55 Plus Lecture: Saved by Raoul Wallenberg, the Angel of Budapest

Date:  December 20, 2018
Topic:  Saved by Raoul Wallenberg, the Angel of Budapest
Speaker:  Vera Goodkin, professor emerita at Mercer County Community College

Most human catastrophies involve perpetrators, victims, upstanders, bystanders and rescuers.  Today, I would like to share my story as a child survivor of the Holocaust intertwined with the extraordinary deeds of my rescuer Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg.  Each Holocaust survivor's story is unique.  However, we have one essential feature in common.  All of us are living, breathing, walking, talking miracles.  And those of us who owe our lives to the superhuman deeds of exceptional human beings have a mission to spread the word about these moral giants - men and women of different nations and walks of life - who also had an essential feature in common.  They put their lives on the line to save others, and enable victims of persecution to resume a normal existence in the future.  Our rescuer, Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg, gave the gift of life to 100,000 men, women and children in Budapest, Hungary between July 9, 1944 and January17, 1945.  What makes this all the more poignant is the fact that, while he made it possible for the children he rescued to reach adulthood, pursue careers, marry and have children of their own, he had to forego family life and personal fulfillment.  Raoul amply demonstrated that one person can subvert an evil system.  Perhaps the greatest feat he accomplished - aside from saving our lives - was to show that a democracy is composed of individuals to remind us that our collective memory of persecutions and narrow escapes must include forever those who have performed acts of miraculous courage to save us. 
Dr. Vera Goodkin, a native of Czechoslovakia, with a baccalaureate degree (summa cum laude) from Syracuse University, an M.A. from New York University and a doctorate from Rutgers University, was Professor of English and French at Mercer County College for 34 years.  Upon her retirement in 1997, she became Professor Emerita and continued her outreach activities in the field of prejudice reduction as an Associate of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.  In addition to teaching courses in her disciplines, her academic career included editorship of ASPIRATIONS, a literary journal published by the College to showcase the works of area high school students.  She has authored numerous articles in the area of "writing across the curriculum", as well as a book entitled "The Consequences of Writing", on the use of writing as a tool for learning.  Dr. Goodkin has been a frequent speaker and panelist at academic forums and an advocate for the role of the humanities in college curricula.  She has received Mercer County College's Distinguished Teaching Award, as well as the Brandeis University and Rider University Humanitarian Awards, the B'Nai B'rith Woman of Valor Award and the Axelrod Award of Excellence in Holocaust Education.  In her work with the Holocaust Commission, she has done and continues to do workshops on the lessons of the Holocaust in New Jersey schools and colleges.  She has been traveling extensively, carrying her message about the victims, perpetrators, bystanders and rescuers of the Holocaust to student, teacher and community groups in other states.  In 2006, she published a family memoir entitled In Sunshine and In Shadow: We Remember Them.  She has contributed chapters to Holocaust anthologies and been featured in Alex Kershaw's biography of Wallenberg, The Envoy, published in 2010.  Her Shoah Foundation testimony is featured in the education division of New York's Museum of Jewish Life.  Vera Goodkin is a child survivor of western civilization's darkest hour who owes her life to Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish diplomat and honorary citizen of the United States, remembered as the Angel of Budapest who was responsible for the double miracle of saving her life and reuniting her with her parents.  Naturally, Dr. Goodkin, an executive board member of the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of New Jersey, takes every opportunity to speak out on behalf of this extraordinary humanitarian in order to create public awareness of his heroic deeds and provide a role model for young people to emulate.  Married to Chemistry Professor Emeritus, Dr. Jerry Goodkin, she is the mother of two daughters and doting grandmother of three.