Peter Wigmore was born in 1950 in Melbourne, Australia. His mother, Rosa, was born in 1923 and survived the Holocaust. Rosa grew up in the small village of Ulic, Czechoslovakia--now located on the far eastern border of the Slovak Republic. Her early childhood was typical and her family was well-off, as her father was the manager of a local lumber mill. Devastatingly, Rosa’s father died of tuberculosis at a young age in July 1939. This caused the family to lose their sense of direction and had to rely on support from other family members and the local Jewish community.
This sense of loss and powerlessness was compounded by the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Jews like Rosa and her family were gradually expelled from public schools, denied the use of public transportation, denied access to public places like parks and libraries, and forced to wear a yellow star to identify themselves. For years they faced devastating social exclusion and discrimination.
During the winter of 1944 there was a knock at the door of Rosa’s family home. The authorities at the door commanded the family to pack their things, and told them that within a few hours, they would be deported to a factory in Russia to do forced labor. This was a lie. Instead, the entire Jewish community of Ulic was forced to walk for three days to the nearest train station, where they were packed tightly into a box car and sent first to a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. During this time, Rosa witnessed the murder of many people, including her uncle. From the concentration camp, Rosa was deported to Auschwitz, where she arrived in the late spring of 1944.
During the fall of 1944, Rosa was selected by the infamous Nazi “doctor,” Josef Mengele, to forcibly participate in horrific medical experimentation in the so-called SS-Hygiene Institut. There, she was injected with Rheumatic Fever bacteria and left untreated in order to be studied as a human experiment. Rosa survived, and a result, has struggled with heart problems her entire life. She also remembers being sent to the gas chamber of Auschwitz twice, and being taken out of the line both times, for reasons unknown. In November 1944, Rosa was transferred to a forced labor camp, Ober-Hohenelbe, in Czechoslovakia, where she remained until she was liberated on May 8, 1945.
After the Holocaust, Rosa settled in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where she met her husband, Louis. In 1948 the Communists overthrew the government, and the couple, fearing for their lives, fled and immigrated to Australia. In 1950, Rosa gave birth to Peter. He was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at age two. Five years later, in 1957, Peter and his family moved to the Bronx, New York, in pursuit of better medical care; and at age 12, Peter’s family relocated to San Francisco for the same reason. During his childhood Peter endured many surgeries, and throughout his life he has had to struggle with the prejudice of others and with their misconceptions of his disability. Peter was an excellent student, attending a purely academic high school, and loved bowling, horseback riding, rock climbing, and teenage shenanigans; during college he spent his summers working as a counselor at summer camps for children with disabilities, which ultimately lead him to become a special education teacher.
Peter fell in love with Oregon while backpacking and hitchhiking up the coast during college, and he decided to move north. He attended graduate school at the University of Oregon, where he studied special education and met his wife, Randy. They have been married for 41 years and have two adult sons. Peter worked as a teacher, mostly in Lake Oswego, for 30 years and retired in 2005. Now, Peter loves to travel, especially overseas; photography; the Trailblazers; eating out; handcycling; and being involved with the Portland Jewish community.
In an effort to learn more about his mother’s history, who rarely spoke about her experiences surviving the Holocaust, Peter has studied the Holocaust for well over 40 years, including visiting Auschwitz. He has been involved in Holocaust education for years, including speaking about his mother's story, as a docent at the Oregon Holocaust Memorial, and being on the Board of Directors of both the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center and now of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. In sharing his mother’s story, and through his personal experience with prejudice, Peter hopes to encourage others to do what they can to help stop violence and discrimination, becoming more tolerant and respectful of our social differences, and simply make the world a safer place.