Your honor, I am a Holocaust survivor who lost my mother, father and two younger brothers.
From among eight of my family members four survived. In the short time I have been allotted
I will present the main points of what I endured in seven months that I spent in the extermination camp, Birkenau. I have great respect for the judicial system of Germany that has made my testimony possible.
From the ghetto to Birkenau
We arrived in Birkenau on Friday, May 26th, 1944, in the late evening hours after three days of travel from the ghetto in Slatina, where we had been for five weeks. Sixty people were tightly crammed in each boxcar. All the passengers in our car were members of my mother's family. The conditions were stifling and the stench which arose from the sanitation conditions nauseating. The days were swelteringly hot and the nights very cold. Water was rationed and the only food was dry bread. At the beginning of the trip there were two sick people and when we arrived at Birkenau, seven.
We were received at Birkenau by tens of S.S. soldiers, with firearms and clubs in hand; some of them stood with threatening dogs.
On the trains there were over one hundred family members of whom thirty six survived. All the rest were murdered. To the best of my knowledge most of them were murdered on the first night of our arrival, in the first selection.
When the doors of the boxcar were opened we saw the layout of the place. We all felt fear in our hearts, but no one could prophesy what would really happen. Even before we had digested this strange, surrealistic sight, we heard shouts, "Raus, raus" and two or three people, dressed in striped clothing, entered the boxcar. They spoke Yiddish and ordered us to leave all our belongings which would arrive later at the place where we would be and urged us to leave the boxcar.
The boxcars were without steps or ramps to ease our exit. The younger people jumped but the older ones, the sick, the small children, and some of the women had difficulty in exiting and needed help. We, the younger ones, helped them but it took some time because the older people got out one by one, with difficulty. The soldiers shouted, "Schnell, schnell", and the dogs barked and frightened us.
My parents, two little brothers and two sisters were among the first to get out of the boxcar. They lined up and walked forward. My brother Yehuda also got out and walked ahead. But the selection separated my family. My parents and two little brothers were sent straight ahead; Yehuda and two sisters were sent to the right.
When I finished helping everyone disembark I walked through the lines searching for my parents. I went ahead and returned. I shouted their names and when I didn't find them I burst into tears.
I managed to see that there was a group of S.S. soldiers in front of us. An S.S. soldier chased me and beat me with a club, but when I was swallowed up among the marchers he let off and went back to his place. I hugged my brother tightly and sobbed aloud. I held his hand so that I wouldn't lose him and asked him: "Where are our parents?" He said "Maybe in front of us, maybe behind us, we'll surely meet up with them where they are directing us". I added and asked: "Does God see what they are doing to us?", but my brother didn't answer. I was 14 and he was 18 and a half.
At a certain point we turned left and marched between fences behind which we saw large structures, but we saw only a few people.
The sky above us was covered with thick smoke, and a pungent stench that was like the burning of feathers or chickens filled the air and made breathing difficult. As we walked ahead we saw tall chimneys spouting smoke and occasionally flames. But we didn't connect it to any explanation.
The meeting with the kapo and his assistants
The kapos with the clubs led us between two rows of buildings; at the last of them they stopped us. They spoke in a language we didn't understand and someone translated what was said to Hungarian.
We were ordered to undress and get haircuts. They sprayed us with white powder and told us to shower quickly. When we got out of the cold shower we were given striped clothing, not suited to our sizes. We dried off with them and then put them on. I found my shoes and put them on. We were faced with a problem: how to keep our pants from falling. I stayed behind to find a belt or rope but the man with the club shouted at me and at my brother, beat us and ordered us to run to the place where everyone was assembled. They arranged us in groups of five and, with the help of a translator, explained the rules of discipline, order, etc.
Kapos with clubs walked around among the lines and beat anyone who moved or spoke. My brother was beaten because he held out his hand to the man next to him so that he wouldn't fall. I was beaten because I helped a man up who had collapsed on the ground and the man I helped was also beaten. Those who were lying down were beaten repeatedly; most of them remained lying on the ground without being able to rise and without any assistance.
Opposite us stood a large man, leaning on his club, and he would enter the rows from time to time and beat one or two of us and then return to his place. He explained things in an incomprehensible language which was later translated for us.
