Veronica (Vera) Kestenberg was born Veronica Salazar in 1936 in Budapest, Hungary. The youngest of two children, Kestenberg was three years old when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, launching the war. As a member of the Axis powers, Hungary had its forces participate in the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. While the orders for deportation were not carried out until 1944, Hungarian Jews were subject to severe restrictions that limited their level of participation in the community. Kestenberg survived the Holocaust by going into hiding with her mother in the outskirts of Budapest, recalling at one point living with another family that had no heat or water, even food. Hearing the “Stalin Stars,” or Russian bombs, was a regular occurrence for Kestenberg. By the time Kestenberg turned eight, she had changed her personal identification—including her birth name—three times. When the war ended, Kestenberg and her mother reunited with her father and brother, from whom they had been separated for three years. Kestenberg and her parents remained in Hungary, and Kestenberg ultimately earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at the University in Budapest. When a revolt swept across Hungary in 1956, the Salazar family escaped to Austria before flying to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Kestenberg’s brother resided at the time. They immigrated to the United States two years later. Kestenberg found a position as a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, focusing on treatments for children with lead poisoning. She retired after forty-three years in the field and is currently the Book Fund Chairperson for the Baltimore Chapter of Brandeis National Committee and Council Member of the Jewish Community Services. She was married to Felix Festenberg, also a Holocaust survivor who passed away in 2008.
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