Concordia University MIGS

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Part 1

February 8, 1928

The eleventh child is born to the family of Mordche Shmiel and Chane Smilovic in the town of Mukachevo under the Czechoslovak regime at that time. Our family enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle since we had a very successful tavern and a grocery store which was located next to the tavern.

My name is Szija Falek also known to my family and friends as "Shiku" which was a very popular name in my childhood years. My first memories of my childhood begin when I was 3 years old. I specifically recall my family and friends celebrating my birthday and the cutting off of my hair as is the custom in orthodox Jewish homes.

Very shortly after my haircut, my mother took me to get registered into cheder (school of Jewish learning). I remember very clearly that I resisted going to cheder. As my Mother was dragging me along, I noticed a group of people sitting around a fire next to a new construction site. I asked my mother what these people were doing around the fire? She replied that they were waiting for the children that did not want to go to cheder! At that moment I started to move real fast - I didn't want to end up in the fire. I remember that I did not like cheder very much because the Rebbi was extremely strict and used to beat children with a stick if they misbehaved or didn't pay attention to his teachings.

After two years I was transferred to the Machzike Torah school which was also attended by my brother Bery. It was a different world. All off a sudden I loved going to cheder. My brother Bery took me to cheder with him every morning. The Rebbi for this school was a very pleasant man and he gave candies to the good students. I was among his favorite students. The Machzike Torah school consisted of about 500 students. It was a very well organized school with good teachers and lots of classrooms and was under the Congress supervision so that all children, rich or poor, could attend without any problems.



I am 6 years old and I have to attend elementary school which was the start of a new era in my life. Since my early childhood, I never removed my cap or hat from my head except when I went to sleep. It was very uncomfortable, but as time went by I got used to the idea and started to realize that there were different people around us with different customs. Our school was situated on the second floor of the building. On the first floor there were many stores; my favorite store was the candy store.

Every morning I used to buy my favorite chocolate covered ball made from biscuits and chocolate filling; I can still taste it. It was so popular that you would have to hurry in the morning to be there early to be able to get one.



I am 10 years old. Our city is being occupied by the Hungarians. Thousands of soldiers on trucks, on tanks, on bicycles, on horses, and foot soldiers are marching in. We are all excited since father told us how much better it will be under the Hungarian regime. He remembers prior to 1918 when the Austria-Hungary regime ruled our territories it was very good and taxes were very low, practically zero. Under the Czech regime taxes were very high plus wage controls; it made life impossible. To our surprise it turns out that the Hungarian occupiers are a bunch of anti-Semites; they are cutting off beards and beatings are occurring on the streets while they are marching in.

A new leaf is born in our little town of Munkacz; since I can remember I never heard or witnessed any anti-Semitic outbursts and now all this mess. A few weeks go by and things are not getting any better; a new law is announced. All licenses owned by Jews are revoked immediately like liquor, tobacco products, and drugs. Since we owned a liquor license we had to hire our head waiter or rather we made arrangements with him that we would operate the tavern as 50 % partners. He was happy to receive this offer and we hoped that we would be able to continue on this basis for the meantime. It seems that our gentile partner got cold feet and one day he just said to us: Sorry our partnership is over, and that was another new leaf under the new Hungarian regime.

Munkacz was situated in the most eastern part of Czechoslovakia when I was born in 1928. The population was about 28, 000. The population of Jews in town was about 50%. Mukachevo, as it is called under the Czech regime, is a bustling town. Jewish life is like in Jerusalem, some call it the Jerusalem of the East. Chasidim from every sect Shtieblech all over town. We also have a large Beis Hamedresh, nusuch Sfard and a large Shul nusuch Ashkenaz, a famous Cantor and a 35 unit male choir which includes children. The Shul and the Beis Hamedresh have a capacity of 2-3 thousand seats; they each have a three tier balcony for the ladies. All Zionist organizations are well represented. B'nei Akiva is most popular; since all my older sisters belong, I'm sure that they are the most popular. Life was very pleasant in that period of our life.


September 1939

The Germans attack Poland. They are very successful and conquer Poland in two weeks. Polish soldiers are retreating through our town, among them are Jewish soldiers. They tell us about the suffering in the last two weeks they had to endure. We gave them some food, drinks, and within a few day's they left town. Since Hungary was allied with the Germans, they handed over all Polish soldiers to the Germans as prisoners of war. We found out later, that all Jews and high-ranking officers were killed and the rest were taken to concentration camps in Germany.



Spring 1941

A new order is being posted, All Jews without citizenship papers must report to the railway station the next day, or they will be arrested and harsh punishment handed out to all not obeying the order. We had in our town about 2000 Polish Jews that emigrated from Galicia in the years of Austria-Hungary occupation and failed to integrate into the general population. They never applied for citizenship status, just carried on and on without applying. Citizenship was secondary to them. Thousands are affected and there is no way to avoid being deported. Families are being broken up. Since some have citizenship, the wife or the husband, the ones with citizenship can remain with the rest who have citizenship. The others must go. It's a very sad situation in town. People we know, the Kliver Rebbi's son plus so many others had to go; the situation is very bad. The next day all these people were loaded into cattle cars and taken to destination unknown. We found out that most of the people were killed as soon as they left the train in Ukraine. Our uncle and aunt were also taken with their five children from Terneve a small village about 100 km from Munkacz to Ukraine with the same group.

One day a young boy walks in to our house and says to Mother: I am your nephew from Terneve, my mother Taube Einhorn was your sister. Mother fainted; she always used to faint whenever she heard bad news.

Tell me what happened to your mother and family?

