Roseville resident Erwin Farkas says he may have survived the Nazi death camps by lying about his age.
The 15-year-old Hungarian Jew heard he needed to be a certain age to be considered suitable for labor, so he told the Nazi guards he was 16 when he arrived at the concentration camp. They sent Farkas and his older brother Zoltan to toil in a machine shop as forced laborers.
“It possibly saved my life,” said Farkas, who immigrated to the United States after World War II and built a life here in Minnesota.
His mother and father, deemed too old to work, and his three younger sisters, considered too young, were all killed by the Nazis.
Farkas, now age 94, has spent the past decades telling his firsthand account to schoolchildren, college students, journalists, historians, playwrights, colleagues, anyone who wanted to learn more about the atrocities of Holocaust.
As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindle, Farkas said it means a lot to him that Roseville leaders have taken a few minutes to educate the public about these dark days of history and to commemorate the survivors and victims, including his family.
The Roseville City Council joins communities across the country proclaiming the week of April 16-23 as the Days of Remembrance to memorialize the victims, survivors and liberators of the Holocaust.
“I am glad,” Farkas said. “It’s terrible that so many young people just don’t know.”
More than 6 million Jewish people perished in the state-sponsored, systemic persecution and annihilation of the European Jewish population from 1933 to 1945 by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.
The Nazis also killed up to 250,000 people with disabilities, up to 500,000 Roma and others labeled criminals or “asocials,” according to the United States Holocaust Museum.
Farkas grew up in a portion of Hungary that later became part of Romania before World War II. His father owned a general store in the small village. In 1944, Farkas, his family and other Jewish families in the area were forced from their homes and taken to urban ghettos and later concentration camps that were part of the Auschwitz complex in Poland.
Farkas said he remembers the striped uniforms they were forced to wear while laboring at the camps. The Nazis tattooed an identification number of his forearm. That number is still visible on Farkas’ arm today and it’s seared into his memory.
“When they called you at the camp, they never used our names. We were just a number,” Farkas said. “I used to say you could wake me up in the middle of the night from a deep sleep and ask my number and I would say, ‘A7899.’”
Farkas and his brother survived the war. They traveled to New York City and lived with relatives. Farkas eventually earned his doctorate in psychology at the University of Minnesota and worked as a clinical psychologist for the state of Minnesota.
Farkas married but had no children. He bought his Roseville home in 1997. Today, he is retired. He enjoys reading the news and feeding the birds on his front porch. He has returned to Europe on several occasions for survivor reunions.
Farkas has a framed photo of his family hung in his living room over the television. They are never far from his thoughts.
“I think of my family pretty much every day,” Farkas said.