And this interview is being conducted in English.
You’ll get to remember me for the rest of your life.
Today is November 4, 1997.
We’re with Mr. David Abrams in Brooklyn, New York.
This interview is being conducted in English.
My name is Florence Shuster.
Mr. Abrams’s birth name was “Abraham,” last name “Abraham.”
- Could you tell me your name, please? - David Abrams.
- And could you spell it? - A-B-R-A-M-S.
And is that your name you were born with?
No, I was born “Abraham,” A-B-R-A-H-A-M.
- And where were you born? - In D-E-J, Dej, Romania.
And when is your birthday?
December 8, 1928.
And how old does that make you now?
Sixty-eight, going on 69 soon.
May I make a brief statement at this time?
I asked to make a brief statement at this time
because I wanted to express in my own words
what I’m about to do and the reason why I’m doing it.
I was only a 15-year-old boy
when the Nazis put me on a freight train
with my family and over a thousand other human beings–
men, women, children, babies still in their mothers’ arms–
and they shipped us off to Auschwitz to be disposed of
as if we were nothing more than some contaminated waste.
By the grace of God and many fateful events
that I’m going to speak about in detail during my testimony,
I managed to survive the most brutal,
the most cruel, the most inhumane treatment of human beings
in the history of our planet.
But I paid a very high and bitter price,
because over 90% of my family–
my mother, my three little brothers, ages 13, 12 and 11–
the 13-year-old was bar mitzvahed in the ghetto–
my grandparents, both paternal and maternal,
my uncles, my aunts, my first cousins, second cousins–
over a hundred innocent, beautiful human beings,
men, women, and children,
who never hurt anyone in their lives
were brutally murdered in cold blood
by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Hashem yikom damam. May God avenge their blood. Amen.
Today, I’m going to participate in a program
by the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation,
created by the film director Steven Spielberg,
to get as many survivors together as they can
to testify about their experiences in the Holocaust.
Today, for the first time in over 50 years,
I’ll be speaking up.
I’ll be crying out for the whole world to hear and to know
what the Nazis did to me
and what I saw them do to others during the Holocaust.
Oh, I tried to speak about my experiences before,
but as soon as I got into details,
it felt like I was going to reexperience all over again,
and I just couldn’t go on,
and who can blame me for that?
But today, I have no choice.
Today I must, because time is running out.
As the years go by, the number of us survivors
still surviving and around are getting fewer and fewer.
In a few more years, we may become an endangered species.
While the anti-Semites, the revisionists,
who try to tell us there was no Holocaust–
“At worst it was some camps that the Jews sit out the war–
Sure, people died there, but people died everywhere.
They died in England. They died in France.
Millions died in Russia.
So sure, some people died in the concentration camps.
But all the stories that you hear are exaggerations.
Nothing but Zionist propaganda
to gain favor in the eyes of the world–”
Their numbers are growing yearly,
and the voices are getting louder and louder.
All you have to do is browse on the Internet,
and you’ll see what I mean.
Thirty years from now, who of us is going to be around
to stand up to these animals
and tell them, “No. There was a Holocaust.
I was there, I survived, and I’m here now to testify about it”?
Probably no one
because I’m one of the youngest survivors,
and I’ll be 70 next year, God willing.
But thanks to the Shoah Foundation,
our voices, our faces, our stories,
will be recorded on tape forever.
So 100 years from now, 200 years from now,
I’ll be there to tell the world that, yes, there was a Holocaust,
and the stories that you hear, nothing is exaggerated.
On the contrary, the true story cannot even be told
because some of it is too cruel and too painful.
Those pictures that you saw of the end of the war that the soldiers
and everybody took of the thousands of dead bodies
that had a resemblance of human beings,
plus thousands more who looked just the same,
the only difference that they were still breathing
and still had life in them.
That’s the only pictures they took.
But how they got there, nobody has pictures.
But I have the pictures in here,
and today, thanks to what we’re doing today,
I’ll share it with the whole world for generations to come
that we should always be vigilant.
Zachor. Always remember what happened.
Never be complacent to say that it cannot happen here
because that’s what they said in Germany,
and our only protection is by remembering what happened.
Al tishkach. Never forget. Thank you very much.
Could you please tell me your father’s name?
- And your mother’s name? - Sarah Goldstein.
What did your father do for a living?
My father had a bakery. He was a baker by profession.
And did your mother work?
No, my mother was a “house maker.”
Did you have brothers and sisters?
Yes, I had four sisters and three brothers.
Could you tell me their names?
The oldest one was Olga, then Ethel,
then Liebe Malke and Irene.
And my younger brothers were Yehuda Aryeh,
Ezekiel and Zev.
And what were the age differences among you?
At which time? During the–
When you were born.
Oh. About two years apart, except–
Approximately around two years’ difference,
except for my three little brothers, one year apart.
What type of house did you live in?
We lived in a small town,
population of 16,000, of which 4,000 were Jewish,
and even it doesn’t sound much, but we were nicely spread out.
Everybody had a nice, big backyard.
We had our own private house.
In fact, it was two stories.
We lived on the top floor, and on the bottom floor was the bakery
where my father baked the bread.
Could you describe what the living quarters looked like?
Well, we had two bedrooms, large bedrooms, and a kitchen
and a spice room where we kept all the spices.
There was upstairs, and there was downstairs.
There was a spice room in addition to the kitchen?
Yes, where we kept the spices because we had no refrigeration,
so we had a special room, dark room,
where we kept all the things that
we had for the wintertime, all the different things.
Because you couldn’t buy everything every day.
We had to put away in the summer for the winter.
Could you please explain a little bit more about this spice room?
I don’t quite understand.
This was just a room where it was dark,
where we kept everything stored, the food.
Because the kitchen, we just had a stove
and just a table and chairs where people sat and ate their meals.
Do you remember how you used to sit at the table when you ate your meals?
Well, I do. Everybody had their own place.
Where was your place?
I was sitting next to my father because I was the oldest son.
And my mother sat on the other side of my father,
and then the girls on one side and the boys on the other side.
What types of things did you talk about at dinnertime?
Usually we were– We were a very religious family,
and our whole life revolved around the old tradition.
As a matter of fact, we started on Tuesday to prepare for the Sabbath
because Tuesday was market day.
We went to shop for different foods.
On Wednesday, we cleaned our clothes.
On Thursday, we cleaned the house.
We went on all fours to scrub the wooden floors.
And then my mother baked khale, from fresh, and cakes.
Everything had to be with yeast.
And Friday afternoon was like a king was coming to the house.
As a matter of fact, the Sabbath is referred to as “the queen.”
Shabbat Hamalka, the queen.
Everybody had to be busy whether you had something to do or not.
