Hundreds attend Holocaust survivor's presentation

Magda Brown speaks to the audience.
Magda Brown
Image Credit: Valerie Wojciechowski
Magda Brown's presentation
Magda Brown's presentation
Image Credit: Valerie Wojciechowski
Magda Brown gives a presentation.
Magda Brown
Image Credit: Valerie Wojciechowski

Holocaust survivor Madga Brown asked the audience during her presentation March 15 to leave with three ideals: protect your freedom, think before you hate, and stand up against deniers.

Brown, 89, spoke about her survival to a crowd of more than 600 people in the Kirkhof Center during a Women's History Month event. She is a great aunt of Samantha Murray, Grand Valley student and president of Grand Valley's Hillel chapter.

In 1944, Brown and her family were taken from their home in Hungary to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. Yet, for Brown, her journey began before that. 

Her family experienced an immediate change in their lives before they were taken to Poland. She lived in a designated area called the “ghetto” and more than 40 people were forced to live in her house.    

“One day, I was a regular child, enjoying my daily life,” Brown said. “What happens when the pendulum swings and your happy days are severed?”

Then on Brown’s 17th birthday, she and her family were escorted into a crowded train box car. Each car held hundreds of people who traveled for three days with no food, drink, or any idea of where they were going.

“You cannot fathom what thirst is,” Brown said. “Thirst so powerful that you forget your physical pain, you forget your stress, and the only thing you can focus on is a single sip of water.”

Their destination was the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. When they arrived, men and women were separated. This was the last time Brown saw many members of her family.

“We were not human beings anymore,” Brown said. “Nobody talked to us. Nobody looked at us.”

A year later in March 1945, Brown and her group were sent on a march to Buchenwald. After escaping, Brown and the group hid in a nearby barn, lying in piles of hay for more than a day. Two American Armed Forces soldiers discovered Brown and her group, leading to their liberation. She moved to the U.S. in 1946. 

Brown was united with her brother, Miklos Brown, in 1962. For 40 years, Brown worked in a physician's office as a certified medical assistant. She is an active member and past president of the American Association of Medical Assistants, Illinois Society. She is also a member of the Speaker's Bureau of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. 

Robin Hutchings, treasurer of Hillel at Grand Valley, said it was an honor to host Brown on campus. Hutchings praised Brown’s audience and said their presence was significant.

The event was organized by Grand Valley's Women's Center and Hillel chapter. Hillel International is a Jewish campus organization. 

- written by Lucas Escalada, student writer