July 27, 2017 - Issue: Vol. 163, No. 127 — Daily Edition115th Congress (2017 - 2018) - 1st Session
TRIBUTE TO LES AND EVA AIGNER; Congressional Record Vol. 163, No. 127
(Senate - July 27, 2017)
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[Page S4418] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] TRIBUTE TO LES AND EVA AIGNER Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I want to recognize Les and Eva Aigner, two brave Oregonians who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust. I want to honor Les and Eva in the Senate today and share how they survived Nazi atrocities and went on to live in Portland, OR, where they have taught countless young men and women about the dangers of intolerance and hate. Eva Aigner, nee Speigel, was born in 1937 in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, where she lived with her sister, mother, and father. Two years after her birth, Eva's father lost his business license due to growing anti- Semitism, prompting the family to move to Budapest. There they hoped they would be safe from Nazi extremism, but even in Hungary, as a Jew, Eva's father struggled to find work. As time went on, new laws forced Eva and her family to wear the yellow star, and Eva and her sister were soon unable to attend school due to growing intolerance. Soon after, Eva's father was taken to a forced labor camp where he was killed. Eva and her remaining family members were then taken to the Budapest ghetto where the Nazis selected Eva's mother for deportation to a concentration camp. The remaining children, including Eva and her sister, as well as the sick and the old who were unable to work for the Nazi war machine, were taken to the Danube in the middle of the night to be shot. Eva and her sister only managed to survive because their mother escaped from the deportation train and bribed a guard to spare their lives. From there, they were taken back into the Budapest ghetto where they hid, without food or running water, until the Russian soldiers liberated the ghetto on January 18, 1945. The rest of Eva's extended family, who remained in Czechoslovakia, with the exception of one cousin, did not survive the Holocaust. Like Eva, Leslie ``Les'' Aigner was born in Czechoslovakia. In his case, the small town of Nove Zamky, on June 3, 1929. He had two sisters--one older, one younger. The Aigners moved to Hungary in the early 1940s to escape the growing Nazi threat, settling in Csepel, on the outskirts of Budapest. Since Jewish children were not allowed access to higher education, Les went to a trade school to become a machinist. Eventually, it became unsafe for Les to even walk to school, and his devoutly religious family stopped attending synagogue for fear of attack. Les's father was soon taken to a labor camp, and his 16- year-old sister was taken to a paper mill to do forced labor. Les, his mother and his 8-year-old sister were then forced into the Budapest ghetto before being taken to Auschwitz. Upon arrival, the Nazis selected Les's mother and sister for the gas chambers and took Les to the camp. Les spent 4 months in Auschwitz. He worked in the kitchen and survived by stealing food. During his imprisonment in the concentration camp, Les was injured after a guard threw a pitchfork through his foot. While Les was in the hospital with an infection from this injury, a Dr. Epstein warned Les that the Nazis planned to execute prisoners who were no longer able to walk. At Dr. Epstein's urging, Les limped out of the hospital in the middle of the night to avoid being taken to the gas chamber. Dr. Epstein, a prisoner himself, saved Les's life that night. Les then exchanged his clothing with another prisoner who wanted to stay with his father in Auschwitz and was transferred to Landsberg, a sub-camp of Dachau. He performed hard labor for several months and was then transferred again to Kauffering Camp, where he contracted typhus before being sent to Dachau on the so-called Death Train. By the time he arrived, Les weighed only 75 pounds. He was finally freed by American soldiers on April 29, 1945. It took over a month of treatment before Les was able to walk on his own. When Les finally regained his health, he made his way back to Budapest, where he reunited with his father and older sister. Most of their other family members had been killed. After the war, both Eva and Les began to rebuild their lives in Budapest. They finished school and joined the workforce, Les as a machinist and Eva as an office worker at a collective fur company. In 1956, Les and Eva where introduced to one another by Eva's colleague, who happened to be a distant relative of Les. Les and Eva quickly became engaged and were married only 59 days later. When the Hungarian Revolution began against the communist regime, Les and Eva, along vat Les's father and stepmother, fled to Austria and then the U.S., eventually settling in Portland, OR. Starting over in a new country was challenging, but the Aigners carried on and made a life in Portland, finding work and starting a family. Les continued to work as a machinist, and Eva worked as a cosmetologist, eventually opening her own salon. Eva's mother came to live with them in Portland as well. Les and Eva are the proud parents of their daughter Sue, and their son Rob, who blessed them with four wonderful grandsons. They are waiting to welcome their first great- grandchild. Les and Eva rebuilt their lives, but they never forgot the horrors they had endured. As Holocaust deniers became increasingly vocal in the 1980s, the Aigners began telling their stories publicly and speaking out against discrimination and intolerance. They have worked with the Holocaust Memorial Coalition since its inception in 1994. Eva was even the vice chair of the project to build the Oregon Holocaust Memorial, which she said was the proudest achievement in her life besides giving birth to her children. Many of my colleagues in the Senate have heard me speak about my own family's experience fleeing the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. We lost family and loved ones on Kristallnacht and at Theresienstadt. Tolerance, inclusiveness, and compassion are issues my family takes very seriously. That is why I am so deeply honored to be able to recognize the Aigners today and to pay tribute to the invaluable work that they do. At a time when hate and intolerance seem increasingly pervasive in our social and political discourse, it is now more important than ever that we remember the horrors that so many people endured at the hands of the Nazi regime, the death and pain they suffered in the name of hate, discrimination, and fear. In Eva Aigner's own words, ``Discrimination can start with little things. It can start with as much as racial jokes or religious jokes. It can start with just small hatred which can grow. . . . The way to fight is to educate the young people. To let them know what discrimination can do. And how innocent people can get killed and go through such terrors . . . and have their family pulled apart.'' We must not forget; we must educate. We must educate ourselves and each other so that nothing like the horrors of the Nazi regime will ever happen again. Les and Eva Aigner have dedicated their lives to exactly that, and that is why I am so incredibly grateful to honor them today, for their strength, their compassion, their generosity, and their willingness to educate and make Oregon, our country, and our world a more tolerant, safer, and better place. For that reason, I offer both Les and Eva Aigner my deepest affection and warmest thanks for using their voices to teach generations to come to never, ever forget. ____________________