We had to shine our shoes.
Everybody had to look busy like the queen was coming.
And then the Sabbath came, and then–
And then all over– for 52 years– a year all over again.
And what was your job?
I was a student from–
I was only 15 at the time we were sent to Auschwitz.
I was a student, a very advanced student.
I was busy from morning to night, very early in the morning to late at night,
going to secular school and yeshiva, and going to pray twice a day.
That kept me very busy from early in the morning till late at night.
I’d like to go back to when you were even younger,
when you were just a toddler.
What is your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is when I was about two years old.
Actually, when I was born, I was the first boy after four girls.
So you can imagine the joy, after four girls, a boy being born.
But, unfortunately, the joy only lasted for five days
because when I was six days old, my mother passed away in childbirth.
On Friday, the seventh day, was the levaya, the funeral,
and on the Sabbath, the next day, was my bris.
When I was two years old, my father remarried, and that’s what I remember.
That’s the only mother I really knew. I never knew–
She was so wonderful.
I never even knew she wasn’t my mother until I became nine, ten years old.
I had to go to shul to say kaddish when they had the yahrzeit.
And that’s what I remember now.
The reason I remember is because my father went to a different town.
That’s where my mother lived, and that’s where the wedding was,
and somehow I got lost there, and I was only two years old.
Everybody was telling me the story of I was crying, that I don’t know where to–
I lost the town, the name of the town.
So it’s a little bit ironic, funny, that I was crying that I lost the name–
The town was– I don’t know where the town is, so that’s why–
Maybe because the story was repeated so many times,
so that’s my earliest memory.
I was two years old.
Did you go to the town with your father?
Yeah, the whole family went. Everybody.
What do you remember of the wedding?
Well, that’s the only incident that I remember really.
When you were very little, and your family was preparing for Shabbat,
did you have a job?
Oh, yeah. Everybody had a job. We had to clean up.
We had to shine our shoes, get our clothes ready and get cleaned up.
And everybody was very, very–
You had to look busy even if you weren’t because you got in trouble if you weren’t.
How old were you when you began school?
When I began the cheder, I was three years old.
But secular school, I was six years old when I went to first grade.
What do you remember about cheder?
I remember every little detail, the holidays.
I remember my rabbi and the students that were with me.
I was blessed with a very good memory.
I remember a lot and very, very pleasant memories.
Because our lives totally revolved around our beautiful traditions,
like when we prepared for even–
Just 52 times a year, preparing for the Sabbath would’ve been enough,
but when it came to the High Holidays,
the whole month of Elul, we were busy every day.
We get ready with the fear,
the days of awe are coming.
Then the High Holidays last for a month.
No sooner were the High Holidays over,
two months later it’s Hanukkah.
We prepared for– We had in town–
The shohet was a music writer,
and he prepared a chorus of all the boys that knew how to sing,
to prepare “Hanerot Hallalu,” “Maoz Tzur,” new songs every year.
We used to go to the rabbi of the town, when he lit the candles, to sing.
So for two months, till Hanukkah, we were preparing for the songs
to sing in the choir.
When Hanukkah was over, only less than two months to Purim,
and two weeks before Purim, mothers were busy every day,
baking new kinds of cakes and cookies
because we send shalack manos to each of the neighbors,
and everybody was competing with one another
how many more things they can bake.
Needless to tell you, when Purim was over, it was a month to Pesach.
That was like preparing for the World Series.
Preparing for the matzo
and all the preparations that have to be made for Pesach.
Pesach lasted eight days,
and the second day of Pesach, we already start counting
49 days, seven weeks, for Shabuoth.
That’s the celebration of the giving of the Torah.
And right after that, not too long, all over again, Rosh Hashanah.
So you see, you don’t have to be rich.
Richness buys you comfort and luxuries, but it can’t buy you happiness.
When you’re so busy, have such a full life,
beautiful traditions, our religion–
No matter how little we had, we were very, very happy.
We had a very happy life.
Before we continue, I just would like– What was your birth mother’s name?
And your stepmother’s name?
You were talking about the songs you used to sing for Hanukkah.
- Do you remember any of them? - No, not really. No.
Because every year they were different.
Because there were new songs and new everything.
It’s not like when you sing here, every year is the same.
The same tune every year after year.
There every year it was different, so it’s hard for me to remember.
There were new songs, new choirs every year.
It was a very big thing for us, for us kids.
We were busy for two months, preparing for it.
Explain to me how the preparations went.
Usually like you rehearse for choir.
They used to teach us the notes and go over and over and rehearse
It’s no different than choirs prepared for a concert here.
That was our yearly concert, the Hanukkah concert.
Who would attend these concerts?
Everybody. The whole community would come to the rabbi
for the candle lighting ceremony,
especially his immediate followers.
We’d light the Hanukkah candles, and right after the candles, we put on–
It’s like a performance, like the year’s performance.
Who was your rabbi?
I had many rabbis,
but the one when I was in the yeshiva,
his name was Elisha Horowitz.
He was with me in the concentration camp.
Unfortunately, I saw him pass away there.
What was your relationship with your rabbi?
I’m glad you asked that because a rabbi–
If you told me what was closer than my father–
and nobody closer to me than my father–
then my rabbi was equal to that.
The love of the rabbi is hard to express.
It’s like a real closeness that you have, that a son has with his father.
You can imagine the closeness I had after four daughters.
Even today, religious men favor boys.
You can imagine what it was 70 years ago.
So I had a very close relationship with my father,
but my rabbi was equal.
Tell me about the relationship you had with your father.
What kinds of things did you do together?
Since I explained that this involved–
Our total lives are totally involved around our tradition and religion,
mostly is study.
As a matter of fact, I woke up one morning–
It was the middle of the night.
He was standing over me, and I got startled.
I said, “What’s happening? What’s the matter, Father?”
“I was standing over you, listening.
You recited a whole page of the Talmud, and I was sitting here listening to you.”
So that’s what we were doing. That was his biggest pleasure.
At the end of the week, I would sit down Sabbath afternoon.
He would give me like a test of what I’d accomplished all week,
and he would get pride because, thank God, I was a wonderful student,
and he took joy in that, and nothing else was needed
when you live that kind of life.
What was your relationship like with your sisters?
My sisters, I had a very wonderful– They were really very wonderful,
because they were very loving to me because I was their little brother.
Especially the one who was closest to me, was two and a half years older,
Irene, who passed away.
She always took me everywhere with her, wherever she went.
She was like a little mother and watched over me.
So did the others. I had more than one mother.
I had my mother and four more.
I was very fortunate indeed, very lucky.
Did you have any playmates that you remember?
Yes, I had playmates in cheder, in school, sure.
