Gavriel Blau – Part II

You were born in Satmar. When the Nazis invaded, you were 16 and training to be an electrician. Just after Pesach 1944, your father was deported to Germany. What happened to your family?

Soon after we last heard from my father, we were transferred to the Satmar ghetto. The Hungarian police had orders from the Germans to let us take only whatever we could carry. We were in the ghetto for approximately four weeks before the Nazis began transporting people to Auschwitz.

The ghetto was very uncomfortable. We shared a room in the home of my father’s friend, together with six or seven other families. Truckloads of people were taken out in the morning to do strenuous work. They were brought back in the evening. We had barely any food; we survived on whatever we had brought with us to the ghetto. We did have some flour. On the day that we were taken from the ghetto and transported to Auschwitz, my mother had just finished baking fresh bread.

My family was put onto the first transport. It was a week before Shavuos in 1944. My older brother wasn’t with us; he had been drafted in 1943 into a labor camp. My mother, my sister, my four brothers — the youngest of them was just nine years old — and I were taken together to Auschwitz. It was a terrible trip. For three days and three nights we were cramped in cattle cars with no water or food.

When we arrived in Auschwitz, we were greeted by Polish men whose job it was to clear out the cattle cars when the trains arrived. We were instructed to leave whatever belongings we had brought with us on the train. One of the Poles told my younger brother, who was 12 years old, that when he passed in front of Mengele, he should not reveal his true age, he should say that he was 15 years old.

When we came before Mengele, I was standing in the middle, with my brother to my right and my cousin to my left. Mengele asked my brother his age, to which my brother responded, “Fifteen.”

Then Mengele asked him, “What is your trade?”

I answered for my brother,We are carpenters.” When Mengele heard that we might be useful to him, he pointed to the right. My sister also was sent to work. My mother and my two younger brothers were sent to the left — to death. I knew exactly what was happening for we smelled the horrendous smell of burning flesh and saw the smoke rising from the chimney.

We were put through a process of disinfection. Our peyos and all our hair were cut off and all our belongings taken from us. If you visit Auschwitz today, you will see the eyeglasses that were confiscated from us.

We were given a striped uniform. I looked around to find my brother Shaya, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I called his name and he was standing right next to me, but I hadn’t recognized him. My number was not tattooed onto my arm but it is engraved deeply in my mind: 68456. We slept on boards, three levels high, 12 boys to a bed. If one person turned over, all 12 had to turn.

We were in Auschwitz for 10 days and then we were taken to Mauthausen. It was a long march to get there. Whoever couldn’t walk was shot on the spot.

When we arrived in Mauthausen we were given supper. My younger brother came over to me and said, “I’m hungry, I’m getting in line again.”

I couldn’t believe it. I said to him, “What are you doing? You are committing suicide!”

“I can’t help it, I’m hungry,” he said.

When he got to the front of the line the second time, a German officer said, “If you will tell me the truth, I will let you live, but if you will lie to me I will shoot you on the spot. Did you already receive a portion?”

My brother answered him truthfully and said, “Yes.” The officer asked him why he had come back a second time. When my brother answered simply, “I was hungry,” the officer not only let him live, he gave him some extra food.

Mauthausen was a central camp from where the inmates were sent on to between 50 to 60 sub-camps. We were a group of 1,000 when we arrived in Mauthausen. Those whose names began with the letters A through K were sent to Ebensee and those from L through Z went to Melk. I was sent to Ebensee. 

To Be Continued…

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.