Roseville Holocaust survivor remembered for resilience, compassion

A Roseville man who escaped the Holocaust is being remembered by friends and neighbors not only for his survival story, but for his youthful spirit and drive to help those in need.

Erwin Farkas died Jan. 1 at age 94. He was the last Holocaust survivor in the congregation at Mount Zion in St. Paul, according to a synagogue bulletin. A local commemoration ceremony is scheduled for Sunday.

Farkas, a Jew of Hungarian descent born in Ombad, Romania, on Aug. 28, 1929, was freed from Nazi captivity as a teenager in the final months of World War II and eventually settled in the Twin Cities.

During his years in Minnesota, his friends and neighbors became like family. His next-door Roseville neighbor Tina Ruth said Farkas didn’t shy away from sharing his story.

“He really would tell it to anybody that would listen,” she said. “It was important to him that people know.”

Ani Djaferian, who met Farkas when she was 19 and he was 84, said her friend had a fierce commitment to his independence and “never lived within the confines of his age.”

Djaferian met Farkas while she was working on a student project at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Farkas was one of the local Holocaust survivors she interviewed while producing a video for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

She recalled Farkas once accompanying her and her roommate to a college party, where he was the life of the event despite being six decades older than everyone else.

“Perhaps Erwin maintained a spirit of everlasting youth because the Holocaust robbed him of it when he was just a teenager,” Djaferian wrote in a eulogy she gave at Farkas’ burial earlier this month.

“Erwin’s title of survivor truly transcends the defining event which labeled him as such,” she later added. “He continued to live his life to the fullest, bouncing back from each obstacle he encountered.”

In spring 1944, Farkas, his mother, grandfather, three younger sisters and older brother were deported by Nazi occupiers from what was then Hungary, and eventually sent to the Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.

Farkas and his brother were the only members of his immediate family to survive the camps. He believes his father died in Auschwitz after he was arrested in 1943.

In January 1945, Farkas and his brother were moved through Czechoslovakia and into camps in Germany. They were liberated by American soldiers in April while being marched by the SS to the Dachau concentration camp.

After the war, Farkas and his brother emigrated to the United States. Farkas eventually settled in the Twin Cities, earning a doctorate in psychology at the University of Minnesota. His brother, Zoltan Farkas, lived in California.

The Pioneer Press covered Erwin Farkas’ story in 2015 as he prepared to visit Germany to reunite with others who survived the Holocaust as children.

Farkas’ neighbors and friends say he was a voracious reader of news and was passionate about politics.

Djaferian and Ruth also noted Farkas’ commitment to social causes and his donations to dozens of nonprofits dedicated to protecting animals, the environment and equal rights.

They said animals were particularly special to Farkas, who enjoyed feeding birds and would even lift earthworms off the sidewalk after rainstorms.

“He hated to see any being suffering, humans and animals alike,“ Djaferian said in her eulogy.

Farkas was buried near his brother at the Hills of Eternity Memorial Park earlier this month in Colma, Calif., south of San Francisco.

A commemoration gathering is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Mount Zion Temple, 1300 Summit Ave. in St. Paul, to be followed by a social gathering.

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