By Christina LoBrutto
One is a German Jew. The other is a Polish Catholic. One now lives in Jamaica, Queens. The other in the Hamptons. One is single. The other is married with four children.
Their two backgrounds could not be more different, but they do share one very important thing in common: both are children of terror.
On Thursday, Feb. 9, Rider University hosted a screening of a documentary entitled Children of Terror. The film is based on a 2009 book of the same name written by two holocaust survivors, Inge Auerbacher and Bozenna Urbanowicz Gilbride. Dr. Shawn Kildea, an assistant professor in the department of communication and journalism at Rider, co-produced the documentary with Rider alumna Gina Grosso.
The documentary focused primarily on the traumatic stories of Auerbacher and Urbanowicz Gilbride and their experiences as children during wartime. Auerbacher, a German Jew, survived Terazin, a Nazi concentration camp located in what is now the Czech Republic. Catholic Pole Urbanowicz Gilbride survived Chemnitz, a Nazi work camp in Germany.
“Tragedy can hit anybody,” Auerbacher explained in the documentary. It certainly affected her family.
She was born into a wealthy family in the small town of Kippenheim, Germany. Auerbacher was the last child to ever be born there, and even more ironically, the only surviving child from Kippenheim.
When the Nazis came to round up Jewish families, Auerbacher and her family had to report for transport just like everyone else. Nevermind the fact that her father had served in the war for Germany; they were Jews and that was all that mattered.
Auerbacher was fortunate enough to be transported with her family. Unfortunately, her grandmother was separated from them early in their journey, and that was the last they would see of her.
“I was the youngest in the transport of 1,200 people,” Auerbacher said. Only 13 survived.
Urbanowicz Gilbride’s story is just as haunting. She was born a Catholic in Poland. In the documentary, she describes a memory of running through the wheat field to escape transport to the work camps. At one point, she was taken away from her family because she had Tuberculosis. As soon as she was well enough, she was sent right back to work in the field.
Perhaps an even more disturbing story was that of when her mother was taken away. Urbanowicz Gilbride’s mother had written a letter to send to relatives, but somehow it was never sent. Her father was beaten for the offense, and in a state of confusion when he saw the signature, he explained that it was in fact his wife’s. As a result, her mother was taken from them. It wasn’t until many years later that Urbanowicz Gilbride would learn that her mother had survived and was looking for her family.
Auerbacher and Urbanowicz Gilbride met while speaking about their experiences at a high school event and decided to write the book together. It was clear from watching the two women on stage that they share a special relationship. While answering questions, they would often hold hands, or pat the other’s shoulder. For both women, this friendship means a lot.
“All I ever wanted to be was a normal child,” Auerbacher said. “Friendship is very important. Friends have become my family.”
As the oldest of four children, Urbanowicz Gilbride found that friends were not her top priority during those tough times.
“My only friends were my brother and two sisters,” she explained. “I was always hungry. I didn’t want any friends. I didn’t trust other people.”
Now, years later, the two are the closest of friends, and their stories of survival and strength are inspiring to many. Even after everything they suffered, both women maintain a sense of humor and lightness.
When asked how it felt to have gone through what she did, Urbanowicz Gilbride responded, “That’s nothing. I survived four teenagers.”
Auerbacher, who never married or had any children, is a positive and upbeat woman.
“Everybody should have sunshine,” she said in reference to her sunflower garden in the beginning of the documentary.
Auerbacher and Urbanowicz Gilbride come from very different backgrounds and religious beliefs, yet today they could not be closer and more united because of their experiences as children during wartime, as children of terror.