Were you able to keep any Yiddishkeit?
Each day we were woken up early for tzel appel. There was a group of people from Slovakia who had been in the camps for three years already when I came; they would get up earlier than the time we were woken up for tzel appel, to daven. Although my body was not clean and therefore I could not say the actual words of the davening, I always davened to Hashem in my own words for Him to help me.
I knew when it was Shabbos and Yom Tov but it was not possible to adhere to any mitzvos. There were some people who worked extremely hard all week carrying iron railroad tracks. Six people were needed to carry these tracks. Yet they did it in such a way so that when Shabbos came the chillul Shabbos would be lessened, since the halachah is that if two people carry an object it’s less stringent. For Shabbos they were willing to sacrifice and work hard all week.
On Erev Pesach the lagereltster had a big dog which he [set on] me. Imagine that I fought off the dog! I was rewarded with a piece of bread for the Seder night.
Did you have to work?
Yes. I had to carry bags of heavy cement on my shoulders up a hill. Later on, when my job changed and I was put into the kitchen to peel potatoes, I was quite happy. I would steal potatoes and save them for Sundays when they gave a little bit of cheese. This kept me going when I contracted the typhus disease.
One time after appel, all those who were sick were taken away to a different lager to keep the other people from contamination with typhus. Here we were given moldy bread to eat and a small bowl of soup made from the peels of potatoes.
My younger brothers were taken to the crematorium, my sisters were taken to the women’s side to work and I was told that my older brother died a few days before liberation.
Today, when I take a coffee and I make a brachah, Shehakol, I thank Hashem that I am alive to drink it.
Can you recall any stories where you clearly saw Yad Hashem present?
My shoes were all rubbed out from the long walk to and from work each day. There was another Jew who was willing to trade his shoes for 10 days’ worth of bread. I agreed, but realized that although I can survive without shoes, there was no way I could survive for 10 days without bread, so I returned the shoes to him. At night, when I arrived back at the camp, a kapo was standing there looking at my shoes and directed me to go to Lager 10. I had no idea why. Upon arriving there I was given wooden shoes. The wooden shoes were much better. They were insulated from the snow, and they lasted me until the end. For this I am forever grateful.
I saw Hakadosh Baruch Hu with me and I had strong emunah the whole time and I never had complaints to the Ribbono shel Olam.
Can you tell me about liberation?
Before liberation I was worried that if we remained in Kaufering they would shoot us. They announced that anyone who could walk should gather at the appel platz. I came to the gathering spot and although I was almost sent away I did manage to join those gathered. Although this was not considered the official death march, we walked until Dachau. On the way we stopped at a farm where we slept in animal barns. We wanted to hide in the hay bundles but the farmers didn’t allow it; they said the Germans were likely to set the hay on fire — “You will escape and we will be left without anything.” We were liberated in a town close to Dachau.
Once you were liberated, where did you go?
After liberation I went back home. My brother was home already. Two of my sisters who were in hiding with my brother had returned home, too.
Many soup kitchens opened. My brother insisted that the soup kitchen that was being established must be kosher, and he refused to give in. In addition he was a shochet and was able to slaughter animals and kasher them.
When did you arrive in the United States?
Visas were sent through Yeshivah Rabbi Chaim Berlin. I came to the United States at the end of 1947 with my yeshivah (Serdahely).
What message can you impart to today’s generation?
I was zocheh to bring up children who are all yirei Shamayim. I always think about why the Holocaust happened; I think that the answer is because we are different, we are special. The world looks at the German culture and says wow, they are great! No culture is as refined as theirs. Yet Hashem wanted to show us that our culture is greater than the German culture. Look how low they can stoop.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.