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Bob Kaldor: More than Surviving
(Editor's Note: The following article, originally published in the of Spring 2007 issue of "LivingInMarlboro," is the story a man and a life worth looking back on. Although no longer with us, Bob Kaldor lives on, giving us all hope and inspiration.)
To look at the man, you’d think he was in his mid-fifties. The truth is he’s 20 years older than that. To listen to his stories of surviving the Holocaust, you’d think he would be bitter, angry, defensive, guarded, mistrusting of people. The truth is he’d give you the shirt off his back. He related how, having made his way through the war and creating a good life afterwards, he would share what he had – not just with family and friends but even with strangers. We listened, rapt with amazement, as he told of where he’d been and how he’d managed, despite the odds. Yet this paradox is not merely a happy accident: it is a chosen fate, one forged by will, persistence, and belief. Faced with the most real of nightmares, he fought on to live; and he is still living a wonderful life. As “they” say, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
At present and, sadly, throughout the course of history, the unreasoning scourge of prejudice has filled the world with tragedy. The news from Darfur today, the genocide in Bosnia not long ago, the terror that may await us anywhere tomorrow…perhaps we can gain hope for the faith that we can overcome these using an example from one who has succeeded in surviving what was perhaps the darkest time of all; one who has overcome unspeakable horrors that must be spoken of, to tell others of what he has learned so that they may know and remember and grow.
LIM sat down with Bob Kaldor to hear about his life experiences and understand how they forged him into the man he is today.
LIM: Where are you from originally? BK: I was born in Budapest, Hungary, and later moved to Szeged, Hungary. In 1944 the Germans came in and took the Jews and put them into what we call “ghettos.” My train was turned around in the middle of a raid and therefore did not go to Auschwitz. The Germans used maybe 30,000 Hungarian Jews; kept them alive, in a labor camp. They said, “Okay, you will stay in Austria and work for different farmers or factories…”; whatever the Germans needed for labor, men and women. But how they did that…as you come off the railroad, the German decides if you’re going to work or not. He says “you go that way, you go that way…” If you went to the left, you went to the gas chamber; if you went to the right, you ended up in the labor camp. I was all by myself, a 12-year-old kid. I ended up in a factory making bricks for vehicles to roll over; I came to be the water boy, carrying water to the workers. I walked around all day; I was free to walk around. In these factories they stored corn, potatoes, anything they’d taken in for the farmers. So in the middle of the night I tried to bring up a potato, with a broomstick with a nail at the end of it. But they caught me and they put me out as an example for a half a day, tied to a tree, and eventually let me go. I was bar-mitzvahed in that place.
LIM: Was that unusual? BK: Very unusual.
LIM: They would let you do whatever you wanted? BK: No, not whatever…we lived in a big building with bunk beds. It's not like a camp; it's like an open farm, like Amish country. You could walk away, but where would you go? So nobody walked away.
LIM: So you worked there? BK: Yes. I was the water boy and I would also drive the farmer, in a horse and buggy, to the site where the Jewish workers were picking up the corn or potatoes…It was the best job; I ate with the farmer. He was nice, considering…they wanted you to be as healthy as possible, to produce for them. But there was a Ukrainian who didn't like me very much because I took his place; he had been the driver of the horse. So one day, when I went to check the horse, he beat me up. So I ran to the farmer, crying and bleeding all over, and I told him what happened, and he went in there and beat him, and from then on he was nicer to me.
LIM: Was this toward the end of the war? BK: Six or seven months before the end…the beginning of ’45. In the camp they gave you only soup, lots of soup.
LIM: Nothing in it? BK: I think they picked up vegetables from the floor.
LIM: It’s amazing that you survived…please tell us more. BK: In April 1945 I was sent to Theresienstadt camp, which was a holding camp until you were sent to Auschwitz. When the trains came in to take the Jews to Auschwitz I ended up with other boys climbing up to the attic. We kept water and blankets and dry bread up there for a few days. When they brought me originally from Szeged we were 90 people in one car of the train…
LIM: Like cattle. BK: Yes…we still had knives, and we made a hole and hung up a sheet to make curtains for a bathroom, because there was nowhere to go. A third of the people had to be carried out and taken away.
LIM: Since you were in a bit of a different situation – on a farm rather than in a concentration camp – did you realize what was going on elsewhere at the time? BK: No, I didn’t know anything…nobody knew, even the rabbis…just “You're going to the labor camp.”
LIM: What happened then, back in the camp? BK: The Russians were shooting, the Germans were disappearing, and the camp came to be free. They caught the camp commander and the Russians shot him, and we were liberated from Theresienstadt. That was in June of 1945.
LIM: But you survived. BK: After the liberation they gave us a shot for cholera and they gave us money and we went back to Budapest.
LIM: Did you ever find out what happened to your parents? BK: Too late to ask. I went back to Budapest and joined a Zionist youth organization. But Austria-Hungary didn’t allow you to leave the country, so we made a big jamboree with lots of vodka and invited the Russians and made them drunk. They fell asleep and all the big boys carried the little boys over the border, about a mile away, to Austria. We had a nice group, going back and forth…Germany and Austria…picking up knowledge, always studying; that was the most important thing. We ended up in Marseilles.
