By ALEXANDER B. STOHLER
Daniel Goldsmith was born on December 11, 1931 to an Orthodox Jewish family living in Antwerp, Belgium; a family which included his mother, his father, himself and his younger sister. Daniel’s parents, originally from Poland and both avid travelers, met in Antwerp and married and settled there in 1930. Living in the Jewish section of the city, Daniel described his family as middle class. Growing up, Daniel spoke Yiddish, French and Flemish.
He remembered a happy childhood, although he admitted he had a mischievous streak and would often get into trouble, sometimes at his all-day Hebrew school. He enjoyed writing, drawing and geography. He also mentioned that the area he lived in contained many non-Jewish families as well and that his family had both Jewish and non-Jewish friends. He described a very tight-knight neighborhood with shared values, where everyone looked out for each other. He believed that most of the people in his neighborhood were not supportive of the Nazi regime. He reminisced about being the goalie while playing soccer with his friends. His father worked in the city as a plumber while his mother stayed at home to tend to the children and house.
Mr. Goldsmith recalled the importance of his parents’ religious beliefs and that they kept a kosher household and observed the Jewish holidays. He attended synagogue every Sabbath with his father. Daniel also remembered fondly the birth of his younger sister on December 26, 1939, as a happy occasion despite the onset of World War II.
On May 10, 1941, when the Nazi invasion of Belgium began, Daniel was 8 years old; he traveled with his family in an attempt to flee the country to Northern France, but was stopped, and they were forced to return to Antwerp. Daniel recalled the mass exodus attempted by many Jewish refugees during this period, describing long lines of travelers with their belongings escaping on foot. The Nazi regime simply stopped them in their tracks and made them return to where they had started; Daniel’s parents brought the family back to their house in Antwerp and attempted to create a stable household.
However, this hope for stability was quickly challenged as the Nazi regime began implementing antisemitic and anti-Jewish laws in conquered Europe. Daniel recalled that in October Jews were forced to register themselves with the Nazis; he also explained how Jews were removed from civil service and governmental positions. Jewish lawyers, teachers, doctors and other specialists were also forced out of their professions. Jews were targeted simply for their religious orientation and/or ethnic heritage in other ways as well, including Nazi controls on bank accounts, Jewish curfews, and relationships with non-Jews. Daniel recalled how simple pleasures like enjoying a public park, seeing a movie or visiting a museum became restricted to him and his family.
Almost 2 years later, the Nazis ramped up persecution of Jews in Belgium, starting with compulsory wearing of a yellow star-of-David, which further marked Jews in public life. Mr. Goldsmith remembers well having to wear his star on his jacket when he was outside of his house. During this period the Nazis had also restricted where Jews could live, confining them to sections of the larger metropolitan areas of Antwerp, Liège, Brussels, and Charleroi. Daniel and his sister had both been expelled from the public schools. The Nazis also began deporting Belgian Jews to various Nazi camps in Europe, including some to Auschwitz; Daniel’s father was one of these people as he was coerced to report for forced labor in a camp in Northern France.
Daniel remembers his parents’ discussion about this distinctly, as he was in the kitchen at the time. He recalled that his mother was worried about complying with the Nazi law, while his father reassured her that he was strong enough to live through the camp. Only 39 at the time, Daniel’s father believed he would have a good chance of surviving the forced labor. His mother reluctantly agreed to the plan, one that would keep her children in the house while appeasing their persecutors. However, Daniel acknowledged that his parents were unaware of the true gravity of the situation in Europe; they did not realize the Nazis were preparing and committing to their Final Solution, the Nazi system designed using concentration camps and other mistreatment to destroy the Jewish population. He believed that most people in the world were unaware of the enormity of the Nazi machinations towards their ideal goal of Jewish genocide.
Daniel told about the day his father left, August 15, 1942, a day Daniel remembered very well. He and his mother and sister accompanied his father to depart by train. He continued saying he was struck by not only the enormity of the Antwerp station, but also by the number of families also well-wishing disembarking loved ones. This emotional moment clearly affected Mr. Goldsmith and he recounted his father’s words to him: “You are the little man of the house now; you’ll have to help to take care of your mother and your sister until I come back.” He believed that was the day he was forced to grow up, and he took helping his sister and mother seriously. He seemed to be somewhat aware as a young boy that his dad was taking a risk in order to increase his family’s chance at survival.
After his father’s relocation, the family received one postcard from him, it was stamped from Boulogne-sur-Mer in France; they would never hear from him again. Daniel later learned that his father had been put to work in Northern France building the Atlantic Wall, a massive system of coastal defenses.
