In 1944, two of my older brothers — Shmelke, who had recently married, and Shaya, who was still a bachur — were taken away by soldiers to be trained for the army. Shmelke tried to escape from the army. He would hide in various basements and bunkers, along with other young married men from the town. When their food ran out they would take turns leaving their hideout in the early morning and late hours to look for food.
On one occasion, a gentile recognized my brother and followed him back to the hideout. He then notified the police, who came and raided the bunker and shipped all six men in hiding back to the army.
On another occasion, Shmelke jumped off a moving train headed for the army front and hid in forests and fields. He survived the war and was not sent to Auschwitz.
Did you spend time in the ghetto?
In March of 1944, the Nazis and the Hungarian officials ordered the Jewish population to pack up the minimal essentials necessary. We were forced to leave our house on Zrinyi St., No. 4, and we were taken to the ghettos.
Feelings of panic, fear and uncertainty descended on us. We had to leave our furniture, china, bookcases full of sacred books, silver, rugs, etc. My mother was foresighted and, together with my sisters, worked hastily, selecting what to take along. She sewed most of her jewelry — including her diamond ring and wedding band, earrings, gold watch, my father’s gold watch and other pieces — into our coat hems, shoulder pads and cuffs. She instructed us to use these valuables only in case of emergency or for lifesaving purposes.
My whole family, all the town’s Jews and those from neighboring villages were taken to our town’s brick factory, which became the ghetto. The conditions in the ghetto were sub-human. We ate and slept on the floor, in open view of all the other Jewish families. We tried to separate families by hanging sheets. At times we slept on floors wet and muddy from the rain that was seeping in.
We tried to help ourselves and make it through the day. I tried to comfort the many children and elderly people who were distraught over the anguish and devastation that had befallen us. I helped with cooking and washing.
We remained in the ghetto for a few months, barely surviving. Little did we know that the worst was yet to come, as the Gestapo marched us from the ghetto to the railroad station.
Can you describe the scene that awaited you at the railroad station?
We were shoved, 80 to 100 people into each of the waiting cattle wagons, just like animals. The doors were slammed behind us and the metal bars were bolted; we were locked in. There was room only for standing or sitting on the floor. We took turns sleeping in a sitting position. The little bit of food or water that we took along with us was extremely rationed.
As we were on our way to the gehinnom of Auschwitz-Birkenau, an elderly man died in our wagon. We covered the body with a blanket so the children should not be frightened. The children were crying for water and food. The conditions were horrific.
What greeted you upon your arrival in Auschwitz?
Upon arriving in Auschwitz, we were told by the S.S. to leave all our luggage at the station and it would be given to us later. There were mountains and mountains of luggage, valises, suitcases and boxes of our belongings which had been left there. My mother held onto a siddur (or possibly a Chumash, I don’t recall exactly which it was), and my father held onto one piece of luggage — his tallis and tefillin bag; he would not part from them. The S.S. soldier snatched it from my father’s hand and threw it to the floor. Father begged the S.S. to please let him keep only this one religious item. The S.S. replied, “Where you are going, you will not need it.” I did not know at that time what he meant; unfortunately, by now I know.
The infamous “doctor of death,” Mengele, stood there, proud and tall. With a motion of his thumb to the left or to the right, he selected those who would go to the gas chambers, disguised as showers, where, instead of water flowing from the showerhead, the Gestapo discharged poison gas, killing them all: men, women, children, babies in their mothers’ arms. With a flick of his finger, my dear parents, sisters, brothers, their children and so many more family members — with hundreds of thousands-plus Jews — were wiped out. The able-bodied were motioned to the right. They would go to work.
I went with my mother to the left; we had no idea what it meant. My sister and sister-in-law went to the right. We walked a little, and then Mommy asked me, “Where are the others?” I answered her, “They were sent to the other side; I imagine we will meet soon.” To which my mother replied, “Go run after them.”
Mengele was standing right there but Hashem blinded his vision. No one from the left ever ran over to the right, but my mother told me to do something and so I listened. She saved my life.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.