Like any normal child.
What types of games did you play?
With all the studies that I was doing,
the only games I was able to play were during recess.
In the secular school, I played a little soccer
because any other time we were too busy,
doing homework for the secular school and homework for the yeshivas,
and we’ve been praying and going davening to shul twice a day.
There wasn’t much room for playing.
Toys we certainly didn’t have, couldn’t afford.
The only toy I remember having was a little ball.
Do you remember who gave you that ball?
My father gave it to me.
Could you describe what secular school was like?
It was very nice because even the secular school
was organized by the Jewish community,
and it was only for Jewish boys, and the reason we had that
because we shouldn’t have to go to the regular school
because we have to stay in school without a yarmulke,
and we have to even go once in a while on the Sabbath for certain programs.
Thus we were able to observe our tradition.
So it was a little financial burden on the community, but we had it.
We had a special school just for boys.
The girls went to regular school with the Gentiles.
But the Jewish boys were separately taught by Gentile teachers,
all the studies that everybody else learned,
except that we were in our own school.
As a matter of fact, it was called scoalã israelitã, the Jewish school.
How did you attend school? In what garb? What clothing?
My regular– We didn’t need no special clothing.
Whatever I wore for the yeshiva, I wore it.
In the morning, I went to secular, in the afternoon, to the yeshiva.
The same clothes. We couldn’t afford too many clothes.
Except for the Sabbath, we had special clothes to change, and for the holidays.
Did you wear a skullcap, a kippah?
Certainly that, yes.
Did you have payos?
Yes, I had payos because my father was modern.
We weren’t really very modern. We wore modern clothes.
What he did, he sent me to yeshivas very, very, very religious.
You can compare them even higher
than Williamsburg or Borough Park that’s known here in Brooklyn.
I once asked him– If we were really modern,
why did he send me to such a religious school?
He says, “I figured if you let go of what you’re learning–
If I sent you to a modern school and you let go, you’ll have nothing left.
But if I send you to a very religious school and you let go,
you’ll still have something left.”
As a result, because I was there, I had very long curls,
payos all the way to the shoulder length.
- Did everyone else? - Everyone in my school, yes.
What was your relationship with your Gentile teachers?
I had a very good relationship because I was a good student,
but if you’re not, it got pretty rough.
If you didn’t know answers, you got, you know, beat up.
I don’t understand.
If you didn’t know an answer, teachers used to punish you with the rulers.
You have to hold out your hands. They’d hit you over the hands.
But I was very fortunate. I was a real good student,
always top of the class, so I never had to be disciplined.
- Did you– - So I had– Did I?
I’m sorry. Did you see other children being beaten?
Oh, certainly. If you were called on to answer
and you didn’t know the answer, the first time you got warned.
The second time you got two or three. It got worse as time went on
if you didn’t know your answers when you were called upon to give an answer.
That was common practice in the old days.
Did you have any relationship with any Gentile children?
Not a good one.
As a matter of fact, on the way home from school,
they were always pulling on my payos,
and they were very anti-Semitic.
I had to keep my eyes open all around
to make sure that I got home safely every day.
Please describe these incidents.
These towns in Europe were very anti-Semitic,
all over Eastern Europe, Poland.
There was no interrelationship between the–
Tell me what personally happened to you.
If I couldn’t run fast enough, I got beat up a few times,
and many times pulled–
At best, just pulled by the payos a little bit, a little bit painful.
But I had to make sure, look around.
As much as I could,
when I saw adults walking on the street, I used to walk next to them
to make them think that I belonged to them, and this way I felt safe.
Because I was all by myself.
Our street was not where most of the Jewish people lived.
Most of them didn’t have this problem
because they lived in all-Jewish neighborhoods.
But I lived about a mile away, and I had this little problem.
I had to go through Gentile neighborhoods.
So I had to be streetwise, and I survived.
I survived worse than that.
Did you walk alone all the time?
Yes, because I was the only child
from that street going to the yeshivas.
Everybody else lived in a street
where all the Jewish people lived together.
Do you remember the birth of your younger brothers?
I certainly do.
Because I was only three years old
when my first– when the first one was born.
I remember my sister Olga, the oldest one,
was eleven years older, I remember to this–
Pick me up in her arm and take me to my mother’s bed
with the baby and show me the new baby.
I’ll never forget that.
That’s why my oldest sister, Olga, I still refer to her
as not only my sister, as my mother.
She always carried me around all over.
What about the birth of the next brother? Do you remember?
Sure, even easier. I got older with each child.
I remember very clearly because when a boy is born in Europe,
every night, little boys come and say the prayer, the Shema,
for the health of the mother and new child and to give them candies.
I remember even after the first one– I was only three years old–
I was hiding from them because there were a lot of strangers,
marching into my house, and I was startled.
And this was repeated with each child,
and with the second or third, it got easier.
Who were the people that came to visit?
These are boys from the class, young kids,
eight, nine, ten years old, they came.
It was an opportunity for them to get a little candy every night
when they said the Shema prayer for the new baby.
It’s a custom still now in Borough Park and Williamsburg.
They still maintain that custom.
That when a boy is born, other boys come to the house to say the prayers.
Do you know this prayer?
Yeah, “Shema Yisrael,” the prayer that we say twice a day,
in the prayer and before we go to bed.
Could you say it for me?
Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.
“Hear O Israel, God our God is a single God.”
This is the prayer that people had on their lips many times,
if they had the strength, before they even died in the concentration camps.
This is the prayer they had on their lips.
This is well-known, well-documented.
Thank you. We’re going to change tapes.
...with Mr. David Abrams, in Brooklyn, New York.
Mr. Abrams, do you remember as a child ever getting sick?
Yes, but not too seriously.
As a matter of fact, especially in the wintertime,
when I got sick, to me it was like a holiday because I got to stay home.
No, I meant to say– I confused with something else.
I was going to say when we had to fix our shoes.
When something was wrong with our shoes, I’d go to the shoemaker to fix them.
We only owned one pair of shoes. So we stayed home. It was a holiday.
We stayed home from school for a day while our shoes are fixed.
So that’s why I was confused about when I said that.
That’s enough. Sorry about the confusion.
No, that’s wonderful. How often did that happen?
About twice a year.
We only owned one pair of shoes, yes.
We were looking forward for our shoes to be fixed, so we can stay home for the day.
Could you now tell us what would happen
on the occasion that you would have a childhood illness?
We had a town doctor.
We would call the doctor, and he would come over,
and if necessary he’d prescribe medication.
We got better, like anybody else. No different.
Was it common for doctors to make house calls?
That was the only way. He always came.
We never went to a doctor. The doctor always came to our house.
Do you remember his medical bag?
Not really, no.
