Several years ago, Hedy Brasch spoke to a class of Drew University students about her experiences during the Holocaust. At the end of the class session, a student turned to me and exclaimed, “I love that woman.” You might well ask what it is about this petite, modest woman which causes most of us who work with her to feel the same way. In a single word, Hedy inspires us.
Born in Miskolc, Hungary in 1930, as a young child Hedy studied music, dance and sports, participated in amateur theatrical productions, and starred in movie house commercials and advertisements. Tragically, her idyllic childhood came to an end in 1942, the year her father was taken by the Nazis to a labor camp. By 1944, the situation in Hungary was desperate: Hedy, her sister, and her mother were moved to a ghetto in Miskolc, and then later to a stone quarry on the edge of the city. Still later, they were deported to Auschwitz. After two months, Hedy and her sister, Eva, were selected to work in Bremen, Germany where they assisted in street cleaning; in the process, they came upon undetonated bombs which had been dropped by the allies. Although not planned by the Nazis, part of their job, then, became the detonation of these bombs which–in the long run–made the streets safer for local citizens. However, Hedy, her sister, and the other prisoners never knew whether they would escape unharmed –or even alive!
Now separated from their mother, Hedy and Eva were eventually forced to march to Bergen-Belsen from which they were liberated by the British in April 1945. By then both had contracted typhus and typhoid. Fortunately, the International Red Cross sent them to Sweden where they were able to make a complete recovery. In 1946, they came to the United States to live with their grandmother, and in 1952, again thanks to the efforts of the International Red Cross, they were reunited with their mother.
A retired occupational therapist, Hedy currently lives in Springfield, New Jersey with husband Jay and sister Eva. One of the more popular members of our Speakers Bureau, Hedy draws in her audience with photos from her childhood and maps which illustrate her Holocaust journey from Hungary to Poland to Germany. By focusing on small, everyday actions during the war (e.g., bringing water to her mother, or fantasizing about the future while on a death march), Hedy enables the listener to grasp the terror of daily life during the war and the courage it took to go on living. By the end of her talk, the listener is strengthened rather than depleted, inspired to learn more about the Holocaust, and moved to a deeper appreciation of how precious life is.
Thank you Hedy for being such an inspiration to us all.
Hedy Brasch, née Ellenbogen (1935)