Holocaust Survivor Dr. Jacob Eisenbach Provides Stirring Address at Texas State
Hannah Laird and Julie Cooper | February 27, 2019
The Texas State University Alkek Teaching Theatre was filled to capacity the evening of Feb. 19, when Dr. Jacob Eisenbach took the stage. Despite the size of the crowd – hundreds of people, some seated on the floor – the room was silent as the 95-year-old Holocaust survivor began sharing his story.
“As an eyewitness to the Holocaust, I feel a moral obligation to keep speaking about it. It is important that we do not let it be forgotten,” he said. “For the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and all future generations, this story has to be told and retold.”
Eisenbach worked as a dentist for 60 years before retiring just a few years ago. His story is detailed in a book titled Where You Go, I Go, by Karen McCartney. Eisenbach said that speaking to groups such as the one at Texas State is his “second career.” In April, he will turn 96 but he shows few signs of slowing down.
His speech was in three sections: life before the war in his native Poland, his experience under the Nazi regime, and life after the war.
Eisenbach spoke about his mother, who died one year before the war broke out, saying she was more like an angel than a human. “My mother would gather her four children and tell us we were loved and important. That is a message that carried us through the Holocaust. No matter what Hitler did to us or said about us, we could not forget the strong feeling that we were loved, and our lives were important,” he said.
In the early days of the war, Eisenbach recalls the story of the ocean liner the MS St. Louis, which was carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees from Germany bound for Cuba. The ship was denied permission at every port of entry.
“In June of 1939, a few months after the war broke out, the MS St. Louis arrived with 934 Jewish refugees who tried to escape the terror of the Nazis by asking for asylum. They were denied entrance to the U.S. Who was responsible for that decision? The American Secretary of State Cordell Hull, he told President Roosevelt that we cannot allow these people into the U.S. because they do not have return addresses,” he said.
“A request was made to the United States by Romanians to send money to help Jews escape a concentration camp in Romania. It needed to be approved by two representatives. Hull delayed and delayed. Henry Morgenthau signed off immediately.”
He told stories of how he and his brother Sam, who was two years younger, came to be the only members left in his family. “One day I received an order for deportation, and I knew that was a death sentence. I did not report. I went into hiding with my brother.”
They hid for as long as possible, but were discovered by the Nazis.
“Sam (the younger brother) didn’t have to go. He could have said ‘Jake, I know where they’re taking you, they’re taking you to the death chambers and I’m not going.’ But he didn’t. He said, ‘Jake all our family is gone. We are the only ones left. Where you go, I go.’ ”
While Eisenbach spoke about his time in the concentration camp, he did not go into detail. He did say that he met his future wife, Irene, in the camp.
The end came in January 1945. Eisenbach explained, “the Nazi guards disappeared from the watch towers in the middle of the night. They were told to run for their lives because the Russians were after them. The next morning, we walked out of the camp — free.”
Following the war, Eisenbach moved to Germany where he studied dentistry. He and his wife emigrated to the U.S. and settled in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where they had three sons.
Eisenbach’s father died in a forced labor camp, his brother Henry died in Auschwitz, his sister was killed by machine gun fire in Lwow, Poland, and his brother Sam was murdered two years after the war ended.
“I was asked the question, ‘Do I feel like having revenge?’ My answer is that one of the greatest abilities of a human being is to turn an enemy into a friend,” Eisenbach said. “I am thankful for the fact that I’m 96, in good health, I live in the greatest country that ever existed, and the white and blue flag with the star of David — which is the glorious land of Israel— is flying proudly.
“There are 8 million Jews living in the U.S. They are making tremendous contributions not only in the U.S., but in the world. In science, medicine, technology, you name it.
“There are deniers of the Holocaust, there are anti-Semites. There are racists. Those people are here in the United States. Those people are failures in employment, they are failures in business, they are failures in education, but they are good haters. I think those people have very little following. Americans are open-minded. And I think these haters do not have much of a future.”
At the end of the event, Dr. Eisenbach answered questions from the students and community members in attendance.
Excerpts from Q&A with Dr. Eisenbach
Q: How did you overcome everything you faced? Did you seek therapy or help?
A: How did I overcome? I decided early that I would not let the enemy control my life. I had new plans.
Q: A point of interest for me has been the Nazi soldiers that were under orders. What do you have to say to them if anything at all?
A: Very good question. Hitler did not trust the German army, so he formed his own army of volunteers and called it the SS. These people knew what they were volunteering for, they were volunteering to persecute and kill Jews without mercy. They did things very often they didn’t have to do. After they occupied my city, Nazi soldiers came with rifles to everyone who lived in apartments and took everything they (the Nazis) wanted. They didn’t have to do that. They didn’t have to steal everything from our home. That was not their orders. And volunteering to kidnap and kill and gas and machine gun Jewish people, they didn’t have to do that. Following orders? There was a Jewish man who was made president of the ghetto and when he was ordered to take 6,000 or 7,000 people to the gas chamber he refused. He committed suicide to keep from following those orders. People don’t have to obey orders against morals, against justice, against humanity.
Q: I am under the assumption that all of Germany were not blatant anti-Semites. What do you think was so persuasive about the Nazi platform to the German people?
A: Hitler was ruling by force. Any German who was against him was also sent to a concentration camp. I have heard Hitler’s speeches; he was a powerful speaker. He could sway masses to follow him. The volunteers were racists. All of these persecutors and killers of Jews are gone, but the Jews are still here. The reason the Jews are still here is an indestructible faith in God. That is stronger than anything.
The event was sponsored by Chabad Jewish Center of San Marcos, Texas State University Department of Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts, Departments of English, History, Geography, Modern Languages, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, Center for Diversity and Gender Studies, Center for the Study of the Southwest, and @JusticeTalkTXST.