With tears rolling down his face he tells about the grueling story. As soon as they were told to get off the trains when they reached Kamenic Pedolsk, soldiers dressed in SS uniforms all black, started shooting at the people with machine guns. Since father was protecting us from behind, he was shot immediately. We ran toward an overpass and hid under it. After a while they discovered us hiding, and started shooting at us. Mother was killed first since she spread her hands over us. Also three of our siblings were killed; only my sister and I were left in the bottom of the bodies uninjured.

We lay there for hours without moving a muscle, then a woman appeared and noticed that we were alive. She took us to her farm. After a few weeks she said to us, have you family in Munkacz? We said yes. Children, she said, I will keep you (my sister), you can help us on the farm, and you will have to go back and find your family in Munkacz. I shall take you across the border and show you the way to Munkacz. The next day, I was given some food and taken across the mountains; it took me three days to get here. We were all stunned and shocked that these horrors are really happening. We take our cousin to the large crowd in front of the big Synagogue and have him tell the story to all the bystanders. Unbelievable, impossible, children’s imagination. Is that boy telling the truth? Nobody wants to listen, they are scared to believe the truth.

My cousin stayed with my uncle Jeno Weiss in our town and perished in Auschwitz in May 1944 at the age of 12.



February, 1941

I am 13 years old and my Bar Mitzvah will take place in the small Zedichov shtiebel on the Puspuk gass (lane) where the Kliver Rebbi, Chaim Joseph Eichenstein, the son of the great Zedichov Rebbi Menashe Eichenstein is in charge. This shtiebel was like a second home to me; we pray in this place daily and my School of Jewish Learning cheder is also here. The Kliver Rebbi often asks me to take him to the Mikve twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays. I walk with him and he leans on me with his right hand and tells me all about his son that was taken away, and how worried he is about him. On Fridays, I have the duties to pick up some meat for his mother, the old Zedechov rebecin, from the butcher Ackerman on the Yidishe gass (lane) at no charge. My Bar Mitzvah was nothing like you see in North America; all the trimmings were gefilte fish, challes and bilkes, wine and beer, served at the shaloshudes (Shabbat third meal) for the whole congregation on Saturday. I said a Dvar Torah (explication of Biblical text). The Kliver Rebbi seated at the head table was very pleased with my presentation. As I finished, he pinched my cheek and said: You will grow up to be a Ben Torah (a son of the Torah). I liked the Kliver Rebbi very much. In all his talks he warns the people, he is aggressive, look what is happening in Poland. And look what is happening right here! Run to wherever you can, and escape the destruction of your families. Start a collection for arms, you will need it badly soon. Like a Prophet he foresaw the dark clouds gathering upon the Jewish people and tried to persuade the congregation.

But the people thought that he was too aggressive, crazy, and bewildered,




The German armies are pushing toward Moscow. The Hungarians are proud of their allies; the anti-Semites warn us that Hitler is coming and will kill you all soon. We have rented a sty for our cows down the street, and I have to go daily to feed the cows and in that place live some young boys who call me names. Dirty Jew! Hitler is coming to kill you soon. Anti-Semitism is so open that it scares the living daylights out of everybody. All businesses are taken away and replaced by non-Jews. People are without work and money, children are begging on the streets and open kitchens are being opened all over town. The news from Poland is frightening: they say that over 2,000,000 Jews are dead, killed by special German Police, the 101 divisions that go from town to town, round up all the Jews and then take them to the woods where every one is shot through the head in a pit that they had to dig for themselves. It boggles your mind. How can educated Germans, mostly married man with children, ordinary citizens, kill women and little babies? Unbelievable, After reading Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (1996), I am convinced that this gruesome killing was done by ordinary German citizens, willingly, without protest. Our business now, we have a restaurant, located on the Fo'Utsza across from the Grojse Bais Hamedrash before the Latorca River bridge. The store is very busy, since we feed most of the Polish Jews that are running from Poland, which is against the law. But father used to say, "Chesed Kneged Kulam": no matter what, you must help your brother in need.

I am now singing in the Grojse Bais Hamedrash choir, which is across the road from our restaurant. We are now in a new house. We had to sell the old place since the upkeep was very high and no income to carry the mortgage payments. We sold the properties, paid off the debts, and purchased the new place from the monies left over. The new location was in the Yidishe Gass where the neighbors were 99% Jewish; what a contrast of neighborhoods. Here the houses are very old and the neighbors are non-observant Jews.

The old neighborhood was located in a very nice new location; the streets were lined with trees on both sides. And in the spring they used to bloom with pink flowers, it was just beautiful. Our neighbors were mostly Government employees and some very close friends that belonged in the same Shul (Synagogue). These new neighbors stand on the street and smoke cigarettes openly on Shabat and talk a language we never heard before. Father keeps saying I wish we wouldn't buy in this neighborhood; the reality of the matter was, father never even saw the place before he bought it, his friend, the agent who handled both transactions, was the only one who knew the best for my father.

One Saturday when we came home from Shul, as we entered our gates we noticed two men standing under our peach tree, just across from our entrance to our house. As we approached the men, one of them asked my father: are you Marcus Smilovic. Yes I am, answered my father.

You are under arrest, you have five minutes to say goodbye to your family and do not take any luggage; you will be back soon. Father asked what are the charges? We don't know, was the reply. But we knew better.

There were more arrests in the week, for helping the Polish Jews, among them also our uncle Jeno Weiss. The Cushtodias who also owned a restaurant where the Polish runaways were fed, plus other people involved in catering to the Polish Jewish escapees, were arrested. We also found out that the Hungarian police planted spies among the Jewish population in order to find out who was involved in helping the escapees. They were successful in planting a Jewish boy named Guttman who sold out to the police all the people that were involved. He paid a heavy price for his deeds. After the arrests someone threw acid in his face one morning and that was the end of Guttman as a musser (snitch). After the war my cousin Toivy Weiss confessed to me that he was the one that finished off Mr. Guttman after his father's arrest.

