Where did the train take you?
The train arrived at a camp for sick people, Lager 2, in the Kovno ghetto. The Jews who were there had been there for quite a while and they were already frustrated. The Germans were having great pleasure from kicking people in the stomach so that they would fall right into the mud.
One day when we arrived home from work I saw the Hungarian girls who worked in the kitchen lighting Chanukah candles. When they left work they snuck potatoes out of the kitchen and used them to make a menorah.
From Lager 2 we were transferred to Lager 3, where we remained for two or three days. Here the situation was terrible. For example, one of the inmates needed the bathroom and he went behind the building to take care of his needs. He was caught and the whole lager was punished for this; we were given one slice of bread for the whole day.
On January 2, the Germans marched us from Lager 3 to Lager 7. Here we were not given any work. We did nothing all day. One day I didn’t feel well; I had contracted typhus. I was taken to the sick building. For seven days I had nothing to eat or drink other than hot water. I and everyone else around me were covered with lice. Slowly I recovered.
In February they began chasing us out, back to the snow. We barely had shoes covering our feet. We experienced tremendous hardships. I was still very weak from typhus. One day I went out of the camp hoping to find something to eat in the garbage. A German came around and spotted me, hitting me over the head for being where I was obviously not allowed to be. A short while later we were taken to Lager 4.
On the first night of Pesach I sat down with another man who had come from Chenstichova by the name of Lefkowitz and we sang Mah Nishtanah.
In Lager 4, my building was close to that of the Blockeltester. Being that I was a young, curious boy I saw the Blockeltester reading a German newspaper and I sensed that he had some information. I approached him and he told me that April 27 was going to be a big day.
Can you tell us about liberation?
On a Friday in the middle of April an announcement was made: “Anyone who could walk should assemble.” Those who couldn’t walk were taken by tractor to the rails. The rest of us were taken to the train station where we were put into open wagons. The wagons began to move, when suddenly we heard airplanes overhead. They began shooting directly at us. This continued on through Shabbos. Many people were killed.
The trains took us to Dachau. It was raining hard and we were in open wagons. I tried to cover myself, when suddenly I heard a voice saying, “I see movement. There are living people in the wagon.” When the wagons stopped we were met by a group of soldiers with machine guns.
On Sunday, April 29, in Dachau, word spread that the Americans had arrived and we were free.
Once you were liberated, where did you go?
I was so weak I … was sure that I was going to die. I was taken to the camp hospital. Slowly the place began emptying out; the French, the Italians and the English were all leaving. One day a doctor came in and I begged him to treat me. I was taken with a group to the S.S. camp where there were beds and nurses. Slowly I recuperated.
American soldiers were there and they helped me send a letter to my father at 133 Keap Street, in Williamsburg. My parents got my message and began communicating with me.
I remained in Dachau for approximately six weeks. From there we were taken to Munich, Germany, and from there we were taken to a hospital in Gouting. I was there a short while. Then my father wrote to me that I should travel to another country where there was an American consulate. In addition, he wrote that Lieutenant Birnbaum was going to be in Feldafing for Yom Kippur. I went there and the Klausenburger Rebbe, zt”l, was there as well as General Eisenhower. However, Lieutenant Birnbaum was not really able to help me. I got a ride back to Munich with a group of American soldiers. I truly wanted to make my way to France where I had family living.
A friend and I took a train headed to France. When we arrived at the German-French border, I told them that I had a grandmother living in France and I was granted a visa for eight weeks. In France I met my grandmother, my aunts, uncles and cousins. After six weeks I boarded a ship to the United States. The boat ride took 16 days. We docked on Chol Hamoed Pesach and found my family was waiting for me.
What message can you impart to today’s generation?
Each year on the night of Tishah B’Av I sit down with my children and grandchildren and retell stories of the Holocaust. Chasdei Hashem, the Eibershter was always with me.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.