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Growing up in Hungary during the Holocaust, Erika Hecht was a “hidden child,” one of many Jewish children who were provided with false identities and survived the war as Christians. But when the village where they were hiding became a battlefield between the German and Soviet armies, Erika and her mother were forced to flee, hiding in damp cellars, seeking shelter on the porch of a house occupied by soldiers, and living in mountainside caves. It wasn’t until many years after the war that Erika reconnected with her Jewish identity.

Erika’s harrowing story is the subject of her new memoir Don’t Ask My Name: A Hidden Child’s Tale of Survival, published by East End Press in June 2021.

This program explores Erika’s experiences during the Holocaust and her struggle with identity, reinvention, and resilience. She is interviewed by the Museum’s Senior Public Programs Producer Ari Goldstein.

Watch the program below.

This program’s original recording transcript is below. This transcription was created automatically during a live program so may contain inaccurate transcriptions of some words.

Ari Goldstein: i'm Ari Goldstein Senior Public programs producer at the Museum of Jewish heritage, a living memorial to the Holocaust and it's a real pleasure to welcome you to today's discussion with Eric.

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Ari Goldstein: hecht a remarkable hidden child of the Holocaust and retired interior designer originally from hungry Eric is joining us today from sag harbor New York welcome Erica.

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Erika Hecht: Thank you.

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Ari Goldstein: Eric I spent the last many years beautifully writing her story and reflecting on it in the memoir don't ask my name a hidden child's tale of survival just released last month by East end press you can order the book at the link in the zoom chat.

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Ari Goldstein: All and Erica today for about 40 minutes and then we'll have time for audience questions, so please feel free to share questions in the zoom Q amp a box throughout the program and we'll address as many as we can, towards the end of the hour.

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Ari Goldstein: That further ado let's get started Erica Thank you again for being here.

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Erika Hecht: you're welcome.

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Ari Goldstein: I want to begin the conversation today in the same way that you begin your book, which is what the story of your conversion from Judaism to Catholicism in 1937, can you tell us a little bit about your early childhood in Budapest and why you converted.

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Erika Hecht: Well, my conversion of course had nothing to do with this season by me and was it the season of my mother's I was three and a half years old and I, you know, I was packed longer to the Church, I do remember it very clear.

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Erika Hecht: Due to the fact that I think little children remember traumatic experiences and for one reason or another, that experience my mother taking me to church and having first communion and being so.

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Erika Hecht: Totally nervous and upset about it is something that stuck in my mind and I clearly remember it as I wrote in my book, including the priest, and the kneeling down and all the things and her.

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Erika Hecht: joy and sorrow when we live to church i've not being a Christian and not having to worry about being in danger, and now we are safe, we are Christians, he said so that my memory of conversion but.

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Erika Hecht: But I grew up with it from then on, I mean I was a Catholic, but I was also Jewish my grandparents, whose House I stayed in most of the time.

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Erika Hecht: My mother been been divorced at that point and not yet remarried David Jewish never observant so I was to is there, but then, when I started to go to kindergarten I was registered a scholarly.

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Erika Hecht: I was all four years old, four and a half, so it was a mixture, from the very beginning, from my wage three and a half, four years old, I was the Catholic and I was to to feel.

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Ari Goldstein: Erica or your memory freeze of Budapest from before the war, mostly happy ones.

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Erika Hecht: My memories from Budapest from before the war one my memories, with my grandparents are pretty happy one.

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Erika Hecht: Especially before I really started.

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Erika Hecht: School but beginning of school was not bad, either, but by second grade, by the time you had to wear a yellow star I no longer qualify there's a non Jew.

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Erika Hecht: I was registered as a non one at one point, but I was not qualifying I did not have for non Jewish grandparents, so I had to wear a yellow Star and from that time on, when the yellow Star and things changed in school, when all that started.

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Erika Hecht: It was a conflict and it always remained a conflict for the next I don't know 50 years I guess.

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Ari Goldstein: We have an amazing photo of you as a little girl around the time that you're talking about so i'm going to pull it up on screen and can you tell us about who this is on the right with you.

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Erika Hecht: that's my father my real Father my original father.

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Erika Hecht: And I just that's like I must have been well on the left, I was about six, I suppose, and on the other, one I must have been about eight.

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Ari Goldstein: he's a really remarkable photos and i'm grateful that they survived the war two, so we can see them today.

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yeah.

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Ari Goldstein: Aaron yeah.

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Erika Hecht: No, I was just gonna say that these.

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Erika Hecht: Pictures came out of my leg.

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Erika Hecht: My leg mother's collection few her collection survive with some friends, she gave it to some friends and I got them back after the war, I didn't have any leftover pictures or anything like that.

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Ari Goldstein: I should mention that all the photos that you'll see during today's discussion are featured in the book, along with other photos from from Eric is life.

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Ari Goldstein: And so Erica you mentioned your mom converted you and her and that's in 37 because she felt that being Catholic would be safer for you can you talk about the the increasing restrictions on Jewish life that you remember at that at that young age.

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Erika Hecht: The what i'm sorry I didn't get it.

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Ari Goldstein: It became increasingly challenging to be Jewish when you were a young girl yeah how much do you remember about the progression over time.

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Erika Hecht: Well, it was Oh, it was extremely difficult for us, the reason that.

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Erika Hecht: The Catholic instruction at school was very rigid and very strict and I was being prepared for first communion I had to learn the catechism by heart as a Catholic and.

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Erika Hecht: And I was taught a lot of things, including the fact that you know Jews killed Christ, and all of those old fashioned.

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Erika Hecht: Basic facets of anti semitism given to people who didn't know any better, so that was going on, but on the other hand.

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Erika Hecht: It was fascinating I was looking forward to my first communion I remember that the White dress to sing in my hair.

