tv Oral Histories CSPAN May 30, 2015 5:00pm-5:56pm EDT
had to take a little shower. the very same gas chamber where these wonderful people in poor children were taken and were gassed was where we took a shower. where the gas was flowing through the pipes, now they let water through. i know because i was in it also to shower. then we were assigned to a barrick. we managed somehow to stay together. my father, my brother and me. one night, as we were standing in line for the final count
making to our line, and he was picking prisoners. among other prisoners, he picked me too. we had to go around the camp and pick up the dead and the little bodies and cut them up for the crematorium. that meant separation from my father and brother. i was assigned to a different barrick -- a different barrick -- barrack. on one occasion when it was picking up a body, i noticed this man was not dead at all. i turned to him and said if we would give a little food or
water, this man would survive. then he turned around and hit me in my face so hard, and i fell over and he said, "you are not here to tell me who would survive. you are not here to make people survive. if you're not going to keep your mouth shut, i'm going to put you in the crematorium also. now, pick up the body and cut him up." and we did. we didn't say anymore. but all my life, i had the most awful feeling and i had to burn my fellow prisoners, had to cart them off to the crematorium, and they were alive. so we were doing this for maybe
six days. there was a man who was about the same age as my father, and he had a son who was in the same barracks where my father and brother were. the sun was about the same age -- maybe a year or two older -- than i. he heard -- word came to him that the very same barrick where his son was going to be evacuated -- the very same barrack. he said, "listen, i tell you what, because you like to be with your father and brother and i certainly would love to be with my son, when you see all the prisoners running from every
direction to regroup, go into the line where my son is, and my son is going to get into this line, and nobody will be the wiser." so the plan worked. he was reunited with his son and i got back in the barrack where my father and brother were. next morning, next day, we were off to france. i found out later that the very same day, all those other commanders were killed because they feared that if one had
escaped, they would tell the world of the atrocities and of the terrible things they had done to humanity. because we were more witnesses to their machine, you know, death machine, than any other prisoners. we were the one who picked up dead bodies and took them and burned them on their order. i tell you, the image of this father and son will haunt me for the rest of my life. when we arrived in france, i was put to work in an ammunition factory. in that factory they were
building a rocket, which was designed specifically to shoot airplanes. of course, mainly the americans and the russians. that was such a tremendous force . any airplane hit with the rocket would beat 12 pieces. later, i was put into a machine which automatically filled explosive capsules with gunpowder. one day, a french prisoner approached me, and he says
"what would you do to stop hitler's madness? would you give up your life?" without hesitation, i said yes. the frenchman -- i forgot to tell what his name was -- he was actually a captain in the underground resistance movement who was smuggled among us as a prisoner, and he organized a sabotage movement. this is how he approached me. to him, i was the most important person by working on that machine which filled the capsules with gunpowder. he said to me, "i tell you what -- you see those civilians? those are all frenchman electricians. they have been working around the ammunition factory."
he says, "i tell you what you do -- this man will supply you say and. i want you to put in this capsule which you have been filling with gunpowder sand and very little gunpowder." so the machine that i was working would be filling the gunpowder automatically. all i had to do was just pull the arm. but now i had to put sand and mix it with the gunpowder. and it worked. i mean, it was fantastic how easy it really was to do that. one day, some new transport came with new prisoners. another prisoner was put at the machine. it turned out that was an ss sp y.
what did know -- they already deducted -- they found out that this weapon, the second stage and impact did not work, and that was the idea. the sand was needed to stop the second stage from exploding. our leader was identified -- the french captain. he was hanged, and all of us who were around that area had to watch him die. we were not allowed to avert our eyes from him nor move away. after that about 60 of us were put in a horizontal line and forced to stand still -- or
stand at attention may be in english -- and an ss officer was going down the line picking prisoners at random. he passed me. then he was coming back and passed me again. and a third time, he still went down the line picking out prisoners which he sort of wanted to kill and he passed me a. three times, i was to be taken to be shot to death, and all three times, i was passed by. they had to step out of line the ones who were chosen, they were taken out of the camp and shot to death.
