Written by Michael Scro, email@example.com Thursday, 15 August 2013 00:00
Syosset High School Senior Matt Csillag is carrying inspiration from his grandfathers, Nazi concentration camp survivors Joseph Csillag and Oscar Cukierman, in all that he does in life - most recently winning the silver medal in golf at the 2013 19th Maccabi Games in Israel.
“My grandfather Joseph Csillag was on his way to the crematorium when he saw one of his friends who pulled him off of a pile of bodies and got him back on his feet,” Csillag said. “To think that he was that close to death shows me how lucky I am to be alive today, and I am even luckier that I was able to represent my country in the Maccabi games, which is centered around building Jewish pride.”
Joseph Csillag was eventually able to live in the United States with his brother and sisters, while his parents remained in Hungary. He then served for the United States Army in Korea and subsequently made a living as a baker. He passed away five years ago, and Matt says: “I think about him all of the time as an inspiration to me not only as a person or athlete, but as a Jew.”
His grandfather Oscar was taken away from his family in Poland at age 13, and was moved around to different concentration camps. According to Csillag, he was the only one in his family to survive as his brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were all murdered in the Auschwitz camp.
“Through determination and luck he survived with the help of a doctor who knew his family very well before the Holocaust; he hid him underneath a bed in the infirmary during a routine selection for the gas chamber,” Csillag said. “He was one of six to survive among thousands in his last camp. After the war he was instrumental in helping many survivors leave Europe and head to Israel.”
Cukierman later lived in Milan, and became a successful soccer player, which has inspired Csillag athletically.
“My grandfathers never abandoned their dream of survival and fulfilling their dreams, and they successfully passed on their drive to me to succeed, and fulfill my dreams,” Csillag said.
While in Israel, Csillag visited various historic sites for the first time, which he said were “truly amazing.” Having started Hebrew School at an early age, Csillag said he had heard about locations such as Masada (an ancient fortification in the Southern District of Israel), the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem (World Center For Holocaust Research) and the Kotel (also known as The Western Wall, which is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard).
“As a Jew, you feel something inside at all of these places which is truly indescribable,” Csillag said. “While it is new to float in a big body of water, and to hear about the history of Masada and the people that lived there, what really got me was Yad Vashem and the Kotel.”
Reflecting on his visit to Yad Vashem, Csillag said: “It helped give a visual image of what my grandparents really went through. It touched me to see what teenagers just like me had to go through just to survive, while most teenagers I know take everything for granted.”
Csillag said his visit to the Kotel “really got me spiritually and emotionally,” as he recalled being told by his Rabbi in Hebrew School to “face east toward the Western Wall.”
“When I finally got there, it hit me - I realized how special the Kotel was in the holiest city, and I didn’t want to leave because I was soaking up the 15 or so years that I wanted to be in that very spot,” Csillag said.
Csillag was one of five junior male golfers to quality down at the PGA National in West Palm Beach, Florida last summer, where he won the qualifier by shooting 69-76-76 on the Champion course at PGA.
Reflecting on his winning the silver medal, Csillag said: “It will go in as one of my greatest achievements in my life to date. Even though I did not win an individual medal, I helped contribute to the team winning silver.”
Csillag shot a 76 on the first day, which helped team USA.
“The course conditions got very tough at the Signature Pete Dye golf course in Caesarea, but we still prevailed and got the Silver,” Csillag said. “It was one of the greatest feelings to have the person put the medal on me. Golf is not looked at as a team sport, but at the Maccabi Games we honestly played golf with the intention of the team on our mind at all times.”
Csillag said that their coach for team USA, Dan Frankel, was an instrumental part in bingeing team spirit and helping his team get through problems with transportation.
“Without him, winning the silver and becoming a true team would have been extremely difficult,” Csillag said, who aspires to play college golf and “hopefully balance that with a good education.”
“I am going to work as hard as I can to be the best and whether that takes me to the PGA tour or not I do not want to have one regret that I did not try my hardest,” Csillag said.