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Erika Hecht: And all the festivities that went with it, which was something that was that was fun that was nice and a lot of girls in my class my first communion so It made me part of the group.

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Erika Hecht: I guess how did.

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Ari Goldstein: How did your observing Jewish grandparents react to the conversion.

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Erika Hecht: My grandfather was an observant Jew and.

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Erika Hecht: He his opinion was, and I do remember that because discussions happen, quite often and before I went to school, before I started first grade I lived with them due to the divorce.

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Erika Hecht: And he said to my mother anything to save your life is permissible in these times you whatever you can think of to do whatever you're going to do.

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Erika Hecht: don't worry about it, you have been obligation and that's to save your life i'm not sure my mother repeated that often I don't know whether she really believed it or whether she wanted to sue Sir Constance I don't know but that sentence became part of like the family.

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Erika Hecht: The family believe.

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Ari Goldstein: hmm I guess that obligation to save a life, above all else is part of Jewish religion, so if your grandparents were observant that would have been a real religious meaningful religious.

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yeah.

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Ari Goldstein: So restrictions were being added, and you were experiencing anti semitism at some point, you were required to wear a yellow Star and then your life really changed when German forces occupied hungry in March 1944 is that right.

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Erika Hecht: Yes, well, they tend to more two more serious because that's when all the deportation starting we're not only world was restricted from doing things and going places and buying food and.

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Erika Hecht: And going for a walk and living in designated house is marked with big yellow stores, too, but they were now they were not allowed to.

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Erika Hecht: to congregate anywhere or to visit anybody, and they were around it up when you never know when you are going to be around it up.

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Erika Hecht: And they were mostly rounded up by the Hungarian arrow cross, with the help of the German Gestapo.

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Erika Hecht: I put into trains first into big factories outside of Vienna and then into trains and brought to one of the concentration camps, not necessarily always offered, but any one of the already existing concentration camps and.

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Erika Hecht: This was something that was known, and it was kind of whispered about and by this time, and this was happening, I was 10 years old, I remember it distinctly.

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Erika Hecht: And I also remember how one had to do everything to avoid being rounded up or doing anything that would bring attention to you so that you will be around it up or doing anything that went against regulations.

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Ari Goldstein: I 10 where you taught to be more fearful of the German Nazis, or the Hungarian arrow cross the the sort of local Nazis.

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Erika Hecht: What the local market or, in some way more dangerous, but it was a German Nazis, that really kill you.

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Erika Hecht: The local Nazis took it.

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Erika Hecht: away you never really know what happened, and they were.

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Erika Hecht: I am not sure whether they they put you on the trains, they brought you to the Germans to put you on the train, so I don't know the exact way it happened, but if it's in by Hungarian it came and got you, you were just as dead as a fisherman laughter came to get you.

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Ari Goldstein: So, by the time the Germans occupied hungry you even though you had converted to Catholicism you were once again being treated as Jewish and persecute.

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Erika Hecht: yeah absolutely yeah.

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Ari Goldstein: did your mother at that point, regret the decision to convert or do you think it's still save do in some fashion in those intervening years.

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Erika Hecht: I don't know if he ever regretted it because, after the war, when it was over, and she could have easily returned to being too much of you know, officially to it, she didn't.

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Erika Hecht: She wanted to remain officially Catholic she wanted to have Catholic papers, she wanted to never ever having to face anti semitism again.

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Erika Hecht: But at home, she remains roots you weren't allowed to use your flesh again milking dishes together and you I don't know there were other things that were from the Jewish religion that she kept and.

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Erika Hecht: No see and then my grandmother was by then veto veto after the war, she came to live with us, and she kept some of the Jewish positions so it was very much the Jewish traditions on the inside, and the Catholic life on the outside.

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Ari Goldstein: Eric I want to keep asking you about your story, but i'm thinking and listening to you that what you're describing is so similar to the stories we hear about the converses in Spain during the Inquisition.

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Ari Goldstein: The managers who converted but kept up to practice internally, did you then or do you now feel some sort of connection to those people.

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Erika Hecht: But it was a book that I don't know if you ever heard about, but I read and I read it again and again for the gomez's into madonna's foot.

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Erika Hecht: With have to do with the Spanish converted juice, that in order to teach the message that they have to kiss when they came into the House they hit it in a Madonna statues foot and they kissed the foot of the Madonna when they came to the House.

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Ari Goldstein: wow.

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Erika Hecht: Have a delightful book.

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Ari Goldstein: wow i've never heard that before.

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yeah.

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So.

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Ari Goldstein: Once the Germans occupy hungry it's 1944 your father and a really remarkable Act was able to secure fake papers.

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Ari Goldstein: and arrange for you and many other of your family members to go into hiding in the village of kish long man, can you tell us about how the escape was arranged to the best of your knowledge.

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Erika Hecht: Well, I know that it was arranged by my real father, because my stepfather vista.

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Erika Hecht: has been has been taken to work camp and with.

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Erika Hecht: The Russian from digging ditches for the for the Hungarian and the German army, but.

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Erika Hecht: But we've arranged by my father's a servant might somebody that worked for my father who arranged his ability, which was a godforsaken place in the Center of Hungary in the western part of Hungary but Islam and Islam was his.

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Erika Hecht: Birth village, and it was actually run by his uncle an ounce and whatever so basically he owned that village or his family on that will it and they were extremely grateful because this man work for my father for long time.

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Erika Hecht: I so he arranged for us to be able to go and live in that village if we had papers that said that we were Christian.

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Erika Hecht: papers going back, for you know for grandparents, so my father in those papers on the black market, and it was a long maybe a week so preparations when he came.

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Erika Hecht: To the designated house their mother and I and my bed then half sister live to indoctrinate us in our new names our new history, our new.

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Erika Hecht: friends, our new relatives, a whole created world of.

