You went through several camps during the war – Madjanek, Budzyn, Plaszow and Flossenburg — and then you were sent on the Death March. What happened?
When we were in Flossenburg, the Germans realized that the front was getting very close. On April 14, 1945, there was an announcement that everyone was going to be evacuated and the Jews would be taken first. So I immediately decided that I would not go with the Jews. During the time that the guards were emptying the barracks, I went to the camp hospital, where I went from room to room, pretending that I worked there. I stayed there until the Jewish group left.
I was not the only Jewish person who remained among the gentile group; in the face of impending doom, others — some of whom I knew — also had the same idea and somehow avoided being forced to join the Jewish contingent.
Incidentally, the train that was waiting to transport the Jewish prisoners to the Dachau gas chambers was attacked and destroyed by the U.S. Air Force.
We dreaded the thought that our camp was slated for liquidation as the end of the war came closer. While we awaited our fate, the camp authorities made a strange announcement: They asked inventors, chemists and engineers to register at the office. I made my choice instinctively without lengthy deliberations, figuring I had nothing to lose. Disregarding the fact that I didn’t belong to any of those professions and that I had no scientific qualifications, I registered as a chemist. I later learned that 36 men from Budzyn had registered.
The camp was in chaos. There were no more food rations. I went to the area where tailors and shoemakers were confined. They were treated better than the rest of us, for they were doing work for the German army. In their part of the camp I was able to steal some food to eat.
I joined the last group that was escorted out of the camp. About 2000 people were marched out at a time. I lagged behind so that I could be in the very last group out of the camp. We got soaked by the April rains. Each morning, those who couldn’t get up were shot and we continued marching, leaving their bodies on the side of the road to rot. We walked for four days.
It was April 23, 1945. We saw a single-engine plane flying low overhead. Soon afterward, we saw tanks on the horizon, all with white stars, signaling the arrival of the American army. The Germans saw this, too, and suddenly they dropped their guns and fled. So we were liberated by the 11th Armored Division.
What happened after liberation?
After liberation, I desperately wanted to take revenge, so I volunteered to serve in the American army. I wrote a letter to my grandmother in America. I did not know where she lived, but I addressed the envelope to Sara Etta Topas, Fifth Avenue, New York. I received a letter from the postmaster saying that the postal service would find my grandmother — and they did. Shortly afterward, I received packages and letters from her. I stayed in Germany for over a year after liberation, until my grandmother was able to send me papers to come to America.
In June 1946, I arrived by ship. I joined the U.S. military and served in the CIC, the Counter Intelligence Corp.
Despite all the suffering by our people in this Holocaust, it poses no new challenge to our faith, as I see it. Though it was unique in its ferocity and magnitude, the Holocaust was not without precedent. It was an overwhelmingly cruel expression of a recurrent phenomenon in Jewish history. So, like our ancestors, we shall continue to place our trust in the ultimate victory of the Divine law and justice over arrogance, of light over darkness and of freedom over tyranny.
Mr. George Topas is the author of the book, “The Iron Furnace: a Holocaust Survivor’s Story.”
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.