This extraordinary woman survived a living nightmare as a teen, and today she has a message of love and hope for the world.
Today Magda Hollander-Lafon knows how precious her life is. But it took time for her to accept her worth and to wake up from the long nightmare she went through starting in her Hungarian childhood.
She is a survivor of deportation and the Holocaust labor camps, followed by her slow recovery. Today, this radiant 93-year-old woman continues to transmit the fire that makes her heart beat: “When it’s for love, you can do the impossible.”
Born in 1927 in Záhony, Hungary, Magda Hollander was one of the 437,403 Hungarian Jews deported in the spring of 1944. She was 16 years old when, upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a voice whispered in her ear: “You are 18 years old.” She thus escaped the gas chamber, but never saw her mother and sister again. Magda experienced hunger, abuse, forced labor, and “indifference in all its horror.”
Given the gift of no longer being afraid
“I accepted the idea that I was going to die,” says Magda. Her vitality and an overflowing imagination allowed her to find a way to live. Magda wanted “to come back from this other place. To stay on my feet.”
During the winter of 1945, she had to walk dozens of miles in the icy mountains to join other forced laborers, participating again and again in the German war effort. In April 1945, with four other prisoners, Magda managed to get out of the line during a convoy and hid in a forest.
American soldiers found them and entrusted them to farmers. They faced a slow return to reality, surrounded by friendly faces and looks.
Magda Hollander-Lafon studied to become a child psychologist, learned French, became a Christian, and started a family, “a source of creation and re-creation that never ends.”
Magda lives in Rennes, France, and has met thousands of young people over the years, to whom she has always said the same thing with great sensitivity: “Ask me questions.” She wishes to reach the young generations where they are, without burdening them, but by helping them grow in confidence and responsibility. She tells them, “We are agents in our own lives, responsible for our tomorrow.”
This woman with a piercing gaze invites each person to discover their vital strength and has a very attentive and compassionate approach towards those who are lucky enough to be near her. Very moved by the pandemic that is scourging the world, she renews her call for a contagion of love and solidarity. She encourages us, saying, “A look and a smile can be enough to restore life.”
The joy of living is heaven on earth
One day in a work camp, an exhausted and emaciated woman handed her four small pieces of moldy bread and said these few words that turned her life around: “You are young, you must live.” The woman’s sacrifice changed Magda’s life.
Magda wrote a book filled with deep joy originally published in French in 2012 (the English edition was published in 2016), which tells fragments of her story, her path as a broken young woman and the hope that keeps her going. Magda’s faith becomes praise for each day:
“Thank you for all the beings of light that you have put on my path to help me be what I am today. I thank you for the harvest of my journeys. You help me to knead my bread every day. For each crumb, my heart praises You.”