Helen and Kuba Beck want you to shake their hands, to feel their skin, to know they are flesh and blood.
They are Holocaust survivors. They also are “Schindlerjuden” - members of Oskar Schindler’s list made famous by the epic 1993 movie.
Their mission in retirement is to tell their story to as many people as will listen.
Museums in Israel, Europe and the United States have done a remarkable job recording the horrors of the Holocaust, the couple said. But the one thing more powerful than any exhibit or movie is to touch a survivor. See the six-digit tattoo on his or her forearm. Listen to the story of horror.
It is the one gift the survivors can give to future generations in hopes of preventing history from repeating itself.
The Becks are in Spokane this weekend to speak at several events as part of Holocaust Remembrance Week and Yom Hashoah, the Jewish holiday commemorating the 6 million Jews that Adolf Hitler had slaughtered during World War II.
The Becks spoke at Gonzaga University on Thursday. They are scheduled to speak at the Temple Beth Shalom on Sunday and Fairchild Air Force Base on Tuesday.
The Becks were bewildered Polish teenagers when Nazis stole them from their homes in 1940. Helen was sent to a forced labor camp to make bricks. Kuba moved into the Krakow ghetto where he learned to be a machinist in a Nazi factory.
In 1943, Nazis “liquidated” the ghetto - killing thousands of Jews and sending the rest to a nearby concentration camp.
Neither Helen nor Kuba knows exactly how they ended up working for Schindler. Before the war, Kuba had worked for Schindler’s accountant, Itzhak Stern.
“But if he was in any way involved, I would never know,” Kuba said.
After the brick factory, Helen worked as a maid and then was sent to Schindler’s factory to operate a punch press.
Even the Jews working for Schindler faced death at the hands of SS guards every day. Helen was singled out by a female guard one day because she had altered her baggy uniform so it would fit her petite body.
“She hit my face so hard I lost my hearing and didn’t know what was happening. She ordered me into isolation and to be killed,” Helen Beck said. “Oskar Schindler found out and what he did - this was his talent; he was a master in bribing and he saved my life.
“SS women were the greatest beasts on Earth.”
In August 1944, when the Nazis began closing down factories and shipping Jews to Auschwitz to be killed, Schindler created his famous list of 1,100 who were spared from death. Helen was No. 8. Kuba was No. 611.
Helen was among the 300 women mistakenly routed to Auschwitz before making it to the new factory site in Czechoslovakia. Her experience there was more horrific than the movie depicted, she said.
“The SS men, they had a lot of fun. They shaved us wherever the hair grows. Then they were spraying us with disinfectant. It was burning like flame,” she said. “We were dehumanized. When you see a group of women naked and without hair, you see creatures, not humans.”
Rescued again by Schindler, Helen and Kuba worked the rest of the war for their benefactor in Czechoslovakia. They didn’t meet until after the liberation at a resettlement camp back in Poland.
They married 50 years ago.
Since then, they emigrated to the United States where they seized the American dream. Kuba got a job as a machinist at IBM. He went to college and became an engineer. They put both their sons through Cornell University. Now, they speak proudly about their oldest granddaughter, who was accepted last week to that prestigious college.
At first, like most survivors, the Becks never talked about the Holocaust. No one wanted to hear it. They began by telling their sons, then others at their synagogue.
But since Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” was released, the Becks have spoken at more than 130 gatherings. This weekend will be the farthest west they ever have traveled.
“We were in Indiana once,” said Helen, 72.
“And Utah,” added Kuba, 75.
The couple complement each other’s presentation.
Without missing a beat, they even finish each other’s sentences, jumping in when the other loses the train of thought.
During an interview from their Poughkeepsie, N.Y., home earlier this week, they both got on the telephone to talk about their mission.
Kuba: “We actually are not teaching.”
Helen: “Or preaching.”
Kuba: “We just are speaking about our experiences during the Second World War.”
During another exchange, they discussed their debt to Schindler and others who risked their lives to rescue Jews.
Kuba: “When we speak about our experience, we always remember the righteous Gentile.”
Helen: “There’s some, not too many.”
Kuba: “How can you repay someone for a life?” Helen: “There’s no price for saving a life. There’s no way to do it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BECK APPEARANCES Helen and Kuba Beck, members of Schindler’s list, are the keynote speakers at the Yom Hashoah service at 7 p.m. Sunday at Temple Beth Shalom, 30th and Perry. They also will speak at a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Fairchild Air Force Base. Both events are open to the public. Reservations for the luncheon can be made by calling 247-2264.
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