yesterday, i went to the 6 o’ clock series (which ive never been to when it matter most) and i listened to mr X (cant remember now, will update his name later) who is a holocaust survivor. it was inspirational as it was emotional to listen to an actual survivor who had to go through one of the worst time of human history. i really enjoyed listening to him talking about his life story. my attendance was voluntary and i did not take any notes but i will try to recapture the essence of his speech over here.
the speaker was born and raised in czechoslovakia and as a jewish boy, he had to go through bar mitzvah when he reach the age of 13. one day, on the year that he turned 13, he went to school as usual and when he came home, nobody was there. the neighbour saw him looking for his family and took him in. they told him that his mother, father and sister was taken by the germans and nobody knows where they had taken them. after a few days, someone had told the authorities that this good neighbour was hiding a jewish kid and that night, the neighbour snuk him out of the country to go to hungary. being 13ish and the point of raging puberty, the speaker said that he was pissed off and reluctant because he wanted to wait for his family. he said that he was really confused of what was happening. en route to hungary, the neighbour fell sick and unable to take him to hungary. the neighbour gave him the instruction on how to get across the border undetected and how to get in touch with the contact over there. after walking for few days, he arrived at the small town in hungary where he was to meet the a symphatiser – the neighbour’s friend. he stayed with the guy for few days before he had to go somewhere else because the authorities was notified about him. the guy asked him if he has any relatives in hungary and he replied, he has an uncle who lives in budapest and grandparents who lives in small village. according to the good dude, he had to go to budapest to avoid being caught by the authorities and that smaller town and and villages were way too risky.
he went to budapest and when he got there, his uncle was waiting for him by the bus station looking all nervous and shit. the uncle told him that he cant stay with him because the armies were cracking down the jews excessively in his neighbourhood. the speaker was devastated and panicked and left immediately without asking any money for food and such. for the next 6 months, he had no job, no home, no families, no money, no food and no clean clothes to wear. he tried to get any jobs that he can – not for money, but for food. fearing any troubles from the armies, no one would take him in and he had to scour food from garbage cans and sleep at random places such as the park and abandoned buildings. after 6 – 7 months, he gave up and being 13 ish, the speaker decided to turn himself in to the police. he walked to the police station and told them everything from sneaking into the country to living on the street of budapest. the police immediately smacked him in the face and threw him in jail for 2 years without trial or reason for that matter. in the prison, he worked and had no trouble with the authorities and after that he appealed to live with his grandparents in the small village. considering that he was just 15 at the time, the authorities agreed but he had to report to the local police station twice a week – tuesday and thursdays. every time he went to the police station, he was rediculed, beaten up and abused. that happened twice a week for the next months until the german armies came into the village.
after being captured by the nazis, he was sent to a concentration camp in auschwitz by train together with 600 – 800 people cramped in the barn-like train for 2 days. there were mother with crying child, people trying to escape, people who did not say anything for 2 days and many other depressed human characters. upon arrival, the armies divided them into 2 groups – women, children and the elderly would go to the right and the rest, including the speaker had to go to the right. the first group was given a small bar of soap and was told to go to the assigned building to wash up but later the speaker found out that that group went straight to the gas chamber and every mother, child and elderly were murdered. the speaker told us how horrible and how inhumane the camp was. on the first day he was there, he experienced his first roll call where the nazis walked into his barrack (every time any nazi army walk into the barracks, they had to stand in line) and picked a person not far from him to come a step forward. the nazi said, “remember this” and shot that person point blank in the head. i had the chills in my spine when the speaker described this event in detail where the army had a smirk on his face and said, “now you remember”. after that day, there would be at least one roll call everyday and the speaker brushed shoulder with death every time. he explained that everybody in the camp was demoralized and suicidal. he saw people killing themselves everyday and he did not feel bad at all. he said, it was probably because he realized that the death puts an end to the suffering that everybody had to go through in the camp and it was fairly easy to commit suicide. all you had to do was touch the electric fence and you would fry like a freedom fries. over the span of a few years (the speaker described that they had no concept of time in mind and nobody really cares about the day and date) he worked in a coal mine and he was so weak that he would not lift the empty shovel at times. the speaker also described how his inner strength did all the work to stay alive. they were told that should anyone feel sick, theres a health barrack where they can get medicated but it didnt take long for everyone to realize that nobody that went there ever return alive. the prisoners were given a cup of black coffee and a slice of dried bread for breakfast and dinner. as for lunch, he said that that was the best meal of the day where they were given a small bowl of soup filled with potato peels and dirt.
