This is Bill Cohen and I am here at the home of Alfred Tibor, 3181 E. Broad Street, Columbus OH. It is September 9, 2013. I am here to interview him about his experiences in Columbus OH.
Interviewer: Mr. Tibor, first of all, just tell us, very briefly, where you were born and how many people were in your family.
Tibor: I was born on February 10, 1920 in a little village in Hungary. The name of the village is Konyar. I had two brothers, Andrew and Tibor, who was my oldest brother. And my name was Alfred Goldshteyn. My brother Andrew, or better to say in Hungarian, Andrash, became Andrew in the United States. My older brother Tibor was killed on April 23, 1945, by the Hungarians. The Hungarian officers decided the Jews were good for nothing. They couldn’t work or walk. He was the doctor of the battalion. He was going into a group of people who the Hungarian officers were taking into a camp, and my brother was going in only to taking care of the 273 people. He was a psychiatrist and a psychologist. He was shot by the Hungarian officers instructions to killing him with the other 273 people.
Interviewer: So you adopted his name.
Tibor: No, it was not so simple. At that time I was in the prison camp, and I am not going to start to talk about my life there. When I came back after six years in prison camp in Siberia. When I was coming back, the first holiday was Rosh Hashanah. I was in Miami, and I went to a congregation, Temple Zaborah, and one Jewish man was walking in to the temple. And that person was differently dressed. He was very distinguishably dressed. I looked at him and said, “Oh, this is a European guy.” I started to talk to him, approached him, and he said that he came from Caracas, Venezuela. He said he was born in Hungary, and we started to talk. He was a Jewish man and he started talking about the years of forced labor battalion and how he was going and who he was with. It happened that he was in the same battalion as my brother Tibor. He was there when my brother was killed. I was a prisoner in Russia for six years, so I didn’t know anything about my family. I didn’t know what happened with my family for six years. And that was the time the first year when I came back from Russia and the first holiday and started to collect some things I found out. I have one brother Andrew who is here. I found out he was married in 1942. I collected everything I was able to, and I found out that Hungarians were taking the last transports in 1945 to Auschwitz. If the Hungarians wouldn’t take it, the Germans wouldn’t be able to take it because they were retreating before the Russian troops. So they were not able to make the transportation. Only the eagerness of the Hungarians were taking and transporting the Hungarian Jews.
Interviewer: When you met this gentleman on Rosh Hashanah, this was the first time that you knew for certain that your brother had been killed.
Tibor: Yes, sure. That was the first time when I found out how he was killed. I didn’t know only after that I was going in Budapest to a mass grave, and there was his name. They were bringing from the grave where they were buried after the execution, because that way, it was (this guy said to me) the Hungarian officers were telling the group of 273 people and the doctor had to be shot, because they were good for nothing. So that is the way I lost my brother, Tibor Goldshteyn. When I found out that Andrew was alive and that we changed our name from Goldshteyn to Tibor. That is why you can’t find a Tibor name. It is very interesting because I have a letter which I bought for my dear wife. The manufacturer is Tibor. And you know, I got goose pimples because I was thinking maybe I am going to go after that manufacturer. Who is this? Where is that? Maybe I had a fear maybe this was my brother, you know? Only I didn’t find the way, and I just know it had to be a Hungarian person because there is no Tibor in another place. Only I couldn’t pursue it and couldn’t find out who they were. Only this is the way we changed our name from Goldshteyn to Tibor officially.
Interviewer: And you changed your name to pay honor to your brother?
Tibor: Yes, that was the whole idea. That’s because my children already are Tibors. They were born as Tibors. My grandchildren are Tibors, so we established the Tibor name.
Interviewer: His spirit lives on.
Tibor: That is the story about the changing my name from Goldshteyn to Tibor.
Interviewer: Just very briefly, could you give a little background. You were in Russian labor camps during the war, or you were in German concentration camps? Where were you?