What do you remember about the times that you were treated by a doctor?
Only that I was sick and I had to get better.
I never concentrated on it.
Did you ever get an injection?
Not that I remember. We usually got it when we were very small.
When we were very tiny, we got the injections.
So as a growing child, I don’t remember.
Getting older, I don’t remember.
Where would you buy medicine?
We had several apothecaries, pharmacies,
where we bought our medicine.
I remember sometimes even going to buy it when somebody else was sick.
They used to send me to get the medication.
What did your father do to earn a living?
He was a baker. He had a bakery.
What was the store like?
Actually, we didn’t have a store because he delivered.
The bread was delivered from house to house after we baked it, to our customers.
We had a horse and wagon, and we delivered
all the bread to all our customers.
- Did you ever help your father do it? - Many times, yes.
He used to drive me sometimes on my way to school on the wagon,
and then I used to get to school on time.
That day I didn’t have to walk,
when it was time for deliveries of the bread.
How often would that happen?
It happened a few times a week if the timing was right.
If the delivery was ready when I had to go to school,
I used to hop on the wagon and go with him, and he’d drop me off at school.
Did anybody in your family ever have to go to a hospital?
No, not that I remember.
Do you remember going to visit relatives?
Yes, every Shabbat, every Sabbath,
I had an aunt and an uncle, my father’s sister,
and they had five children,
and we went to visit them every Shabbat afternoon.
We used to get some fruit. I don’t know if I went to visit to see them
or because I’d know I was going to get some fruit while I’m visiting there.
But anyway, we went every Saturday afternoon to visit.
- How far away did they live? - They lived about a mile away.
They lived in the Jewish section, where all the Jewish people lived.
So I had to do all the walking everywhere all the time.
What were their names?
Their name was Glück, Rebecca and Martin Glück.
And their children’s names?
The children’s names were Rachel, Yehezkel, Gita and Esther.
Were there any other incidents of anti-Semitism
that you experienced as a child growing up?
Other than the incidents you told me about, going to and from school?
Yes, a very serious one,
but that came already when things started to get bad
around 1942, 1943.
There was a holiday, a national holiday,
and we didn’t put out the flag fast enough.
Soon a couple of people came, burst in,
and beat up my father pretty badly for not putting on the flag.
That’s the only thing that will never leave my mind.
Could you describe that? What happened?
They just came in and asked why the flag isn’t put out. It’s a holiday.
So my father had just gotten home from the synagogue,
and he was about to do it, but they didn’t give him a chance.
They just started beating him up.
- Who? - These two men.
Two passersby from the street, who just passed by our house.
But this was already when the time was getting bad,
when all the restrictions for Jewish people started and everything.
Could you please tell me about that, when things started to change?
Like I mentioned, when I was born,
this area was under Romanian control.
In 1941, Hitler gave half of this area to Hungary.
They came over and took my town over.
As a matter of fact, that’s how we wound up in Auschwitz.
The Hungarians turned over the Jews to the Germans,
while the Romanians did not.
In the beginning, we were very happy to see the Hungarians
because they were very friendly to the Jews.
As a matter of fact, I’ll never forget the speech when they got there,
when they celebrated taking over the area
and proclaiming that they had liberated all the Hungarians in the area
from persecution, from the Romanians.
They even made a statement. “Let’s not forget another nation,
the Jewish people, who were also persecuted by the Romanians.
Let’s not forget they’re also being liberated today.”
So naturally we took them at their word,
and we were very happy and welcomed them.
Who made this speech?
This was the president.
His name was Horthy, of Hungary. Over the radio.
- Do you remember it? - I’ll never forget it
because for days we were talking about it,
and the Jewish people were full of hope that things are going to get better
because the Hungarians took over, and they’re more civilized,
more from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It turned out quite a different picture.
Could you describe the circumstances where you heard this speech?
First, I heard it from different people discussing it in the synagogue.
They’d heard it over the radio. We ourselves didn’t have a radio.
By then it was repeated over and over, so I heard it on many occasions.
Please continue telling me what it was like
when the Hungarians came in.
Did they march into your town?
Yeah, the soldiers marched in. We welcomed them.
It was very, very–
A lot of festivities going on,
and everybody seemed to be very happy and joyous.
It was like a new beginning.
And then what happened?
Then, around 1943, things started–
Wait a second. You’ve just jumped two years.
This continued where we had it pretty peaceful, pretty nice,
for about a year or two.
But I can’t remember the exact dates
because I wasn’t even prepared to go into so much detail about–
I was prepared to talk about my experience during the Holocaust and testify.
So I’m really not–
I’d just like to spend some time to get
a flavor of what your life was like,
the circumstances that led up to this.
I can’t be any more helpful with the political aspect
because I was still going on and doing whatever I had done before.
Get up 5:00 in the morning.
For an hour before I had to go to prayer, I studied and then went to morning prayer.
I took breakfast with me,
so I shouldn’t have to waste the time, walking the mile back to my home.
Then I went to secular school
and after secular school came home for lunch.
That was our main meal, was lunchtime.
Then I went back to the yeshiva till 8:00, 9:00, late at night.
And that was my daily routine
until I was taken out of my house and taken to the ghetto.
Do you ever have summer vacations?
Yes, we had summer vacations,
but I wasn’t poor enough to go with the poor people,
and not rich enough to afford one,
so I really studied all year– I had no summer vacations.
I was caught in the middle.
Because the very poor, it was provided by the community
to go away for at least a week, sometimes two weeks,
to the country just for a rest a bit.
Though you had to be very poor for that, and I wasn’t that poor.
But I wasn’t rich enough to afford to go on my own,
so I never did go on vacation.
When did restrictions start for the Jewish people?
As far as I can remember–
- I just want what you remember. - Okay.
It started around ’43.
I’m not sure whether the Germans already got into our town or not,
but they started serious Jewish laws.
They called them zsidótörvények in Hungarian, meaning “Jewish laws.”
First, the law was that Jews cannot have Gentiles work for them.
Then there were laws that Jews could not go to the market before 10:00,
so the Gentiles can have their pick of whatever is in the marketplace.
Then at 10:00, when they had what they needed,
then the Jewish people were allowed to come in.
Then, towards the end, the final law came
that the Jews had to wear yellow stars
in order they should be recognized,
identified everybody who’s Jewish.
It was, like, ironic and funny to me,
because I had long curls all the way down, wearing a yarmulke.
I needed a yellow star to identify me that I was Jewish.
But I soon realized that it was all just another harassment
because, even at that time, things were so bad.
Jewish people couldn’t own businesses.
My father had to give up the bakery, and a Gentile baked the bread.
We hardly had enough to eat, and everything–
I’m sorry. I just want to slow down a little bit.