My father's tears are running down his face while he is saying goodbye to us and is being taken away by the men. They are walking along our street to the jailhouse. Sister Rivczu walked behind them just to find out where he was being taken. She returned and gave us the news that he was taken to the Kolner Kostely for interrogation. This place was known as the worst interrogation police force in the land; torture was so severe that people died from the blows. We tried to contact all the people that could possibly help dad. We hit brick walls; there was no way of getting father out from this place. After 10 day's of interrogation he was sentenced to 18 month in jail to be served in Garany near Budapest, Hungary. Sister Rose who lives in Budapest could visit father once a month, and informed us about him.

Since we moved to the new neighborhood I managed to make new friends. Their best playtime, is the game of soccer. Since I never played soccer before I stand around and watch the boys play. After a few weeks I am invited to join in and play, and after a few month I master the game and I'm invited to play in their Junior Soccer League team. Problems invade my mind, since all the league games are played on Saturdays. How can I, a Jewish boy from a religious family, even think about playing soccer on Shabas?

Because of the situation of father being away in jail, I find myself torn between the prohibition of playing on Shabas and the eagerness to play soccer. Of course, the game of soccer prevailed and I joined the team and proved myself as one of the best players. Our team became the talk of the soccer people; we won most of the games, and the news appeared in the daily sport section of our town paper. The spectators for our game became larger every week and everything went well until one Saturday afternoon, while playing on the field, I notice my sister Heddy and her boyfriend Arthur Spitz walking through the gates of the field. At first she didn't recognize me because I had a handkerchief around my head covering my side locks. But, since I had possession of the ball, the kids started yelling my name Sziku, Sziku, I immediately realized that I'm in trouble !!! I just ran off the field without any notice, heading for the dressing room with the whole team following right behind me. Nobody knew what happened, except Heddy and I. That ended my soccer career and I promised my mother not to play again. To repent, I enrolled in the Yeshiva where the head of the Yeshiva was father's very good friend, Reb Shlome Chaim Schwartz.

In his building he had a Rebbi, Reb Wolf M'Lancit, who was a Polish escapee who ran the Yeshiva. The fees were collected once a week from the Jewish population in town. In the stores or wealthy homes. The idea was that you would be performing a great mitzva (commandment) by making others give charity for learning Torah (Jewish learning). I didn't like the idea of going around town begging, but I had no choice in the matter, plus that was the only way to attend this Yeshiva. All other Yeshivas in town had a large fee, which we couldn't afford. So every week, my friend Jack Reiss and I paired up and went on the road to fulfill our duties. Jack and I used to haggle: who is going to ring the door bell? We decided by tossing a coin, and Jack was always the winner; I never could figure out how that was possible. But since Jack was a close friend of mine I didn't put up a big fight. We were a very good team since most of the people we visited knew us and our families; therefore the denominations were somewhat larger than normal. The days in the Yeshiva (School of Talmudic Learning) are very long. I start at five o'clock in the morning, head for the Yeshiva till noon, back to the Yeshiva at 2 P.M. till 8 P.M. and that's 6 days a week. On Saturdays we prayed at 9 a.m. until 12 noon and we came back at two p.m. for a special lecture until Shabat ends.

On Sundays, I go to the soccer match watching the M.S.E. our town club play. I watch through the holes in the fence that were there cut out by others for the purpose of watching the game without entrance fees. The games are played at 1 P.M. which gives me a chance to watch during my lunch break. I'm late each time I go to the games for the afternoon session, but I always have some excuse for being late. My soccer fans in the Yeshiva can't wait for my report of the game. They huddle around me with the books in their hands while I give them a blow by blow description of the game. This was going on until one day one of the senior boys listened in on my report and told the Rebbi the reasons of my being late on Sundays. I was very embarrassed when I was approached by the Rebbi (head of the school) and questioned about my behaviour; excuses did not help this time. I received my punishment, to learn a number of pages extra to our regular weekly lectures, and that I will be tested in front of the whole Yeshiva. The boys helped me with the extra work and I managed to pass the tests with flying colours.

This ended my soccer reports on Sundays.


Spring 1943

We receive our regular reports from sister Rose who lives in Budapest. She writes that a week ago she went to visit father in jail. She was surprised to hear, when some one called and said are you Rose Smilovic from Munkacz? She looked at this officer and said yes, I am Rose. Don't you remember me? I used to live just across the road from you, and spend a lot of time in your tavern. By now she recognized him, and told him about father being held in this place. "Don't worry, Rose, I will have him out in a few days."

Within a week dad was released and came home. The whole city was happy with father's home coming. Father's absence in town was felt very much. Especially the poor people whom he used to help day and night. For years he was the President of the Chevra Linas Hatzedek (welfare group) and president of the Chevra Hachnuses Kale (marriage assistance for orphan brides); he was never home, always busy with helping others, leaving mother to take care of the 11 children plus the tavern and grocery store.

Mother was a special person. She disregarded what father was doing, she even encouraged him to go on with his work. Don't worry Mordche Shmiel! I will manage just fine and she surely did. We had a nanny and the older children helped in the business. Mother had it well organized. She received her business education in New York City when at the age of 16 she was sent to her uncle in New York where she spent 2 years in business school. Then she worked for the uncle for a while until one day the uncle noticed his son kissing her.

"What's this? How long has this been going on?" he said.