LIM: France? BK: Yes. At that time the majority of the government – 70% – was Jewish. They allowed us to buy out one of the camps of the French Foreign Legion, built of corrugated metal. It came to be the headquarters for all the new goers to Israel. We ended up on the ship Exodus.
LIM: This was in 1945? BK: 1947.
LIM: Was that when Israel first became a country? BK: In 1948, that's when Palestine became the state of Israel.
LIM: How old were you at this time? BK: I was 16. We had 5,000 kids with nowhere to go, but Ben Gurion wanted us. But the English didn't let Jews into Palestine, because the Arab oil was more important than the Jews in Palestine; so the English attacked [our ship] in the middle of the night.
LIM: What did you do? BK: We knew this would happen, so we covered the whole ship with rolls of fence wire. When their ship came close they jumped onto our ship, but they couldn't see the wire in the dark, so they got caught on the wire, and we had broomsticks with nails in them and pushed them into the water. They lost a bunch of soldiers that way. They didn't care how many soldiers they lost. Finally, they realized what was going on and used a giant marine grapple hook to remove the wire. Then they rammed our boat on the side to stop it, and captured us and took us to Haifa. They sent us back to Hamburg, then we went back to Marseilles. The captain had a sliding tunnel and escaped.
LIM: Wow. BK: Later [when we got back to Palestine] a bunch of us were on a fishing boat and when we were on the coast we jumped in the water and the Hagganah and the Palmach – the defense forces (there was no army yet) – picked us up. We [eventually] ended up on a kibbutz. On the kibbutz it was a good life…a beautiful life. I had a home and equality. I had two pairs of pants and one pair of socks; everyone had equal, no more than the other guy.
LIM: A kibbutz is communal living…is that right? BK: Yes. Very free…and you're getting maybe $50 a year.
LIM: How long did you live on the kibbutz? BK: Oh, my goodness, 6 years…then I left for the city, and that's where I met Ben Gurion.
LIM: Ah…how did you meet him? BK: Because I was in the Mapai.
LIM: What is that? BK: A labor party…they made me be responsible for youth activities in Tel Aviv. I studied and I worked in the aircraft industry…it was a good time, a marvelous life. I had my private group of friends, people who had finished engineering school. I came to be a mechanical engineer, and I had my own crew, and our goal was: every weekend was a party. I had an apartment in Tel Aviv, and we painted the roof, and every Friday night there was a party and Saturday we went to the movies. I went to a bank to collect some restitution money from Germany, and there was a beautiful lady there. I invited her to one of our parties and said we could send a taxi to pick her up. She said, “my husband has a car, but can I come and bring two girls?”
LIM: Let me guess – no problem! BK: [laughs] But it came to be a problem because I already was bringing a girl! So at the party I asked a friend to take her home. To make a long story short, this lady's cousin came to be my wife, and we came to the United States.
LIM: When was that? BK: In 1959. So I studied, and my wife went to a teacher's college and became a Hebrew teacher.
LIM: Where did you live? BK: Jackson Heights, Queens. Later we had two girls: Ilana and Shirley. Ilana graduated from Trenton State College, Shirley graduated from Stockton. Shirley works for the Department of Justice. Ilana's husband is the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County. Shirley's husband is a lawyer, a public defendant. Each of my daughters has given me two grandchildren.
LIM: What made you decide to go into the business you're in? BK: Signal Stat, the company I worked at for 25 years, did automotive lighting. I started as a design engineer and I ended up as the Director of Research; I invented all the emergency lights, the sirens, special lights for trucks, turn signals, stoplights…in 1980 I started my own business. I went to the Police Department, to Public Works, and showed them what I had, working out of the house.
LIM: Are you still in touch with any of the people from the old times, either back in Israel or in Europe? BK: Very much. I wanted to repay people's kindness to me…2 years ago I visited Martha, the lady who brought me back from the concentration camp to Hungary, and 6 months later she died. Six years ago, in Israel, I made a big party in the kibbutz for the youth group I'd left behind in Europe when I went to Israel – 20 boys and 10 girls – and they made me a big Kiddush cup (that's my collection; I have about 50 or 60 Kiddush cups, everywhere I go); once a week I have to talk with someone from Israel.
LIM: Did you ever find out what happened to your family? BK: I went back [to look for them] but I never met them again. They went to the concentration camp; they ended up in Auschwitz.
LIM: Did you see the movie “Schindler's List”? BK: Yes, I did.
LIM: What did you think of it? BK: He related very closely what really happened, part of it, and it's nice that Schindler did it, and he did get a tree in Israel, and they did honor him, absolutely, but he was one of the few that really did something.
LIM: Can you tell us about some of the work you do today relating to your history? BK: Every 2 years we go to Israel…we were invited to be guests at the Holocaust Center in Jerusalem, and from that I got the idea of speaking to the young people here, at the high schools. We have a group meeting once a month called the Survivors group; there are not many of us left now, about 50 in this area.