Tibor: I was in the Hungarian forced labor battalion because I was of military age. I was drafted in 1941 or 1942. I was in forced labor for two years. On January 12, 1942, I was taken into the Russian battlefield. We were in the Hungarian military and we had a yellow band on our military uniform to show that we were Jewish. I have a picture I would like to show you this picture of me in my new military uniform with the yellow band. I had an experience with the yellow band. When I was on leave on Saturday in Budapest, and I saw an old Hungarian general high-ranking officer walking toward me. I almost crapped in my pants because a high-ranking general motioned me to come to him. I saluted him and he greeted me as a military man, and he said “What is that yellow band on your arm?” I told him that it was because I was a Jew. I was drafted on Thursday, and I was coming out to the state. He thought I was in the gas battalion because officially the yellow color was the gas military’s color. I told him that no, it was not gas, it was because I was a Jew. I boldly told him that, and he started to cry because he said they are destroying and putting in the wrong way the military uniforms. He was sorry for the military uniform because I had they yellow band on there. So that’s the kind of experience I had that time. So, we were in the military battalion but were working for morning to evening in the hard labor.
Interviewer: What did you do?
Tibor: For example, we were drafted in November and we had to go to the Danube River to work putting the pontoon boats into the river. That was the beginning. So you went into the river until you were submerged as far as you could go and not farther in. I am not going to talk to you and tell you what we were doing. It was hard labor. It was waking up at 5 a.m. and getting a cup of coffee and soup at noon. In the evening we had a cup of coffee and 20 decagrams of bread. So that was awful. After we were taken for almost 1.5 years, we were taken to the battlefield. I don’t know how much history you know. That’s the trouble with Americans. They don’t know the history. That was in Russia. I’m going to tell you Stalingrad because you probably know that. We were about 150 km away from the other place. There the Hungarians lost about 300,000 people, and we had been captured because they said, “Jews go backwards (retreat) because the military police is going to shoot and kill you if you are not retreating.” And I didn’t retreat but went up to a Russian attic because the villages were empty. There was a little hole in the attic, and I looked out for the first Russian soldiers coming into the village. I went down and he greeted me and I became a prisoner of war. After that, I was a Russian prisoner of war in Siberia for six years. My luck, they found out that I was an artist. When they found this out, everybody wanted to have a portrait made. The soldiers sat down and had me make a portrait for me. I was saving my life because I didn’t have to do hard labor. In the woods, we had to cut the trees. I never did hard labor because I was the artist. There was a gypsy guy who made violins from wood. He was also in a good position because he was a violinist. He was a very famous violinist in Europe. His music saved him and my art saved my life. That was the reason I came back to Hungary six years later in 1947. When I found I lost everybody in Auschwitz – 84 people. I have their names because in Israel all of my relatives who were alive were there. Because they were going in the 26.27, 28 pioneers, the Shomer Hatzayd. I don’t know if you are familiar with the Zionist organization. The Shomer Hatzayd was the chalutzims who were going in Palestine. And I wanted to go. I was 13 years old. I was the best worker when I was in the summer camp. They wanted to take me to Palestine. Only they couldn’t take me because I was too young.
Interviewer: You were too young in 1947?
Tibor: No, I was talking about when I was 13, before. After I couldn’t go because I was an acrobat and gymnast and many kind of things and I couldn’t go because, for example, I got a job as an acrobatic dancer in a nightclub in Alexandria, Egypt. I couldn’t go because in the 1940’s the war zone was in the Mediterranean.
Interviewer: Are you talking about after the war?
Tibor: Anyway, that’s the way it was and to go back to my art, because we had to come to Columbus. I came back in August, 1945. After that I was working as a window trimmer in Hungary. I left Hungary in 1956 because I had a very high-ranking job. I wrote a book about window trimming. We escaped from Hungary in December, 1957. On January 30, 1958, we arrived in the United States. When I was up on the bridge of the ship, I saw the Statue of Liberty. I got something which I never had before – freedom. That’s the way I started my life. I had to go to Miami because the group of people in the family – two brothers were in the United States. These were my sister-in-law’s relatives. One group had to go to Miami and the other was in Los Angeles. We were together, Andrew and me, to Miami. When in Miami, I became an artist. I had a job as a commercial artist, and I was working there in a large furniture store for sixteen years. After that, I got a telephone call from Columbus, Ohio. The person who was calling me to come to Columbus was Jerome Schottenstein. I came here for an interview, and I left Miami and moved to Columbus in 1972. He offered me a job. If I give you all the details, we won’t finish this interview until tomorrow.