They said that they were in love, and planned to marry in the near future.

Oh no!! Never, never. According to our tradition, we don't marry cousins. Within a few weeks mother was shipped back to Paczkonyov, the village where grandfather Shmiel Arje Hakohen Schwartz lived and also father lived in the same village. Within six month of mothers arrival back home, she married father. She bore 6 children in Paczkonyov, named Rochel, Feige, Aizik Leib Golde, Sheindel, and Henyu. Since grandfather was a very rich man he promised father a large sum of money to move to the city of Munkacz. An offer father couldn't refuse. Packed up his group and headed for the city. With all that money he purchased a great piece of real estate in a very nice neighborhood and built a large tavern with a dance hall, a grocery store, and new living space, four bedrooms, living room and kitchen. He also brought his friend Guttman the baker and his family from Paczkonyov, he purchased a bakery across the road from our property which was ready to go when his friend the baker arrived.

These were the greatest years of our lives. The bakery was very popular in town and business was very good. It was a 50-50 proposition at the outset, but as business improved Mrs. Guttman became very hostile toward mother and father. One day she chased father out of the bakery saying we were no longer partners, you have enough businesses; the bakery is ours. Father stood stunned not understanding the outburst of his best friend's wife. After some hearings at the Beis Din (a religious court) a settlement was reached and we had cholent (a special food cooked in the oven for 24 hours, meat, beans, potatoes in one pot) baked free for life.

Father was a broken man since he came back from jail. He was 54 years old and looked much older. The suffering during his arrest is a book by itself. Very few people survived that terrible jail and the ones who managed to survive were all broken human beings. The lost will to live had diminished the individual to non-existence, like someone living and feeling dead.

Sitting in his room most of the day and night reading Tehilim (Psalms of King David) with tears rolling down his cheeks soaking the book held in his hands. After a few months he managed to crawl out from his dark past and went to the store to help out.



November 1943

The war in the east has changed direction; the Russians were moving really fast. They recaptured most of their territories, and were only about 200 km from Munkacz. At night we could hear the rumbling of the heavy Russian guns; everybody was saying the end of the war was just around the corner.

Dad, Beri, and I are digging a bomb shelter in the back yard and we loaded food and water into the bunker; we create a natural vent with some metal ducts ready for the real stuff. As a 15 year old young lad, I walked around the neighborhood with my friends inspecting all the shelters in the neighborhood; we were having a ball. In reality things were not so good; there was trouble in the streets. Jews were being rounded up for heavy work by the military personnel and gendarmes; they were very cruel; anyone running away from work was shot on the spot

One day we heard a commotion across the road from our house; we run out to see what was happening. We heard a gun shot and saw a German SS in black uniform jump on his bike and disappear into the night. We crossed the road to our neighbor: the crying and yelling was unbelievable; some dead bodies were lying on the ground. This was my first taste of seeing death in front of my eyes.

One Saturday afternoon we heard that they are collecting Jews for work. Most of the men hid or ran away trying to avoid forced labour. I must point out, at this time, that most of the men between 20 and 50 had been in Hungarian forced labour camps since 1941. The only men that were home were children or men over 50. Brother Leo was somewhere in the Ukraine when we last heard from him in 1943. I remember when he left for forced labour camp in 1941.

He called brother Beri and me to the attic of our old house showed us a gun and said: I am leaving this gun for you to have in case of emergency. He showed us how to load the gun, and fire. We were thrilled at the time, but we had to promise not to tell anyone about the gun. So when we moved, I managed to bring the gun with me and hid it in the attic of the new house. The gendarmes were going from house to house looking for able men. Father and brother Bery hid in the bomb shelter which was well-camouflaged, and I ended up in the attic with the gun in my hand shaking like a fish. But I was ready, loaded the gun and with both hands held it tight facing down to the opening of the attic. If someone dared to open the access door I would let him have it. To my luck nobody came to the attic and I came down without telling anyone about my experience.



Spring 1944

A new law was announced: all Jews from the age of 6 year old must wear a yellow star on the left upper part of their garment. All the Jews from the surrounding villages were being herded to the large brick factory in town. Rumors have it that we will soon be placed in ghettoes and then shipped out to western Hungary where families will have their own houses. The men would work in factories and the women would do the housework plus other details. These rumors spread among the Jews in great detail. The fact was that the people liked what they were planning for us and tried to fool themselves with such lies. These German bastards had it well planned since 1941.

Himmler and Heidrich, at their famous meeting on how to solve the Jewish problem and make Europe Judenrein (Europe without Jews), planned every detail, even the most favorable dates for their murderous acts, like on Jewish holidays. How to fool the Jews by telling them that they were being resettled to new working places and being taken to showers, but being gassed instead. These German murderers showed no mercy in their Final Solution. They were drunk in their desire to kill Jews. And that includes every German in uniform, male and female alike. After two weeks, the people from the villages that were brought to the brick factory were loaded into cattle cars, packed in with the help of the Hungarian Police and Gendarmes, with no SS in sight yet, and then shipped out to an unknown destination.

People were still saying, "only a few days and the Russians will be here". The nightly thunderous noises from the front line could be heard very clearly. To our misfortune, the Russians stopped their advance 150 km away from our town at the Ukrainian border.