Do you remember how you were told
that your father’s bakery– he could no longer run it?
Yeah. Everything came in steps, so–
When they added one more restriction, it was nothing new.
It was almost like expected.
Who was giving these restrictions?
It was like a Nazi government already established,
and the people, the police, whoever was in charge of things.
Do you remember how your father was told that he couldn’t–
No, I don’t think I was there personally,
so I can’t give you any details of the conversation.
Do you remember reading the rules?
No, not at all.
Were you allowed to continue to go to school?
We continued to go to the last day, till they took us out to the ghetto.
I went to yeshiva, and I went to my studies.
What type of star did you have to wear?
A yellow star, made of yellow material, with a Star of David.
It was sewed upon our clothing, no matter what we wear.
If it was a jacket, on top of the jacket.
If it was an overcoat, had to be on the overcoat.
So wherever we went, we could be identified that we were Jewish.
Do you remember sewing this or having–
Yeah, my mother– I remember it, sure, very clearly.
I remember my mother was busy sewing up these stars, yes.
What was the atmosphere in the house?
If you remember, please describe it.
It’s hard to explain.
Even on the day– I’ll just give you an example.
Even on the day that they came to tell us, on a Friday,
that we have 24 hours
because the next day they’re going to come to take us to the ghetto–
They told us we’re allowed to take two suitcases of clothing.
It was on a Friday morning.
When they left, my mother said to us,
“We have some work to do because we have to prepare for the Shabbat.
So everybody pack their stuff, whatever you’re allowed,
into two suitcases or two bags.”
As soon as we did that, we went on and prepared for the Sabbath.
It’s hard to explain.
To this day, I can’t comprehend how we reacted so normally.
My only explanation would be the old adage–
If somebody hits you with 40 lashes and you get the 41st,
you’re already numb, you don’t feel anything.
But it has to be something more than that
because after we finished packing
our two bags we were allowed to take with us the following day,
my mother went on and prepared a Sabbath meal like any other Sabbath.
We sat down Friday night. We went to shul, we went to prayers.
When we came home, we had our regular Sabbath meal.
We had our regular Sabbath songs.
We sang the traditional shalom aleichem
that we welcome angels to our house
because you know tomorrow the devils are coming.
And we ate our meal, the normal Sabbath meal.
We sang our songs.
We say the prayers after we went to sleep,
just like tomorrow’s going to be a day like any other day.
So if you want to know what happened during these years
when these anti-Semitic edicts, I gave you a perfect example here,
when the worst was coming, how we reacted.
What did you pack?
Mainly we were supposed to pack
clothing, underwear, blankets and food for a few days.
Mainly things that would be needed.
We were told that we have to be separated from the Gentiles,
that we were going to be taken to a town and have jobs where only Jews live,
separate from the Gentiles.
In an indirect way, subconsciously, I almost welcomed it,
to be away from these anti-Semites, to be with Jews only.
We would have jobs. We’d be together with our family.
That’s what we were told.
Do you remember what you chose to take with you?
Was there anything special that you decided to take?
The only thing special I took with me was my prayer book.
Most of the things, my mother handed to me.
She put in what I needed, and I packed it and put it in there.
I forgot to ask you one thing that I want to know.
- Did you have a best friend? - Yes, I did.
Could you tell me about him?
He was my age. He was a neighbor, not too far away.
His name was Mendel Rosenfeld.
We were very close.
Every Sabbath we went on walks together.
We went to the same schools.
As a matter of fact, I was tutoring him because he wasn’t as–
He was a bright student but needed help, and I was exceptional,
and I was able to help him and tutor him.
We were very close.
He’s here today, in Brooklyn.
Do you remember any special times that you spent together as children?
We spent all our time together in yeshivas and schools.
We even went to secular school together.
Mostly leisure time we only had was Saturday afternoon walks after lunch,
until it was time to go for prayers.
That’s the only leisure time we really had.
Did you have any outside interests besides the Torah as a child?
No. Till after the war, I never even went to a cinema
because I was not permitted to go where there’s men and women together.
It was considered a waste of time to do anything
but spend your time on the Torah and religious studies.
Especially for boys. The girls, they were more liberal.
My sisters went to cinemas, and they used to tell me about it.
Tell me about that.
I can’t remember anything. It would be absurd.
Was that a special time when you got together?
Oh, yeah. It was always a special time when I got together with my sisters.
Do you remember your sisters having boyfriends?
Yes. As a matter of fact, I was bribed not to tell my father
because they’re weren’t allowed to.
Please continue telling me about the anti-Semitism
and the restrictions you were subjected to
before they took you away.
You mentioned that you weren’t allowed to hire Gentiles.
Was there anything else that you were aware of?
Also they were not allowed to go to the market.
We were not allowed to– We didn’t own important businesses.
Anything that had to do with food, grocery stores or bakeries, like my father,
was all taken away and had to be given in the hand of Gentiles
because everything was rationed.
They didn’t want to have the Jewish people–
access to anything– food that was being rationed.
Things like that, yes.
What was your relationship with the people who took over your bakery?
In the beginning, it was okay.
We had an arrangement that they provided us
a little extra flour, especially on the Sabbath,
so we can bake khale and have extra food.
But as things got worse, and the laws got worse,
he had to stop it because he had pressure
from his Nazi Party that he belonged to
not to do favors to Jews and not to be social with the Jews.
So, as a result, this arrangement was discontinued.
- I know you were a young boy– - Yes.
but were you aware of what was happening in the rest of Europe?
No, not at all. No.
Did you read newspapers?
No, not me.
My father read, but I didn’t read newspapers, no.
Describe to me the day after.
You described beautifully that you continued with your Sabbath dinner.
But the day you were taken away, could you describe that?
You know? I’m sorry.
Yes, could you describe that?
And then describe what the ghetto looked like.
They came for us on Saturday morning like they said they would,
with some policemen with guns, with bayonets drawn.
I don’t know why they needed the bayonets drawn.
And they came to get us, asked us if we were ready,
and everybody was ready.
We had two bags, and we walked out of our house.
The only thing I remember, which I’ll never forget–
It really bothered me that I walked out of the house with the two bags,
and I looked up to the sky, and I asked forgiveness from God
that I’m carrying on the Sabbath.
That’s what was bothering me because you’re not allowed to carry on the Sabbath.
And then we went, everybody carrying their bags,
but before we went to the ghetto,
they assembled us in a big courtyard,
where everybody else was assembled,
and in that courtyard were tables set up with inspectors.
Everybody had to open their valises
to be inspected, to see what we have.
Even the little thing they already allowed us,
if they saw something very expensive, or something very nice,
or something they liked themselves, they just took it out.