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Erika Hecht: of people and occasions that weren't true including this fake father, who was a famous officer on the front.

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Erika Hecht: Fighting the Russians, I mean the whole story, and all of that was.

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Erika Hecht: was told to my mother and part of it to me and I was taught my new name our new name I was still running history, I was taught on how to.

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Erika Hecht: react if people ask me things and.

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Erika Hecht: And I know that I found it very difficult to do that and I did I learned it all, but then you know, this is actually where the title of my book comes from because one day, just before we left the designated house and escaped to Islam.

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Erika Hecht: My mother woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me my name, because she wanted to make sure I remembered it, but it was my mother.

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Erika Hecht: So I didn't tell her my fake name I told her my real name, and I think she beat me up like i've ever been beaten up before do not ever do that again for us to die and i've never ever mentioned that name again.

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Erika Hecht: On the historical image much later, but I mean I never ever mentioned it again.

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Ari Goldstein: What a heavy burden for a 10 year old to have to learn how to adopt that identity and understand the stakes of it.

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Erika Hecht: yeah, especially the year before that I used to go to the synagogue to visit my grandparents were still going to synagogue.

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Erika Hecht: Because I learned in my Catholic lessons it was a deadly sin for for me to go into as integral you don't go insiders you know go that's a deadly sin, so you know the conference day was sort of.

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Erika Hecht: anyway.

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Erika Hecht: It was quite quite remarkable, I think.

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Ari Goldstein: Confusing yeah, can you tell us about what life was like hiding in case long.

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Erika Hecht: Well then, we got to finish line, the first maybe eight months or a year, or whatever it was or however long, it was the quite pleasant, we have this little house in which we live, and we had an.

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Erika Hecht: A person called workable she was a relative of the person who got us there who brought us to food and news and everything and the owners.

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Erika Hecht: The teachers living across the street I wasn't really allowed to go to school, because they felt that will be asked, too many questions and whatever, but I went for private lessons to the.

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Erika Hecht: Teachers house and they will lovely and they had two children and I felt quite comfortable and except for the restrictions on you know.

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Erika Hecht: You must didn't tell anybody you mustn't talk with this, that you have to be careful don't bring attention to yourself, except for those things, it was quite pleasant, then there was enough food.

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Erika Hecht: And they were there were two horses and and and to house at the at the peter's house and several chickens and over some good food, so it was quite pleasant until the first occupation by the lessons in December early December 1945 and it was.

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Erika Hecht: really, really.

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Erika Hecht: Quite miserable but it only lasted two nights and became out and we were not under the Russians.

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Erika Hecht: and

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Erika Hecht: Somehow or jewishness became known I guess it was already suspected in this village, but it was safe but now it became general knowledge.

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Erika Hecht: And that was quite comfortable until the Germans came back because there was a part of Hungary that was reoccupy, I think, maybe three or four times between German Center.

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Erika Hecht: And the Russians, so the Germans were coming back and as an officer who became a friend and who was Jewish himself, so it seemed.

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Erika Hecht: provided us with some transportation, to get out of that village and to go as far West with the restaurant, as we possibly could and that's when this odyssey of attorney started.

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Ari Goldstein: Before we get into that i'm gonna pull up some photos from the book here from kiss long, can you just describe what we're seeing.

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Erika Hecht: Well, are you see the little house that we were in hiding in have acquired why, in case Lang this was the side of it and and it had a little garden, with a little fence and several chickens and inside there is this.

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Erika Hecht: attic and the adequate accessible by a ladder and later on when he stole my stepfather escape from the work camp and arrive to join us without papers.

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Erika Hecht: And everything else we hit him we had him in the Arctic for about two two and a half months and nobody was supposed to know he was there.

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Erika Hecht: It was very and, most of it was very uh actually it was quite exciting, I thought of it more exciting, but it was also very dangerous.

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Erika Hecht: And nobody was supposed to know not even my little sister was supposed to know that her father was in the same House so that nobody can give him away or as away or whatever, and only until.

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Erika Hecht: The next occupation, because in the meantime we got very occupied by Germans and then the Russians came back and by the last.

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Erika Hecht: restaurant occupation you finally managed to re enter everybody's lives and.

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Erika Hecht: I mean our life and not be in hiding anymore, but that was in a in another place that was important.

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Erika Hecht: To very good luck, by hook or by crook urine goes, you know going into the battles.

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Ari Goldstein: And can you remind us why didn't your your mother's has been piece to have papers like you did that enabled him to live outside the attic.

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Erika Hecht: Sorry, can you repeat that, please.

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Ari Goldstein: Why didn't teach to have papers like you did for fake papers that said that he was doing.

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Erika Hecht: All this stuff was rubbish towards in over a cup in Russia and the Russian front.

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Erika Hecht: Okay, can bite a Hungarian army to dig ditches.

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Erika Hecht: Because you're.

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Ari Goldstein: So your your birth father, who was divorced from your mom was upstairs in the attic and piece, too, is.

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Erika Hecht: No, no, no, no, no, my birth father is the one who gave us the papers in Budapest, I didn't even back to these non Jewish life, which is why he who was a half to ended up being counted as unknown do because he had a non Jewish life.

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Erika Hecht: And he's the one who provided us with all those papers he's also the one who had adequate money because all the Jewish people he used to work for.

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Erika Hecht: The road over the property stadium, so he asked a couple of apartment houses you own the factory and he had lots of money and spend it on saving his family was extremely generous and very, very instrumental in saving our lives, a pistol wasn't there are Mr was on Russia and overcome.

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Erika Hecht: It send it out with a an October, the same day as the vital few historical you know, but there was a puts in Hungary, and what he gave up and and we were supposed to be no longer on the German side, but by that evening we had completely.

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Erika Hecht: Anti Semitic read.