All that happened at midnight, without taking into account our physical and mental condition. This was after the difficult conditions of our three day journey, and after we were separated from our families without knowing where they were. In this condition all of us were on the verge of collapsing. If my brother Yehuda had not been at my side I would have collapsed.
After the large man's speech we wrote down our names and were marched to a large building that was divided into two. The building was full of wooden platforms, three stories high. On every platform were six to eight people and two to three thin blankets meant for all the people there. Anyone who said anything or didn't run quickly enough to his platform was beaten, as were those who spoke among themselves.
Hunger bothered us greatly and my whole body ached from the beatings I got. I cried and moved close to my brother. I hugged him and whispered, " A guten Shabbos" and he answered, "Sehr a guten Shabbos", and both of us continued to sob until we fell asleep.
There were five other children on the platform with us. They cried too. We warned them to cry quietly because the men with clubs were walking around and beating anyone who moved or muttered a sound. Despite that many cried and many asked for help, among them sick people. Everyone was answered with a beating. By the number of dead bodies that were taken out of the building in the morning it was clear that the cries for help from the infirm were answered by beatings. I need to add that the kapo in his speech told us explicitly, "There are no sick here.".
Early in the morning we were awakened and everyone needed the toilets. We were not allowed to go to the toilet during the night even though the toilets were close to our building. Those who were unable to restrain themselves and started to go to them were beaten and returned.
In the morning we stood in formation for roll call and then every eight men were give one loaf of bread, shaped like a brick and tasting like something unlike bread. We were also given something not discernible to drink. It wasn't coffee and not tea. It would be correct to call it simply filthy water.
Because we had no knives we had to break off parts of the hard bread. So there were those who succeeded in getting a large piece while others got small pieces. No one was sated by this breakfast. We remained as hungry as we were before.
At noon they brought in tall containers with what looked like soup. In the morning I had found a piece of dirty tin. I cleaned it and decided that it would be my dish for meals. People with clubs maintained order. Along with others I was beaten soundly because we had asked for a bit more substance in the moldy soup. The request angered someone with a club. He beat us and that caused the thin soup I held to spill. I stood again at the end of the line; this time I didn't ask for any content.
After we had eaten our soup my brother and I turned to the veteran prisoners and asked: "Where are we?: For the first time we received an explanation that it was called Auschwitz-Birkenau. When we asked who the men were who beat us so soundly we heard for the first time the words "block alteste and "kapo" also a short explanation on their life histories and the way they got to their positions.
And then we asked" Where are our parents and the rest of our families?" and instead of an answer someone nodded to the chimneys and the smoke that spewed from them and said simply, " Your parents have already risen or are rising now to the sky in the smoke that you see. Perhaps they are already in heaven and you will soon arrive there as well." We thought he was joking but then they repeated their explicit explanation so that we would be convinced and explained the entire process of extermination that took place in the camp. We heard but we had trouble understanding. Then we heard for the first time about the Birkenau crematorium, selection, and Mengele. Yehuda and I went aside, hugged each other and wept. Some of the veteran prisoners came to comfort us.
It didn't take many more days for us to learn for ourselves more and more about this horrible place. We learned more details about the selection, and ten days later I learned about it personally. In the first selection my brother was taken. He was my protector and I cried bitterly. People around me comforted me and explained that there are selections from which people are sent straight to the crematoriums, but there are also those which send people to other camps, for work and added that, from the looks of it, my brother was sent with others to another camp.
Despite the rational explanations that I heard from veteran prisoners, I still harbored doubt and wept a great deal. I was desperate that I hadn't had a sign of life from Yehuda. Only in January, 1946 did I see him when he appeared in Holzhorn, Germany, a place where I had been with a group of children I had had known from Budapest. The joy was great. I told Yehuda about two sisters and aunts who had survived in our town and he decided to go home. When Yehuda was taken I was sure that I wouldn't last for long without him in this hell, and I thought seriously about throwing myself on the electric fence. But my friend, Moshe, promised me that he would be like a brother to me and convinced me to give up the idea of suicide or at least to postpone it.