Interviewer: So what job did he offer you?
Tibor: I became the advertising director for the 32 Value City stores because I was doing advertising in Miami.
Interviewer: You were an artist and also advertising in Miami. He thought you were so good that he wanted you to do advertising.
Tibor: I am not going to go into the details about why and how I came here. I was here for one year when I didn’t move from Miami for certain reasons. My daughter was graduating and I was waiting for one more year. So I came in 1973. When the first holiday came, Jerome asked me to come to his shul, Agudas Achim. Here something was happening that changed my whole life. First of all, I became an advertising director for 32 stores to take care of. Only on Rosh Hashanah, a man was going up to the pulpit and asking for money from the congregants to make a Holocaust Memorial. My son was already 20 years old and was sitting by me. I said, “Tom, I am going to make the Memorial.” And he said, “Daddy, are you crazy? You never did any 3-dimensional pieces in your life. I know you were an artist, but you never did.” And I said, “You don’t know me yet.” And I made the design. If you want to see it, I will show it to you, only it is standing in the front of the Agudas Achim Synagogue. That was my first piece of sculpting. I started with that one, a 16-foot piece. I don’t know if you have seen it or not.
Interviewer: I will drive by it on my way home.
Tibor: That became a bronze piece, and it was my first piece in my life.
Interviewer: And you felt good making it.
Tibor: It took me a year to make it in clay, and after that it became bronze, and we moved it out from the social hall. In the background, I put a European map in granite. The concentration camps were on it. In the background on a pedestal I have 84 people in my family who perished in Auschwitz. So that was my first piece, and that is when I became a sculptor.
Interviewer: Approximately how many sculptures have you done since then?
Tibor: I have about 500 already which I have sold. Downstairs I have 54 pieces. And I have 43 pieces in the jewelry store where I have a show already running 1.5 years (he wanted for one month before Christmas). I have 14 pieces in the city. If you would like to see it, downstairs I have the pictures of all of the pieces which I have in this city. I also have some in Florida, Indianapolis, memorials. I have other places and that’s the way I became a sculptor.
Interviewer: Did that mean that you quit your job for Value City Furniture?
Tibor: I retired when I was 80 in 1986. So you continued your regular job for more than a decade, and at the same time you were a sculptor.
Interviewer: Did you feel welcomed by the Jewish community when you came here? What do you remember about that those first years.
Tibor: Not too much welcome.
Interviewer: Why do you think?
Tibor: First of all, I wasn’t having time to do socializing myself. I was so busy in the workplace. I had to take care when I moved here for 34 stores advertising every week. I had full hands, and meantime, I was building my home on N. Cassady, where I was having a home there, and I built it. I was occupied with other business. I didn’t have a social life too much, just how it came out when I had a dedication in 1974 for the piece because it took a year to make it. I am still not having too much time for a social life.
Interviewer: In the 1970’s did you find that people did not want to talk about the Holocaust? Like today they seem to want to learn about it.
Tibor: The people were always curious only, first of all, I didn’t have time because I was sculpting from the 80’s and making the job and I stopped working in 1986. One piece is approximately one year’s work. I have several cut out of marble. The continuation of the sculpting is when I had a dream when I was six years old of being a sculptor. And I couldn’t be a sculptor because there was a new law in Hungary. If you want to see it go to Google and you’ll find out what is the Numerous Clause. It is a Latin word for “closed numbers” which was an anti-semitic law. Jews couldn’t go to higher education after graduating from high school. So my whole dream collapsed when I was six. I was making little statues with fresh dough. I was playing and putting them into the windows. So at that time I was dreaming that I was going to be a sculptor. I had a God-given talent in my hands, and I pursued it whenever I was able to, and this was the way the product for me. If you would like to have it, here is the book “Celebration of Life” and what I was doing here. This was my first piece, the one at Agudas Achim.
Mrs. Tibor: Talk about Columbus because they have been nice to us.
Interviewer: Talk to us about Columbus. What do you remember in your early years in the 1970’s about Columbus?
