Tucsonan Klara Swimmer was a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Hungary when she read a book about Madame Curie that set the course of her life. “I decided that I wanted to do something similar [to what] she did and that was medicine.”
Swimmer, 88, didn’t allow the Holocaust to knock her off course, despite the horrors she endured in Auschwitz, where her mother was killed, and later at a labor camp. She became a physician, practicing in Budapest, Israel and the United States.
Swimmer will address the Tucson Maimonides Society of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona during its tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s traveling exhibit, “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race,” on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. at the Arizona Health Sciences Library on the University of Arizona campus. She’ll discuss how she managed to “come out normally” after the Holocaust by suppressing her memories so they wouldn’t overwhelm her. “I am suggesting to anyone who is exposed to traumatization, regardless of how big or how small it is, at least to try to block it, to go along toward your future and not to settle for sensitivity and pain.”
Medical training taught Swimmer how to focus, although sometimes flashbacks are unavoidable, she acknowledges. When she learned about asphyxiation during her studies at the University of Budapest, she began to have nightmares, imagining her mother’s experience in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. After a while, Swimmer learned to wake herself. She also consulted a woman psychiatrist at the Jewish hospital in Budapest. “She said, ‘And how is your report card?’ I told her, very good. She said, ‘You will grow out of it.’ Eventually I did.” While this might not have been the best therapeutic approach, Swimmer says, “I am not critical of her, too much. She probably did not want to injure me more.”
Despite her preference for blocking out her memories, Swimmer, a volunteer with the JFSA’s Holocaust education committee, continues to speak out, she says, to try to sensitize people to the dangers of discrimination.
At the Feb. 26 event, which is open to the public and includes a reception, docents will be on hand, along with Melissa Rubinstein Gendason, the USHMM’s Southwest region director. The Arizona Health Sciences Library is located at 1501 N. Campbell Ave., second floor. The cost is $18 (free for medical students, interns and residents).RSVP by Feb. 19 to Karen Graham at 577-9393, ext. 118 or [email protected] or online at www.jewishtucson.org. For more on the exhibit, which runs through March 29, see http://azjewishpost.com/?p=20463.