Our lives were managed by the block alteste, the kapo, and their assistants and of course the command of the S.S. They didn't allow us even a moment of quiet. The kapo was cruel and his authority was limitless. He was permitted to beat us, to starve us, to kill, to prevent sleep or to call us to roll call in the middle of the night. The kapo also invented special acts of cruelty such as:
- extracting gold teeth brutally without any consideration of pain
- beating us for anything small act he thought of
- stripping, punishing and doing anything he wanted
- searching through clothes left in the showers to take anything he wanted
- choose children to rape or trade as he wished
- The kapo did business with the guards at the gate and supplied them with children (pipel) for their sexual satisfaction. Most of these miserable children were sent to the crematorium when the kapo or SS soldier grew tired of them so that they wouldn't tell their stories.
- He would set up fights between two prisoners that he chose, and if they didn't fight with gusto he would beat them harshly. The height (of such cruelty) as I remember, was a fight between two brothers, apparently twins. They were both beaten with such barbarity by the kapo that they died two days later.
- He would throw bread or a potato at the electric fence and stalked whoever tried to get a bit of food. Whoever dared to advance toward the fence risked death by electrocution or a bullet from the guards' outpost. Many chose this. And whoever survived was treated by the kapo to a beating. Once I was the victim of such a beating.
- During lunch it wasn't always orderly. When the man in charge, the kapo's aide, was unable to maintain order he would turn the pot over and we all got down on our knees to lick the food from the ground, like dogs.
- The kapo and his helpers took all the content from the soup before giving it to us.
- The kapo prevented us from going to the toilet at night. Those who weren't able to restrain themselves were beaten.
- They conducted hanging ceremonies accompanied by an orchestra where they hanged a number of people next to each other. These were done under the command of S.S. soldiers and in their presence.
- They conducted hangings with the head downward. These, too, under the command of the S.S. and in their presence.
- The number of suicides by electrocution at the fence grew daily.
- The kapo encouraged frequent selections. Our thoughts were obsessed with them and we were constantly in fear. As I will relate, I myself participated in numerous selections.
Evil deeds of Mengele – who was termed 'the angel of death'
I want to relate more regarding the evil of Mengele, about those acts that I didn't personally experience, to which I was not a direct witness. I bring them here because in those dark days we heard about them from people who suffered from Mengele's cruelty and satanic acts and they only served to instill in us more anxiety and dread. Among us we called him 'the angel of death' and he was also called that among the kapos. After the liberation historical accounts confirmed this fact.
Mengele will be remembered as a disgrace on the world for the acts he committed. He will particularly be remembered as the devil by the people I was with because of the selections he conducted so often, in particular those he held at the train station when the transports arrived and the selections he held in the camp among the prisoners. He hated Jews, despised us, and his work was to exterminate all the Jews in numbers and horrific ways as much as he could.
The cruel acts to which I refer were physiological experiments on people – on children, women and men. Some were so-called medical experiments and some were specifically for the sadistic enjoyment of Mengele and his cronies. These included: starvation, which was prolonged and without air, teeth extraction, infection with diseases, and horrible experiments on twins. I had a friend in the camp who was a twin and underwent experiments. When we met in Israel he wouldn't tell me of the horrors he underwent, but he still experienced the hell of slaughter. When he recalled what he went through, even after many years, he would burst into bitter tears.
As time went by the selections became more frequent. During 1944, until the months of August and September selections were held once every two or three weeks. In September they were held every 10-12 days, even though the population of the camps had been reduced by half. Mengele, it would seem, knew the end was near and thought it right to leave as few as possible alive. Jews, witnesses who told stories of the infamous Mengele and of Birkenau, note that the last three selections took place on Jewish holidays out of hatred for the Jews and consideration of antisemitism.
