By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsApril 26, 2012
NATICK, Mass. (April 26, 2012) -- At an age when children should have nothing more to worry about than grade school, Albert Linder was simply trying to stay alive.
It was World War II, and his younger sister and all four grandparents had already died during the Holocaust. Linder and his parents were struggling to endure the Bershad concentration camp in Transnistria, where the Jewish family was sent from their home in Romania.
"If you don't have the strength for your survival, or the strength of belief that survival is possible," said Linder, "you can't survive."
Linder and his parents somehow found that strength until they were liberated by the Soviets in 1944 after three years in the camp. He told his compelling tale of survival April 25, at the Natick Soldier Systems Center's Holocaust Remembrance.
Linder was born in 1936 in Chernowitz, Romania, which had a large Jewish population who lived comfortably prior to World War II.
"It's amazing that when the war began, we began to feel the hatred and anti-Semitism we never experienced before," Linder said.
The war became personal for Linder in July 1941, when his maternal grandparents were shot and killed by their neighbors in the village of Banila, Romania. More than 100 other Jews also died in the attacks.
In October, the Linder and the remainder of his family were sent to a Jewish ghetto and then on to Bershad.
"It was a slave labor camp," Linder said. "This one had over 6,000 Jews. If you could not do the work, (you) were shot."
Linder's 18-month-old sister and paternal grandparents succumbed to typhus and starvation in the camp.
"About a third of the people who were brought to the camp survived," Linder said. "Two-thirds died or were killed."
Linder recalled that among the valuables his father had sewn into the family's coat liners before their deportation was a glass cutter. He used the tool to pass himself off as a glazier to get assigned installing and replacing windows in barracks. In this way, he avoided the camp's more brutal work details.
"You do anything you can to survive," Linder said.
After their liberation by the Soviets, Linder's family made their way to a "displaced persons" camp in Italy. In 1949, they immigrated to the U.S., where he had aunts and uncles who had settled there during the 1920s.
Linder became an American success story, collecting a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's degree in electrical engineering from the City College of New York. He spent his career working in the computer and telecommunications fields, spending the final 30 years with IBM.
"I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined what life would be like after the camp," said Linder, who, with wife Sheila, has two daughters and a pair of grandchildren.
A decade ago, his younger daughter, Joan, persuaded him to return to Romania and the sites of his childhood hardships. Reluctantly, he went with her.
"As it turned out, it was a very interesting experience," Linder said.
His later years have been completely different from his childhood, but Linder has never forgotten its lessons.
"The world has not changed as much as we would like to believe," Linder said. "And, unfortunately, anti-Semitism is ripe and virulent again in Europe."
After Linder spoke, Natick Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Warren took the stage. He thanked the guest speaker for sharing his story of survival.
"We want all of our Soldiers and warriors and leaders to be strong in character," Warren said. "What we had today was a first-hand account … of some of the atrocities of a dark period in our world's history. Our character is stronger today as we go forward in our lives and we face adversity."
In turn, Linder lauded the Natick Soldiers and civilian workforce.
"You really are a credit to what this country is all about," Linder told them. "I think it's the greatest country in the world, and I have proof that it's the greatest country in the world. I don't need anybody telling me that. I have experienced it firsthand.
"You, the people in the military, are the apple of our eye. We are always grateful and thankful, because you are the ones that are making this country the free country that it is and the great country that it is."