On 27th January, Year 12 history students commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day with an online event where pupils engaged with a holocaust survivor, interviewed by Natasha Kaplinsky. Charlie Birch writes about the experience here.
As of 2021, there are fewer and fewer survivors of the Holocaust. What if someone told you the name Eve Kugler? A retired journalist, 90-year-old Eve resides in the United States. She has only just turned 90 years of age and has receives both available COVID-19 vaccinations. Times are difficult with this global pandemic but she and her family “lived against the odds” and her story is exceptional. As her story unfolded we really came to admire her strength and her courage.
German Origins: Born in 1931 in Germany, Eve Kugler was born into a family that consisted of her father, who was a businessman, a mother and two sisters Ruth and Lea. She recalled the tenseness of the Holocaust as a young girl and remembers the cruelty of the simple words told to her family from the officer at the police station, she lived only a few hundred meters across from; “nothing will happen to you.”
In 1938, the Kugler family became early victims of the Holocaust. Posters screamed “Juden Verboten” (Jews are Forbidden) on the streets of where the family lived. The Jewish community saw belongings and their crafts burned as the respect for them drained almost entirely. Eve Kugler’s grandfather of polish descent was sent back to Poland too. The struggle of holding onto significant aspects of their life seemed inevitable. But what was to come was far from expected: Kristallnacht. Across Germany and Austria, Jewish businesses were burned to the ground. The Kuglers lost their business and their faith in German society. This was followed up on by the fact the father was dragged from their home to the concentration camp of Buchenwald; he was one of 30,000 Jews to be taken. Her mother swept away not only tears but the shards of broken glass from their home. News from their aunt revealed that their synagogue was burned to ashes. Her father returned home after her mother obtained a valid visa and bribed officers with money. Her father returned to a family evicted from their home. He urged the family to get their belongings and leave. It was decided Ruth and Eve would leave for the USA and the others would flee to France in hope of reaching extensive family outside of Paris. Arguments over the decision were concluded and the family had their goodbyes as Eve and Ruth stepped onto a train. The long and complicated train journey began…
The Journey of life: The train journey weaved through France and the train stopped in Marseille. The girls then travelled to Portugal through occupied Spain. Now all the sisters had to do was get on a ship. Eve recalled the “scary encounter” with the Nazis at the border – fear was not the only emotion she would feel on this unexpected journey. Eve was asked about her feelings as an 8-year-old standing and waiting for the unknown. She told listeners how she did not understand the complexity of the situation and she didn’t understand how the last encounter with her family would be the last goodbye.
As they boarded the ship, she recalled how food was dispersed and how she had not seen as much food in her life. The seasickness and the overload of food made children sick due to the richness of the food. She had that for 3 weeks as the boat sailed across the Atlantic. Eve and her sister Ruth arrived in New York. They, like hundreds of children, were sent to foster homes. At first, the sisters were separated before being placed in the same home in 1940. Over the course of her childhood, Eve was in three different foster homes. Eve gradually grew to understand WWII but still did not have the acknowledgment of treatment of Jewish people during this time. She was, however, receiving letters from her family, up until 1942 when they suddenly stopped. Eve thought her family had perished. She cried almost every night despite her sister telling her that their mother would always say there were to be together soon. Ruth was right. “She is always right” Eve stated.
Reuniting: Unknown to Eve the family survived and lived in France and stayed there until the Nazis ordered a mass round up of Jews in Paris. The Kugler family were on “the list”. The French resistance located the family and informed them. Consequently, the resistance smuggled Lea to an isolated farm as the mother and father were taken into French concentration camps. Her parents survived four concentration camps in total and twice avoided two deportations to Auschwitz. The family finally fled with Lea thanks to the French Resistance. The family fled and reached New York, causing immense jubilation amongst the Kugler family. Eve’s parents lived until their 90s. With the help of her parents, Eve graduated high school and university, earning a degree in journalism. Eve only gained full understanding of the Holocaust from her mother and father and did not tell her neighbours or friends about her life experience until she released a book with her mother called “Shattered Crystals.” The book was made free of charge online due to the fact Eve’s mother wanted the story to be told and saw the book as a way to reach out to so many people. The book is still presently online and the Kugler family is still also presently going strong. As a survivor, Eve says she feels guilty about surviving, feeling she has occupied someone else’s chance of life. This highlights the fact we need to need to be grateful for what we have in our life. Eve has two surviving children and grandchildren as well as the family extending from her sisters. Chances of having such experience, with her having her own family, looked very so slim but this showcases that anything can happen and that anything is possible.
“Once a survivor, always a survivor”: Eve stated that if she “wasn’t an optimist she wouldn’t have survived.” During her time in foster homes, Eve challenged herself to go on and on, which built internal strength through the hardships of what life had given her. Understandably, she still becomes affected by the Holocaust but views talking about it as an opportunity to make people think about who they cherish. She also wanted us as listeners to her story to think about a point of light in darkness and to be courageous as individuals. As people we will experience struggles particularly during our lifetime. Eve’s story can be a lesson into not only being grateful for what we have but also be humble and positive about what we have.
Her quote “once a survivor always a survivor” will most likely not apply to all of us in the same extreme way she had to face. But everyone has, and everyone will, overcome their own situations. Have gratitude and keep going is what Eve would say.