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Erika Hecht: Salah she was the man who took over and.

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Erika Hecht: He was more dangerous than even and then some of the Germans, was a real born anti Semite and a proponent of the German policies anyway so that's one piece the escape.

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Erika Hecht: And my father event to see my father, you see, everybody in those days was friendly.

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Erika Hecht: I mean the fact that they will be born didn't have anything to do with the fact that you had to save lives.

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Erika Hecht: So you could save life and had the money you did it so my father say Peters life and he saved ally and he saved his brothers, but it was it was one of those things receiving people's life became a.

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Erika Hecht: responsibility of those who could afford it all at the means to do it, or the ability to do and that's what was happening so my father taught fished of a river and when he started out to join us in Islam.

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Erika Hecht: It was we were under a new regime, which was no longer German oriented when he arrived, we were under fallacy.

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Erika Hecht: And we had to lighting if we would have been under the other review man known as well, I mean it is crazy but that's how it works.

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Ari Goldstein: Oh so gifts long becomes the Center in late 1944 of its reoccupied by the Germans and the Soviets and then at some point you flee westward with with your mother beast and your baby sister and the following month.

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Erika Hecht: And then ocarina horse drawn carriage given to us by the Russians officer.

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Ari Goldstein: The next few months are really a remarkable and heroin soccer can you can you describe what happened to us, as you left the tone.

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Erika Hecht: Well, get ready for a while and we went for a while.

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Erika Hecht: Like the path of slow the aging process we banked on the side road and this this restaurant officer explained that we should stay on the small road in the middle of the two main roads.

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Erika Hecht: And on the main road on the right, I would have Russians and on demand, or on the left, where to German vice versa, advancing and the older fighting went on over our head so.

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Erika Hecht: It was pretty scary and, as we are.

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Erika Hecht: approaching more and more open territory and more and more darkness, the the carrot in front of us has a full hit.

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Erika Hecht: And it's very scary and things are flying around and all of that, I don't know that scene is pretty hard to talk about but.

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Erika Hecht: What happened was things were flying around, and I see something landing on my mother and it happened to be a leg with a.

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Erika Hecht: shoe on it, and she took the leg, and she put it over the side of the carrot and then I look and next to me, is a soldier looking at me and reaching out to command I think my God he's crying but he wasn't crying it was one of his eyes was running up and down his face.

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Erika Hecht: i'm just looking but he's reaching out and he's falling back and he's dead and so.

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Erika Hecht: And so vista who was holding a horse to not go more crazy than it already was it sort of goes and.

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Erika Hecht: takes the Parish and pulls it around and tells me not to look and we're going we're driving over to this body with the one leg.

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Erika Hecht: And then we are going and looking for a road on the road and we're going on the road, and my mother says something like we have to get off this road.

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Erika Hecht: We can stay on it will get killed and the other people are feel I mean people who were in the first carriage that got hit one of them died on the side and the other one was on the ground, and they were dead.

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Erika Hecht: But we were not and we were going to look for somewhere to stay or to go or to hide.

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Erika Hecht: And so we saw a little road somewhere ahead of us on the left and prevent returned.

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Erika Hecht: And we went to this House, there was a house there, and this is the people that that's the person who letters in.

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Erika Hecht: And that's where we spent a night.

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Erika Hecht: And that house was full of refugees already he left he left everybody in.

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Erika Hecht: mind.

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Erika Hecht: And there was some food on the table, it was really quite.

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Erika Hecht: civilized and he said, all these people are hungry and you are agreeing by the corner and now eat something and go to sleep.

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Erika Hecht: And so, but around early in the morning to Germans for back We were amazed, because they were we were still under the Russians, but early in the morning to Germans came back, and it was banging on the door.

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Erika Hecht: And the Germans came in.

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Erika Hecht: And my mother also my mother always answers one tell speech talk don't talk, let me do the talking.

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Erika Hecht: I, but the Germans are asking if any body speaks German and my stepfather pistol was from Vienna when he spoke German, of course, and he said yes, I do.

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Erika Hecht: And they engaged him as a as a as a translator to go into the villages to find food for them.

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Erika Hecht: Anyway, it's a long story, but what happened is we went with the Germans and they put us on the German truck and we had no papers, at which they had no papers, we still have some papers samples papers published, I had no papers and my mother was scared and krista said don't worry.

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Erika Hecht: And that's when I actually have that story which seal excuse me, but I think it was a very important story and lesson when he said I made sure that.

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Erika Hecht: IP next to domain officer, because Mr being from Vienna was not circumcised so he made sure that the German offices so him.

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Erika Hecht: And realized that he could not have intuition, because he was not circumcised so we didn't need papers to prove the new Star Wars Okay, and we went from there and we stayed, I think, maybe 10 days or so, but the Germans.

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Erika Hecht: And then eventually ended up in this Lang.

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Erika Hecht: Where my mother.

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Erika Hecht: I mean not increase lung cancer, but cancer, because my mother couldn't stand it anymore, and we decided we had enough of the Germans so she pretended to have an appendicitis.

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Erika Hecht: And she was so good at it scared the soul receiver traveling will so they throw us off in the place called can answer because there was a hospital up there and that's how we ended up in Canada show.

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Ari Goldstein: Eric i've heard so many amazing stories of people surviving Nazi ISM but i've never heard of anyone who was embedded with the Nazis like you were for 10 days on their carriage and, and I mean the the fear you must have felt I can't even imagine.

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Erika Hecht: I don't know I don't know how how bad it was for me at that point, because it was very cold, we were all very hungry, as long as these Germans went and got some food and they gave us some on that we lived on the truck we slept on the truck we were on the truck.

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Erika Hecht: And I also had my little sister who became my my chart in many ways, and she was very vulnerable and she didn't have enough food at two or three times during that period of time, personally, I was, I was worried that she's not gonna make it was she was that chicken that.

