According to the Claims Conference, the Jewish organization responsible for processing claims against Germany, there are fewer than 100,000 Holocaust survivors still alive in the United States. Sonia Goldstein is one of those survivors.
Goldstein spoke in front of about 900 students, faculty and community members on Monday night in Alumni Hall at Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center. The event, sponsored by Penn State Hillel and Alpha Omicron Pi, was an eye-opening account of one of the most horrific events in world history.
Goldstein, born in Vilna, Poland, spoke about her dreams to become a pharmacist before the Nazis took over her town. She spoke of her time in the Vilna ghetto, which her family was forced to move to in 1941.
“There were 90,000 Jews in Vilna, and the Nazis killed 86,000 of them before moving the rest of us to the ghetto,” Goldstein said. “I was one of 4,000 that survived.”
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In the ghetto, she and her family, which included her mother, father, brother, aunt and cousin, were required to wear a yellow star on their clothing to signify their Jewish heritage.
After months in the Vilna ghetto, Goldstein and her family were separated from her father and brother when she, her mother, aunt and cousin were sent to the Stutthof concentration camp outside Sztutowo, Poland.
At Stutthof, Goldstein and her family spent four years under control of the Germans. There they endured days of standing out in the cold of winter without shoes. Goldstein remained strong.
In 1945, the Russians were on the verge of defeating the Germans and advancing to Stutthof to liberate the Jewish occupants of the camp. The Germans decided to march the remaining Jews out of the camp. Several thousand Jews died during the march.
The Goldsteins and the rest of the Jewish women on the march came to a stable, where the Nazis were planning on executing the remaining Jews in their control. However, the Russians were able to reach them in time, kill the Nazis at the stable and rescue Goldstein, her family and the rest of the Stuthoff survivors.
Goldstein and her family were liberated after four years under German control.
In the weeks after their liberation, Goldstein and her family traveled to a German refugee camp where they were reunited with her father and brother. While there, Goldstein also met her future husband, Monty, who was born in Romania and also a refugee.
Goldstein immigrated to the United States in 1949, settled in New York City and became a factory worker while trying to save up to buy her own apartment with her husband.
Now 90 years old, Goldstein has shared her story with her family and others throughout the years to help people understand what went on during the Holocaust from a firsthand perspective.
“There is not a day I don’t think about it,” Goldstein said. “But I wanted to have a life for myself, I wanted a family.”
In attendance at the event was her extended family, which included her daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Jessica, who is a student at Penn State and member of Alpha Omicron Pi.
As part of the question and answer session at the end of her presentation, an audience member asked Goldstein if she had any life advice for the college students in attendance.
Be good, study and make something of yourselves. Because you were born in this free country and you can do anything.
Sonia Goldstein, Holocaust survivor
“Be good, study and make something of yourselves,” Goldstein said. “Because you were born in this free country and you can do anything.”
Maria Canales is a Penn State journalism student.