You had mentioned that you clearly saw Yad Hashem in everything. Can you share some stories with us?
The Germans knew the Jewish holidays well. It was around Tishah B’Av when they made a selektzia — a selection. We were lined up outside five in a row. First they took the small and skinny children. We arranged ourselves so that it shouldn’t be so obvious that I was short. As we stood there the S.S. officer looked away and the five of us in my row quickly moved to the other side where the Germans had already finished their selections, without being noticed. We had tremendous hashgachah.
On another occasion before Rosh Hashanah, a selektzia was made. Two or three little children hid in the bathrooms until our group was ready to move on. Again we saw hashgachas Hashem.
How long did you remain in this camp?
Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of 1944 they took about two hundred and fifty children away on transports; I was one of them. We were taken to Germany to a place near Dauchau, called Kaufering. Some groups were taken to lager 4 and some were taken to lager 9. We went to work for the German farmers picking and harvesting their crops. The farmers would give us food.
One morning before we left for work we received our ration of bread. We began eating when suddenly one member of the group realized that it was Yom Kippur. The Jewish Kapo standing there said to us, “Ir fressed oif Yom Kippur?” Some stopped eating and saved it for the way home from work.
In November of 1944 we were transferred to another camp, Kaufbayern. Here the prisoners were digging bunkers and setting them up for underground storage. I was frostbitten by now and I could no longer go to work. I was placed in a shonung block with others who were expected to die. We slept close to each other so that our body heat would keep each other warm. One morning I woke up feeling cold; I immediately realized that the kid next to me had died. I knew his family and I was able to tell them after the war that I knew firsthand that he did not survive.
In January the camp was liquidated and we were taken to Dachau in cattle cars stuffed with 80-90 people. The Jewish kapo there made sure that I walked so that the blood would circulate in my frostbitten toes. Then the group was separated and I was placed in the hospital. My brother was taken to a different section in the same hospital. I had surgery. My toes were amputated along with the metatarsal.
Can you tell us about liberation?
We heard rumors about liberation; we knew something was going on. In the hospital we were treated well. The Germans kept the hospital as a show for the Red Cross.
I was liberated on tes zayin Sivan, April 29, 1945, by the American Army. My brother was taken to a DP camp in Feldafing. I was transferred to an army hospital for recuperation, where I remained for about three months. I weighed about 27 kilos (about 59 lbs.). I was then transferred to the hospital in the Flaring DP camp. My brother and an uncle Reb Elya David Lichtenstein, a”h, met me in the hospital.
The Klausenburger Rebbe, zt”l, was in this DP camp. Here he opened a yeshivah for Shearis Hapleitah and a makeshift beis medrash and classes for girls.
When our uncle went back to Romania, he asked the Rebbe to look after us.
On Yom Kippur an American frum soldier, Lieutenant Silber, came to participate in the Yom Kippur davening. He sat down and took his shoes off. When the Rebbe walked by, he noticed an American soldier dressed in full uniform with the shoes off. The Rebbe stepped back and told the soldier to put his shoes on. The soldier told the Rebbe he is from a Williamsburg religious family. The Rebbe told him, “You represent the U.S. Army and the shoes are part of your uniform.” About an hour later General Eisenhower came to visit the Jewish survivors in Feldafing. The Rebbe greeted him on behalf of the community with the traditional ‘bread and wine.’ Lieutenant Silber was the interpreter. The general asked the Rebbe what he could do to help. The Rebbe requested that the general facilitate specific needs for the observant community. The Rebbe asked General Eisenhower for help to obtain an esrog and lulav for Sukkos. The general dispatched a special air force plane to obtain the esrog and lulav from Italy. The general asked the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe told him “You have reached your highest position in the armed forces, but you are destined to a higher position to serve the American people and the world.”
We remained in Feldafing until after Sukkos. My grandfather’s brother, the Krasne Rav, Harav Hillel Lichtenstein, zt”l, came to Germany. My brother and I went to stay with him in a DP camp in Landsberg. He opened a yeshivah and we learned there.
When did you come to the United States?
In 1946, we were registered to go to Palestine and to America, whichever came first. We received permission to immigrate to America, through an organization organized by Mrs. Roosevelt and the U.N.R.R.A. Our group of children was taken by first-class train, to a staging area in Prien, Austria. There we were processed to go to the United States.
There was a ship strike in the U.S., so we were there for about three months. In the beginning of December 1946 we traveled to Bremerhaven, the port city in Germany where we sailed from. We boarded ship on December 6, 1946, and were fortunate to sail to America on the same ship with the Klausenburger Rebbe. The Rebbe continued to care for the needs of all the frum boys on the ship. He would wake up one of the boys and they walked around to each of our bunks with negel vasser. The Rebbe discovered there was a Greek Jewish survivor who worked in the bakery and made arrangements for the boys to eat Pas Yisrael.
The SS Marine Marlin docked in the New York harbor on Erev Shabbos, December 20, the fifth day of Chanukah. Our group of boys was taken to the Childrens Home in the East Bronx, managed by the JOINT. The Rebbe had prearranged for the frum youngsters to eat on Shabbos with the Rosenberg and Goldhirsch families in a complete frum and kosher environment. By the following Monday the Rebbe arranged for us to be released into his custody at the Yeshivah Shearith Hapleitah, which the Rebbe founded in the summer of 1946.
What message can you impart to today’s generation?
Chessed, chessed, chessed, that’s what it’s all about. Olam chessed yiboneh.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.