Life for their family was not easy and Daniel’s mother became the sole caregiver. She resorted to selling valuables including her husband’s tools to survive as conditions in both Belgium and in Europe worsened. She also gave some of her silverware to close non-Jewish friends to hold onto until after the war. Nazi persecutions of Jews in Antwerp also worsened, including raids of Jewish homes and arrests, including children; however, the family was able to remain hidden during these raids. Daniel described the Nazi raids whose goal was finding hidden Jewish people and seizing them and their property. After blockading the street, the troops would proceed on his neighborhood often starting in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep.
Mr. Goldsmith recounted a specific night when he hid with his mom and sister on the roof of their building to avoid capture. He remembered that their house’s central location on their street provided them a chance to react before the Nazi arrived as the raid started at both blockaded ends of their neighborhood. Daniel recalled his mother awaking to terrible commotion and realizing what was happening to their neighbors; the screams of terror helped save Daniel and his family. This warning provided her time to gather blankets and bring Daniel and his sister on to the top of their flat-roofed building where the three of them hid.
Daniel remembers his curiosity causing him to peak out into the street where he saw Jews terrorized and dragged out of their houses in their nightgowns and pajamas. Daniel’s mother quickly pulled him away from the edge of the building and pushed him back under the blankets. He recalled shivering in the dark not knowing what was going to happen to them; eventually they heard the door of their house smashed in and the Nazi troops both searching for him and his family as well as ransacking the house. Daniel believed they stayed up on their roof for about two hours, and he remembered being quite fearful that they would be discovered and arrested. One Nazi soldier climbed to the roof and used his flashlight to briefly search the roof; however, their hiding space kept them safe. More loud banging followed shortly afterwards, which they would later discover was the Nazis boarding up their door and windows. Eventually, when Mrs. Goldsmith felt sure the soldiers had left, she brought her children back inside.
Daniel remembered his mother, who he described as a proud, meticulous housekeeper, becoming very emotional at the sight of their destroyed house. He recalled his mother sitting and weeping on her bed. Daniel also stated that he felt their escape from the Nazi raid that night was a little miracle, especially that his little sister Lillian, a baby at the time, remained completely quiet.
Daniel’s mom, constantly seeking ways to protect her children, contacted a Belgian resistance group in her area. She sought out a non-Jewish friend who worked both as a policeman and with the Belgian Underground. The Underground was a collection of resistance groups, often with disparate political views, which sought the overthrow of the Nazi regime in Belgium. The group helped her place her son and daughter in a Catholic convent, where they had a better chance of hiding from the Nazi subjugation. Daniel remembers being smuggled out the back of their house shortly after the raid, and being brought to the convent. Although this move provided more safety for the children, it is doubtful that Mrs. Goldsmith made this decision lightly.
Only Mother Superior knew the true identity of the children; neither the other sisters or orphans new their Jewish identity. Mrs. Goldsmith returned to Antwerp and began working with the group to subvert Nazi authority; Daniel only learned later of his mother’s involvement in the Underground as a courier.
The children remained at the convent until Christmas 1942. Daniel remembered his mother showing up suddenly to take the children, something that upset him at the time because he was excited to have a part in the convent’s Christmas pageant. Daniel’s mother had received information from the underground that the convent would soon be raided by the Nazis; she simultaneously rescued her own children while warning the benevolent nuns of the imminent danger.
The Nazis persecuted those who aided and hid Jews nearly as strictly as the Jews themselves and being clergy members would not have protected them. Although, he never knew how many other Jewish children were potentially hidden by the convent, he expressed pride in his mother for helping protect others.
Mrs. Goldsmith used her connections with the resistance to find another hiding place for her children; however, this time she made another tough decision to separate Daniel and Lillian. Young Lillian was placed with a Catholic family who had three other small children. The young girl assumed the role of an extended-family member who had been displaced by the war. Daniel was placed in the Flemish section of Belgium in a Catholic orphanage for boys and given a false identity and baptismal papers; the priest who ran the orphanage gave Daniel the name ‘Willy Peters’. If questioned, Daniel would appear to be Catholic. He attended parochial school, Catholic mass, and he also learned how to help on the surrounding rural farms.
Daniel remembers his stay there fondly as he did not have to struggle for food; he did explain having to eschew his kosher traditions however. Initially he worried about eating pork, but he explained that Jewish traditions allowed for flexibility with these traditions in extreme situations; he could not eat kosher if it meant saving his life.
For close to two years, he and other refuges would live relatively peacefully, while protected by the orphanage. The Nazi threat continued to exist, as the regime continued to seek out and persecute Jews in European countries under their control. The priest who had taken responsibility for Daniel and who was the only person who knew his secret, believed it was too dangerous for Daniel to remain in one place for too long. Daniel was moved to another orphanage, now in the French section of the country. Life remained much the same and Daniel became an altar boy to blend in.