we would back to the camp and received a beating. many of them, their ribs were broken in. i was a saboteur, and i was marked as such, the jacket on my back, and any time someone would pass by me, they would spit at me, spit on me, or kick me. i believe in god because god saved my life so many times. i don't believe it was a coincidence all that time he passed me by. it was god's way of protecting me.
at any rate, about two weeks later i had the seven tour jacket. all the jackets were taken from everybody. i couldn't believe it. we had jackets which were clean, and the word saboteur disappeared from my jacket. so i was again not molested anymore as a saboteur but freely walked back and forth where i was working, so i also give credit to god for that. i must tell you something that is extremely interesting and maybe one in a million or 10 million that can happen. i had to go to cleveland ohio,
because we were still marked for the sabotage. when i was in cleveland about 1950, i was studying in the university. one of my colleagues -- he was american, hungarian, and jewish like myself except i was not american, unfortunately. he gave me a check to pay off my debt, which i had been paying, and it never got smaller. so he says to go to any bank and cash it. but he did not have it -- an account in that bank in the area, and i did not have an account at any bank in in the area. i did not begin english -- very little -- and i said to him "how do i do this?" he says it's very simple --
here's a check. go to the teller and just say, "give me cash." i look around where is a bank. i'm coming from around lunchtime. have to go back to school in the afternoon classes, so i saw a bank. i go in. cleveland trust. i remember now. i went up, waited in line. went to the teller and i said cash. he looked at me. we could not communicate. he was a compassionate man. he says just a second. he came from his window and escorted me to the president's office. he spoke several languages. "we're going to find out what
this foreigner wants," he thought probably. i spoke to the president of the bank. i asked if he spoke french german hungarian. he says he speaks german. thank god. we waited a little because the teller had to find out if there is the money in this account. and he says to me "why did you ask me if i speak french? are you french?" i said, "no, i'm a transylvanian, but i was in rants -- in france." he asked me if i studied music there, and i said no, but i told him what i did in france that i
was doing sabotage, filling up with sand instead of gunpowder. so the planes would not be obliterated. he sprang up from his chair, ran to me, grabbed my hand. "god bless you. god bless you." i said, "thank you. thank you." he saw my puzzled face. he said, "please let me explain. my son was a captain over nine crew, and they were bombing around that area where the demolition factory was. they were shot with one of these rockets which penetrated the airplane but did not explode. i think they were caught in the wing or in the tail, whatever.
when they got back to the base s, very carefully, they took that weapon, that bracket apart to see why it did not explode. they found sand in the caps off -- capsule." we both hugged and started to cry. i knew then if i would have been killed and died, it would not be in vain because i knew that at least 10 people or nine plus the captain -- 10 lives were saved because of my sabotage. >> i'm going to jump to the incident in the salt mine. braun: yes. >> the electric wire. go ahead. braun: ok. in september, we were transferred from france to a large salt mine.
it was terrible, grueling work. suddenly the whole area of the salt mine became dark. completely dark. we put our hammers down and sat down immediately. at least a little rest. we thought it was god's will that on yom kippur at least, sending us something. one of the prisoners started chanting. honestly, i can hear it now. then the other one got into it. and then another one. we were also about 60 to 80 persons around there, and we
were sitting, and even those who did not know the words they probably did not know the melody, but they were humming along. in a minute or two, the entire section was full of the song of yom kippur. we did not know that the ss -- we were not aware that they were listening in. within 10 minutes, the problem was found, restored, and the light came on. then we found out what was the source of the darkness -- one of us, which i did not put in my booklet, was a hungarian jew who
used to show his wife and his little son's picture. that gave him the will to live. constantly, we had to talk him out of committing suicide. constantly. but he could not stand it any longer, and he went and cut the wire with a spoon sharpened like a knife. he was beaten severely until he fell unconscious. then we had to form another line , exactly like it was in france and one was picked, the other one was in. let go. -- one was picked, the other one wasn't, let go. here, half of them were picked taken out, and shot to death. i also again was bypassed.
