When the Jewish Social Service Agency decided to celebrate and honor author, journalist and Holocaust survivor Herman Taube on his 95th birthday, Taube decided that he did not want or need any birthday gifts.
"I said, 'You know what, you have on the agenda that they want to give me a party, I don't want a party,'" said Taube, who lives in Rockville. "I don't need any parties. Thank the good lord that I lived to 95 and I'm able to still function, and to write, and to go to meetings. So don't give me a party."
Instead of "ties, shirts and books," Taube asked that any planned gift money be granted to the JSSA's Holocaust survivor program. The JSSA responded by establishing the Herman Taube Fund for Holocaust Survivors, which to date has raised more than $10,000 to provide assistance to the community's neediest Holocaust survivors.
"I feel as long as I'm alive, I will try two things: not to forget what happened to us during World War II with the hope that it will never happen again, and that those other survivors will have the help they need," said Taube.
"It's because of people like Herman that our community is as vibrant as it is," said the head of the Holocaust Survivor Program and volunteer coordinator Ellen Blalock, who pointed out that Taube generally designates a needy charity to donate to on his birthdays.
Taube became involved with the JSSA in 1968 while he was writing a column in the Washington Jewish Week called "Getting to Know You."
"One week they called me and one of the survivors of the Holocaust died," said Taube. "When I went to the funeral there were not even 10 people there to say the prayers. Six people were there."
He called the organization and discovered that there were 500 survivors in the Washington area, and in his next column he wrote about the need for survivors to get together. Taube went so far as to invite a group to his home, and that is how he says him and twenty other survivors wound up starting a survivor organization.
"I said to them, 'We need an organization," said Taube. "They said 'Who will lead us?" I said 'You will lead us.' They asked 'Who will be the board?" I said 'You will be the board.'"
After about two weeks, the group's size had doubled to nearly 50 people, and in one year's time it grew to roughly 500.
While volunteering as a chaplain at a hospice, Taube witnessed first hand the tragedies that could befall his fellow survivors.
"Some of them I was so close to, the women would call me 'boyfriend' and the men called me their close friend, and it came to a point when I came to visit them and they would ask, 'Who are you?'" said Taube. "This hurts. They're still alive, but they aren't here anymore."
Taube was born in 1918 in Lodz, Poland. After becoming a nurse in 1937, he was called upon by the Polish Army to serve as a medic in 1939. The Polish Army was defeated within weeks by the Nazi military, and Taube and the rest of the retreating force was captured by Soviet forces and sent to Siberia where the Soviet work camps were located.
After his release from the camps in 1941, Taube joined the Second Polish Army and worked as a medic in Uzbekistan for two years before his unit was moved to the eastern front. Taube was injured in June of 1944 after an ambulance he was riding in drove over a land mine. While he was recovering from his injuries, he said he was inspired to write.
"After being wounded, I used the power of writing to revive my memory," said Taube. He has authored over 20 novels and books of poetry, translated multiple manuscripts and worked as a journalist for over 60 years.
"Herman is a very important chronicler of the memories and importance of Holocaust survivors," said Blalock. According to Blalock, Taube still sends out emails of his new poetry to this day.
Taube went on to work at hospitals near the Majdanek concentration camp, where he cared for liberated prisoners who survived the Nazi's liquidation of the camp, and in Pomerania for the remainder of the war.
After the war's end, Taube married fellow Holocaust survivor Susan Strauss, and the two immigrated to the United States in 1947. The two have five children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Taube has no plans of stepping back from his efforts to support his fellow survivors.
"We cannot forget the Holocaust survivors," said Taube. "And that is my goal, and I feel that as long as the good lord keeps me here, I will continue doing it."