By Linda Ha
Joe Taras with CCHS students.
“It was very very hard times, from hunger to sickness, to being scared.”
These were the words of Joe Taras, a Holocaust survivor who shared his inspiring story with Cathedral City High School students at the Tolerance Education Center.
It was a difficult time time for Taras, who was only seven years old when the Holocaust began. And though he survived it, the pain and horrid memories are lucid, as if it happened only yesterday. “I lost all of my uncles and aunts,” said Taras. “Half of the family was put into concentration camps and Germans were going into homes killing anyone who was in their way.”
In fear of being molested by the german nazis, Taras’ sisters were hidden inside of a closet during the night for approximately 6-8 months. The family then decided that the best move was to get out of the city and live in the mountains. Taras says his family, which consisted of himself, his father and two sisters, lived in the mountains for 18 months. “We had to look for trees to burn to keep warm at night, there was no food, and many times there were snakes, and people died from lack of food and supplies.”
There was only one water pump in the mountain village. The Germans dug a hole and buried three people- a mother, a father, and a daughter up to their necks. “I witnessed as a child, vultures eating at their heads. This is a terrible memory that has remained so clear,” said Taras.
The Germans eventually came up to the mountains and killed half of the entire population 6 months after the Taras family had moved ro the region. There were three houses in the village, with at least 45 occupants in each (men, women, and children). “The Germans took everyone in one house, put them against the wall, and shot them all,” said Taras. “They did the same with the second house, and I remember my father saying ‘we tried.’ There was nothing left to do because we were next.” Fortunately, the Germans stopped and left after someone arrived on a motorcycle and spoke to the leader of the group. “My father turned to me afterwards and said,’ we are going to get through this war alive, we are going to make it.’”
Taras emigrated to Canada in 1955 with only sixty-five dollars to his name. “I went from Greece to Montreal, Canada on ship, and then moved to California.” He sees his life as beautiful despite the Holocaust that occurred during the 1930′s and 1940′s. Taras has a wife who also survived the Holocaust, and two sons, one of which teaches psychology at Cathedral City High school. “We’re healthy and living a good comfortable life, which is all I need to be happy.”
There are still hatred and atrocities occurring around the world, including in the United States, but Taras hopes that the students take what they learned about the Holocaust and use it to become better citizens, concerned with the well-being of all those around them.
“When we are born, we don’t know how to hate, we are to taught to hate by society,” said Taras. “It doesn’t matter what race we are, we are all different, and that is what makes us special.”