Fortunately, they didn’t like anything they saw in my bag,
so I was able to keep what I had.
Then, when everybody went through the inspection,
they marched us about two or three miles to this ghetto.
Now I have to prepare you that when we talk about “ghetto,”
usually most people think about a building or a street
separated from the rest of the Gentile people.
Just like, for instance, the Warsaw ghetto,
with the whole area blocked off in Warsaw,
buildings where only Jews lived.
In many instances in Romania, that’s what it was like
in the very big cities like Cluj.
Kolozsvár was the city that everyone is familiar with.
Certain few streets and buildings was set aside
for Jews only, and the Gentiles were moved out.
The Jews moved in there, and that was considered a ghetto.
But in our case–
and also the reason why we acted so normal when they told us to get us
because for ten days before then,
they got together all the Jews from the villages all around our town.
They had to go through our town, and they marched to the same ghetto
that we were about to march this Saturday.
So we almost expected it because we saw them go every day.
We knew one of these days our turn will come,
and that Saturday was our turn.
So finally we got to this ghetto that I just described.
And there was a forest, a big wooded area full of trees,
way out of town, three miles out of town.
They showed us a piece of ground, about 10 by 12,
the size of an average room, with four stakes on the corner,
and they told us, “This is where you’re gonna live.”
A piece of ground in a forest.
“And in a few days, we’ll give you some boards, some two-by-fours,
where you can build a shelter around you.”
We said, “A few days?” We looked up in the sky–
It was the end of May. It was still–
It was the beginning of May really. The end of May we left.
The beginning of May. It was still cold.
It was dark. It looked like it was gonna rain any minute.
And they give us a piece of ground. “This is what you’re gonna live.”
But before long, some people who were there from before came and helped us.
We cut off branches, poles from the trees, and we set them up.
We put sheets all around,
and we got more branches with leaves to put on top.
We covered up and put blankets and sheets, whatever we could, on the floor.
And that’s where we slept till a few days later,
they did bring boards, but it was still just–
It was like a sukkah.
On Sukkoth, people go out of their houses,
their beautiful homes, for seven days,
and one of the reasons is to commemorate
when the Jews went out of Egypt,
they lived in sukkahs and huts.
But the real reason is to show to God
that everything we own, everything we have,
is only ours on loan for the time we’re here,
and nothing belongs to us.
So we leave our home– we build these little huts we call sukkahs–
to show that life is only temporary,
and everything we own doesn’t belong to us,
and everything belongs to God.
So I guess you can call this–
But that was just a ritual, the sukkah.
But this was for real. Here we were supposed to live.
Things were so bad that I heard, in the middle of the night,
my mother thought we were already sleeping, and she said,
“Thank God that my father is not here to see this.”
Because he had passed away three months before, in January.
He had passed away from illness. He had high blood pressure.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the circumstances of anti-Semitism
caused this, speeded up his death.
But my mother was thanking God that he’s not here to see us.
It was so bad, that the first night I got into Auschwitz,
not knowing what Auschwitz is all about, all I know is I got to a place.
I was separated from my family.
I was told that I’d be able to see them every Sunday,
that I had to be separated.
And after being processed, I was led into a barracks–
No, I just want to give you a comparison
to how bad this ghetto was where they put me.
When they put me into the barracks for the night, there was these wooden beds,
even though they were six to a bed, at least it was a bed.
To me, in comparison to what I had now,
it was like being in a fancy hotel, like the Waldorf-Astoria.
This was in Auschwitz. That’s how bad things were here.
And this is where we lived for almost a month
until they put us on trains to send us to Auschwitz.
What did you eat for that month?
At first we had only what we had brought with us.
But, fortunately, I was– They had work details.
I was able to go out on a work detail every morning,
cleanup details on railroad tracks, whatever they needed.
And during the day, I was able to gather with the neighbors,
and people, whoever was around, to beg for food,
to bring enough to keep us going till the next day.
I was looking forward to get to this. I was volunteering for these details.
What kinds of things did you talk about during this time?
During this time we only talk about, to give each other support,
that this can’t last forever, there’s got to be an end to this.
During the ghetto, every day, every night, in the evening,
another head of a household was–
Came from the police, secret police,
and whisked him away to interrogate him
to see whether we have any jewelry
or any valuables hidden anywhere,
and people, whether they had or not, were beaten up to confess.
What is there to talk about in a time like this?
Not much, really. Only look around you to see what things have come to
and just hope that it can’t last much longer,
that something has to happen.
Eternal hope is the secret, the weapon, of the Jewish people.
We always hope that things will get better.
Could you tell me who was with you in this small area?
In this small area was my mother,
two older sisters, and three little brothers
because the older sister, Olga, was already emigrated to the United States,
so she was in the United States in 1935.
And sister Liebe Malke, she was brought up in a different town
by an aunt and uncle who didn’t have any children.
And they went to a different ghetto in their own town.
So I only had two sisters with me, and myself,
and my three little brothers, and my mother
on the ground in this cold, small, wet area.
We’re going to change tapes now.
...1997, with Mr. David Abrams in Brooklyn, New York.
Mr. Abrams, before we continue,
I’d like to go back several months to the death of your father.
How did you react to this very sudden–
The death of my father was very, very, very traumatic to me.
I never remember being in as much pain
because I was very close to him.
Only six months before,
I had a very close friend of mine whose father passed away, and I said to myself,
“If this ever happened to me, I don’t think I could survive.”
As a matter of fact, I remember he died in the same month–
the month of Kislev– the month of Tebet– that my mother passed away.
My mother passed away on the first day of Tebet.
He died 15 years later, the 15th day of Kislev.
We have a month in the Jewish calendar, Heshvan,
that is called “Mar,” that was given a nickname, Marheshvan,
called bitter Heshvan because, for some reason,
it has to do with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
I remember walking to the levaya, to the funeral of my father,
I wanted to rename, give the same name to Tebet,
call it “Martebet,” the bitter Tebet,
because that’s the month that I lost both my mother and my father.
It was a very, very bitter blow to me.
But, like everything else, with human nature, you recover.
Some people do and some don’t.
I guess I was the lucky one.
Were there new obligations you had to fulfill?
Yes. I was the one to make sure that–
I was the head of the family now because I was the oldest boy, oldest man.
I was so crazy about my mother. I wanted to make sure that she can cope.
I had three little brothers and two sisters.
I constantly encouraged my two sisters and my brothers
to be considerate to my mother because I loved my mother dearly
because she was a wonderful person.
And we did just fine.
But of course, unfortunately,
we only had three or four months before they took us away to the ghetto.
At that point, had you already had your bar mitzvah?
- I was 15. - You were 15.
Yeah, 15 already. Yeah.