However, in May of 1944, Daniel was arrested when the orphanage was raided. The Nazis determined that he and other boys were not Catholic by forcing them to undress; at that point very few non-Jews practiced circumcision. At the time, Daniel was surprised to learn that five of the other boys at the orphanage were hidden Jews as well; although their names and papers had been faked, the boys’ bodies could not be. Daniel was imprisoned and interrogated about the locations of other possibly hidden Jewish children. In the prison facilities, Daniel remembered that food was scarce and that he was often hungry; he also worried about being beaten by his interrogators. He and the other misplaced Jewish children were then routed to various prison facilities.
At the last location, Daniel remembered he and other children being rounded up in the middle of the night and put on a freight train. Daniel described the cramped and frightening experience of the train car, not designed to carry human passengers. One older boy, named Joseph, who was only sixteen at the time, became the group’s leader. Joseph, likely sensing the severity of the situation they were in, encouraged the boys to have hope and to look for a way to escape. Joseph had been able to smuggle a piece of scrap steel in his boots under his long pants. Originally intended as a weapon of self- defense, Joseph used the steel to pry apart the slats of wood on the side of the train. Joseph made a hole small enough for himself and then waited for the train to slow. Inevitably, the train slowed to take a sharp turn and Joseph pushed the smaller boys out of the train. Through the young man’s ingenuity, he and the younger boys managed to escape. After the train had passed, the boys regrouped, having been dispersed by the train’s movement. Daniel believed the group was very lucky, as none of the children had sustained serious injuries jumping from the train.
The group then hid in the surrounding forest, however they worried about where in the country they had ended up. Joseph separated from the group to try to ascertain their location. Upon returning, he told the other children that they were near the Belgian town of Perwez. Daniel believed they were lucky again to have remained in the French section of Belgium where they were somewhat familiar with the terrain. However, the group lacked food, water, medical treatment, and a leader who was running out of ideas. Joseph decided to return to the town of Perwez and tell the Catholic priest at the rectory there about their group; Daniel described the action as both dangerous and very courageous. There was no guarantee that the priest or townspeople would be sympathetic to the Jewish children. In fact, Daniel expressed the very real possibility that the priest could inform the SS about the Jewish refugees.
Fortunately, the priest was willing to help the boys and placed each of them with local Catholic families; Daniel recalled that the priest went to such lengths to protect the children, that he led each family to believe they were the only house which would be hiding a Jewish boy. Daniel believed about twenty different families took in and protected a Jewish boy in Perwez.
Daniel was placed with a family by the name of Beautier. He described them as wonderful and he believed this family’s kindness and self-sacrifice was a huge element in his survival. He described them as very religious and recalled that they had two daughters. Daniel lived in the family’s attic. The family asked him to stay as quiet as he could as the village was a small one where everyone knew each other and each other’s business. Who was receptive to aiding Jewish refugees and who was collaborating with the Nazis was basically impossible to know; Daniel believed this was common through much of Europe at the time. Daniel was allowed out at night as the back yard was surround by a tall wall so he could get some fresh air and exercise.
The family eventually gave Daniel a rabbit so he would have company and something to keep him occupied. He also recalled the daughters bringing him schoolwork and books to stay busy. Daniel lived safely yet precariously with this pious Catholic family until the fall of 1944, when most of Belgium was liberated by allied forces. Daniel remembered feeling elated when this happened.
Daniel remembered being liberated by American forces; he also explained that Perwez had been freed even though, to the east, one of the largest ground battles took place in the winter of that year: the Battle of the Bulge. Even upon liberation, the Beautier family continued to help Daniel: they made efforts to find his mother. Daniel recalls that they turned to the Red Cross, one of the major organizations which helped the refugees and displaced people after the end of the European theater of the war.
Mr. Goldsmith mentioned that his mother was never able to discuss the Holocaust. The emotional experience she had lived through had made it very difficult for her to relive and retell what had happened. He remembered asking her questions after they were reunited and she would have a very difficult time responding. He learned years after his ordeal that his mother had kept track of him and had learned of his capture. She continued to use her resources to locate her son; she reached out to another Catholic priest, Father Andre, who was also a member of the Belgian underground and who had decent relations with the local Nazis. Daniel noted that Father Andre was later honored by being named Righteous Among the Nations, a title bestowed on gentiles who had risked their own lives to aid Jews. Mrs. Goldsmith got caught in an allied air raid on the day she went to visit Father Andre to ask him for help in locating Daniel; she survived but unfortunately, she was gravely injured, losing her left leg.
