Holocaust Survivor Guenter Goldsmith

guentergoldsmith2.jpgA Passion with a Purpose
Holocaust survivor Guenter Goldsmith trades his career for a calling

He arrived from Germany by himself in August 1941. After landing in St. Louis, he lived with an uncle for six months. But when it was time for his mother’s brother to move to Arkansas for work, Guenter Goldsmith stayed behind. A family he had never met took him in and accepted him as one of their own. He was barely 15 years old.
 
Four weeks before he set foot in St. Louis, Goldsmith’s mother had packed up her only child and situated him firmly in the unknown. Providence had reserved the boy a spot aboard the last children’s transport bound for the United States.
 
Goldsmith’s father had died of pneumonia in 1938, after being arrested and sent to a concentration camp where he was forced to stand outside–all night–in bone-chilling rain. Goldsmith and his mother had to move several times during the next three years.

Suddenly, only four months after his arrival to the states, Goldsmith stopped receiving letters postmarked from his mother and several other relatives who were still living in Germany in December 1941, when German authorities took the remaining Jews to concentration camps.

Goldsmith lost his entire family during the Holocaust. He discovered, years later, that his mother had been killed in a concentration camp in 1944.

Yet, somehow,  Goldsmith never felt lost.

“Only a year ago, I realized I was an orphan and never knew it,” the 81-year-old says. “I missed my mother. I wish things had been different and she could have been here with me. Aside from that, I guess I accepted everything the way it was.”
 
Goldsmith lived with his surrogate family until shortly after his high school graduation, when he was drafted into the Army as a paratrooper. He joined the 17th Airborne Division at the height of the Battle of the Bulge, eventually becoming one of the first American soldiers to fight on German soil. After the war, he came back to St. Louis where he settled in with yet another family and attended St. Louis College of Pharmacy on the G.I. Bill.

Once an immigrant struggling to speak English, Goldsmith poured the courage that helped him persevere in most areas of life into his business career. After graduating from the College in 1951, he began working as a pharmacist at a drug store on Forsyth Boulevard. A year later, he and a partner bought the store and founded Medical West. The company was successful, but the partners ultimately split 28 years later.

Again, Goldsmith set out on his own. He launched Goldsmith Pharmacy Co. and started traveling throughout Missouri, renting out transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units to physical therapists, clinics, and hospitals. By the early 1990s, Goldsmith and his son Steven collaborated to form Goldsmith Medical Co.

The company has established a reputation as a supplier of rehabilitation equipment and supplies for both clinical and home use. With Steven now at the helm, Goldsmith is semi-retired. “He still lets me come in two days a week,” he quips. “I have a regular schedule!”

For more than six decades, Goldsmith hadn’t uttered a word about the Holocaust. Then four years ago, after one of his grandsons made a video interviewing him about his experience during the Holocaust, Goldsmith became involved with the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

“It took a long time, but that’s what started me talking about the Holocaust,” he recalls. “It got me out of the closet. Many Holocaust survivors don’t talk about it, just like a lot of us don’t talk about what happened during the war. And I think it’s time to talk.”

Since then, he has begun speaking at the museum about his experiences, and has been appointed to one of nine public slots by Gov. Matt Blunt to the newly created Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission.

“Being a Holocaust survivor, I think I add a little something to the commission,” Goldsmith says. “I hope we can get young people especially to remember what happened and hopefully prevent things like that from happening again.”

The commission is made up of 12 members, including the president of the University of Missouri, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education, and the commissioner of higher education. The group hopes to use the Holocaust as a lesson to teach tolerance in elementary schools and high schools. It was a lesson Goldsmith achingly wished the friends of his youth would have learned.

Most of his childhood was spent in Borgentreich, a small farming community where bigotry was as yet unheard. “We were all just Germans,” he describes of the early years of Hitler’s reign, before the beginnings of anti-Semitism propaganda. “There were Jewish people, but the only difference was our religious beliefs. When I started school, I made friends with most of the boys and we played games together.

“But things changed when all of my friends had to join the Hitler Youth Corps. Naturally, that was the end of playing with them. After that, I was an outcast. There were many, many afternoons when I had to run all the way home after school, to avoid being beaten by my former friends.”
 
Goldsmith says he has seen Holocaust awareness grow over the years, but stresses the importance of continuing that growth. “I have a mission now,” he says. “I especially like to talk to kids because they really respond. And when I do, I talk about growing up as a young Jewish boy in Germany during that time, and I can relate to the children.”

During one of his recent presentations at the museum, Goldsmith received a poignant revelation from the teacher of a local school group. The educator duly noted, “Your mother sacrificed her life for you.”

“You know, I never thought of it that way before,” Goldsmith evenly answered. “But I guess she did.”

To be sure, Goldsmith is a survivor. Sixty-six years after he waved goodbye to his mother through a dusty train window, he shrugs off any lingering hold the Holocaust has on him. “It didn’t change my way of life. I still would have been the same person. I just had to learn very fast. I didn’t have a choice.”

-Story originally published in the spring 2007 issue of Script, St. Louis College of Pharmacy’s alumni magazine.  www.stlcop.edu
Editor: Sheila Haar Siegel, Photographer: Mark Gilliland

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3 Responses

  1. I was moved by your life story and really glad things have turned out so well for you. I’m glad you are working for better understanding of the Holocaust with today’s youth. My husband & I lived near Kassel, Germany in the late 60’s for 2 yrs. We visited a concentration camp and it was very hard to see how the people were treated. I can only wish it will never happen again & there could be peace in the world!! I worked at the pharmacy, 1998-2006 and you were always so nice when you came in. Best wishes always, and keep up your meaningful mission…

  2. Great story!!
    I can’t even begin to understand what you felt when that happened

  3. Mr. Goldsmith —

    I came across your story while I was searching for some info on our dear friends in Borgentreich . We spent three weeks with them last summer and found the town a nice little place to visit. Of course, I don’t know what the prevailing attitude is in that town toward the Holocaust, but I do know that our friends — both native Germans — are wonderful, fully embracing of all cultures and religions. Just thought you’d like to know.

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