A Jewish American's Christmas
Written by
Tova Gold
December 2011
Written by
Tova Gold
December 2011

My grandmother, A child Holocaust survivor, wrote this post on my community site Finding My Muchness. I felt it was so incredibly moving I wanted to share it here. 


I am a Jewish child survivor of the Holocaust and I love Christmas. 

So did another Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin, who hailed from Russian and wrote the most beloved and best selling Christmas song, "White Christmas".  Each having our own reasons for this insatiable love.  Here are mine:

I lived in Budapest, Hungary, from 1937 till after the Holocaust.  Even before the full-blown atrocities, Christmas was life threatening for Jews who lived in places where this holiday was celebrated.  Our history is filled with Anti Semitic attacks at this time of year.  The streets were never safe during the holiday season.  We never dared to put our Menorahs in windows, as this would invite stones, if not Molotov cocktails hurled through panes.  Taking walks in the beautiful snow was avoided.  We wanted to get home as quickly as possible and not linger on the streets unnecessarily.  Though, being a 9 year old child, I could mostly avoid venturing out during these times.  But seeing bloody faces and death at every turn of our apartment building, brought unimaginable terror to my young heart and mind.  

Judaism was a hushed religion in Europe.  We carried our prayer books wrapped in brown paper bags, as the Hebrew lettering would provoke attacks.  Jewish names were never uttered in public and parents took great care to put Christian ones on birth certificates.

This time of year brought unbearable anxiety to European Jewry.  The streets were filled with gangs looking for Jews, of any age, to beat on.  We could not call the police, as they were a part of the brutality.  Our New Year activity consisted of burying our dead and tend to our wounded.  When the actual Yuden Rein (the cleansing of European Jewry) was in motion, eventually, the beatings stopped because there were no more Jews to assault.   They were either dead or in hiding or herded into trains, to concentration camps, and gassed there.

My family and one hundred thousand others Jews in Budapest were saved by Raoul Wallenberg, a Gentile Swede, who gave us false Swedish identity papers.  We survived by hiding in one of his safe houses in Budapest.  After liberation by the Russians in February 1945, we began our two year trek to come to America.  My mom had sisters and brothers here who were thrown out of Vienna by Hitler before the deportations to the camps began.

On April 1st, 1947, we arrived.  I remember coming into New York Harbor.  We did not go to Ellis Island because my mom's family sent us affidavits vouching for our care, which meant we would not fall a ward to the state.

I remember getting off the boat, but to this day I cannot explain why the first thing I felt was a sense of safety and security.  Suddenly, I knew, I would never have to be afraid again.  Maybe it was the many different, ethnic, smiling faces or the happiness I felt when seeing my mom's family running toward us.  Most of our aunts, uncles and cousins came, tearfully welcoming their kin who survived hell.   One cousin wore a red "topper" as they were called, and I promised myself that as soon as I was able, I would get myself one.  I would turn 12 that July 12th,  and my heart was filled with anticipation.   I fell in love with this country from the moment I hit shore.    

Within days, we were settled at my mother's oldest brother's house in Williamsburg on Bedford Avenue.  My heart raced to become American.  Being good with languages, I knew I would master English quickly.  I tried to practice as much English as possible every day.  I began to learn The Stars Spangled Banner and The Pledge Of Allegiance. My cousin took my sisters and me to Macy's and bought us real cool American clothes.  I could not throw out my European garb fast enough. 

That September I enrolled in school.  True, it was a yeshivah (an all girls' Hebrew days school) but the students and teachers were totally American.  I avoided the few Hungarian kids that were in my class, as I did not want to revert to Hungarian and become lazy with my newly acquired English, which by now I managed pretty well.   

Then it arrived.  Christmas season.  In spite of my having felt safe in April, my body now went into fear mode.  I waited and waited and waited…but no attacks.  No attacks!  Instead, people were laughing, rushing about with colorful gift wrapped packages, waving Merry Christmas to anyone and everyone on the street.  Stores blasted holiday music and their window cases were filled with colorful tinsel and sparkling lights.  Private Jewish stores in Jewish populated neighborhoods, did not fear displaying Chanukah Menorahs and stars of David.  The time was not yet ripe, as today, for department stores to show these Jewish symbols.  

People, it seemed to me, no matter their ethnicity, were all part of the big celebrations in America.  The radio played great seasonal songs.  Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, introduced me to sleigh bells and mistletoe and holly and a red nosed reindeer and crooned about love and family and friends, my very favorite:  "The Little Drummer Boy".  But no attacks.  Dear G-d, no attacks.  Instead, I felt embraced by it all.  I had my newfound love: The United States Of America and my radio, which brought the world to my room with music, comedies, dramas and mysteries, all in my new, beautiful English language.  I even managed to make a few nice friends.  I had fallen in love with this "Golden Land" and kept falling in love over and over again every day, to this today.

Six million Jews perished, which included one and a half million Jewish children.  Miraculously my family survived.  My mom and dad, I, the oldest, my two younger sisters then 8 and five and our baby brother 2 years old.  One of very few families who emerged whole from that inferno.  Raoul Wallenberg saved us there and the Red, White and Blue is keeping us safe here.  I can tell you for a fact that every single survivor walks this country grateful to that "Grand Old Flag".

Happy, healthy, safe and peaceful holidays from my heart to your house.  

Let's be friends

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  • R.L. Maizes

    What a beautiful post. I've never fully understood why my Jewish ancestors who came from Europe were so filled with fear on the holidays. Now I get it.