Holocaust Survivor Honored at Walsh Commencement Ceremony


School News

Walsh University honored its 2015 summer and fall graduates during the winter Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, December 13, in the Gaetano M. Cecchini Family Health and Wellness Complex. More than 300 graduates were awarded their respective associate, bachelor, masters and doctorate degrees. 

Sunday's Commencement ceremony also included a special address by Holocaust survivor Barbara Turkeltaub, who was honored with the Walsh University Founders’ Award and Honorary Doctorate Degree of Humane Letters.

Click here to read the Saturday, Dec. 12, Canton Repository feature article spotlighting Barbara Turkeltaub. 

The Founders' Award is given to those who have illustrated in their lives the same ideals that inspired John de La Mennais and Gabriel Deshayes, founders of the Brothers of Christian Instruction. These ideals are faith in God, fidelity to the Catholic Church, active concern for Christian education, dedication to authentic social justice, and courageous promotion of human welfare, especially among the less fortunate and disenfranchised. 

Barbara Turkeltaub is a Child Survivor of the Holocaust. Born in Vilna, Lithuania, to a seamstress and an accountant, Barbara was barely in grade school when the Nazis marched into her hometown. Her family was soon hoarded into the Vilna ghetto with other Jewish residents. They found themselves surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire, while living in deplorable conditions. Somehow, Barbara and her sister Leah were smuggled out by her mother, Mina, who arranged to have them live with a non-Jewish family on a farm outside of town. During the next few years, Barbara and Leah began a remarkable journey through fear, faith, hope and survival.

One night after over hearing the farmer’s wife suggest that they turn the girls over to the Germans, she and her sister ran away and took refuge in a brick factory to keep warm. Posing as orphans, they were saved by a Catholic Priest named "Father Jan" who took them to a nearby Benedictine convent.  There, they were sheltered, protected, schooled and raised as Catholics. She has never forgotten their kindness and compassion, even though they risked their lives to do so.

While the two girls hid from the Gestapo in the convent, their mother, Mina, gave birth to a son.  She hid the newborn with a childless Christian couple before being sent to be murdered in the infamous Ponary forest.  Once inside Ponary, she and scores of other women were shot with machine gun fire by German SS.  Her mother was wounded but somehow survived, feigning death. Unfortunately, Barbara’s father and two sisters who joined the underground Partisans were tragically killed by retreating German soldiers towards the end of the war. 

For two years after the war, Barbara’s mother searched to find her surviving children, if any. She finally found them in the convent and was reunited with her two daughters and her son who had been raised by another family. Together, they immigrated to Israel, where Barbara was inducted into the Israeli Army. While there, she learned to be a nurse. She also met and married Joseph "Joe" Turkeltaub, a survivor of numerous slave labor and death camps, including Buchenwald and Dachau. Because Joe had relatives in Canton, Ohio, they came to the United States and began a home and family. Joe was an award-winning builder, while Barbara received training and worked as a nurse at Menorah Park nursing home in Beachwood, Ohio.

Barbara’s close connection to Walsh began with her husband Joe’s friendship with Walsh’s third President, Brother Francis Blouin. Over the years, she has remained a faithful friend to Walsh’s Founders, the Brothers of Christian Instruction, both at Walsh and in Alfred, Maine. Her dedication and friendship has blessed their lives in countless ways, including the utilization of her nursing skills to minister to their healthcare needs and compassionate comfort whenever needed.

As the last living survivor of the Holocaust in Canton, Ohio, Barbara has been active in Holocaust education for over 25 years, in the community and at Walsh. Barbara’s account of the conditions at that time and how she survived and maintained a hopeful attitude is a remarkable story that inspired Ohio Governor John Kasich to propose a plan to build a permanent memorial at the Ohio Statehouse. Designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind who also designed the new Freedom Towers in Manhattan, the memorial was unveiled and dedicated on June 2, 2014, with the hope that future generations may never forget what so few lived to tell. 

Barbara has a son, Mark, and a daughter Esther, and is also a proud grandmother of three grandsons: Aaron, Matthew, and Evan.