I remained in the ghetto for less than two weeks. Then selections were made and we were taken on the very first Death March towards Austria — Buchenwald, in the middle of December (1944), when it was snowing and raining. Most people did not make it through.
Buchenwald was a distance of approximately 75 miles. We were given 10 minutes to collect up to 10 kilo of items to take along with us, which included medications. When we arrived we felt completely wiped out. We sat down in a circle because we had no strength left.
Suddenly one man in the circle said, “De veist, heint is der ershter nacht fun Chanukah — You know, tonight is the first night of Chanukah.” We looked at him as if he were crazy. He walked away and returned with a suppository of medication he was taking for a health issue. He lit this pill with a match and put it in the center of the circle as we sang Maoz Tzur. Even today I can’t understand how we were practically dead and the next minute we were Jewish and lighting Chanukah lights.
Every day there was a new incident and a new story. We were working at a site, building a wall on the Russian-Hungarian border to prevent the Russians from coming in. We were taken to the Arbeitslager. Here the conditions were terrible. We had nothing to eat and nothing to drink and the sleeping conditions were equally as bad. We slept inside the brick factory. Once the building was full, the remaining people slept outside in the fields. My father and I were selected to sleep inside this dirty, damp building. We were sleeping in an L shape so that our bodies were very close to each other to keep the warmth in, in the frigid weather. On the second night we were there, while we were all supposedly sleeping, there was whispering in the dark: “Anyone under the age of 20 years who wants to escape, we have a plan.” I told my father, who was right behind me, “I want to take this opportunity and try to escape. Hopefully an opportunity will arise and you too will be able to escape.” My father took hold of my shirt and said, “I don’t permit you to go, under any circumstance.”
We were woken each day at 6:00 a.m. for roll call. That morning they found three people to be missing. The rest of us were forced to stay in line until these people were found. It was very hard to escape; no one had money, no one had where to go and our clothing was easily recognizable. Two of the three boys were found and brought back. They brought them in front of the lines of people and we were all forced to witness and watch as they were shot to death. We continued standing in line while they searched for the third missing person. All this was done to teach us a lesson and to make sure that we would never have that idea again.
Suddenly, a uniformed Nazi came riding up on a scooter and began to holler, “You dirty Jews, you don’t know how to behave, you don’t follow the laws, you don’t have any respect! I want every tenth person shot!” They lined us up in a long row and the process began. When they came up to my father and he was number five and I was number six, I felt like we were given a new life.
My father always had foresight. My father gave each of us a very small siddur, and in the spine of the siddur he put Hungarian paper money whose value was worth a lot. I was still holding my small siddur when we were given an order that everyone had to undress completely, and all our clothing was to be thrown into the big bags. My siddur went along into these bags. I don’t know where I got the courage to do this but I hollered across at them, “I want to have back my prayer book!” Everyone turned to look at me, at the crime I had just committed. Lo and behold, a Nazi soldier screamed out, “Give him back his book!” And they did. Even today I sometimes wonder, was it the siddur or the money that I wanted?
Can you tell us about liberation?
I was liberated on the second Death March to Buchenwald.
After the first Death March they were not organized anymore. After two weeks we were able to go wherever we wanted. My father and I had nowhere to go so we went back to the ghetto. The women and children had not been taken.
Shortly after our return to the ghetto another selection was made and I was taken again. The second Death March was much harsher than the first one.