Could we just go back a moment and could you describe your bar mitzvah?
I’ll be very glad to because, like I said, we were of very modest means.
My bar mitzvah consisted of a meal called shalashudes.
The third meal of the Sabbath is done in shul.
In the morning, we had a little kiddush at the davening,
but my main event was this shalashudes.
The whole family and friends got together.
We had a little fish, a little whiskey to drink,
and a little khale and everything else.
That was– I made a big speech,
the usual one, and that was my big affair.
But it was a very happy one. I didn’t know any different.
Do you remember what the speech was about?
Something from the Talmud, but I couldn’t quote you the passages.
But it was quite a performance. It was about an hour speech.
I remember my father was in there, my grandfather, very impressed.
Close to an hour anyway.
Maybe it just seemed to me like an hour.
When your father died, were you the only son that was bar mitzvahed?
Yes, because one of my younger brothers,
the oldest one, was just about getting ready to bar mitzvah.
He was getting, like, training because in the ghetto,
in May of 1944, he became bar mitzvahed,
and my father died in January.
Could you describe your brother’s bar mitzvah?
There’s nothing to describe.
The only thing, when he was bar mitzvahed, is he put on tefillin that day.
We had tefillin prepared for him because during the training,
we had bought tefillin for him, before we got into the ghetto.
A month before, he starts training to put on the tefillin, the phylacteries.
And that was his whole bar mitzvah.
That he put on tefillin. No celebration, nothing.
No extra food, no nothing, unfortunately.
What articles of clothing
did you still have with you in the ghetto?
I had extra underwear, socks
and one extra suit,
besides the one that I was wearing.
That’s about it.
Did you have a tallith?
Sure. A small one, of course. It was required to have it.
A very small tallith, a tallith katan, yeah.
What prayer books did you have?
Just the one that we prayed morning and night, the siddur.
That we prayed morning and night.
Were there any other religious articles that you had with you?
No. That’s all. Just the siddur and the tefillin, the phylactery.
Was there any special way
that you were able to celebrate the Sabbath in the ghetto?
No. Not as far as–
We didn’t even have candles available to put up for lighting, nothing.
It was just another day, except for the prayers that we were still able to–
special prayers that we said.
So was there any other religious instruction going on?
No. Not really.
What hours of the day
were you gone doing work detail?
Probably about six, seven hours a day,
from morning, like 10:00, maybe till 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon,
depending on each day how much work had to be done.
Were the nationalities of the people in the ghetto–
What were the nationalities of the people in the ghetto?
In my town, we were all either Romanian, Hungarian or Jewish.
There were no other nationalities.
How long did you stay in this ghetto?
Approximately a month.
And then what happened?
Then they transported everybody.
They took everybody out of there in three different groups.
I was in the second group.
Before they put us on these trains that are for– I remarked before,
we went through another inspection.
They took everything. The little– We had the bare minimum.
Even the little that we had, they took some more away.
They took us to separate rooms.
Males, separately, and females,
and everybody had to get undressed, naked.
Women and men were both examined, even their private parts,
to see if anything was hidden, any jewels or anything.
It was very humiliating.
And then, after all that, after going through for four weeks,
this is how the Hungarians put us on the train bound for Auschwitz.
How many people were on the train with you?
In the whole train there were–
Each group had a little over a thousand, I would say.
In each car, I don’t know exactly how many,
but they were so filled to capacity,
there was hardly enough room to stretch out for everybody.
That’s how crowded we were in the car.
It was very, very, very bad.
How long was your journey?
It seemed to me it was at least three days.
It could be shorter. It could be longer.
But this is the way I remember it, about three days.
Because we had to go through Hungary, Czechoslovakia to Poland.
And we stopped in many places for hours.
Then we were able to get out of the train to stretch out,
get a little fresh air.
Then we stayed there for a little time
and then back on the train to continue our journey.
Did people get sick on the train?
Yes, people got sick.
There were instances where people even died on the train.
What happened when they died?
It didn’t happen in my car, but they just took them off the train.
Whatever they did to them, I’m not aware of.
How they disposed of the bodies, I’m not aware.
How did you go to the bathroom?
We just opened the crack of the door, and we just went.
There is no bathroom in there.
Were you given any food?
No. Only what we had.
I don’t remember if they gave us, or the community who–
or whatever, whatever–
When they loaded us, they gave us some,
but not during the three-day journey.
Whatever we had, whatever we were given,
was supposed to last us for the journey.
I think we got a loaf of bread for the trip.
And a little water and that was it.
Where did you believe you were going?
They told us that they’re taking us to a different town
away from the Gentiles, where we will be together with the family, have jobs.
When did you arrive? Where did you arrive?
We arrived at what’s known now as Auschwitz,
where we were immediately separated like–
What time of day was it?
It was towards the evening.
Yeah, late in the afternoon, we got to Auschwitz.
And the people who lived–
Workers came up and rushed us off the train,
not giving us any chance to take anything with us.
And we went through the procedure, to be lined up.
Describe what you saw when you came off the train.
We were all told to line up in files.
There was an SS in front of us who was separating us.
He told some people to go to the right, and some he told to go to his left.
The people that go to his right
were usually the women, the children and old people.
As a matter of fact, I was next to my grandfather, holding hands,
and when we came to him,
he motioned him to go to his right, to our left.
I wanted to tag along with him.
He came and grabbed me, pulled me away, he says,
“Du kannst noch arbeiten.”
“You can still work,” and he put me on the other side,
to his left, to our right,
to where the younger people went, who they want to work still,
supposed to go to labor camps.
And then we were told during the separation
that we would see each other every Sunday.
We just had to be separated for work detail purposes.
From the old people, the young people and the children
had to be separated for work detail,
but we’d be able to see each other every Sunday.
What happened to your suitcases?
They were all–
They were left in the ghetto before they even put us on the train.
They didn’t let us take hardly anything.
All I had in my hands was a little bread and a little food
and what I was wearing, that’s all.
Anybody who could get a way,
then they were left on the train when everybody was rushed off the train,
to get off the train when we got to Auschwitz.
I’m sorry. What did you–
Everybody was rushed off the trains when we got to Auschwitz.
Nobody was even allowed to take anything with them.
It didn’t matter if you took anything with you because,
once you started getting processed in Auschwitz,
you were taken into a room where you had to undress naked completely.
You go to another room where they gave you these famous, striped prisoner clothes
that you put on.
You were separated from your grandfather. What happened then?
I went to where I was told to go, to the other side
where the people that are supposed to go to work went.
Were you with anybody you knew?
Not at that moment. No.
But some people from my town were there that I knew, sure, yes.
A lot of people.
And then what happened?
