At 12, Marika Roth understood the true meaning of fear. At 79, she understands the meaning of love.
“Hatred and prejudice is like a form of cancer, and that’s what people do. They kill each other for religion, for race, for money … I think honesty and love is the way to go. That’s what gives more strength than anything else,” she said.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Roth is a Holocaust survivor. The Nazis invaded her country when she was 11.
“They came into the Jewish protected housing and they took all the men in the house — not the women or the children — just the men. And they took [my father] and deported him to Germany. They shoved him in a truck with dozens of other people. I didn’t know where they [went],” said Roth, who later discovered he was sent to a concentration camp.
After years of silence, the Santa Monica resident has written an autobiography, titled “All the Pretty Shoes,” detailing her experiences as a young girl during the holocaust and the aftermath that ensued.
With both her parents gone — her mother had died from tuberculosis before the invasion — Roth was left to fend for herself, often knocking on strangers’ doors and posing as a Catholic girl in search of place to stay to avoid being punished for breaking the curfew.
“When you’re a child… and you lose someone you really love, you keep going on,” Roth said. “You have this inner strength that keeps moving you on and you say, ‘Well, my parents will be proud of me. I know I can be better than everyone else. I’ll show the world that I can do this.’”
It was with this innocent belief that Roth made it through the occupation. Even after the war, however, Roth did not stop running. From joining a militarized Zionist group promising passage out of Hungary to jumping a train headed to Paris, France to avoid being followed, Roth could not forget the survival skills she had learned.
“I was never fussy about what I was doing because I was surviving,” she said.
In Paris, Roth found an organization that protected immigrants and sent her to the north of France to reunite with her uncle, who put her to work in a factory. After a period of poor treatment and hard labor, she ran back to Paris, and signed up for an adoption program that moved her to Montreal, Canada.
“Every weekend we would have rich families shop for orphans … . I didn’t want to be adopted. I didn’t like the concept, so they put me in a foster home instead,” she said.
While she was in foster care, she became pregnant by another orphan immigrant, who she later married and had two children with. However, before long, the relationship soured. She left him and moved to Toronto.
“When my husband found me, he took the children out for a walk, and he never brought them back. He kidnapped them,” said Roth, who spent the next six years looking for her children, only to find them given up to a foster home.
During that time, her friend encouraged her to become a fashion model for a man who later became her husband. He helped get her children back, but then began abusing her son when money problems arose.
“I know [my son] was suffering from that man … and that really hurt me. That pain came back to me and I’m so sorry,” said Roth, who while writing her book called her son out of the blue to apologize.
Roth’s daughter has had an easier time accepting her mother, but still can’t read the book.
“She said she cant deal with it…. I understand it, but I’m disappointed. I was hoping to put an end to the questions in her mind … and bring us closer,” Roth said.
Again, Roth ran away from an abusive situation, moving in with her daughter in Redondo Beach, who sponsored her U.S. citizenship.
While in the U.S., she approached work with the same attitude she learned during the war.
“I didn’t have any former education … I had no diploma. I took jobs just to survive. For me that was my schooling. Every job taught me something,” said Roth, who has worked as everything from a legal secretary to a director at the Century City Chamber of Commerce. “Once I went in from the bottom, I climbed to the top.”
All along, she pursued her creative interests in art and writing. Locally, she’s privately exhibited her acrylic-based figurative artwork in establishments, such as Kreation Organic Restaurant.
She met the love of her life at a writing class for adults at Beverly Hills High School. They were together for 31 years.
After his death last year, she channeled all of her energies into another love: writing.
“I started writing [my book] and I couldn’t stop … . My arms and fingers were hurting, but I kept going. For about six months, I don’t think I left my computer … just to sleep,” said Roth, who hopes her story will spread awareness about victims of war and help inspire others to persevere through hard times.
“I have a girlfriend who’s been struggling with divorce … and trying to find a job. I said, ‘[You are] so strong. I am so proud of you for … fighting for your life.’ She said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m proud of you … . I open your book everyday. It’s my Bible. It gives me strength to survive.’”
“All the Pretty Shoes” officially launches Jan. 8, 2011.