March 1944

Orders were given that all Jews must leave their homes and move to the ghettoes. The ghetto consisted of two long streets located near the Latorca River at the edge of town. One ghetto street was the Yidishe Gass and the Munkaczi Mihaly Gass, both streets were mostly occupied by Jews, therefore those who lived in these streets were lucky they didn't have to move, just stay put in their homes. But for the rest of the Jews that lived outside the ghetto walls, a new misery entered their lives, since there was very little room in the ghetto to accommodate an extra 8,000 people. Money helped a bit to find some better accommodation for a few lucky ones, but that also ran out after an influx of so many thousands of Jews into the ghetto. Our family was in good shape since we had moved to the Yidishe Gass before this catastrophic occurrence. All the family moved in to our place, and we had lots of room, since we had a gentile tenant who was forced to move from the ghetto, giving us an extra apartment, where my sister Golde and her son Lajzerku stayed.

The situation was dehumanizing; five families were moved in one apartment. Food was running out for most of the people that had to move, children were looking for food in garbage piles. Wood for cooking and heating was also running low. Water was in short supply. For the first time in my life I felt hungry and mad. I hated everything around me. Why were we being punished in this way? Nobody had an answer; only father walked around and kept saying: have hope, don't give up!

Within me I felt that there was no hope. I realized the warnings of our Rabbi were really happening. By now the Germans had occupied all the government buildings in town, and we heard that Mr. Eichmann was in town to get things rolling.

Brother Bery was an auto mechanic and he worked for the German military on their cars and trucks. He managed to bring home some extra food from the stores outside the ghetto, which was a great help to our families.

Rumors were flying around that in a few days we would be taken to the brick factory and then to our new destination: Western Hungary. Our rebbe the Kliver Rov lived across the road from us in the ghetto. We prayed in his house, but there was very little room inside, so most of us stayed outside. They opened the windows in order for us to hear the prayers. Father performed as the Bal Tefilah (Cantor) I never heard him pray like that before. Everybody was covered with the talis (prayer shawl) and you could hear the sobs loud and clear from each and every one. The Rebbe aged very fast; he looked like an angel ready for heaven and did not say a word, just kept banging away with his fists on the Omed (lectern) while the service was going on. No one dared to go close to investigate his actions. The actions were clear to every one. Even I, at 15 years of age, could tell his argument with Hashem (G-D). Things were so bad, no one talked anymore. After the services, his mother, the old Zedichov Rebecin, called me into her room, handed me a bundle of silver Kidush cups from the great Zedichov dynasty silverware, and two silver candle holders. She must have been 90 years old. "Take these silver items," she said, "and bury them in a good place. And with G-d's help you will live through this hell. Please give these items to my grandchildren to be able to carry on the family tradition."

She kissed me on my forehead and said, "G-d be with you, Shikale."

As you can probably assume I survived the hell, and found all the silverware, which I gave to my sister Ruchel. She brought these items with her when she emigrated with her family in 1946 to the U.S.A. and was able to present these items to Avruhom Eichenstein, grandson of the Late Mnashe Eichenstein, the Great Rebbi of Zedichov, known for his great works. Alphe Menashe and Mateh Menashe.



May 15, 1944

One early morning we noticed that the ghetto was surrounded by the gendarmes with fixed bayonets and dogs barking, held by SS German soldiers, they were in the hundreds, maybe thousands. Things looked very bad, a chill went through your bones, you were frozen stiff, you could hardly breathe, waiting for the next move. All of a sudden, large trucks filled with SS troops arrived; they jumped off the trucks with whips in their hands, holding on to wild dogs that were ready for the kill. Everybody was given 15 minutes to pack and be ready on the street. But the soldiers did not wait; they entered each house and forcefully chased every one out: Raus, Raus, (Out, Out), they screamed on top of their lungs, and, with the butt of their guns, they hit people to get out faster.

Sister Rivczu was slow getting out when the SS hit her in the back breaking a glass jar with oil in her rucksack. She screamed! And when I looked back I saw liquid running down her back. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was not blood. As we reached the street I noticed our Kliver Rebbe lying on the sidewalk with his head bashed in. Blood was all over the sidewalk. Nobody even cared. I ran over to him and said, "Rebbe can I help?" He just waved with his hands, "Go, my child, go." We were all standing in the middle of the road. Sister Heddy was cutting father's beard off. Father looked devastated. I looked up to heaven and begged for some help. Please open the skies! Let the floods destroy our enemies. Let the sun burn them alive! It looked like everybody was out for lunch, and the suffering did not stop. Lost children were screaming their heads off, "Mommy, Mommy!" Mothers screaming, "Where is my child?"

The streets were getting filled quickly. Shots were heard in the distance. People said some sick people were being shot on the spot. Within a few minutes the order to start walking was given. People fell over each other; the dogs were running wild. Mothers with broken-down baby carriages were slowing down the march. The SS went wild; they beat every one with whips, "hurry up, hurry up!" We walk through the city where we once walked as free men to our Shul, to cheder. And now the people who lived with us for hundreds of years were standing on the sidewalks, some of them laughing. "Good for you Jews, finally we are rid of you," they said. Policemen that used to come into our tavern to drink, and many times they didn't bother to pay. Now they don't even want to know you. We felt degraded like dirt, and maybe even worse.

We walked for about one hour and we reached the brick factory. We were chased into the storage area of the factory and each family was given a space 10 x 20 on the bare floor. Most of our friends kept close to us, especially the Spitz family, where sister Heddy worked for years as a wig maker. They were a wonderful bunch of people. Their son Arthur was going steady with Heddy, since she started to work for the Spitz family 4 years ago at the age of 16. They had two daughters, Livia, brother Beri's age, Gretchen, my age, and their youngest son, Walter, my youngest sister Eva's age. It seemed as never before, being together with Mom and Dad and with friends around us for days, talking about everything possible, and we all sat around and listened to the grown-ups talk. It didn't make much sense to us because, for the first time in our lives, we felt a different atmosphere around us, family love, and friends sharing their food with us, really caring for each other. In the factory, a different painful tragedy was happening.

