New Jersey Holocaust survivors celebrate 70th wedding anniversary as Jews commemorate lost lives
There is a saying often adopted by Judy and Alex Buchler, Holocaust survivors torn from their childhood homes and subjected to Nazi brutality: The greatest revenge against Hitler is to live a good life.
It’s an ethos that endures for eight decades after the war, as Judy, 93, and Alex, 94, celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on Thursday – which this year coincides with Yom HaShoah, the day of remembrance of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
“I am totally in awe of them, their resilience and their love for each other,” her daughter Edna Alberts, 67, of Parsippany told NJ Advance Media. “My father won’t even let her out of his sight. Every minute he says, “Judy, where are you” and “don’t leave me,” and he holds her hand all the time – it’s like they’re on their second honeymoon.
But it was a long, winding journey that brought them to their current home in Rockaway, punctuated by trauma and displacement.
Born in 1928, Judy grew up in Yugoslavia, but was soon forced to leave her home.
On her 13th birthday she was living under Hungarian occupation and in 1944 when the Germans arrived she was transported to various camps. She eventually landed in the Sudetenland, the territory of Czechoslovakia annexed by the Germans in the infamous Munich Agreement.
Judy was made – along with around 35 others – to haul heavy stones and build a dam along a river with little food, she said.
“We were the horses,” Judy told NJ Advance Media.
Some were taken to Auschwitz, but Judy survived with her mother and grandfather until the Russians freed them. They arrived in Budapest and Judy left for Israel shortly thereafter.
There she met Alex, who hid during the war in a school for deaf children, cramming hundreds of other Jews into closets and other hiding places. Although the Nazis discovered the school and forced them to march towards Mauthausen, Alex escaped his fate with a “shutzpassA special Swedish travel document that saved another 20,000 Jews.
The rest of Alex’s family, however, did not escape with their lives. He left his home in Slovakia in 1944 to study the jewelry trade in Budapest and never saw his family again, later learning that they had perished in Auschwitz.
Judy also carried the trauma of the war with her – while her parents and grandfather survived, the rest of her family did not. When they returned to their home near Belgrade, they saw that it had been destroyed.
“It was terrible times to be Jewish,” Judy said.
Years later, after the fall of the Third Reich and the establishment of the State of Israel, the couple met in Tel Aviv. Judy walked into Alex’s jewelry store and they soon found out that they shared the Hungarian language in common, having both grown up in territories bordering Hungary.
They married in 1951, lived in Israel for ten years and had two daughters, before emigrating again, this time to the Bronx. In 2003, they crossed the Hudson to be closer to their daughter in New Jersey.
“It means a lot that we survived once and had a great life together,” Judy said. “We had two daughters and four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Living to see this makes us very happy.
After a year of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, Alex and Judy, now fully vaccinated, were finally able to visit their extended family again, meeting at Edna’s home for Passover. Even though Alex’s health is on the decline, Judy said he won’t stop smiling all the time around his four great-grandchildren.
“I hope we can see them again,” Judy said. “But every time we ask ourselves the question, will we see them again, because of our age.”
Today, there are around 400,000 Holocaust survivors alive, with more than a fifth residing in America, according to estimates by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany in 2020.
“[Children] should never forget what happened to their grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. Soon we’ll all be gone and [it] you have to remember what happened then and what Hitler did, ”Judy said.
As the number of survivor accounts dwindles, Judy worries about the re-emergence of anti-Semitism and whether the younger generations are being educated on the evils of the 20th century. When she saw the media coverage of the US Capitol Riot in January, her stomach turned at the sight of an extremist wearing a sweatshirt that read “Camp Auschwitz”.
“Looks like anti-Semitism will be around forever… sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse – we’ve had the worst, unfortunately,” Judy said. “And I just pray that it won’t happen again. Pray to God – never again.
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