My sister was sent with my mother, while I went to the opposite side. That was the first chance I had to survive. Unbeknown to any of us at the time, two Nazi soldiers had been asked to make a photographic document of the deportation of Hungarian Jews from the moment they got off the train — through the entire system of arriving, going to the bath house and getting their prison clothes — so I ended up in a picture at the very moment I was separated from my sister.
Another picture we discovered shows my family waiting in line for the gas chamber. Two little boys, my brothers Reuven and Gershon, are shown dressed in hats, one struggling to put on his winter coat. For a long time I failed to find my mother and was very unhappy. But I spent hours looking at these photos with a magnifying glass and one day I found her little face sticking out.
The pictures only came to light 25 years ago and, despite them showing moments from around 45 years before that, they completely captured the entire experience as it had been in my mind all that time. I was dumbfounded and devastated, having had no idea they existed, and I have spent literally hundreds of hours scouring them, trying to find my father and brother.
The pictures have reassured me that I was not imagining it all, as I sometimes thought I might have done.
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The reality of where we were, struck home fairly quickly. I was stationed near crematorium number four, and we witnessed the columns of unsuspecting women and children entering the gate of the crematorium; they would have been dead within half an hour. When the Hungarian Jews arrived they had the gas chambers going day and night. How can you wrap your imagination round that? I was with my older sister Serena and we were sent to be forced labourers together in the Birkenau section of Auschwitz.
Many times we were threatened with separation but somehow we managed to stay together.
It was like finding our parents. They were such a huge moral and emotional support for us.
We were in terrible straits with no proper clothes, nothing suitable for marching through the snow. It was as if the cruelty would never end. If anyone sat down out of exhaustion, they were shot. Later we were transported yet again, and my aunt Piri became ill and was killed. The Russians came but for some reason left again immediately, so we were left to fend for ourselves. We spent months trying to get to Prague where we knew we had some relatives and from there we went to the Sudetenland.
I got to go to school, my sister found work in a factory and Rose was sick at home with tuberculosis. We initially had no idea what had happened to the rest of the family and had no access to a phone. But on buildings everywhere lists were put up stating who was still alive. Everyone you met you asked, every meeting of refugees was dominated by trying to find out where your relatives were.
Eventually I discovered that of around people from my town who were deported, only about 10 survived, only two of whom were children — my sister and me. But there was not one parent and child who lived. All of them were killed. Serena now lives in New Jersey with her family, including three children and grandchildren. I never went to a psychologist and I never will. Quite simply, I kept it at a distance. I threw myself into family life. I married young, I had three children, I now also have four grandchildren and then I went to college and became a teacher.
You fall into a routine and do the best you can. But I realise that loss of faith in people is more devastating than loss of faith in God.
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I found out only about a week before I was due to leave that I will be one of two survivors who will be part of the US presidential delegation, headed by the secretary of the treasury, Jack Lew, and I feel very honoured, but it has much to do with the fact that many others who could go are ill and unable to travel. We had a quiet life until the day they took 1, Jews away from my village of Czemierniki, a typical Polish village with a big square around which community life took place.
My father was a bootmaker, my mother was a seamstress and everyone worked hard. I had trained as a tailor and had left home before we were deported, when I went to work four miles away on a ranch. It was taken over by the SS, so suddenly I found myself working for them. In May they lined us up one day and told us to empty our pockets.
We were transported to Majdanek, which was only 19 miles away — a torture camp in the true sense of the word. For metres there were just ditches full of bodies, legs, heads. We were deported to Auschwitz four weeks later.lastsurestart.co.uk/libraries/sms/2033-cell-phone-location.php
We arrived in the early morning and they gave us a bed, a real shower, they cleaned us well with disinfectant and shaved us. After that they gave us striped uniforms and tattooed us. I was given the number on my left arm and from that point on I was a number, no longer a name. From there we were sent to Buna an Auschwitz sub camp and were set to work.
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After a few months there, I went for a walk one day and saw a few tomatoes growing. I still have the scars from it today. I was 20, about 1. When my limit in the hospital was up, they sent me to the gas chambers. There I met Dr Mengele, who asked me what was wrong. As I had trained as a tailor, he decided I had my uses there.
It meant that being a tailor saved my life. A complete fake of a man who I was too scared to look in the eye. One of the experiments he carried out on me was to take blood from my arm and inject it in my rear end. In we were sent on a death march from Birkenau to Oranienburg and from there to Buchenwald. Then to a quarry, where we were ordered to drill into the mountains to make some sort of secret city.
From there we walked back to Buchenwald. Whoever was incapable of walking was shot. From there, big trains took us to Theresienstadt just as the Soviets were bombing the rails. We could sense that the Germans were almost destroyed. For 17 days we had no water, no food, nothing. Despite the hardship I was doing OK compared to others. I still had the capability to clamber on to the cattle trains without help. We were liberated from the Russians at Theresienstadt on 9 May. I developed typhus and spent several weeks in hospital before I could go anywhere.
I decided to go back to my village as I had nowhere else to go. But of the 1, or so of us who had been deported, only eight to 10 had survived. She and her husband had been the only couple in Czemierniki to survive and then they went and murdered her when she came home. I had had parents, two brothers, three sisters, two nephews, two nieces, an aunt, an uncle, and all of them died.
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I found out the rest of my family were taken to Treblinka in When I finally returned to Czemierniki in , despite the years in which Jews had lived there I could not find a trace either of my family or of Jewish life. Even the cemetery where my grandfather had been buried had been razed. The synagogue was gone. I went to ask the local priest, who said they had taken the tombstones and crushed them for building materials or something like that.
I believe they deliberately destroyed any sign of Jewish life so as to be rid of us for ever. The Jewish Federation brought me to America. I deliberately chose against going to Israel as it would have meant I would have had to fight and kill and the US seemed the next best choice. They put me up in a hotel on 35th and 36th street until I got myself sorted out.
I was desperate to get to work and make up for all those wasted years. Of the 1, Jews taken from my village, only three of us are still alive, one living in Israel, one in Baltimore and myself. We stay in touch. I still drive my car, though not at night any more. I have to go back to Auschwitz one last time.
I feel like I own the place, having spent almost two years of my life there. I was not even two when we arrived at Auschwitz in I have no conscious memories of that time, but plenty of subconscious ones. My mother told me later how when they tattooed my arm with a needle, it was so painful that I passed out.