Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial unveiled at the Ohio Statehouse

Cuyahoga Falls resident shares Jewish family history

by Rachel Sluss | Reporter Published:

"I was thinking about my father," Faith Fenyves-Barnett, 60, said. "I was thinking about all of the family that perished, that never got a chance to fulfill their lives and all those unfulfilled lives that got cut short -- no matter how old they were. I don't know who most of my family is because they disappeared. The records are not available."

The Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial Dedication that took place June 2 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus was an emotional experience for many, including Faith and her husband Bob Barnett of Cuyahoga Falls.

Attendees were led to a covered structure after listening to Gov. John R. Kasich during the ceremony. The live unveiling left many of those witnessing overwhelmed with emotion.

"It was really tough being there, but it had to be done," Faith said. "I kept it together during the ceremony. We had it together inside the Ohio Theater, and then directly across the street, on the Statehouse grounds, was the memorial. Afterwards, we went across the street to see the memorial itself, and that's when I lost it."

The memorial consists of a Carnela granite plaza, low walls made of Columbus limestone with inscriptions and an 18-foot-high bronze structure with a broken Star of David in its center. Daniel Libeskind, memorial designer and second-generation Holocaust survivor, placed the Star of David so that it faces and frames the Statehouse cupola.

"As you face the front of the monument, just in the middle of where the storybook is, there's the Star of David," Bob said. "And as you walk around the monument, that Star of David seems to become more disjointed, just cracking apart."

The Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial symbolizes the six million Jews and millions of others who were lost during the Holocaust. It also represents those survivors who lived through the ordeal in concentration camps.

Faith said she relates to the cracked and missing piece in the center of the monument just as she feels an irrevocable hole in her family as well. Her family was fractured and torn apart because of "that maniac," she said.

Faith's family was directly affected by the Holocaust. She was told, as a little girl, that her father Joseph Fenyves was on secret missions overseas and, back then, she was not allowed to know what his involvement was in World War II. However, Faith's aunt told her where her father really was during the war.

"He had gone in the Army to go overseas to fight to help stop the insanity over there, and also to try to help save his own family in Hungary," Faith said. "But while he was … going through gas mask training at Camp Atterbury, and the gas mask failed. They were using actual mustard gas."

He was shipped to a hospital in Fort Knox, KY to receive further treatment for the gas mask failure. Her aunt said this is where he spent the rest of war and did not want his children to know he was sick.

"It turned out he was in the hospital," Faith said. "He was upset that he couldn't fight, that he couldn't go over and help save his family."

Her father died of cancer in 1984.

Faith's cousins, Alex and Shari, both survived Auschwitz. The two were first cousins, and the Germans forced them to marry. Josef Mengele experimented on Shari, making it impossible for her to have children, Faith said.

"It's against Jewish law to marry anyone closer than your third cousin," Faith said. "She had been married prior to the war. We don't know anything about her first husband or the baby that she had. We don't know what gender. I didn't find out about that until a couple of years ago -- that she had been married before. But my guess is that her first husband was probably murdered."

The two were eventually released from Auschwitz and after living under the Communist regime in Hungary for years, they acted as if they were going to vacation to another country within the Communist bloc and managed to escape.

"They were only allowed to take one suitcase between the two of them," Faith said. "So, they sewed their valuables to hemlines of coats, and they padded it so that if they were patted down, it wouldn't be felt."

Faith said the two made it to Switzerland, then traveled to England, then Canada and finally arrived in the United States.

Alex and Shari lived in Cleveland Heights while Faith lived on the east side of Cleveland. Faith recalls visiting the two and noticing their concentration camp numbers on different occasions but never spoke with either of them about their experiences.

"I wanted to ask if it was OK if I asked her [Shari] questions, but I kind of bit my tongue and kept silent," Faith said. "I wish I wouldn't have done that. I should have asked and found out what they went through first hand. But because of the memory of my mom shushing me -- that made me stop, and I wish I wouldn't have done that."

'Tell Their Stories'

Many of those involved in the Holocaust and World War II prefer to not speak about their experiences. However, the generation that lived during this period in history is disappearing quickly. Faith and Bob stress that more people need to talk about it, and more people need to ask about it.

"We are losing too rapidly the World War II vets that are able to sit down face-to-face and tell their stories," Faith said. "And it wasn't just the story of just the country going to war, it was the individuals. The military is made up of individuals, and each one has their own story."

The liberators at the ceremony in June were very emotional, Faith said, because so many people were personally thanking them and emphasizing how appreciated the men were. Faith thanked each liberator that she came in contact with.

"You have to understand history to realize the dangers we're facing today," Bob said. "The only way we can prevent things like Nazism and Hitler is for the general populace to understand what's going on … Also, what frightens me about today most is there's a great deal of lack of empathy which I think is one of the main things that allowed the Third Reich to happen. People had no understanding -- no feelings for groups outside of themselves which made it very easy to dehumanize the other groups."

Bob and Faith urge others to not only see the memorial for themselves, but they also urge those, given the opportunity, to ask World War II vets and Holocaust survivors about their stories in order to keep the history alive.

"You cannot have blinders on to the rest of the world," Faith said. "This is what we have to teach again and what we have to keep teaching forever, or we're doomed to repeat the same stupid mistakes of the past."

Email: rsluss@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4162

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