you have to puzzle, you have to think, "how come i didn't -- i was saved one day before i would be killed, then in france i was bypassed three times?" coincidence, maybe. who knows? i believe differently. we were severely beaten. it's a wonder we were not picked. in february, 1945, my father turned 42. we didn't have nothing to give him. we at home always used to exchange gifts. we would put our pennies
together to buy for our parents' anniversary or birth day -- birthday, but here, we had nothing. so i came up with the idea to give our ration of red for the day -- of bread to him for the day as a birthday present. we talked about it, and he liked the idea. in the evening, we held out our hands and said, "father, for you." he would not think about it. he knew bred meant naresh, metlife. we were starving. -- i talked about it with my brother, and he liked the idea. he knew bred meant nourishment meant life. we were not permitted ever to leave the concentration camp but here is the bread.
"no way," he says. "i'm not going to take it. you need that nourishment." but we kept on insisting. finally, not wanting to hurt our feelings, he accepted the gift. he said, "thank god that allowed me to live long enough to witness the gracious love from my sons." it was like he would have sensed it being his last day on earth. that morning at 5:00, we were already in line to go to the salt mine. one prisoner was missing. after several recons the prisoner was still missing. the guards went to the barrett to look for him -- to the baric to look for him. they found a missing person
sleeping in a corner, my father. they dragged him in front of the ss. they picked him up by the collar and it was bitter winter, and he just had his under all on. practically nothing. he was ordered to stand still or at attention. -- to ththe ss turned to the rest of the assembly and said, "i understand the dirty jewish dog has two sons. i wanted to step out of line and send a him and see what the punishment will be because he kept germany from victory 10 minutes because that's how long it took to find him." then he gave a hard, swift kick
to my father, which signaled the start of the punishment. from every side, every corner they started to hit him and kick him and beat him until they fell -- until he fell on the ground. my brother and i fell on our knees and begged the ss to stop it. we went and tried to grab their arms, and then the hitting and beating and whipping were on our backs, and they were beating my father until he collapsed. he was so badly beaten he was unrecognizable. i started to chant the 22nd psalm. "oh, god, my god why hast
thou forsaken us?" the beating finally stopped when my father was motionless except for his lips. i saw that he was trying to say something. i came close, and then i heard he was reciting the declaration of faith of the jew to god. "he'll israel, the lord our god, the lord is one -- heal isreal." then he became very silent. he didn't speak no more. he didn't move no more. my brother and i went to the salt mine. the first time in my life i lost faith in god. my father was a wonderful being, very pious jew.
he would not harm a soul. in fact, in the concentration camp, he kept people alive. lots of them went and touched his barbed wired to end. he could not stand it any longer. he would say, "no, no, you'll see. like god sent moses to get the children of israel out of egypt, out of ditch -- out of bondage you'll see he will send somebody to treat us and take us back to our homeland israel." it was like he foresaw that. like it was a prediction -- or not a prediction, it was a prophecy, sort of. now, the wonderful man is no more.