The police were recruiting young men for work, cleaning the latrines building additional living spaces. There was very little room for the people in the brick factory, and the police were very rude. They beat the workers with whips; some of the Jews were killed during this painful ordeal. After a few days in the brick factory, the food was running short. They were not providing any food whatsoever.

After about a week in the brick factory, we were told that, starting tomorrow, we would be resettled to Hungary. The fascist lies were again brought out to relax the Jews. By now, people were very confused, but they would rather believe the big lie.



En route to Auschwitz, May 1944

We are herded like animals into the cattle cars with beatings of whips if you were slow. Young or old, it didn't matter one bit. The SS were now well-represented. Mr. Eichmann in person was standing by, grinning like a drunken butcher at the slaughter house. About 200 people were crammed into each cattle car; a total of 20 cars were loaded, about 4,000 people to the slaughter. The train finally started moving and we passed our old neighborhood. It was late in May; the beautiful trees were in full bloom; the weather was sunny and beautiful. Father standing at the little window called out. Come here and see your old neighborhood, who knows if we will ever see it again.

We all rushed over and took turns to look out and see our childhood playgrounds, where we had so much fun not so long ago. The train traveled very slow and stops at each station for hours; the adults were discussing the route we are taking.

It was understood by most of the businessmen that used to travel a lot in peacetime, they were pretty sure that when we reached Kosice, we would be able to tell which way we were going. Kosice is located in northern Slovakia. Traveling west, would be to Hungary or Germany; going east, would be heading for Poland or Ukraine. After 2 days' travelling, we reached Kosice. In the train we faced heat and bad sanitary conditions; very little water was given, maybe once during the two days of traveling. Food was practically all gone; the situation was bad. I stood in the train with Tefilen (phylacteries) on my head and arm. I cried bitter tears; suddenly I felt my father's hand on my shoulder. I must have been too loud and didn't even notice it.

"Cry, my son cry, perhaps your prayers will reach in the right places and stop this tragedy upon our people."

Our tragedy on the trains continued without mercy. People were dying in the trains; they were piled up in one corner of the box car covered up with blankets. What is happening? Everyone just stood there and nobody talked. The faces of the elderly turned ash-colour, even the babies stopped crying, something very awful was happening, you could feel it in the air. We looked out the little window in Kosice, Slovakia while passing an intersection with the ramps down, and some people standing at the ramps waiting for the ramp to lift up. We asked them, "Where are we going?" They indicated with their fingers across their throats, like saying you are heading for the slaughter. But the people shook it off and said they must be anti-Semites from Slovakia.

On the third day of our travel, we finally reached the city of Krakow, Poland. On the platform were a lot of people; they were motioning to us.

Escape, you will be (a stroke with the finger over their neck), meaning death. Things started to add up; we saw the same sign in Kosice and now here also the same sign; we were a forsaken lot. At the same time we noticed some people on the platform with yellow stars on their coats. How was this possible? According to news we received, there was not one Jew left alive in Poland, and here we saw not one, but maybe half a dozen, roaming around the station. It really had us confused again. The same day, as soon as we passed Krakow, we arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The doors of the boxcars were opened and we saw hundreds of SS and their dogs standing and waiting for the new victims.

Immediately, as the doors were opened, a number of Polish Jewish boys climbed up the platform and started to chase the people out of the boxcars.

Leave everything in the car; you won't need a thing where you are going, pointing to the chimneys of the crematorium, there, you see that smoke, all of you will be killed and burned today. At the same time, they were giving advice quietly to the young mothers. Give your children to your mothers; you might save yourself from the crematoriums. Some did, and some didn't have the heart to leave the children, and paid for it with their lives the same day. Sister Sheindl who gave her little baby to mother, was saved by a miracle (will give details later in the book). She lives in B'nai Brak, Israel with two daughters.

Chane and Mirjam and son Tuvia with their families plus 19 grand children. Sister Golde, also gave her boy to mother and walked down the ramp, when all of a sudden her little boy Lajzerku started screaming, Mommy, Mommy, I see German SS they are going to kill me, please don't let them kill me. Sister Golde ran over and picked up Lajzerku hugging each other while they walked. They were all gassed with mother and sister Eva the same day.

Father, brother Bery, and I headed for the selection line where Dr. Mengele was standing with one foot resting on a chair waving with his hands to the left or to the right. As we approached closer to the place where Dr. Mengele was standing, we heard him questioning the people. How old are you? We also saw that some boys my age were sent to the other side, which meant the crematorium. Father turned to me and said you tell him that you are seventeen. Brother Bery passed, he was first, than my father was next. He was asked how old are you? Father replied in fluent German: I am 54 years old and I served in the Hungary Austria Army as sergeant in the cavalry. He passed with Dr. Mengele saying you speak a perfect German. I was next, again father spoke in German saying, that's my son, he is 17 years old, and he is a good (feldsarbeiter) farm boy, I passed the test.

We were now proceeding single-file to a large building. As we entered the big room we were asked to give up all valuables and threatened with hard punishment if they found valuables on you. Everyone was ordered to undress and put their clothes onto a pile. As we were getting undressed we heard screams of people; we were frozen from fright; it sounded like people were being burned alive. The stench was so great that we could hardly breathe. We saw the crematorium chimneys spewing black smoke that reached high into the heavens. We were standing close to each other since we undressed and a cold chill went through our bones; so we huddled father, Bery and I, to keep warm. After about 15 minutes the screaming had stopped.

