Still, the past hung over the family – the father’s mental health issues, the mother’s sadness at the loss of her family, and the prisoner number tattooed on her arm.
“Attitudes towards survivors were really bad in the ’60s”
In 1953, Yad Vashem, an important Holocaust memorial, had been officially established in Jerusalem before he was born. But in society at large, survival was fraught with shame, and Alex preferred to keep his parents’ past a secret. “The attitude towards survivors was really bad in the sixties,” the author describes it today. It was assumed that the survivors had to be led like sheep to the slaughterhouse – an image that is now frowned upon. In Yad Vashem, for example, many plaques and testimonies from contemporary witnesses point to the insidious deceptions with which the camp guards steered the Jews into the gas chambers in order to murder them.
In the years after the founding of the state, several waves of immigration reached young Israel. Jews with roots in neighboring Arab countries, from Iran and North Africa, as well as the survivors who came from Eastern Europe. There was a lack of apartments. The state and agriculture were only just beginning to develop. Especially the survivors who had immigrated to Israel were poor. There were also physical ailments, often because of the imprisonment in the camp. The Goldmans also lived for a long time in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Only when his mother received compensation from the Federal Republic for the imprisonment in Auschwitz in 1970 was the family able to move to a better area.
Lea Goldman sewed to support the family. One of the few testimonies Alexander Paz-Goldman heard from her was that a sewing machine saved her life in Auschwitz. “I never asked her why.” He suspects that, as a talented seamstress, she was forced to do comparatively lighter work, perhaps also for the uniforms of the Germans, instead of having to stand for hours in the cold at roll call like her fellow prisoners. History will remain in the dark. Lea Goldman has been dead for many years. And she left no diary, no memoirs, no personal memories of what happened.