Magda Schaloum of Mercer Island was adamant that the stories of the Holocaust live on in honor of those killed and tortured in the Nazi regime. She died June 9, at 92.
The last time Magda Schaloum saw her mother and brother, they were being led to their deaths at Auschwitz. She was being led away from them — to life.
Mrs. Schaloum, of Mercer Island, was a Holocaust survivor who worked past the trauma she experienced as a Hungarian Jew to become an activist and storyteller and help ensure the Holocaust would be remembered. She died June 9 at age 92.
After her husband, Izak Schaloum, had a stroke and became unable to talk, Mrs. Schaloum decided she would start telling her survival story, eventually sharing it with thousands across the state. She was an active member of Seattle’s Jewish community, serving as a past president of Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation synagogue in Seward Park and a volunteer at Kline Galland Home for the elderly.
Mrs. Schaloum, along with her husband and several other Holocaust survivors, founded the Holocaust Center for Humanity (formerly the Washington State Holocaust Center) in Seattle in 1989.
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“She really had a zest for life — she really did,” said her son, Jack Schaloum. “I think because of the fact that life was almost taken from her.”
Mrs. Schaloum grew up in Gyor, Hungary, about 75 miles west of Budapest. She was 22 in 1944 when the Germans occupied Hungary. She was first taken to a ghetto area with her mother and brother (her father was sent to another camp). She could have escaped from there to a village, but opted to stay with her mother, who had become very weak.
Mrs. Schaloum, her mother and brother were then put on a train to Auschwitz. Before the train left, Mrs. Schaloum saw her father coming toward the train with a bag of food for his family, only to be beaten by officers before he could get there. That was the last time she ever saw him, Jack Schaloum said.
They reached Auschwitz in June 1944 and underwent the “selection” process run by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, known for his inhumane experiments on Auschwitz prisoners. Mrs. Schaloum tried to run after her mother, but officers stopped her, saying that her mother was going to take a shower and she would see her later, Jack Schaloum said.
In reality, her mother and brother were sent immediately to their deaths while Mrs. Schaloum was deemed fit for work. She stayed at Auschwitz for ten days before being transferred to Plaszow in Poland, the camp featured in the film “Schindler’s List.”
“She never got the opportunity to be on that list,” Jack Schaloum said.
It was at Plaszow where she was beaten for resting during the menial tasks the prisoners were given. After that, she was sent back to Auschwitz, where she received her tattooed number, A-17170, Jack Schaloum said. She was moved to two other camps, Augsburg and Mülhdorf, before being freed by the U.S. Army on May 1, 1945.
She met her future husband at a displaced-persons camp — he also was an Auschwitz survivor. Though the couple didn’t share a common language, they were married in the camp six weeks later.
Izak and Magda Schaloum moved in 1951 to Seattle with their two young children and settled into their new lives, moving to Mercer Island in the late 1960s. In 1990, Izak Schaloum had a stroke, which became a turning point for Mrs. Schaloum.
“She wanted to honor the sense of commitment she felt for her friends and family that she lost,” Jack Schaloum said.
Mrs. Schaloum traveled to organizations and schools across the state through the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s Speakers Bureau; she told her story to thousands of students. She would say her story was proof to those who denied the Holocaust ever happened.
“If you heard her speak, you could hear a pin drop — she was so wonderful,” said Dee Simon, executive director of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.
Teachers would tell her they “could see a difference in every kid after they heard her story,” Jack Schaloum said.
“She changed people’s lives and it was amazing to see,” he said.
And when her age made it difficult to travel, she used a new technology: Skype. She last shared her story on Skype April 28. In her stead, her son promises to continue her tradition of speaking to students — he’s already done it a couple times, he said, because he “can’t let this story go untold.”
Mrs. Schaloum was a past president of Sephardic Bikur Holim, her synagogue, and was involved in the Jewish group Mizrachi Women’s Organization.
Mrs. Schaloum’s daughter, Lucia De Funis, said her mother had a fierce determination to live — as congestive heart failure, kidney problems and a broken hip had her in and out of the hospital in the past year and a half.
“She’s a miracle, you know,” she said.
Mrs. Schaloum’s husband died in 1995.
In addition to children Jack Schaloum and Lucia De Funis, Mrs. Schaloum is survived by son Henry Schaloum, of Issaquah, as well as six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Services already have been held.