This St. Louisan survived the Nazis and then Communism


Today, we tell the remarkable story of Erika Schick Goldburg, a St. Louisan’s whose life could indeed be made into an epic movie, similar to “Europa, Europa,” or “Sunshine,” the latter of which depicted a Hungarian Jewish family going through the various changes in governments. The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum is allowing us to republish portions of their  Oral Histories Project, as a celebration of life and a crucial part of honoring and remembering the past. Please follow the provided links to additional recordings.

Erika Goldburg survived Nazis and Communism

Mrs. Goldburg’s life could indeed be made into an epic movie, similar to “Europa, Europa,” or “Sunshine,” the latter of which depicted a Hungarian Jewish family going through the various changes in governments, from the relative stability of the Austro- Hungarian Empire, to the horrors of the Nazi occupation; to the harshness of the Communist regime and the brief hopes stirred by the Hungarian Revolt of 1956 which was snuffed out by Soviet tanks on the streets of Budapest.

Mrs. Goldburg truly lived through most of those radical shifts in Hungary which affected the security of its Jewish community. Born Erika Schick on April 20, 1938 in Budapest, she was the daughter of Eugene and Piri Curtis Schick. An only child, Erika, who showed early prowess as a student, attended high school in Budapest.

“When the Nazis occupied Budapest, Piri had the courage and foresight to escape to the Swedish Legation in Budapest, whose sovereign status was not challenged by the Germans,” Rabbi Goldburg told the Light. “Once inside the legation, they received papers and protection from Raoul Wallengerg, the brave Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing them papers.

While Piri and Erika survived the war, Eugene Schick had been arrested by the Nazis and sent to the infamous Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. “He died one day before the camp was liberated,” Rabbi Goldburg said.

Piri Schick after the war tried to resume a normal life for herself and her daughter Erika. But in 1956, after the Soviet Union crushed the anti-Communist Hungarian Revolt, the Jewish community once again became vulnerable to being a scapegoat. Working with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS, Piri Schick sought to have her daughter taken in by a foster family in the United States.

At the age of 16, Erika found herself at the home of Aaron and Florence Zacks (later Melton), of Columbus, Ohio, who had offered to take in a Jewish boy. The Zacks, who were active in the local Jewish community, took in the red-haired, highly intelligent Erika Schick as a welcome addition to their family.

Gordon Zacks, one of two sons Aaron and Florence, who later became chairman and retired CEO of the R. G. Barry Corporation, a large footwear company and an active leader in national Jewish causes, recalls his early impressions of Erika in his autobiography “Defining Moments.”

Leaving Hungary

“When the Hungarian Revolt broke out in October 1956, many Hungarian Jewish parents feared a second campaign against the Jews as one result of the Soviet crackdown against this democratic uprising, some Jewish Hungarian parents made the courageous decision to send their children to the West. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society scrambled to find homes for these youngsters. My parents, who had raised two sons, said they would be willing to take a third. Well, life doesn’t always turn out as expected, and they were offered a 16-year-old girl instead by the name of Erika Schick, who was welcomed into a loving home in Columbus, Ohio. We later discovered that (Raoul) Wallenberg had been responsible for saving Erika and her mother, Piri, through the Wallenberg system of protective passports and safehouses.”

Erika later attended Ohio State University where she earned a bachelor of science degree in physical therapy. After graduation, she accepted a position on the staff of Goodwill Industries in Cincinnati, and through the indirect efforts of a mutual friend, she met Jay Goldburg of Atlanta, a rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College, the Reform rabbinical seminary.

“I had actually been trying to meet Erika’s roommate, but I was so taken with her Zsa Zsa Gabor Hungarian accent, that I asked her out instead,” recalls Rabbi Goldburg.

At the funeral service for Mrs. Goldburg, Rabbi James Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth spoke of the couple’s 47 years of marriage, saying the couple was “the epitome of love and passion and compassion and devotion.”

Rabbi Bennett also paid tribute to Mrs. Goldburg’s many other interests and activities. “Erika has a remarkable life beyond her family as well,” Bennett said. “She was accomplished and acclaimed as an interpreter/escort for the U.S. State Department, accompanying many Hungarian luminaries on their travels through the United States.” She served as president of the Des Moines Symphony Guild – only the second Jewish woman to serve in the role. She volunteered for the Opera Theater and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in St. Louis.

The Goldburgs were the parents of a son, David and a daughter, Devorah (Devie). They had four grandchildren.

At the service, Rabbi Goldburg and David and Devie Goldburg offered warm remembrances of Mrs. Goldburg. They praised her bravery in facing her last and greatest challenge: the pancreatic cancer, which would eventually take her life.

Rabbi Goldburg, a retired Marine, was especially proud of a letter he received from Major General Orlo Steele (Ret.) of the United States Marine Corps. In the letter, Steele informs Rabbi Goldburg that Erika Goldburg had been made an Honorary United States Marine in tribute to her devoted marriage and her personal integrity and bravery.

Mrs. Goldburg was known for her strong interest in the arts, especially classical music and opera. Her family and friends organized a special recital featuring violin and piano, which she was able to enjoy a short time before her passing. “She remained luminous and valorous to the very end,” Rabbi Goldburg said.

Erika Schick Goldburg passed away on June 1, 2010.

Listen to Tape 1 / Side 1 of Erika’s Oral History

Click here to listen to the additional taped recordings of Erika’s Oral History