LIM: Obviously you feel it's important for us to remember, and that education will help so that these kinds of things don't happen again. BK: You are knowledgeable, so you don't need anymore to know; but the young generation…?! Positively – that is why I'm doing what I do at the high schools…at Marlboro High School, for hundreds of kids. We had three sessions…not all the kids at once, then it would be lost. The principal made it in a library-type situation: we hung up pictures in the halls and before I spoke they walked around to see the pictures. Then they handed out my story to every child. Once they had it I spoke about my youth and how I ended up.
LIM: What would you say to people who deny the Holocaust ever existed? BK: They don't like Jews so they deny anything the Jews went through…it's a complete denial.
LIM: How about people who don't want to talk about it, who just want to “move on”? BK: For a long time I didn't want to talk about it either. I believe some people are more emotional than others…in my case there is all the time another day, tomorrow; another day, a better day.
LIM: You're hopeful…an optimist. BK: Yes, exactly. I was with my company 25 years and everyone told me to retire, but I didn't; I started a new business.
LIM: So when did you move from Queens to New Jersey? BK: About 34 years ago.
LIM: What brought you to Marlboro? BK: Our company – Signal Stat – moved from Brooklyn to Union, so my boss told me to move there. My foreman lived in Englishtown and we visited him; he advised us and we saw a house we liked in Marlboro and moved here.
LIM: How did your experiences shape your feelings about family and about religion? BK: I built a temple [the Marlboro Jewish Center] because I saw so many temples being destroyed.
LIM: What kind of a connection do you feel towards Israel? BK: It's a second home; a home away from home. The family is still there, memories are still there…
LIM: Would you say that your early experiences in the camps and so forth made you not only more family-oriented but also people-oriented, because people depended on each other? BK: It took a long time…the people in the kibbutz are tough, like iron, on the outside, but sweet on the inside, once they get to trust you.
LIM: What do you feel is the most important lesson to be learned? BK: Nothing is given to you. You have to make it happen.
December 21, 1931 - Born in Budapest, Hungary.
1937 - At age 6 moved with his parents to Szeged, Hungary.
April 1944 - Sent by his parents to stay with his grandmother in Vesto. His father was sent to a labor camp and his mother was sent to the Szeged ghetto to the brick factory.
July 1944 - Hungarians sent all the Jews from Szeged and surrounding areas by trains (in cattle cars) to Auschwitz. At the first stop (Strasshoff, Austria) the Jews went through a selection process into groups of those who could work and those who would be sent to Auschwitz. He was sent to the brick factory and became the water boy.
December 1944 - Moved to Grussbach, Czechoslovakia to a farm and was selected to drive the horse and buggy. He got to sleep in a barn.
April 1945 - Sent to Theresienstadt (near Prague). At this camp the Jews were held until the trains came to take them to Auschwitz. Hid in the attic with friends each time the trains came in.
June 1945 - Russians liberated Theresienstadt, gave them money, and sent them back to Hungary. He was put with a group of young people with no parents. They prepared to leave for Palestine.
October 1945 - Went back to Szeged and Budapest with friend Miklos Sugar to look for his family; no luck.
July 1946 - Crossed Austrian border to escape Hungary.
October 7, 1947 - The day finally came to leave for Palestine. Boarded the Exodus 47 and sailed to Palestine.
October 21, 1947 - Fought the English off the shore of Haifa and lost. The ship was damaged. Sent on a smaller ship back to Marseilles, France.
June 1948 - Returned to Palestine and joined the Palmach in fight for independence; manned large machine gun from a jeep. After statehood was established he lived on a kibbutz for 5 years.
July 1955 - Got a project engineering job in the Israeli aircraft industry.
September 1956 - Put together a youth group, had parties, met future wife.
June 5, 1959 - Came with wife Gabriella to USA after marrying in Israel. Oldest daughter Ilana was born 9 months later.
October 1960 - Got a job at Signal Stat (company that designed/invented automotive lighting products).
May 1963 - Second daughter, Shirley, was born.
July 1965 - Became US citizen and bought a house in Laurelton, Queens, NY.
August 1973 - Job transfer caused move to New Jersey. Joined Marlboro Jewish Center, was instrumental in building the synagogue, and started the Men's Club and softball team. Wife later became Principal of the Hebrew School at the Center.
June 1980 - Started his own company Kaldor, Emergency Lights & Special Products.
Favorite restaurant: Jerusalem Pizza (Highland Park)
Favorite musical artist: Shoshanna Damari [“the Queen of Israeli song”]
Favorite movies: Schindler’s List, Exodus
Pet peeve: people who talk against the Holocaust
3 people I’d like to dine with: my wife Gabriella, my grandchildren, Napoleon
Photo GalleryClick here for Slideshow. You can also click on any of the photos to start slideshow.
Top: The Exodus, which was turned back from Palestine, in 1947.
Bob, at center, with other family members at his grandmother's house in the Szeged ghetto, Hungary, as a child.
Bob and fellow members of the kibbutz in Palestine.
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