Through the efforts of his foster family, the Red Cross located Mrs. Goldsmith and Daniel was reunited with her at a hospital. Daniel remembered not initially recognizing his own mother; Mrs. Goldsmith had aged considerably and had lost a lot of weight from lack of nutrition. Because Mrs. Goldsmith had to remain in the hospital, Daniel would be placed in a displaced children’s home while his mother recuperated. He recalled that while much of the home was filled with Jewish refugees, it also housed American staff of the Red Ball Express, an extensive truck convoy system whose task was resupplying the allied troops.
After the American troops left the home, more Jewish children arrived to be housed there; Daniel recalled that these children were from all over Europe including France, Poland, the Netherlands, and Germany. These children had been, for the most part, freed from the Nazi concentration camps; Daniel remembered hearing the horrific stories of these camps from these orphaned children. During this period, Daniel later learned that freed prisoners returned and told his mother the awful truth about her husband, Daniel’s father: that he would not be returning. Daniel later learned that his father had perished at Auschwitz.
In discussing this, Daniel became choked up and had a difficult time continuing to talk about his father; he had had hope that his father may have survived before this time. Once Mrs. Goldsmith had recuperated from her injuries, she sought out Daniel and Lillian to try to resume a more normal life. As if adjusting to the loss of her husband was not hard enough, the family which had taken in her daughter had become very attached to her and initially did not want to give her back. Daniel’s uncle used his authority as an American soldier to extricate his five year-old niece; unfortunately this caused her foster family to cut off relations with the Goldsmiths.
Daniel considered himself religious and thought that his escape from the worst of the Nazi terror was in some part aided by his faith in God. He also stated that the hope of being reunited with his family helped him to survive; this made the loss of his father even harder on him. He also stated that this was a goal for his mother as well, who probably took the loss of her husband even harder. His rescuers as well as those who took care of his sister Lillian were important and good people according to Daniel. He remembered the rehabilitation process he went through during his stay at the displaced children’s homes and referred fondly to the doctors and other staff members that helped him and others become children again. Extended family became incredibly important, when they sponsored the two children and their mother, allowing them to emigrate to New York City. Daniel remembered being excited to come to America even though he spoke no English. The promised security of his extended family encouraged him to look forward to a more stable future in America.
Daniel expressed great pride in being American, yet he did return to Belgium to retrace his steps and to validate his memories about his experiences; he found the places he experienced surviving in Belgium. He expressed gratitude for those who risked their own safety to help him and his sister and mother. He was thankful for the help of Joseph, the older boy who helped him and others escape the freight train which was very likely headed to Auschwitz. He made a point to say that Catholics in Belgium were compassionate and willing to help their Jewish compatriots. He also gave Pope Pius credit for taking direct action and diplomacy to save Jewish lives, including the hiding of Jews in the Vatican. He also credited the king and queen of Belgium for their attempts at rescuing Jewish citizens from their kingdom.
Daniel built a new life in America; he recalled being excited to become an American and he immersed himself in American culture. At twenty-eight, he was married in a mostly Jewish area in Brooklyn; he became close friends with many of his neighbors. Later he bought his first house on Long Island and had children. He has felt very lucky that he has been able to move forward and not live in the past; he said he does not have nightmares or dwell on the difficult experiences in his past. Initially he had a difficult time talking about his past, telling his wife and children only minimal details. He believed focusing on the future was important and believed he lived the American Dream.
After he retired, the interfaith council he attended at his synagogue asked him to be their representative. During one meeting, a Christian reverend, who knew Daniel was a Holocaust survivor, asked him to tell his story. This led to an article being printed in the local newspaper and subsequently Daniel began receiving invitations to speak at schools, community organizations, and elsewhere. As a result, he has told his story extensively to educate others about his experiences during the Holocaust. He has found answering student questions to be extremely important, and for the most part he has found students very interested in his story, although he admitted some were lacking in understanding of the history of World War II. He has encouraged them to be curious about the past and ask questions to further their understanding. “Do not hate,” was a potent message Daniel hoped to impart upon his listeners. He has considered himself fortunate not to personally encounter any antisemitic sentiments while living in America, although he believed American antisemitism has resurged. He also has consistently told his listeners to not ignore antisemitism or bigotry, but to confront it and to speak out against it.
Bergen, Doris. War and Genocide: 2nd ed. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.
“Danny Goldsmith.” >http://www.hamec.org/node/743>. June 11, 2019.
Donahue, Arwen, Elizabeth Hedlund & Amy Rubin. “Oral History Interview Guidelines.” <https://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20121003-oral-history-interview-guide.pdf>. June 11, 2019.
Alexander B. Stohler received his Master of Arts degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies with distinction from Kean University in 2020. His thesis was an in-depth piece on American Hategroups. His thesis advisor was Dr. Dennis B. Klein. Alexander and his wife and her son Ander reside in Annapolis, Maryland. Alexander my be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org