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Erika Hecht: hungry and whatever so I don't know I don't know how much of it, I realized at that point.

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Erika Hecht: and, frankly, I think that was a very general experience, not if I think about it at that point is German soldiers who was struck with around where our security.

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Erika Hecht: Of course they didn't know we were Jewish had a non we were Jewish he would have been killed, that instant.

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Erika Hecht: So, which is you know, which is a very interesting thing to think about.

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Ari Goldstein: How do you I mean there are multiple times in your story in which there were Germans or Hungarians, who saved you thinking you were Catholic they provided you with food or security or shelter, how do you do you feel.

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Ari Goldstein: attitude towards them or anger, because you know that if they found out the truth, they wouldn't have helped you how do you deal with that set of emotions.

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Erika Hecht: Well, it is confusing it was confusing i'm sure, but.

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Erika Hecht: It was at that time, somehow, rather, it was a fact of life.

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Erika Hecht: You know that being Jewish broad range of with a topping killed.

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Erika Hecht: You didn't think about it, I mean, I think I was too young to really go into the reasons why it was like that except when I was taking Catholic religion, they told me I killed I kill Jesus, but I don't think I took that very seriously, but I think it was.

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Erika Hecht: It was unexplained it was not.

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Erika Hecht: You know.

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Erika Hecht: You do think and you do want to make sure you know what's happening.

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Erika Hecht: But when you are hungry and when you are in ancient danger and when your main preoccupation is to think where your next food is coming from, and the fact that if you don't get something to cover up that you're going to freeze to this, by the way, that was the coldest.

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Erika Hecht: coldest winter January months in Hungary in the almanacs and in every book, it was the coldest winter ever and it's still you know.

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Erika Hecht: Now, when we ended up in that these around if you read it in my book, when we ended up in the ditch and the German soldier came and saved us for some reason or another.

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Erika Hecht: It was, it was the coldest most horrendous mentor that they have had.

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Erika Hecht: in history.

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Erika Hecht: So.

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Erika Hecht: It was pretty bad.

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Ari Goldstein: Eric I want to pull up another photo from the next chapter in your story, can you describe to us seeing here.

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Erika Hecht: This is in this is my daughter Marian my oldest daughter and she's in a cave and the cave is in the mountains on the end of Lake Balaton.

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Erika Hecht: For the Turkish man, the third escapes because they were used by the Turks during the turkeys occupation was for storage and for prisons.

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Erika Hecht: And there's several of them on that mountain side, and these were the case that the people from the village mostly women and children.

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Erika Hecht: And older women fled to bento fighting around that this bottom kind of separate very fierce, so we took off also and went to one of these caves and lived in that cave for about 10 days, and we were maybe I don't know if we were 10 1215 it was full it was so full that you couldn't.

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Erika Hecht: You have to lie down on one next to the other straight you couldn't really turn or do anything that's how cool the cave was and believe there with very little food for about 10 days until the fighting was over.

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Erika Hecht: by which time it was the last Russian occupation, maybe the fourth or the fifth and on that trip.

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Erika Hecht: And, and that was it, you know that was that was the liberation, that was the last one after that the Germans never came back, they were beaten back and.

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Erika Hecht: Eventually, after 10 days we came down from the cave and found the village was really destroyed.

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Erika Hecht: And the place where we stayed before where that German soldier to curse was gone, he was dead and the place was done gone and we ended up living on the porch of another house that was occupied by German soldiers to.

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Erika Hecht: Until you know things got a little more straightened out.

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Ari Goldstein: When you returned with your daughter when the photo was taken many years later, how to find the specific case.

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Erika Hecht: Well, but I remember very well, I remember when we went up there, I remember my mother going ahead because she was afraid I won't be any space left.

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Erika Hecht: And we couldn't go first because vista could barely walk I had the baby, who was I had to carry her.

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Erika Hecht: So we were slow so she said, you can I go I find as a cave and I need to work come up come up because it's it's um.

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Erika Hecht: it's it's a walk that leads up to those caves and I don't know if you see the picture in my book, there is another picture.

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Erika Hecht: Of the wall, with the caves and there is a passage that leads up to there, so I knew it wasn't that passage and I knew it was a fair size and it was very much at the top of the mountain.

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Erika Hecht: and

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Erika Hecht: And in fact I was also looking for some bullet marks, because I was being shot at when I was in that cave because I couldn't stand it in the back, so I went.

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Erika Hecht: And I stood outside the camp outside the Cape and one of the German or who knows I don't even know what kind they were but somebody from a plane was shooting at all these refugees in those caves and then and a bullet hit left next to my left leg between my two legs and on the right.

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Erika Hecht: And it was making this up and everybody in the cave started yelling and my mother was screaming and they pulled me in and they never let me go outside the cave again.

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So.

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Ari Goldstein: So this is to sit the very last stretches of the war, you mentioned that the the.

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Ari Goldstein: Russians reoccupied the area, once you felt that was saved your family returned to Budapest, you were 11, what do you remember about returning to the city, who or what was left of your former life.

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Erika Hecht: Well, what was left for us, I was kind of pretty dismal but by then i've been sold the war zones i've seen all the destroyed houses so maybe in Budapest, it was a little more a little more clear.

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Erika Hecht: But it wasn't anything new, I mean i've seen all those instructions and everything but.

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Erika Hecht: But, looking for the, who was the major preoccupation, who is alive well my grandmother was alive, but my grandfather was not and finding him or finding out what happened to him became a preoccupation my mother's sister my cousins.

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Erika Hecht: uncles aunts where are they where they take an hour day alive, you know who is remained who came back.

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Erika Hecht: who came back like when somebody heard of somebody who just returned him back from Auschwitz.

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Erika Hecht: They descended upon this person I remember it because we were looking for my uncle.

