Magda Herzberger never ceases to amaze.
The prolific author hasn’t been heard from for a while, but don’t conclude she hasn’t been busy.
The long-time Fountain Hills resident, who summers up in cool Colorado, has a difficult time being a modern-day couch potato.
Fueled by her own haunting memories of the Holocaust, coupled with soothing observations from everyday life, Magda is driven to talk, to record, to give speeches, to recite poems, to inspire, to terrify, to dream, to live.
I look up to the blue sky
With a happy smile on my face.
I say my thanks and grace to God
For being healthy and alive,
And for the Almighty’s constant guide.
I am just a running passerby
On life’s rough terrain,
Created by the Supreme Sovereign.
Magda Herzberger survived three death camps during the Holocaust – Auschwitz- Birkenau, Bremen and Bergen-Belsen.
In those decades since her liberation, Magda has made it her passion to speak about her physical and psychological survival at these camps. She memorializes her experiences in musical requiems, poetry and prose.
Because of her devotion to keeping history alive – and never allowing humanity to forget the atrocities handed out at the Nazi death camps – Magda has spent considerable energy re-living her past.
I learned that it happened. I learned by my own flesh and blood and my own grief and loss, and this why I have a lifetime commitment to keep the young people here, of all ages, informed. And do as much as I can so that people know it happened, so that people should be aware what it was like and learn its true nakedness, not prettying it up.
So it was only natural that, in 1980, Magda would sit down with an archivist from the Wisconsin Historical Society to tell her story.
That “story” ended up being 10 hours of an oral interview recorded on cassette tapes.
Fast forward then to 2007, when the society started to publish all the records of its survivors oral history project on the Web.
Out of 24 survivors interviewed at the time in Wisconsin, only five are alive today.
But Magda, being Magda, would have none of that unedited audio message being released “as is,” insisting that a written transcript be made from her interview – and that she be allowed to edit it for clarification, fact checks, proper grammar and so on.
So between several transcripts and weekly phone calls from Wisconsin to review all the changes, a book was born – Transcript of 1980 Magda Herzberger Interview by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Published by Groundbreaking Press, the book is more than a Holocaust memoir.
Magda describes returning home, starting medical school, and falling in love. She explains how, witnessing the rise of Stalinism, she and her husband fled their native land for Palestine, only to be imprisoned by the British.
She relates how they endured more than a year in an internment camp on Cyprus. She provides eyewitness accounts of the birth of Israel and a new life in the United States in 1957.
I had no idea that those were the furnaces, no one could imagine such a thing. And then…you saw the German officials…they looked at you and they pointed you left, right, left, right. And you saw horrible scenes, children being snatched, babies from their mothers. The mothers were running crazily after them, and then the mothers and their children (were) put together and (taken to be) gassed.
Michael Edmonds of the Wisconsin Historical Society worked with Magda during those weekly phone sessions, massaging the written transcript to Magda’s liking.
In the preface he writes, “During these sessions she argued passionately for hundreds of editorial changes, and I struggled to keep the transcript as close as possible to the audio.
“Sometimes we got angry at each other, often we laughed, and we always reached a solution.
“We also became great friends, since revisiting Magda’s memories of the Holocaust in vivid detail brought us both tears and nightmares at times.”
The book was published in 2011.
“I worked a total of a year and a half on that book,” Magda says today.
“This is the correct and thorough manuscript. And I’m glad I did it that way.”
Look for a star,
Call it your own—
It will be yours
Only till dawn
Search for an ideal,
Call it your star—
It will shine day and night
Wherever you are—
While Magda is all about hard-hitting historical facts, she also is finely in tune with her creative side, her muses that constantly nudge her, push her further toward the creative ledge.
One can’t live on history alone.
She’s always been driven – a former mountain climber, skier and marathon runner. A swimmer.
And a poet.
Magda is a prodigious poet, with as yet unpublished works dating back decades.
And so Midnight Musings came to be, a compilation of poetry and music.
As a poet, I feel that I am like a photographer.
Sometimes I focus my camera and take pictures from the outside world surrounding us.
Other times I take photos depicting the many aspects of the inner world of my soul.
Behind each of my poems in Midnight Musings, there is a story to be told and experienced.
Magda describes Midnight Musings as containing a “great variety” of poetry along with music and lyrics called “Deity: Lord of the Sea.”
“I wanted to make the poetry relevant to people,” she says. “I give backgrounds to the poems, go back in time.
“This is in many ways a book that is part of the manuscript that I started in 1963.”
So she selected 30 poems at the request of her publisher.
“It starts at midnight,” she says. “The whole book is contemplations.”
James P. Moore Jr., professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and author of One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer, wrote the book’s preface.
“The apt title of Midnight Musings brings together the prodigious, expansive and real-life reflections of Magda Herzberger, an extraordinary figure by any measure,” he wrote.
“She sits alone in the company of her thoughts – past, present and to come – and reaches out eloquently and movingly to readers from all walks of life.
“We feel privileged to enter into her world, one that unfolds through a variety of poems steeped in reality, fantasy, quest and profound faith.”
This book was published in 2013, also by Groundbreaking Press, and illustrated by Magda’s daughter, Monica A. Wolfson.
There is a free world of the spirit
Buried in the depth of the soul,
Where thoughts roam freely,
Where earthly barriers fall—
In this heavenly domain,
Mortal traits untouched remain—
In this mysterious realm,
Surrounded by beauty and calm,
The sparks of life live on and on,
Long after physical bodies are gone—