A century of wisdom: Holocaust survivor celebrates 100th birthday
A Kailua-Kona woman, who as a young Jew fled Nazi Germany, recounted her life on the occasion of her 100th birthday Saturday afternoon.
Goldina “Goldie” Lefkowitz was born April 12, 1922. On Saturday, friends and family gathered to celebrate her centennial birthday and the life and legacy she has bestowed upon them, with Mayor Mitch Roth presenting a proclamation declaring April 12, 2022, Goldie Lefkowitz Day in Hawaii County.
Lefkowitz and her family fled Germany in 1938 when she was 16. The Nazis had shut down her father’s tailor shop in Cologne and the family — like many others fleeing persecution — escaped by train in the middle of the night.
“The beaches, the movies, the opera house, any entertainment was forbidden for Jews. There were signs all over the place, even the public beaches,” she recalled. “It was a scary time.”
She said other members of her family were not so lucky.
“My mother lost three sisters. My father lost two entire families in Auschwitz,” she said. “There were two students in my class that made it, another girl and me. All the others perished in the concentration camps. We were lucky.”
After escaping Germany, the family made it to Belgium, before moving to Holland and London. Theyeventually settled in New York.
“I taught myself English. When we came over, we knew ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘please,’ and ‘thank you,’” she recalled, explaining how determined she was to learn the language of her new home.
When she was finally ready for marriage, she had to field three proposals.
“The first was from my first cousin and my father said no dice. The second one had money but was very stingy and I saw a life with him that I would have to go to him for every dollar I needed, and that was not for me. I am fiercely independent,” she said. “My third proposal was from a man who had no money. He came from the Lower East Side of New York.”
He was in the Navy but was supporting a sickly father and four siblings, which left very little money for himself.
“And I said this is the man for me. We bought a house and started a family,” she said.
They remained married for 64 years until he passed away. Two years later, in 2010, Lefkowitz moved to Kona to be near her daughter, SueSue.
Over the years, Lefkowitz has been a community contributor, knitting and donating over 400 hats for newborns at Kona Community Hospital and 70 blankets for West Hawaii veterans.
After taking a break from knitting after a brief hospitalization, she is ready to return to her work.
“I can’t watch TV unless my hands are moving, so I will knit some more,” she said.
Lefkowitz has also shared her story about growing up in the Hitler regime with civic groups and schools around the island.
As to her secret of longevity, Lefkowitz chalks it up to mostly luck.
“All of my life I have considered myself a lucky person. There is no secret,” she said.
She also never drank alcohol or smoked.
“And I don’t do drugs. Even in the hospital I would not take drugs for pain. When I was at Life Care, I was very feisty, telling everybody where to get off,” she recalled. “The nurses would give me a pill and I would hide it under my tongue until they left then spit it out.”
Rabbi Rachel Short praised Lefkowitz for her influence and inspiration.
“I am so grateful that our children and all of the people in the room are blessed by the presence of someone so amazing. Goldie, you are one of the most inspirational people I know. She’s always doing something for other people. Even at 100 years old she is the living definition of a righteous person. A woman of valor. I look forward to celebrating you for many years to come,” she said.
Lefkowitz, who started a Mahjong club 11 years ago and still plays today, said attitude is everything.
“You have to have a positive attitude to survive,” she said.