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Iraq is not the first country the American military has invaded so it could liberate oppressed people from a brutal regime.

Nearly 58 years ago, Bluma Goldberg was freed from a concentration camp after six fearful, dangerous years of living under the iron grip of the Nazis.

"Nobody, I think, can appreciate freedom more than I can," Goldberg told the student body of Orangeburg Preparatory Schools' upper campus Friday afternoon.

"I shall never forget the day in April 1945 when a tall, blond, tearful American soldier came up to me … and said, 'We are going to take care of you now.' It was the day of which I had been almost afraid to dream for the past six years," she said.

"I cannot describe the feeling I had and have about this unknown man and the American army, who were going to give me a chance to live," said Goldberg.

"Today I stand before you, a citizen of this wonderful country that liberated me. I remain forever grateful to those American soldiers who risked their lives in order to deliver our freedom," she said.

Goldberg said she had a carefree childhood with her parents and five siblings in the small town of Pinczow, Poland, until Adolf Hitler's Nazis arrived in her town.

"They were not human," Goldberg said. "Earlier we had heard that the Germans wanted us all wiped out, but who could believe it? … The Germans were considered the most cultured, educated, sophisticated and philosophic people of Europe."

The Nazis shot and killed most of the most prominent citizens and burned most of the structures, including the family home, and the members of Goldberg's family fled into the woods.

"Can you imagine foreign soldiers coming to Orangeburg, burning your houses and businesses?" she asked. "Or Nazis rushing into this beautiful school with guns and bombs, and all of the students having to run into the woods for their lives?"

After living in the forest for a few months and sneaking into nearby villages to buy bread, Goldberg and some of her relatives made their way to another relative's home in a nearby town.

To avoid being killed on the spot or sent to a concentration camp, Goldberg volunteered to live in a work camp.

"We toiled as slaves for the Nazis: 12-hour shifts, the devil standing over you at all times" as she made ammunition.

Once she fell asleep for a few seconds and was awakened by "a vicious Nazi slap on the face." Occasionally she performed extra work and received an extra piece of bread.

Goldberg was 15 — the same age as some in her audience at Orangeburg Prep.

When the Russians started closing in, the Germans sent Goldberg to Bergen-Belsen. "It was not a work camp. It was a death camp, just a place to die," she said. Anne Frank was also there, but the famous diarist did not survive.

"Our day consisted of arising before dawn for roll call formation, a breakfast of a piece of bread and lukewarm coffee, moving heavy debris such as tree trunks back and forth all day with no lunch and then a supper of warm water with a cabbage leaf," Goldberg said.

Escape "was almost impossible. Some people tried and were electrocuted" by the tall fence, she said.

Goldberg and her sister were moved to Burgau, where they helped build airplanes, and then to a camp called Kaufering, where it was all they could do to stay alive. She and her sister fell gravely ill.

"I was barely holding on," she said. "There was no food, not even for the Germans. We were lying there sick, dying."

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"Then we saw an American soldier in the doorway," bringing the "first act of kindness from the time the war began," she said.

"We were taken to a hospital and began to be nursed back to health. Only then did we cry. Only then did we find out that we were the only ones in the family that had survived."

Victory did not bring ecstasy for "the greatest part of the liberated Jews," she said. "We had lost our families and our homes. We had no place to go, nobody to hug."

Relief organizations helped Goldberg and her sister — and their husbands, whom they had met in a displaced persons camp — move to Columbia, where "we began our trip on a road to normal lives."

Goldberg and her husband, Felix, who died two years ago after 54 years of marriage, had three children — Karl and Esther, who accompanied Goldberg at OP, and Henry — and seven grandchildren.

Giving speeches means revisiting the past, and it's still painful. "No matter how many times I tell it, it still gets to me," she said. "When children come to my house and I speak just to them, that doesn't bother me. But when I speak to 200, 300 people, I get upset."

But she does it because she understands the importance of her message, especially to youths. "They are our next generation, and hopefully they will prevent something like this from happening again."

Her message is one of hope and reconciliation: "Love your brother and your sister. Stay close to your families and places of worship. Live your religions. Take a stand against injustice. Appreciate and be thankful for this most wonderful country in which we live."

"A lot of people ask me if I hate all the Germans. I cannot hate all the Germans. It's a different generation, and it's not their fault what their parents or grandparents believed in. You cannot hate the whole world because of what happened then."

Goldberg said she often finds it hard to believe that she survived her ordeal. "Maybe G-d wanted me alive to tell the story," she said.

T&D Staff Writer Lee Hendren can be reached by e-mail at lhendren@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-533-5552.

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