We are handed a piece of soap; every part of our body was being shaved and special disinfection liquid applied to the shaved areas. It burned like hell; after a few minutes the burning sensation stopped. We proceeded to the bathhouse next to the crematoria; we looked up and saw the showerheads, the showerheads were able to deliver water or poisonous gases. When we saw the water coming out the showerheads, we all took a deep breath saying we were safe for now.

As we finished showering we were chased out to an empty area next to the bathhouse. In single file we march toward some tables with the striped K.Z.uniforms; we each received a pair of pants, a jacket, a shirt, a cap, and one pair of underwear. We dressed quickly, since we were half-frozen, standing naked outside for about 2 hours. Since we kept our own shoes, we managed to sigh with some relief.

The next genius trick of the German barbaric system how further to split up families. They announced all trades: plumbers, electricians, carpenters, bricklayers, and auto mechanics should line up separately. Everyone thought they would get to work in their trades. Brother Bery, being an auto mechanic, said goodbye and left us to go with the auto mechanic group, and that's how we got separated from him.

As we all got finished with the selection of trades, we were herded on the double to the Gypsy camp where we entered a big block containing about 1,000 people. The reason why it was called Gypsy Camp was because this camp was occupied with thousands of Gypsies before we arrived. Since they needed room for the new shipment of prisoners, they killed all the Gypsies the night before in the gas chambers.

The big barrack where we were chased into consisted of stacked pritsches (plank beds) on both sides of the room, a pritsche size was about 8 x 10 feet, to which ten people were assigned, which meant you would have to lay on your side to accommodate everyone; if someone decided to turn, everyone had to turn. In the center of the barrack was a raised platform made of concrete, right through the length of the barrack. That's was for the kapo, who was also a prisoner, but acted like he would be G-d. "Nobody gets off the bed unless I give permission," walking along this raised platform, he continued to yell at the top of his voice with a rubber hose in his right hand, swinging. All valuables were to be handed over right now, if anyone was found to possess valuables, he would be punished. He picked on an innocent man, made him bend over and started beating him with the rubber hose, lash after lash, the screams were so terrifying. Finally, the man stopped screaming, and the show was over. "One dead, and more to come. You better hand over your goods now, before I start my inspection." Two SS soldiers walked in and climbed up the platform. By now, some people were bringing some valuables and handing it over to the kapo; this went on for hours with warnings again and again. Our bodies were aching from lying on the wooden pritsche and to change position of your body was a real job.

"Food will be given once a day and you will eat it, if you like it or not." Funny, we were not even hungry; food was the last thing on our minds.

Father started to talk to me about the last minutes we got off the train. Did you say goodbye to mother? He was upset because during the rush and commotion getting off the train, he didn't say goodbye to mother. I only remember seeing mother walking down the road with the baby in her hand, sister Eva beside her, and waving to us for a while. With a nod of his head he lay down and cried. We spent about two weeks in Birkenau. Our daily routine consisted of getting up at about 6.a.m., marching to the washroom facilities where we washed to our waist with cold water, and then lining up for work details. The type of jobs varied from working in the kitchen pealing potatoes, picking up the dead bodies around camp and loading them on the small rail cars and delivering them to the crematoriums. There were plenty of dead bodies every morning at each barrack, either dead from beatings, hunger, or broken hearts.

One day, father and I were picked to work in the kitchen; when we arrived there, we were given the job of removing the roots from the potatoes, which lay there in two great piles. We bent down on our knees and we threw the clean potatoes into the pail. When the pail was full, it was my job to bring the clean potatoes to the kitchen. At the entrance of the kitchen there was an SS soldier on guard. This work went on for about 3 hours when, all of a sudden, a group of young boys were running away from a group of children being led to the gas chambers; I noticed Walter Spitz among the runaway boys; he saw us and came crying, "Save me, save me, they are taking us to be gassed." Before I could say a word, the pursuing SS that were busy catching up to the runaway boys, grabbed me and ordered me to go with him, saying that I was runaway kid.

Father came to the rescue. In German, he said to the soldier, "This is my boy, he has been working here all morning, look at his knees, they are all dirty from kneeling on the ground." By this time, the SS guard came over and vouched for me that I was not a runaway kid; he was there working all morning. I was saved. Poor Walter never made it. After the liberation, I met with Walter Spitz’s mother, father, and family and told them about Walter on that tragic day in Birkenau.

The food consisted of a soup made of some thing that looked like potatoes but smelled more like yech. For days we couldn't even smell the soup; we just lived on a piece of black bread that tasted like mud with cold water. But after a week we were so hungry that everything tasted like good home-cooking. One morning while standing at Apell (the daily counting of the prisoners) I noticed some girls waving at us from across the road. I immediately recognized sister Shari, Henyu, Rivszu, and Freidy. With their heads shaven it was hard to recognize them, but I saw them clearly and pointed them out to father. I will never forget his great smile and his words, Thank you G-d. Thank you, Thank you.

One of my bad memories from Birkenau took place one morning outside our barrack while we were all resting after the daily Apell. A young Polish Jewish boy, maybe 17 years old, approached a man with brand new high leather shoes, and ordered the man to give him the shoes. The man couldn't understand why this boy would like his shoes. Since the man did not react fast enough the boy produced a whip and started beating the man with the new leather shoes. The kapo that was beside the boy encouraged him to hit harder, harder, We all stood by in horror, while this young Jewish boy continued to beat this innocent man; as he was beating this man to a pulp, he was screaming insults at him. You stinking Hungarians, you had it so good for too long, now we will take good care of you. The man passed out, and he removed the shoes from the beaten man and walked away whistling a tune.



