Alamosa’s Marx recalls surviving the Holocaust

Photo by Diane Drekmann Alamosa’s Herbert Marx lived through the Holocaust. His family died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

ALAMOSA — Eighty-eight-year-old Herbert Marx is a lively gentleman who is clearly interested in Germany and soccer.

Marx was an eyewitness to the atrocities committed by Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. Marx was born in Karlsruhe, a small German town, while Hitler was in power.

Herbert's mother, Selma, was Jewish, and had to wear a badge identifying the family as such. When Marx was 6 years old, Nazis came into his town, loaded him, his mother, grandmother, and three aunts into a railroad car used to transport cattle.

“I can still remember the smell,” Marx said. He said after two days of travel, they were taken to a concentration camp in Gurs, France, near Toulouse. The man he thought was his father, David Marx, was not Jewish, and therefore not sent to the concentration camp.

"One day, Catholic nuns took me away,” he said. “I found out they were French Resistance Fighters. We went over the mountains like ‘Sound of Music’."

Marx went to several orphanages, until arriving in Bex-les-Bains in the French area of Switzerland. He found out later he was spared because his mother sacrificed her body in exchange for the life of her son.

In 1946, the International Red Cross came to the orphanage and informed Marx he had lost his entire family was killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Marx had an aunt and uncle in New York, Leopold Marx and Johanna Bender, who had immigrated to America before Hitler came into power. Marx spent the remainder of his childhood in New York and New Jersey with his aunt and uncle.

After high school, he was drafted and became a private in the US Army. The Army wanted Marx to sign a document which would make him an American citizen because Marx had valuable skills as an interpreter, being fluent in German, French and English.

Marx became an American citizen in August 1955, and was stationed in Germany. Marx fondly remembers, "I re-enlisted after two years for love. My first wife, Ida, was Catholic. The Army did not allow us to get married because I was Jewish. We got the special blessing from the Pope to get married, but not from the Army."

Marx was stationed near his hometown of Karlsruhe. He remembered his address from childhood before the war, went there, and discovered a man living there named Berthold Palmert, who he learned was his biological father. That was his only communication with this man.

Marx spent 20 years in the Army, and 20 years at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Marx worked for the Secret Service for 26 years. Six years were spent at Peterson AFB. Marx raised his seven children in Colorado Springs.

Throughout the twists and turns of his life, one constant has been soccer.

"Soccer is my life," Marx exclaims.

Marx has been an international referee for soccer for 30 years. He is still a proud member of the German Soccer Federation, with a Deutscher Fussball-Bund banner on his door along with a banner of his favorite team, FC Bayern Munchen. Marx is also a member of the United States Soccer Federation.

Marx explained the process of refereeing. There are different referee levels. Each level has different patches.

"You can move up the ladder and get promoted,” he said. “At each level, there are assessments. Are you qualified to appreciate the games."

Marx began coaching elementary children, eventually becoming an assessor and assigner-assigning officials to games.

Marx has been a referee for high school soccer and college. A college referee is considered a professional because they are paid. The rules are slightly different for each.

“I am the only international referee who ejected a head of state from a game,” he said. “I was referee for a girl's soccer game in Colorado Springs when President George Bush came jogging by. He was in town for some event. I ejected him!"

Marx shared one of his most special memories.

He and his wife Ida were having their 50th wedding anniversary. Ida was in poor health and on life support. The soccer community had 2,000 special gold coins minted. One side with both their faces, names, anniversary date of Sept. 30, 2006. The other side had one of Marx's famous sayings, “Gotcha!” when a player makes a penalty. Marx was also known for "Time for a Beer" when it was halftime. The special coins were and are still being used today for coin tosses at the beginning of games.

Marx retired as an international referee when he was 80 years old. Marx settled in Alamosa to be close to his daughter, Sandie Wehe.

A few years ago, coming over La Veta Pass, Marx was involved in a head-on collision, resulting in brain surgery. Doctors used part of his hip to repair his skull. His "black-, orange-, yellow-striped German blood" saved him, he jokes.

Today, Marx is single and enjoys an active lifestyle.

In July 2022, Marx went to the Social Security Administration to see about receiving $255 burial allowance to bury his last wife, Shirley. The Social Security Administration informed Marx that "they had no record that he was an American citizen.” The naturalization papers from August 1955 were too old. The Social Security Administration took Marx's naturalization certificate and sent it to Homeland Security.

Marx sent an email to Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, asking for assistance with the Social Security Administration to verify his citizenship. He has a current American passport.

Marx has shared his story in a YouTube video titled “From Holoucast to Freedom.”

"In 1996," Marx said, "Steven Spielberg enterprises’ staff came to my home in Colorado Springs and made a 2 1/2-hour tape of my life. That tape is in the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C."

People often ask Marx, even today, if he hates the Germans for killing his family.

“The German people did not kill my family. The Nazis did,” Marx said. “The German government censored everything, and the German people did not have any idea what was going on."

International Holocaust Memorial Day is Jan. 27.