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Erika Hecht: descended upon this person with names and questions it you meet such and such did you see so and so is this one alive, is that one alive and that whole time was preoccupied by trying to find out who was alive and who stayed alive and who was going to come back.

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Erika Hecht: My aunt and uncle didn't come back my cousins didn't come back.

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Erika Hecht: and so on, so that was that was what was more impressive even done the mentee destroyed house is we I stayed with my father was a nice apartment which wasn't destroyed my mother and sister and my sister.

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Erika Hecht: State with the grocery store owners around the corner my mother got friendly with and they let her and then stay at in the shop window of the store.

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Erika Hecht: You know, because there was a lot of destroyed places I mean you couldn't and also apartments weren't keep them back right away, so you had to find places to stay at my grandmother was in the hospital on my grandfather was dead.

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Erika Hecht: So just trying to figure out your family relationship is very important, or very preoccupying.

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Ari Goldstein: So in you resettled in tried to rebuild your life and then in 1948 your family fled hungry ahead of the communist takeover yeah.

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Ari Goldstein: You had you were shared earlier your experience with the Germans, and also with the Russians, and it was much better with the Russians, when you were in case long.

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Ari Goldstein: How can you make sense of the difference between those two groups and how did you know what what was in store for you, before the communist takeover hungry.

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Erika Hecht: Most common interest didn't want to let you live properly and the Germans, want to kill you, and that was it there was that that difference was clear to me, because the German the German policy was that you know get rid of the tools all together.

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Erika Hecht: And, and the Communists didn't want to get you to a few per se, but they certainly didn't want to have anything they certainly put you into jail, if you said anything against the regime, it was a different kind of different kinds of.

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Erika Hecht: or story, but it did not end up in depth as easily as the Germans, the Germans just took er of the designated house is still down to detain you and shock you.

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Erika Hecht: They wanted something you are in your apartment acrimony to take they didn't ask any questions, it took to shock you, and then they took what they wanted.

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Erika Hecht: So let's not i'm.

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Erika Hecht: Not a question.

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Ari Goldstein: Sure, and I don't mean to draw a comparison between the two, but you did have sufficient concern of the communist takeover that you fled hungry before 1948.

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If.

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Erika Hecht: You didn't want to live on main we had a nice house by then.

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Erika Hecht: i'll move on support we have we're probably not going to be able to keep it, you were very restricted in what you could do, and what you couldn't do we were I was being indoctrinated I went to may may 1 celebrations, with thousands of kids and banners and everything else.

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Erika Hecht: Thinking the regime was wonderful.

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Erika Hecht: I did, I mean if I look at it, I was, I was a Catholic, I was, I was a Communist I was going to be a.

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Erika Hecht: nun and we're all those things that give you some kind of a strong belief, I meant all of those things and I got disappointed in all of those things and I decided not to keep any of those things, because they are all.

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Erika Hecht: None of them are redemption none of them are going to change the way things are in the world, so.

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Erika Hecht: But you have to find that out, I guess.

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Ari Goldstein: Erica will turn to audience questions in a minute, but I want to ask you one one more question as part of our interview.

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Ari Goldstein: You in 1991 participated in a hidden child conference in New York City that changed your life.

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Ari Goldstein: What happened at that conference and how did it lead.

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Ari Goldstein: to your decision to write this book.

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Erika Hecht: All right, well, first of all, let me say that, eventually, I ended up marrying a Jewish person.

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Erika Hecht: Who didn't care much about who was a distant relative and he lived in Canada and I ended up.

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Erika Hecht: Giving up my medical profession, which I already had and married this person and went to Canada and became a Jewish housewife and I was pretty comfortable and for a while and I became quite familiar with Jewish life in North America and.

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Erika Hecht: And became familiar with Israel, I learned a lot of things like that and.

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Erika Hecht: i'm sorry I lost my train of thought, but did you ask me.

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Ari Goldstein: No problem, and I wanted to dive into the hidden child conference in 1991 and what it meant to you.

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Erika Hecht: Like happened in my marriage was that.

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Erika Hecht: Now, now I was Jewish.

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Erika Hecht: Of I had to recruit I will switch but they had absolutely no interest in my experience as unknown to it didn't even want to know about it, they did not want me to tell anybody.

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Erika Hecht: And I was ever converted that became my next shame like being Jewish was my shame for a long time now, my being tackled equals my same.

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Erika Hecht: So it was not not the redemption in one way or another, I absolutely had to deny all those Catholic backgrounds.

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Erika Hecht: Oh yes, you were in a combat combat schools record, it was good for you to be in a Convent nobody had accepted the fact that I was there, because I was a Catholic, and I was going to be a nun but anyway that's how it was so and then I got divorced, and by then, I was already.

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Erika Hecht: Doing interior design and I had my own business, and I was making a bit of money and.

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Erika Hecht: And I got divorced, because that was not working.

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Erika Hecht: And I read about this conference that was going to take place in New York, and it really spoke to me.

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Erika Hecht: He mentioned the story that was a little bit similar to mine I caught up and register they told me they will have three 400 people I got to New York and they had 1600 people, but they were all very you know it was I will never forget it, because it was so typical of our mentality.

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Erika Hecht: They were people standing there, but if we're all anxious they didn't want to commit to being there, so they came to see what it was like.

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Erika Hecht: They wanted to see what it was like they wanted to they didn't want to commit until they were safe so and I could feel that in the atmosphere, but eventually everybody, I mean a lot of people state 1600 people state.

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Erika Hecht: And all the workshops are all dead by.

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Erika Hecht: By psychiatrists and psychologists, all of them survivors as well.

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Erika Hecht: And I went to the most incredible experiences I wrote in the book of this woman, I call it, she cracked me open, in other words she she really did you know she was really, really, really instrumental for me, being able to.