I myself took part in four selections from which I was not picked to go to the crematorium. But in the fifth selection on September 18th, 1944, the first day of the Jewish New Year, I was selected and was sent, together with my friend Moshe, and with five others from our block, mostly of them young, to block number 11, next to the entry gate to the camp. There were others who arrived from various blocks, totaling 600, mostly young men. My friend Moshe discovered that one of the windows of the building we were in had no glass and he decided to escape at sundown. He helped me get to the window and we agreed to meet in the toilets. I got to the window and climbed through it and up to the roof which was 2 -2.5 meters from the ground. I hung on a corner of the roof and jumped to the ground. Walking stealthily next to the building I got to the toilet where there were four or five others but Moshe did not arrive. We huddled in a corner of the building and in the morning I joined the lineup of the members of the block. There were those who recognized me, I signaled them not to look at me, and the rest was normal. Moshe, who was like a brother to me, did not survive. How would I live now? I was saved from this selection but on Wednesday, September 27th, 1944, on Yom Kippur, another selection took place and again I was chosen to go to the crematorium, and once again they put us all in block 11. I already knew the place so I spoke with two others and we decided to escape through the open window. Because I was the initiator of this escape they let me go first, helped to get to the open window and through it to the roof and, like the previous time, I continued and was again saved. And then, after twelve days another selection to send more than 1000 to their deaths.
I attribute this large number to the fact that two days previously on October 7th, the Sonderkommandos rioted. All of them were caught and cruelly murdered. It was said that they were pushed into the ovens while still alive, but during the riot they managed to destroy one crematorium and to kill two or three of the S.S. soldiers. This selection was to show that nothing had changed and that the selections would continue.
Just as two other young men and I were about to escape through the open window, the gate to block 11 opened and we were ordered to go out. On both sides of the exit from the block until the gate of the camp S.S. soldiers stood with their weapons and dogs threatening us and forcing us to the crematorium. We were already old hands at the camp and we knew where we were being led to and all of us wept openly, some of us prayed and others lay on the road. The dogs took care of them. Anyone who showed any sign of escaping was set upon by clubs and beaten to death. I wanted to avoid the beating and the suffering before my death. I didn't pray because I didn't believe that God would help. I maintained a kind of monologue with my parents and told them I was on my way to them and we would soon meet. I wept and yet I enjoyed the vision of my mother and father that I held in my imagination.
They put us in a large hall and told us to undress, to hang our clothes on numbered hooks and to remember the numbers. We knew that we wouldn't need the numbers of the hooks and we didn't hang up our clothes but threw them on the floor. The S.S. officers hurried us through an iron door that opened, using their clubs and rifle butts. I continued the conversation with my parents. I felt they were near me and hugging me and, in order to save myself from a beating before my death, and to reach heaven with bones intact I walked forward through the door marked "shower" which was the "gas room". Suddenly we heard a shout, "Achtung". A few S.S. soldiers entered the room. They whispered secretly to the commandant of the camp and ordered us to move to one half of the room. The S.S. soldiers made us pass through one by one to the other side. About fifty of us were ordered to take clothes and leave the room. I was among them. We left the hall with clothes and dressed outside. While we were dressing we heard the cries of those who were left in the hall and forced into the gas chamber.
We were led to a camp and the next day we were marched to railway cars that were filled with potatoes. We had to load them on trucks which were going to the front. We buried some deep in furrows we had to dig. Empty cars were replaced with full ones. It was very hard work, especially for young men in our physical condition. The S.S. soldiers guarded us and forbade us to eat the potatoes. Whoever did so and was caught was severely beaten. Nevertheless, most of us luckily managed to eat potatoes without getting caught, except for two or three who were beaten to death.
We worked for two month loading potatoes. In mid-December, 1944, at the height of the winter some of us, including me, were loaded on a railway car without a roof and sent to Sachsenhausen. Most of the passengers died on the way of cold and starvation. During the whole journey we ate only bread. What helped us a bit was the canvas that was left on the floor which we used to cover us. We undressed the dead and took their clothes, wore them and lay on the bodies because the floor was frozen.
After some weeks in Sachsenhausen we were taken to Mauthausen. One day a plane bombed the camp and there were many injured and dead. Parts of bodies were strewn on the ground. We suffered terrible starvation and ate them.
From Mauthausen we were sent to Gunskirchen and on Friday, May 4th, 1945 I was liberated by soldiers of the American army. They found me ill with typhus, lying in a ditch near the gate, more dead than alive. I was taken by the American soldiers to a hospital where I was treated until I got well. And then I went home to see who had survived and who had been murdered.