Tibor: In the early years, I didn’t know too much, only everybody was welcoming. Wherever we would go, we were welcomed through my work, through our existence, and nobody was against any person who was coming to the city, especially Agudas Achim, which was one of the oldest synagogues here in Columbus. When I was invited by Jerome Schottenstein, he was building up the Agudas Achim at that time. He was adding to it and making the chairs and he was occupied with everything.
Interviewer: Were there particular groups that helped you at this time? Jewish Center or the Federation?
Mrs. Tibor: I got involved.
Interviewer: Your wife was involved with B’nai B’rith.
Tibor: Yes. Actually I didn’t have much time for much social life because I was busy with my work, double work and triple work. First I was busy with one statue, and after the others. With my work occupation, I even didn’t know too many people socially, just through the congregation and through every Jew is a friend.
Interviewer: Did you join a congregation?
Tibor: Agudas Achim. I joined at the invitation, and after I got occupied because I was starting to make the piece and was involved, it was dedicated in 1974. After 1985, the city dedicated the other piece which I made for the city because I had a dream to commemorate my existence in the United States. It is standing in the waterfront – a freedom statue on the Scioto River downtown, in front of the Supreme Court. The third statue was in the front of the Arthur James Cancer Institute. Bernie Ruben was buying it and paying for the statue, which was selected by the doctor, Arthur James. It is a 17-foot piece. And now I have 14 large pieces in the city.
Interviewer: Obviously, each statue, each sculptor has its own theme, but is there an overall theme to your work? Is there some overall concept?
Tibor: Humanity. The book is here. Here is “Celebration of Life.” Here is the statue in the waterfront. This one is a story which I am illustrating here and on the __________ you have the story. The best thing to do if you will spend a little time, is to go to the statue. It is on the Broad Street Bridge on the west side. It is a black boy story. The whole story is when I was dedicating a piece in Columbus, and a black woman was calling me. She was asking me if I knew the _______ story. It was a lady who found a black baby on her doorstep. She picked it up and had her own baby five days before. She breast fed the black baby and she saved the baby’s life. We don’t have to look why she was dropped in the doorstep of the white man. It was dropped because some black woman who was giving birth to a black baby saw his wife was having Mrs. Sullivant. And Mr. Sullivant was the man who was staking out Columbus.
Interviewer: Of course, okay.
Tibor: The black woman was telling me this story, and I said “This is not the baby’s story. It is Mrs. Sullivant’s story because Mrs. Sullivant was saving the black baby. I have a design for you, and I made the statue. On the pedestal is the whole story of the black baby.” That’s the way one piece was made. Again, Jewish people were paying for the statue. The Schottenstein brothers.
Interviewer: I have seen that statue, but I did not know the beautiful background.
Tibor: The background is there. You read it on the black marble pedestal. So that was one of the pieces that was the fourth or fifth piece.
Interviewer: So you think the overall theme to your sculpting is the celebration of life.
Tibor: Yes. I have a studio downstairs and you can take a look. All of my pieces are dealing with humanity. This is the way I have established myself, and I am trying to tell the next generation in the book that hatred doesn’t work. We have to embrace each other. That is my purpose of existing, and that is the purpose of my art. That’s my purpose of having a life, and this is the way I am going to pass out from Columbus whenever G-d decides. I am 93, and I am still existing, and that’s the way I feel, and this is the way I am doing my work. This is the way I’m existing as a sculptor.
Interviewer: Has Columbus been good for you?
Mrs Tibor: Yes. I want you to talk about what happened recently.
Tibor: I went up to the roof and the ladder was sliding down because it was a longer ladder than needed. I fell off and broke my hip. I was taken to the hospital and I have a metal insert in my hip. I was in the hospital for several weeks, and after that, my dear wife became sick. The two of us were sick in this house. People could help, and they were helping everybody. They brought food, sympathy and all the welcome we could get, we got it. That’s the short way to say thank you to all the Jews here in Columbus, Ohio, because we felt everybody sympathized with us and our situation. In the meantime, I have to tell you something. I lived on Noe Bixby, and for one suggestion of my daughter, who said that we don’t have any transportation, just your car. Because there was no public transportation there. Now they live in Bexley and wanted us to move a little bit closer. I built that house and the studio and everything there from the last piece of grass and the two acre background which I had there. I had an 18-foot studio. When she asked me, I had to move. I was lucky because I found this house. I am going to show to you. We moved here almost a year ago. When the whole thing was happening with me falling off the roof, my wife had an operation on her back, and the two of us were sick and unable to take care of ourselves, even with all the sympathy and all the people who were bringing food. My wife wasn’t in a condition to be able to do things, and I wasn’t able to do many things. We had helping hands from the community. This is the way we feel because we are here and well enough to take care of ourselves. But we can’t forget the helping hands of the community.