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Erika Hecht: To talk about it and to admit to it and then all the other people in that I set with every night for three nights in a row, who came from similar backgrounds border converted people all the people who lived as non Jews, for a while.

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Erika Hecht: Well, very interesting, I thought huh and then because of that, and because I spoke up here and there, I got recruited to speaker bureau of adl.

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Erika Hecht: An area send me to various schools, including some in Vermont where I had a country House at the time.

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Erika Hecht: And in in in Montreal and everywhere else to speak to kids in school 13 and 14 year olds and speak about the experiences.

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Erika Hecht: And slowly all these experiences and seems came back to me and i'm talking about it, and my most ardent supporter was my daughter, who said finally i'm going to find out about the things that were just a black hole in my heart.

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Erika Hecht: and

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Erika Hecht: Anyway, so she's the one who encouraged me eventually to write down some of the features that I was making write notes and the notes in the things that I wrote down became the basis for this book.

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Erika Hecht: So.

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Erika Hecht: that's how this book came into being, but it wasn't a continuous afford it took me 91 well I didn't start writing it until 20 something, but still, it took me like 15 years to write it because I stopped and I moved on, I moved on the mark here.

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Erika Hecht: All of those things anyway.

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Ari Goldstein: Erica Thank you so much for sharing and a reminder to the audience that you can read Eric has full story in her book don't ask my name a hidden child's tale is for Bible at the link in the zoom chat we're going to turn to some audience questions now.

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Ari Goldstein: i'm Erica there's a question from mallory who's asking when did you tell your own children your story and how did they react to it.

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Erika Hecht: My own children get to know my full story until after 1991.

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Erika Hecht: Then you'll I mean the people Jewish that's Okay, I was in hiding, but that was just the worst thing they did not know.

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Erika Hecht: about how I felt about it, or what but the whole thing was they didn't and after I went to that conference that to food store became known to them.

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Erika Hecht: very fine I mean they are my children are they went to Jewish.

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Erika Hecht: It did not go to school, except for my son my daughter is meant to secular school, but they went to Jewish religion classes, a been to Israel, they spent summer on keyboards, and I mean they are Jewish kids they are not religious, you know that they're very true.

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Erika Hecht: So.

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Ari Goldstein: there's a follow up from Barbara which says how to your children relate to being second gen.

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Ari Goldstein: survivors now I mentioned Erica when we were speaking earlier you rejected the label of survivor felt that it wasn't true for you, but you are hidden child so.

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Ari Goldstein: Could you talk to us about what term you prefer, and in doing so insert barbara's question about how your children relate to that identity.

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Erika Hecht: Okay, well, so if I ever in my vocabulary earlier years and even later was people who came back from camps, you know that were in that, then our community of Jewish survivors.

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Erika Hecht: It meant that you were an account, and so I felt that I was not going to impose that title myself because i've never been to come and I didn't feel entitled to being a survivor in that same sense but.

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Erika Hecht: Because i'm a survivor I call you know, a hidden child survival, but, but as a survivor.

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Erika Hecht: I objected to that title at the time I don't anymore I don't care what you call me actually as long as you're, you know as long as you hear my story.

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Erika Hecht: But I had a problem with that, in the beginning, but I learned a lot, you know I still have a whole stack of papers and letters and things from children between the ages of 12 and 14 whose classes, I was giving.

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Erika Hecht: talks in about about their reaction to my story and the reaction of finding out where it was like to be you know, in a dual dual life.

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Erika Hecht: And I learned a lot I learned a lot about how it affects people how not normally it is and to me.

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Erika Hecht: Frankly, when you live with the soul your life, I mean I live to be since I was three and a half year so me it was kind of more or less normal yes you're Jewish but no, you are not, you have to survive survival is your religion.

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Erika Hecht: Basically, so.

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Erika Hecht: But then I realized that to other people it wasn't like that at all.

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Ari Goldstein: Erica an audience Member named Joan is asking whether you're still in touch with other survivors or from your community and hungry or people who shared with more time experiences with you.

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Erika Hecht: Well, absolutely there is in New York, after the after this first conference group was established, and so in Montreal, I still lived in Montreal, we established a group in Montreal, but the one in New York was in a particularly.

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Erika Hecht: interesting way it was a Hungarian child survivors.

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Erika Hecht: Hidden type saliva son darien and it was a group of people who are about like 60 people or something gathered from all around and they were all hidden as.

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Erika Hecht: A neighbor or Catholics, they were all Jewish they all had very similar stories of their survival and that group matt.

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Erika Hecht: months and months and we told our stories to each other and cried with each other and it went on for quite a long time in that manner, and it was extremely therapeutic cannot just to me, but to most of the people who participated.

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Ari Goldstein: Oh.

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Erika Hecht: I guess to some of the most some are still alive, like me, but but that some are not, but they are, as a matter of fact, some of them came to my book signing here, and in fact horrible from.

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Erika Hecht: yeah so So yes, we establish pretty strong connections and I went around the world, I mean they were conferences every pair of hidden children, I went to Australia for a conference in Melbourne my event to New Zealand, I went to was the title.

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Erika Hecht: or South America.

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Erika Hecht: And there are several conferences of getting children touch survivors around the world.

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Ari Goldstein: I realized, we have two more photos I want to make sure that we share okay beautiful examples of your life after the war, so here's here's The first, which is justin discussed a bit in 47 or 48 right.

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Erika Hecht: that's right.

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Erika Hecht: What did I think that was 48 that is going from left at vista my stepfather this article my little sister that's my mother and, of course, on the right that's me.

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Ari Goldstein: And there's one more here, much more recent.

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Erika Hecht: movie yeah that one okay on the Left that's me the middle that's my mother on the right my sister Kartika and that's in the home, that my mother was in indiana at TNT uh.

