An audience of almost 800 honored a Monroe man who, while posing as a policeman in Nazi-occupied Budapest, helped save the lives of his fellow Hungarian Jews.
With family and friends in attendance at Monroe High School for the April 18 Yom Hashoa program of the Henry Ricklis Holocaust Memorial Committee, Ascher Goldstein was helped to his feet to receive a long standing ovation.
Speakers recalled his role — as a driver for a high-ranking police official — in aiding Jews desperately trying to escape Budapest. He later took part in ferrying survivors on a rickety boat to Italy and then on to Palestine, eluding the British with the help of the Hagana, and fought in Israel’s War of Independence.
Ascher’s wife, Evelyn, credited the large crowd at the annual gathering to her husband’s being honored. “I think they got such a large crowd because of him,” said. She said she met him when she was an American girl studying Hebrew in a Jerusalem ulpan in 1953 and became smitten, she said, “with the most fearless man I ever met.”
“But he always wanted to help people,” said Evelyn. “He did it in Hungary, in Italy, in Israel, and even when he came here to the United States.”
His story of heroism and survival was related at the Ricklis event by his six grandchildren, who came in from across the country. The Goldsteins have four children.
Although he was Czech-born, Ascher was raised near the Hungarian border and spoke little Czech and no Yiddish, but was fluent in Hungarian and German.
He left home at 15 and made his way to Budapest, where he became the driver for a high-ranking police official. He was issued a car and a uniform and gun, which he used, said Evelyn, “to steal food at night for people waiting for visas in the Glass House,” a former glass factory that was the best-known of the 76 safe houses in Budapest where 62,000 Hungarian Jews were sheltered by Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz. “He risked his life by breaking into restaurants and stores.”
After going back to his hometown to rescue his only surviving family member — his sister, Marti — at war’s end, Goldstein made his own escape by water to prestate Israel.
“The boat sank about a half-mile off the coast and they had to swim,” said Evelyn. “They came in on Christmas Day because they knew the British soldiers would be drunk.”
When Marti developed a life-threatening illness, with the little money he had, Ascher managed to arrange a plane trip to Switzerland where she remained in extended treatment. She is still alive today.
In the United States, Goldstein bought a cake and cookie route in the Bronx, delivering primarily to Puerto Rican bodegas.
“He became friendly with them,” said Evelyn. “We were always invited to their weddings. He really touched everyone he knew.”