several years had passed and after the war had ended, they were told that they will be transfered to another camp. the nazis gathered all the prisoners and they marched to an unknown destination. they marched slowly and surrounded by the nazis. whoever fell behind or unable to walk were shot and left behind. in the pitch black of night he walked beside his only friend david and after hearing people getting shot over and over again he decided to escape. he told david that he had decided and asked him to join. david refused and they bid goodbye. the speaker could not recall exactly how he got out of the march and how far he had run for his life. the next thing he remembered, he was in a russian millitary hospital. he later learned that there were more then 6,000 people started the march from auschwitz and only less then 100 survived the march that he was on.
when he was first admitted to the hospital, his weight was merely 70 Lb / 31 Kg which is half of my current weight now and after the few months in the hospital he decided to go home to czechoslovakia to find his family. when he got to his house, everything was stolen and i cant imagine how devastated he was to realized that he will never reunite with his family again, and that he had nothing to his name. he later went to the neighbour’s house – the one that had helped him initially. the neighbour was so happy to see him alive and took him in to stay with. he later met a childhood friend who had the same experience – lost her family and was sent to a concentration camp, and they became close. they started dating (kinda) and kept in touch. he later went to prague to look for a job but the war had not left much of the country and looking for a job was impossible. the gf persuaded him to go to america but he was reluctant at first. one day, he agreed to his gf’s advice and went to the american embassy to enquire information on how to get to america. the american at the embassy asked him, why he wanted to go to america and he replied, “i cant stand my girlfriend here. she nags a lot”. the officer laughed and 3 days later, he was on the ship to america called USS Perch (i think.. couldnt really hear him clearly).
after arriving in new york, he was sent to an orphanage. there, he had trouble adjusting to the normal life and to make things worse he had not met anyone that was in a concentration camp which made him feel out of place and could not relate to the other kids. for the first few weeks, he would hide extra food after every meals, fearing that he would not be able to eat the next day. everytime he heard sirens, he would jump and hide but at that time, there was an old guy who would ask every children if they had any relatives in america. this old guy asked him the same question every sunday. at first, he was annoyed by this repetitive question by this old guy but one tuesday, this old guy showed up looking for him. it was wierd because he never show up on any other day then sunday. the old dude said that he had located the speaker’s cousin in McKeesport PA but wanted his permission to get in touch with this cousin. he agreed reluctantly and few weeks later the cousin showed up. they met up and talked about the option of him moving to PA and live with his family. he was very shy and couldnt speak a word in english which they had to use a translator during the visit. after trying to persuade him to go to PA, the cousin suggested that he should visit PA for 2 weeks and if he didnt like it, he can move back to the orphanage without question asked. he agreed and they went to PA and after 2 weeks, he went back to new york but not to stay, but to complete some paperwork for him to move to PA.
In PA, he felt the need and the urgency to learn english. he went to the local public school and approached the teacher asking if he can sit on the back row to learn english. he was 18 – 19 and his classmates were 8 year olds. slowly, he builds his life and went to learn fixing watch. at the same time, he still correspond with his gf in chezch and few years later she arrived in america and they got married. they have 2 child who are married and a grandchild from the daughter’s marriage. he explained that it took him many years to overcome his experience and build enough balls to tell his story, even to his own childrens. years had passed, he got involve with a group of holocaust survivors in pittsburgh. the first time he went to the gathering, he was asking if anyone know david from the auschwitz camp. the first guy that he asked was surprised and said that david was marching right next to him on the death march. the speaker was even more surprised when the guy said that david told him about his best friend had just escaped the march and that he thinks that the speaker will never make it. this shows how small the world is and how cruel it can be. they guy said, david fell unconscious less then an hour after the speaker ran away and he was shot.
during the q&a, somebody had asked him how does he feel about the germans now and were there any attempts to boycott german products. he explained that after going through what he went through, he can never hate anymore – not even to the people that did that to him. im not sure if that is a form of forgiveness or just a loose screw in his head but i beleive him. im sure after all that craziness, he somehow might have lost some of his “feelings” and probably substitute it with hope and faith. he will be flying to germany for the first time with his wife in a week after yesterday. while in germany, he planed to go back to chezchand visit his hometown. he added that post war germany is not the evil nazi anymore and he had met many good and great germans in his life. i guess this post is pretty much parallel to my previous post where we need to disband hatred and denounce evil. we are humans with great power to change and according to uncle ben, with great power comes great responsibility.