Every night an officer from the Nazi Party or the police department would come to check on us and make sure that no one had escaped; the numbers had to add up exactly. One person who was sharing a room with us insisted on bringing along a Gemara from which to learn instead of wasting his time. When they spotted this old man with his Gemara, they asked him, “Mr. Schwartz, what are you doing with that big book?” He couldn’t get an answer because the man only spoke Yiddish. However, when the officer was told that the man was studying what happened to the Jews over 3,000 years ago (he was studying about the korbanos) he proclaimed Mr. Schwartz to be crazy! He couldn’t understand how someone who was in hiding to save his life from an imminent bomb could be studying what happened millenia ago.
My grandfather lived approximately six blocks from the “Jew House.” One day my grandfather heard that they were taking away children. He immediately ran to us to inform my parents that we were next. On the way he was stopped by a young Nazi who yelled to him, “Jew, what are you doing out on the streets? The young Hungarian Nazi took out a gun and shot my grandfather on the spot. At the time I was 16 ½ and my father was 56 years old.
In the beginning there was a specific, designated time during which we were allowed to go out of the “Jew House” to purchase food. Before we were exiled to the “Jew House,” when my mother would send me to buy bread, there were six varieties to choose from, but now we no longer had that dilemma of which type of bread to purchase. In advance, my father prepared dried food that wouldn’t spoil.
There was a law in Hungary that any [male] from the age of 16 to 60 years of age was considered a man. We were given jobs like making fortifications or removing ammunition from planes … and whatever else was needed.
We were basically locked into our apartment in the “Jew House.” One night, when my father was sure that the custodian was sleeping, he went down to the basement and closed the main gas line. Then he removed the handles from the gas line, filling one faucet pipe with money and the other one with jewelry. He then sealed it back and reopened the gas line. He covered the area with dirt again so that it was unidentifiable. (After the war, when we went back, we found that half of the house had been bombed, but the second half was still standing. We were able to salvage all that my father had hidden and, with this money, we were able to rebuild.)
Three Nazi soldiers burst into the house, shattering the glass and windows to scare us, proclaiming that anyone from the age of 16 to 60 must line up outside.
Within the “Jew House” we were not allowed to speak to each other for the Nazis were afraid that we would plan an escape. However, secretly, we made a minyan. My father became very friendly with three men who came to daven Minchah every day; these men were sent to line up too.
Then we were marched to an area about six or seven miles from the city. There we were divided into groups; 600 people were sent to Dachau, 400 people were sent to Auschwitz and 200 people were sent to help fortify the Russian border. My father and I were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in Austria.
Did you spend time in the ghetto?
It was January of 1945; my mother had a gentile friend who took my mother in to live with her. My older brother was learning in Grosswardein by the Vizhnitzer Rebbe. He was taken straight from the yeshivah to the Arbeitslager (labor camp) in the Ukraine. My father, my younger brother and I were sent to the ghetto. We found a small, dirty, apartment within the ghetto walls to stay in.
The young boys up to 20 years old were taken out of the ghetto each day to work. We were issued a band around our arm to identify us. I was given the job to unload ammunition from the airplane. In addition I worked in a hospital where they amputated soldiers’ hands and feet. Operations were done on the third floor and my job was to take the limbs down to the basement where I would dispose of them by burning them.