Holocaust survivor shares story at St. Andrew
In a world filled with hatred, Cesare Frustaci’s mother made a supreme sacrifice of love.
Faced with forced relocation to a detention camp for Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary, Margit Wolf tucked his Italian birth certificate and proof of Catholic baptism in her son’s pocket.
She whispered words of harsh direction to the child she had borne and raised for two years in Italy before Mussolini’s anti-semitic edicts expelled foreign-born Jews.
“Listen, son,” she said. “First, you are not a Hungarian, you are an Italian. Second, you are not a Jew, you are a Roman Catholic.”
She turned the boy out onto the streets and went to meet her fate alone – ultimate transport to a concentration camp in Germany.
Cesare was 7.
His story of survival on the streets of Budapest, capture and detainment, liberation and, finally, reunification after the war with the mother he had been told was dead, was shared with eighth-graders at St. Andrew Catholic School Thursday as part of a history unit on the events leading up to and through the Holocaust.
Frustaci told the children – of the last generation that will be able to hear the truth from a survivor- that he spent a near lifetime not talking about his formative years in a country under Nazi occupation. But in 2004, “after 60 years of silence,” he decided to speak out – and for good reason.
“Now, a powerful group of people are denying the Holocaust,” he told the students. “They are addressing you, exactly you. They want to place the seed in your mind it never existed.”
With passion and in a strong voice that nonetheless sometimes wavered, Frustaci told of hiding on a playground his first two nights on the streets, too afraid to sleep. Of living on tips picked up retrieving tennis balls at a nearby club. Of hearing his mother’s voice telling him not to steal fruit despite his hunger and a kind street merchant giving him two apples.
He spoke of the camp/orphanage run by Jesuits who starved and froze to death next to their young charges, of being shot by liberating Russian forces while crawling to a well to retrieve water because eating snow made the children so sick.
And he spoke of the day his mother found him some 18 months after the war. He was herding pigs for his adoptive family on the border of Romania. She had walked from Germany back to Budapest – a distance comparable to a trek from Maine to Florida – only to spend another year and a half visiting village after village – 183 in all – with a photograph in hand in hope of finding the son she left behind so that he might have a chance to survive.
“It was an incredible, emotional moment,” Frustaci told the children of the day his mother finally tracked him down after a little girl in a one-room school house, Anna, told her the boy in the picture was her brother.
Using the same determination, Wolf also culled for her son an education, a message he strongly stressed to his young audience.
“One thing,” said Frustaci, who grew up to become a corporate executive with a doctorate in engineering. “Education.”
The students, who researched their Holocaust project, Windows of Remembrance, by listening to other speakers from the Naples Holocaust Museum and through online sources, said they learned much from the visit.
“I think it was really emotional – you can’t imagine what he went through and what everyone in the Holocaust went through,” said Krista Carroll. “It’s kind of traumatizing to know someone did that to other human beings.”