End of May 1944

We were told to get out of the barracks and line up for selection. We were going to a working camp and we would have a selection for able bodies only, the rest would go back to the barracks. A number of S.S.soldiers appeared with their dogs at their sides; the selection lasted about one hour. We were given a piece of bread and some margarine and were taken to the railway station where we were quickly herded on to the boxcars, about 85 prisoners to each boxcar, feeling happy to leave this hellish place called Auschwitz-Birkenau. Our transport consisted of about 2,000 prisoners, mostly people from our town Munkacz. We were heading somewhere, where to, nobody knew. We were all seated on the wooden floor and people were finally talking to each other, while in Birkenau, people were so tense that they didn't even dare open their mouths to talk and now the situation was much more normal. The train was moving pretty fast now, you could tell by the klak, klak sound that you heard constantly. The doors were shut tight; there was no one giving orders how to breathe, how to stand, how to lie, how to sit. You were able, for the first time in weeks, to talk to your neighbor without fear that the block leader would hit you over the head and scream, "Who gave you permission to talk?" The conversation on the train was mostly sad. Everyone counted their losses and, with tears in their eyes, they rebelled openly to G-d. How could you let this happen to your children??

There were great debates going on, you could even hear someone screaming, "G-d knows what he is doing!! It's us that don't know why this is happening. We don't want to admit to our sins!!" As a 15 year-old, I was bewildered by these outbursts. I looked upon those people as if they had gone insane. We could still smell the stench from the burned bodies of our loved ones and these people were talking about our guilt. What guilt can you put on little babies burned alive by the thousands? They had no time to sin. In all this anger I started to eat my portion of bread that tasted good after our long ride overnight. We traveled for two days and we arrived in Buchenwald on a very nice sunny day. We got off the trains at the Buchenwald station and we were amazed by the beautiful scenery. Tall birch trees as far as your eyes could see, beautiful valleys, and beautiful wild flowers all around the place.

We marched in rows of five towards the camp, when all of a sudden we heard music in the distance. As we came closer to the gates of the camp we saw a full marching band playing Czech marching songs while we entered the gates of Buchenwald. Strange as it was it felt much better than entering Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Funny how you adapt to all circumstances no matter how tragic the situation. When we entered the camp marching toward the bathhouse, fellow prisoners were waving to us assuring us this was not Auschwitz. Here you will be treated like human beings. We were overjoyed by these remarks, and you could even notice a smile on the faces of our group for the first time since this group had been together. As we entered the bathhouse we were all shaven from top to bottom and disinfection liquid applied to all shaved areas; it burned like hell, but what was hell to us?

We graduated from Auschwitz, and nothing could be worse than the hell over there. Here in Buchenwald, all the staff consisted of political prisoners of all nationalities. There were no German SS to be seen in the camp. They only came once a day, for the daily Apell (counting the prisoners) at 6 p.m. and were not seen till the next day. The staff consisted mostly of German political prisoners, Czech, French, Polish, and Russians were also part of the staff. Everything looked well organized; the kapos did not carry sticks in their hands; they had a welcoming smile for us, again telling us that Buchenwald was not like what we have seen before.

We finished our showers and we were given new striped clothes and taken to the large hall where pictures were taken of each prisoner and numbers were given to each individual prisoner. Dad's number was 56,465 and my number 56,466. We had to learn these numbers in German, French, and Russian. Your name was not part of the record; you were just a number; that was it.

Immediately after that, we were placed in block number 56 which was in the middle camp. Buchenwald had three different camps.

The large camp. The middle camp. And the tent camp.

The large camp was strictly for the staff members, ammunitions factory workers: all tradesman working in Buchenwald. Block 8 was the children’s section, the kitchen and hospitals.

The middle camp was for transit only. You stayed two weeks, rested and then were shipped to another working camp to wherever prisoner labour was requested.

The tent camp was for the sick and the old who were not able to work. They were systematically annihilated, were shipped to Auschwitz gas chambers or shot in the woods near Buchenwald. The corpses were shipped to a crematorium not far from Buchenwald for cremation.

In the bathhouse, when we saw the shower heads spewing out nice warm water and not gas, we were delighted. Father washed my back and for the first time in my life I felt his love for me was even greater than I imagined. First, he never washed my back before, back home we had no running water, period. To get water, we had to use a manual water pump and then heat it. Imagine 12 children standing in line to get a bath, and father was nowhere near this group. He was probably somewhere helping the poor and the sick. And now I felt his hand on my back and it felt real good. We got settled in our block 56 and most of the prisoners were from Munkasz: The rich and the poor, the religious and the secular we were all the same; just everybody had different numbers. The stay in Buchenwald lasted for three weeks. The food was no comparison to Birkenau food; we gained weight and our strength came back. Father looked like never before; his cheeks filled up and you could see it, since he had no beard and his face was nice and round. But, it was too good to last. After three weeks we were loaded into the cattle cars again and we traveled to a working camp, destination unknown. We traveled for one day and one night, on the way we noticed that we were going through Leipzig, Germany and when the train stopped we were in Zeitz.

This was the new place where we were going to spend our time working, cleaning up the mess after the recent bombings. As we got out of the train boxcars, we are again lined up five abreast, and were marched through small towns and villages to reach our new living quarters. People of the villages came running out to witness this great catch of prisoners. It must have been reported the previous day in the daily news that some prisoners would be coming to Zeitz the next day. But among our group were hundreds of boys my age. The old German ladies witnessing the prisoner march were holding their hands against their mouth like saying, these are the prisoners? Children, Children. By shaking their heads they indicated their disgust at our plight.

We marched for about 4 hours when we arrived in a small town called Gleina. A nice small town surrounded by German housing development for the workers at Zeitz. We were herded into a large barn with three levels of bunk beds.

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