Interviewer: You have given much to the community, and the community gave back to you.
Mrs. Tibor: That reminded me of something that happened a couple of years ago when we lived in the other house. A deer came in the house. You didn’t hear people’s reactions. They were knocking doors, bringing food and bringing everything, and bringing children. It was the whole community, not just the Jewish community. It was such a big occasion. Even in Los Angeles the news was saying about us.
Interviewer: There were many news reports about how the deer crashed into your window on Noe Bixby.
Tibor: We were so lucky to be there. A day earlier we were coming back from vacation, and we were thinking what would have happened if the deer had come just one day earlier and we wouldn’t be at home. What would the deer do? I had to go out but didn’t go because I had to do something urgent in the home. I stayed home and the deer came. This kind of thing happens, and still today, if I am going someplace, people are saying, “Oh, the deer is not coming anymore?”
Interviewer: People are joking with you about the deer that crashed into your house on Noe Bixby Road years ago.
Interviewer: Let me ask you to tell us briefly about how and when you met your dear wife.
Tibor: I met her through a lady acquaintance because in 1942, 1944 and in those days, my age people was very few, especially Jewish young men were very few. Because we were in the military age and we were taken into forced labor and were systematically killed. So what I am saying is two men survived from 275 people. Only two men came back. Joe Pollock who lived in Detroit and Alfred Tibor who came to Columbus. I was determined I was going to marry. In 1948 a friend introduced me to my dear wife in the swimming pool. That was in July or August, 1947, in Budapest. In March we were engaged and November 14, 1948 we got married. Here is a picture of us. We have been married since 1948 – 65 years. We have a beautiful life and had two children. One daughter and one son. My son is in Washington, DC, where he is working. He has two children. My daughter here has three children.
Interviewer: Is there anything else you would like to say to the Jewish community?
Tibor: How could I express myself about gratitude to the people around Columbus? It is the people who are wonderful, and all the time I learned that the people are always wonderful. Just maybe you find individuals who are not. I am embracing the people all the time. I am giving credit to every person who I had contact with because humanity has to win. There is no way you could your identity. You should be a proud Jew because that is the human feeling and that’s the way we can’t hate. We should embrace each other. The beginning goes from me. I am showing to you my work which I was doing. Here is the first statue, a Holocaust piece, which is in Yad Vashem. Here is my thirteenth piece in Columbus, Ohio. This is in a Catholic place. Here is the soldier of humanity. Do you know who it is? Just a GI, and here is the Holocaust survivor. This is the celebration of life. This is the sculpture of Mrs. Sullivan.
Interviewer: So everything that you went through during World War II, you could be a man who was full of hate and revenge, but you are not. How did you manage to overcome that and be a man that you are.
Tibor: I realized at that time when I was standing in the highway in 1941 and 1942 in Russia and we were suffering from the hatred and the Hungarian officers because they stated that Jews were not going to go back to Hungary ever. Just the doctor is going to go back. There was a little Jewish boy who said that they were wrong. “I am going to go back. I have to go back because I have to tell the next generation hatred doesn’t work. And that is me.” I was there in the highway at night at 40 degrees centigrade below zero and saving myself from freezing to death. I always dressed down and made my clothing cover me at night. I never slept with the clothes on. I saved myself from freezing to death. And that was the turning point in my life when I was captured by the Russians in January, 1943. After that I was five and a half years in Siberia and I saved my life because I was an artist.
Interviewer: This concludes our interview with Alfred Tibor on September 9, 2013. Mr. Tibor, we want to thank you very much on behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, for taking the time to tell us your history and your experience here in Columbus. Thank you so much.
Tibor: You are very welcome.
Transcribed by Phyllis Komerofsky
November 9, 2013