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huh.

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Ari Goldstein: And what became of your.

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Ari Goldstein: Your biological father.

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Erika Hecht: You play me.

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Ari Goldstein: When we came with your father.

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Erika Hecht: My father my real father.

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Erika Hecht: Yes, my real my real Father for that time during hungering later than us, but people in 1949 I think.

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Erika Hecht: With my grandmother cartoon me who is in the book and they stayed with us in Vienna for a couple of months till we all live together, my father my grandmother my step Father my mother hi everybody in the same apartment.

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Erika Hecht: I was in Convent school in in some fulton and then my father rejoined his sister my aunt Haiti, who is on the picture of my father's family my art Haiti and her second husband.

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Erika Hecht: who went to Australia and they were establishing themselves in Australia and my father and cartoon and he went to Australia to join my to join her sister and and and and and the family there.

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Erika Hecht: And my father lived in Australia, he came to visit to Montreal a few times with his number five life at five bucks.

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Erika Hecht: mom and what he was he was very nice it was really a very good hug nice man.

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Ari Goldstein: Your memories are remarkable and, I imagine, in part, it's because what happened to you was so extreme that kind of thing sticks with you does your younger sister remember much.

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Ari Goldstein: From from nothing various.

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Erika Hecht: 10 years younger than me she was a baby she's three years old actually when we went to dyslexic was still being a nurse by my mother.

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Erika Hecht: Because my mother wanted to nurse, as long as possible, because then she wouldn't go hungry, so no my younger sister didn't know that she's Jewish until she was 13 years old.

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Erika Hecht: And she found out in a classroom somebody taught her you to you.

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know.

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Ari Goldstein: So does she identify as a hidden child.

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Erika Hecht: No she doesn't identify like anything.

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Erika Hecht: She identifies as.

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Erika Hecht: Jewish but not Christian but not, but the children went to Israel, they were curious they know they know their history, I mean none of them live in denial let's put it that way.

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Erika Hecht: Which is the only thing that to me, is of any importance there's no denial there.

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Ari Goldstein: we're going to conclude in just a moment, since we're reaching the hour, so I want to close by asking you Erica, what do you feel, is the message of your story that you want to leave us with.

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Erika Hecht: Like I want to leave you with what story, I want to leave you in.

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Ari Goldstein: The message of your story.

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Erika Hecht: That what the message of the story Okay, the message of the story, as well, so actually two for the message of the story is that.

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Erika Hecht: survival is the most important human.

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Erika Hecht: A human condition that you want to.

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Erika Hecht: aspire for and it's a it's a it's a it's a it's a very human thing to want to survive, so in order to survive, I think.

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Erika Hecht: Anything is permissible.

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Erika Hecht: I think, to survive, you can lie, you can cheat you can steal.

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Erika Hecht: You cannot feel I make I make a point there, except if you know somebody wants to kill you, but not in self Defense, but I think anything is permissible to achieve survival and I think that.

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Erika Hecht: forgive the world but it's a sacred legacy to do you have to try it that my grant my grandfather said that and he was a religious Jew, but he said, you have to survive that's what that's what you're here for.

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Erika Hecht: and

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Erika Hecht: I very much believe that.

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Erika Hecht: I call myself a survivor nine a different sense, not in the same Jewish sense that it was useful before but i'm a survivor something goes wrong well let's see what we can do about it i'm always on the side of finding solutions, because I think it's, the most important thing to survive.

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Erika Hecht: That would be my dad but also there is another message in my in my book, and in my thinking.

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Erika Hecht: The damage that those kind of things can do to a person I mean I am a survivor and I have put together what I best possibly could, but the damage that it goes to my life.

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Erika Hecht: You know, and it wasn't tested I went to.

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Erika Hecht: Eight see different languages, a different schools, I went to maybe six or seven different houses to marriage is very, very major upheavals in my life from medicine to interior design to up you know to changes and it's because because.

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Erika Hecht: Those were those were the skills to survival skills that I sort of acquired and I had to practice them.

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Erika Hecht: So.

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Erika Hecht: But the damage done the damage done to a person being that much that many changes going through that many changes that many truths that are all lies or that we're all lies, you know, like all the promises of religion or the promises of other things.

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Erika Hecht: Yes, it's not something that you can really absorb and forget it becomes really part of you, and I think that.

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Erika Hecht: that's The biggest problem with a story like mine, the Dmitri thing it imposes upon you, and the healing that's so difficult and it takes a long time.

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Erika Hecht: It took me most of my life to get to a point where I can't even say i'm healed but i'm certainly balanced sort of.

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Erika Hecht: Okay, I understand what happened to me understand how all of those things happened to me but.

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Erika Hecht: But the damage was very consequential.

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Ari Goldstein: Erica Thank you so much for sharing so deeply and honestly your your story and your reflections with us today it's a privilege to learn from you.

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Ari Goldstein: Your book is terrific and I encourage everyone in the audience to order don't ask my name a hidden child's tale of survival at the link in the zoom chat.

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Ari Goldstein: We did record today's discussion and we'll send a copy of the recording to everyone by email tomorrow Erica there are a lot of very nice comments here as well, from people who know you and family and friends so i'll make sure that you get a copy of all of these.

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Erika Hecht: Afterwards, then Thank you so much okay.

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Of course.

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Ari Goldstein: Talk to the audience.

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Ari Goldstein: Thank you for joining us everything we do with the Museum of Jewish heritage is made possible through donor support, so we thank those of you that are members and donors of our museum.

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Ari Goldstein: And if you're able, we ask you to consider making a gift in support of our work to preserve the stories of survivors people like Erica whose lessons.

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Ari Goldstein: We take in the world with us today, thank you again everyone Erica take care and i'll look forward to being in touch.

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Erika Hecht: Thank you so much okay bye.