i said "if god allowed such to happen, there is no god. if god allowed for him to be killed, then i don't believe anymore." thank god that it did not last long. the very same night, in my dream, my other appeared, and he called me by my hebrew name. he said "don't ever lose your faith in god. god is real. you'll see that you will survive." what was so strange to me was that he said "you" singular, not the plural "you," which would have meant that my brother and i would survive. he said "you" will survive. meanwhile, my brother was so angry and so -- about what we
witnessed, and he said he is going to go and wring the ss officer's neck and choke him. i said he could not get two feet close to him. he would be shot. he said he would do it. given that he was not quite 16 years old, he was very, very strong -- even though he was not quite 16 years old. since some people practiced god knows what all day long, he was a bodybuilder. i mean, incredibly so. he said, "i'll just grabbed him and crush them to death because he killed our father." i said, "a miracle happened. my father appeared to me in a
dream, and he said we should believe there is a god, and we should never lose our faith in god because we're going to survive. he said that. you know our father -- even in dreams, he never said anything that was not so." so he gave up the idea of killing because that would be killing himself right away. not long after that, in the beginning of april, we were transferred to dachau. the trip was the worst that i have ever accounted. on one occasion, the ss stopped
to train -- they were american flyers, very, very low. they wanted to see what was a train because they had all these cattle cars. we were so packed. worse than when we went to our switch -- to auschwitz. the dachau trip was the worst i have ever experienced. for instance, you could not even sit down. once you set, similar like an auschwitz, except it was a little more. even if we did not have food and water, at least it was more room that we could move a little bit better. but here, there was no way. the worst was that if you try to move then bickering among prisoners themselves because
they were shoving and pushing and hitting with the elbows on prisoners. what happened as the american flyers came low enough because they wanted to see the ss train and took cover under it, and they start shooting at the fighter pilot. they shot back. the americans shot back. the bullets would go through the top of the cattle car unfortunately hitting quite a few of the prisoners. after we arrived to dachau i knew if something did not happen soon, i would not survive. i could hardly walk, let alone do the chores or the work that i was required to do. for a second, i'd like to go
back to my childhood. when i was four years old, i got lost in the orest. my governess took us -- we went for a walk, and we landed in the orest. she set down. after a while, we got tired. she said -- later, she fell asleep and when she woke up, i was nowhere to be found. hopelessly lost, i started crying. a little gypsy woman -- a young gypsy woman, i should say, was picking mushrooms, flowers. she heard my cry. took me into their gypsy camp. this was the first time in my life that i heard violin music. and it was beautiful.
they could make it sound like a bird, chirp like a bird. they could lay -- play fast swift, slow. later on, when finally i was found, i said to my parents "i want that" and i'm mimicking the violin. "i want that. i want this." when i was five, finally they given because every single day i was pestering them for a violin, and i started formally taking lessons. when i was 10, i gave a concert. it was my first debut. when i was 13, i finished conservatory. the diploma is right there.
so it seems like my career was really well-established. however, a man named hitler thought differently. now, here i am in dachau. i was just praying to god, "if you're not going to help me, i'm not going to survive." one night, the day after, an ss came to the baric -- the barrack , holding the violin up, announcing, "who can play to the violin, come to the front room and if i like the playing, i'm going to give food and water." when he mentioned food, we would do anything -- and water -- we
would do anything. we thought, talked, we dreamt about food. food, food, food -- so hungry. so i eagerly volunteered, and so did two others. we went to the front room where three guards, the ss, and the barrack dr. were waiting. a 40 euro grant to do, and his fingers were shaky. he started to play a sonata. so beautiful that i have ever -- i have never heard anything like that in my life. i said, "am i doing here? the man is going to get the food."
the ss signaled he did not like it. they took the violin away from this other -- this amazing violinist. the other one took an iron pipe and walked behind this man and hit him so hard that he walked -- he cracked his skull open. blood and brain was splattered all over the floor. i got terribly scared. i have seen death around me but never nothing like that. immediately, i realized like in the past, they don't want really playing. they don't want violin music. now, the violin was handed to the next man, who was about 25 and he was so scared that he could not play a straight note. he was standing there shivering and just going like that.
i never found out if he could or could not play. the ss was terribly angry. he said, "how dare you come out and say that you can play? you expect me to give you food for this?" they started kicking him and they were beating him to death. now it was my turn. when i came out of the barrack i was intending if i had a chance to play, i would play a sonata by dvorak or a beautiful piece by fit size are, after all, i was classically trained but i was scared stiff. my mind went blank. i wondered how the sonata started, how does the fitz kaiser p start.
