Harvard Prof. Addresses Growing Up with the Holocaust


Prof. Rita Goldberg addresses the community about her experiences as a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Photo by Carl Vallely.

Michael Young, Journalist

“Everyone, everyone in this room is capable of repairing the world.”

So said Rita Goldberg, a second-generation Holocaust survivor who addressed the community Wednesday, October 30. The Harvard professor and acclaimed author of Motherland: Growing Up with The Holocaust, also explained that students and other young people should speak up about wrongdoing and injustice.

Goldberg’s mother, Hilda, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, successfully evaded capture throughout World War II.

In 1949, Rita was born and Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, would serve as the child’s godfather.

“I thought it was really cool to see someone who knew Anne Frank visit the school,” Koll Philips ’21 said.

Rita detailed the larger history of the Holocaust, while also explaining how her family fled Germany in the mid-1930s, before moving to the Netherlands, where the Nazis invaded in 1940. Jews and other minorities were confined for days, waiting for their fate to be decided.

Hilda’s parents were arrested and sent to Auschwitz in 1943. Hilda evaded capture, and she forged a new identity in Belgium, pretending to be a member of the Dutch-Reformed Church.

When Allied powers began invading Western Europe, once more, Hilda fled to Allied-occupied territory. She served as a war nurse, and due to her knowledge of multiple languages, she also acted as a translator during the liberation of the 1945 liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

“Her mother’s story was really inspiring and it showed leadership and bravery in a time of darkness,” Sam Peloquin ’23 said.

Rita’s story also hit home with Director of Equity and Inclusion Jessica Christian.

“There has been a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the last few years in this country,” Christian said. “It’s important to bring an awareness to it, especially for young people, all of whom have an important voice.”

Goldberg’s visit also related to the 8thgrade Facing History and Ourselves curriculum.

“Usually, when we learn about things in history they are all really broad, rarely pinpointing a specific person, so when Rita told the story of her mother that kind of pinpoints it to one person to make the past come alive,” 8thgrader Talya Le said.