SACRAMENTO— Today Assemblymember Jim Wood honored Olga Winkler, from Santa Rosa, during a special ceremony in remembrance of the Holocaust.
Ms. Winkler was born in August 1926, in Satoraljaujhely, a small town in west Hungary. Her family was in the wine-making business and distributed their products throughout Europe. At that time, Hungary was home to a large Jewish population. Olga’s childhood ended abruptly in the years leading up to World War II when Hungary aligned itself with the fascist governments of Germany and Italy.
Beginning in 1938, Hungary passed a series of anti-Jewish measures emulating Germany's Nürnberg Laws and in Satoraljaujhely, anti-Jewish sentiment increased. In a matter of months, local officials began targeting Jews for systematic deportation to detention camps. When people heard about the horrific accounts of Nazi brutalities, Jews took any means necessary to leave the country. Olga’s father secured a visa to the United States where he could arrange to have the rest of his family join him. Tragically, this plan fell through and Olga’s mother was left with the children in Hungary. They survived by remaining inconspicuous, as many around them were arrested or murdered. A year later, two more visas arrived for her mother and older brother. Again, the hope was that the rest of the children would soon follow.
Left in the care of relatives, Olga and her siblings were among the thousands of children who survived the war by concealing their identities and living in the shadows. In the end, only about 10 percent of these children survived the war. Olga recalls a year of constant sickness, starvation and fear while living in the cramped quarters of an abandoned house with her aunt, uncle and their two children. Although the country had imposed strict regulations on travel, her father finally secured passage for Olga and her siblings to the United States. The children had to travel alone to Genoa, Italy, in order to board a ship to New York. At first, the children were prevented from boarding the ship because they were under age. It was her 15-year-old sister’s courage and perseverance that led them to a sympathetic couple who agreed to claim guardianship of the children to board the ship. Weeks later, Olga and her family were safely reunited in America. They were the fortunate ones. Olga lost 35 family members to the holocaust.
Olga would go on to attended school in America and later work for Jewish Family Services as Director of Russian Resettlement. For 35 years, she was a social worker at Jewish community centers and Jewish family services. Olga currently lives in Santa Rosa and shares her experience at schools and through the Story Project of Sonoma County.
“I am so honored to escort Ms. Winkler onto the floor of the Assembly as we honor the survivors of this tragic and despicable era in history,” said Wood. “We must not forget how this happened and remember how important it is to stand up against injustice every day.”
Assemblymember Jim Wood (D- Healdsburg) represents the 2nd Assembly District, which includes all of Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino counties, plus northern and coastal Sonoma County, including the northern half of Santa Rosa.