Once you were selected, where were you taken?
After the selection was finalized we were loaded onto trains. There were many people from our hometown. There was one very rich woman who took out a stack of American money from her pocket along with a match and burned the money right there on the train. She said that in the past, when the Vizhnitzer Rebbe would come to town, she would beg the Rebbe for a brachah for parnassah, she would beg the Rebbe for hatzlachah in her business — “Oh, parnassah, Rebbe, Rebbe, parnassah.” Now, on the train, she realized that money couldn’t save her and she wondered aloud why she hadn’t asked the Rebbe to save the world: “Parnassah hut mir gefeilt, Rebbe, mir hut gedarft rativin de velt!”
We began to travel. Smoke rose and the S.S. came rushing in. They spotted the money burning on the floor and started screaming; they were furious. It couldn’t be helped because the money was already burnt.
The S.S. officers were terribly angry. We were all chased off the train. I recall that my grandfather, who was 76 years old, could barely get up after sitting in one spot on the floor for three days. There was another old man who was also sitting for three days, he too could barely move.
What greeted you upon your arrival in Auschwitz?
We saw Mengele standing up high on some sort of pedestal. We were separated and the men were sent straight ahead, while the women and children were sent to the side. To our knowledge, the women and children were sent to the crematorium within the next three hours. My mother, three brothers and a sister all went together; we didn’t even say goodbye. My older sister ended up working in a factory in Germany where her working conditions were a lot better than ours. (She died at the age of 91 — just one year ago.)
We were sent into a large room where a German soldier made a loud speech. He spoke in German. The main idea of his speech was, “You are here in Germany; all it takes is one German soldier to finish off 600 Jews.” He spoke and spoke and spoke. When he finished speaking, one Hungarian Jew, who didn’t understand the German language, announced, “Nicht verstehen — we didn’t understand what you said.” The Germans were so angry they tied this man to a chair and beat him. He was screaming in pain but they didn’t let up until he was dead. We saw, we witnessed and we watched, but there was nothing we could do; it was very scary.
We were then ordered to go further into a big hall where we were instructed to undress completely. We were left with just our belt and shoes. The shoes we were told to carry on our hands. We stood there as the Germans began preaching. We were told that for any violation of the rules we would be killed. Big trays were passed around for anyone who still had any jewelry on them. You would be surprised how much jewelry they collected in a half hour from naked people — the trays were full.
Next we were directed to our barracks to eat. The minute I smelled the food, I knew it was the same food I used to feed the animals back home. My father said to me and my younger brother, “If you want to survive, you will have to eat.” My father made believe he was eating but he didn’t eat it, either.
We were assigned to our beds; seven people in one direction and seven in the other — 14 people on each bed. The next day they gave us food. We were given a slice of bread with margarine and some sweet water to drink. Next they tattooed numbers onto our arm; my number was 7553 and my father was 7554, my brother’s number was close by.
The next day they organized a group consisting of a few hundred people and we marched to Auschwitz. At the entrance to Auschwitz hung the infamous sign which read, “Arbeit macht Frei.” The camp consisted mainly of Polish people. When Poland was defeated by Germany, the Germans put the ex-soldiers in Auschwitz to prevent them from ganging up. The barracks we were assigned to were too small to hold the amount of people assigned to them. The Poles were very angry at the Hungarian people who were brought in. We didn’t understand each other, which made communication impossible. They would fight with us and some were even killed.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.