he was walking toward me. every nerve in my body was concentrating on the blow that i'm going to get killed now. i'm standing there may be a few seconds -- maybe five, maybe 10, motionless, and incredibly, my right hand and left hand started to move in perfect harmony and this is what came out of the violin. ♪ the beautiful "blue danube." everybody looked at the ss and t he kapo with the iron pipe waiting, which should i hit him
but the kapo was singing humming the melody, hitting the rhythm on the table. "let him live." honestly, i got food, but i was so terribly overtaken by what i witnessed that i could not eat it, but they let me live. the kapo picked up his guitar and accompanied me. that gave the ss an idea. that was not the only time that i played for them. we had to go and entertain the ss, and after the specific debut , i could play anything -- it
was ok. i can play anything. but when the ss got tired of our playing, the kapo came along and accompanied me on the guitar. he would say, "that is enough." we had to stand next to a brick wall, both of us the kapo also. they were shooting at us. i have to say the truth -- they were excellent shots. they were missing. they were aiming at my head, for instance, right between my eyes and at the last second, a low move, and the bullet went above my head or on the side of me. sometimes, it came so close that i could feel the wind of the bullet.
if somebody did not have that they don't know what i'm talking about, you know? every single time, i was praying, "god, let them kill me. it's just too much." 10, 15 shooting at you, and at the end, i looked like a bloody mess because from the brick wall, little chunks of brick with sometimes hit me and cut me but they never touched a bullet until later. one day, an ss came back and called for the german prisoners and russians, too. we're going to evacuate here. the americans were closing in, and they did not want us to fall into american hands. so the barrack dr. would come.
he said the barrack doctor was here and he would determine who was able to walk. it's the very famous death march, by the way. and the others would be put on pedal carts, and we would be evacuated and go to to roll -- tyrell. but the truth was we were taken to a fort nearby, and the barrack doctor was also brought just to camouflage the whole thing so that we would not find out, really, why we had been taken to the forest -- the truth was we were taken to a forest nearby. he knew, and he was helping people get organized in a horizontal line, but the machine
guns were hidden from our view ready to fire. and then, all of a sudden, he turned to me, this doctor, and he says, "alex run. run!" and i then realized that it was no evacuation. it is the end. iran right into the forest. as i was running, again, chanting the declaration of faith of the jew, something terribly hot injured my chest -- entered my chest and i had difficulty breathing and i felt, and i was on the ground, and i saw that blood was going down on my body. the doctor noticed the same
thing. i did not hear the shop -- the shot. i did not hear the sound of the shot. i just felt something hit me and felt blood flowing, but i did not hear the shot. and i had difficulty breathing. the doctor came right away, ran toward me, and he sort of put one knee down on the floor and took my pulse. an ss guard was running right behind him with a revolver drawn aiming right at my head. this wonderful, french doctor turned back to him and said, "don't shoot. in three minutes, he'll be dead." so the ss turned to the doctor
and said "let this jewish dog suffer for another three minutes. he's not worth the cost of another bullet. he went and ignore another one of his compatriots -- he went to another of his compatriots. there were something like 17,000 killed, machine guns. they started the day before, i'm sure, and we did not know about it. when the trucks came in the bodies loaded on the truck and they came back to the cap to be cremated, the doctor gave orders to the french prisoners. he told them -- he picked me up and threw me on the top of the bodies, and i don't know
anything about it. i was unconscious. but you could see how many dead bodies were among them because i was just wounded. mortally wounded, but wounded. i was not dead. meanwhile, we were supposed to be thrown in the ditch or be cremated, but as i said, when he arrived, they took me off of these bodies and took me into a french barrack. then he changed the insignia of a jew to a french man. he had a tweezer, a pocket knife. he fished the bullet out of my chest without any of aesthetic -- without any anesthetic, and
the next day, the wonderful americans invaded dachau. the americans' attention were called to the mortally wounded. this is how someone called the attention to the americans. they took me immediately to a hospital right away, and they attended to me so i was told later that the doctors found very definitely that i would not survive because i had tuberculosis. i had blood poisoning. i had typhoid fever, among other things. and frozen feet.