Then, as I mentioned before, we were all led to a room
where we were all told to undress, completely naked.
Then we went to another room where they gave us haircuts
and sheared off all the hair from our bodies and everything
- and gave us something to wear. - Could you describe that?
How much hair did they shave off of you?
Everything. Wherever you had hair, everywhere.
Private parts, under your arms, on your head.
Everything was shaved off.
We went through a shower. They even gave us a shower.
And gave us these prison clothes, these striped clothes.
We were taken to our barracks.
What time of year was this again? Was it spring, summer?
This was the beginning of June, in 1944.
What did your barracks look like?
Okay. The barracks were normal army barracks,
like everybody is familiar with.
Describe them to me anyway. Just in case everybody isn’t.
I’m not familiar with it.
I really don’t know how to describe them.
Except they were like buildings made out of wood.
They were quite long, maybe about a hundred feet long.
I really don’t know how to describe a barrack.
I know a bit of the army, too, but I still–
I’m not good at describing things.
I don’t know what you are trying to get out of me.
What did it look like?
There was nothing in there but bunks.
Beds, triple-decker beds.
Three on each side.
The same bunk that you are familiar with,
that people took movies and pictures after the war.
Those are the barracks that you see.
There’s hardly a person who hasn’t seen one in the movies.
So those are the barracks that you saw in Auschwitz.
Did you sleep on the top, middle or bottom?
I happened to be on the bottom, yeah.
Then what happened?
We were there for a few days.
Things were really rough there. They gave us very, very little food.
Even when they did, we had one little dish,
like, from out of metal, a platter.
They get five, six people and gave them a dish
and then filled it up with soup, and these five, six people had to share,
without spoons, without anything, just take turns taking a sip of soup.
This is how we lived for about three or four days.
And during this time, every night before we went to sleep,
they lined us up, and they made– they’re selecting people.
It turned out later that they needed quotas to fill out for the crematorium.
So they asked for people, “Anybody who is a jeweler, just step up.”
So people stepped up.
“Who knows how to ride a bicycle?” Anything just to get people to step up.
When they didn’t get enough, they would go through row by row,
look over people and tell individuals, “Step aside. Step aside.”
Those people were never seen again.
They were probably just used to fill up their quotas
because they didn’t have enough for that evening for the gas chambers.
How did you find that out?
I found out very fast because, after the second day or the third day,
I found somebody who was there a very long time.
The Polish people were there for three or four years.
So I asked him, “Is it true what they told us
that you can see your relatives every Sunday?
Do you see your relatives every Sunday?”
So it was very nonchalantly he said, he pointed up, “Look up at the sky.”
And I saw the sky. “See the smoke coming out of those chimneys?”
I said, “Yes.” “Those are your relatives.
Go look at them. You can see them now. Those are your relatives.”
That’s how I found out. He kept me informed on what was going on there.
I knew right away what was going on.
At first I didn’t understand what he was talking about,
but it took some time before he described to me in detail what was going on.
That all those people that were sent to the left
were all, their first night, gassed and burned in the crematorium.
And we’ll never see our family again which, unfortunately, he was right.
After three or four days of this,
finally I was put on a train,
shipped and given a set amount of rations
that was supposed to last me for two or three days.
They put us again on a freight train.
But this time, we were only allowed to occupy one-half of the train
because the other half was for two guards.
Each train had two German guards with guns and bayonets drawn.
They occupied one-half of the freight train
while we were on the other half,
filled to capacity, side by side, sitting down.
This is how we were shipped.
So I got out of Auschwitz and shipped to Mauthausen.
What did you see when you arrived in Mauthausen?
Hundreds and hundreds of more barracks,
similar to what I saw in Auschwitz.
We got out of the trains, lined up again, more processing.
We were given some food, but no water.
As a matter of fact, I remember being given some bread with some wurst.
It was very salty, and they wouldn’t give us water.
Their pretense was that it was contaminated.
It was a hot day, and everybody was dying of thirst.
We couldn’t even eat we were so thirsty.
We went through processing.
From there, they sent us all to the labor camp.
Different labor camps, where I eventually wound up spending
most of the year, till the end of the war.
Let’s go back to Mauthausen.
Where did you sleep in Mauthausen?
I don’t think I was there long enough to sleep.
I was there a few hours to be processed and assigned to Gusen.
That’s where– my first night I slept was in Gusen.
What did the processing consist of?
They assigned us numbers.
All the prisoners, their numbers,
they were like tagged or sewn onto your uniform.
Next to the numbers, there were triangles with colors.
Everybody had different colors.
The Jewish people had yellow painted next to their number.
The political prisoners had red painted next to their number.
The criminals and murderers that were there,
they had green, different colors.
It took time to sew these things on and everything,
go through the processing.
Do you remember other groups that were there
beside these three that you’ve mentioned?
No. These are mainly the three groups.
The Jewish and the prisoners that were caught during the war, Russian prisoners.
And also the Germans, Nazi political prisoners.
The Germans that didn’t agree with the government
who were also there as political prisoners
and also German criminals, murderers and whatever.
Instead of being in prison, they were kept there and used as overseers mostly
of the Jewish people, the Jewish workers.
Do you remember your number?
It’s amazing how these numbers, these numbers–
The 107 has followed me all through life. 701, 107.
Because even my payroll number was 107, and my first grandchild,
which was one of the most important things that happened in my life,
was born on October 7, 107, 10-7.
All the numbers that I ever see is always these numbers.
107 somehow seems to always be in there.
One way or another.
It has nothing to do with what we’re doing today.
I just felt I had to mention it
because it’s almost unbelievable how these numbers–
That you asked me what my number was.
Did they tattoo that number on you?
No. It was just sewn on.
The significance on this number is also
that I was the first one in this transport.
This was the first number of this group.
It started, 701.
As soon as you were processed,
you were given a hot liquid that they called hot coffee.
And I strongly believe that it saved my life
because I don’t think I could have gone on– It was so hot.
The hotness of the day, after that salty wurst that they gave us
with a piece of bread,
I don’t think I could have held out much longer without water.
I would have passed out. This saved me, kept me going.
I was able to have a little hot liquid to drink.
Do you know why you went first?
Yes, probably because my name started with A.
It was in alphabetical order. Abraham.
Because my name was also called with my number. Abraham, David.
Einundsiebzig tausend siebenhundert und eins. That’s in German.
How were you transported from Mauthausen to Gusen?
It was only about a few miles. We walked. We walked.
- Marched. - How did you walk?
In company form.
We were lined up like in a company.
Then we just followed the guards.
Guards on our side and somebody leading us, and we just followed.
Guards in the back, of course, so nobody should escape.
This is how we marched through the street until we got to our camp.
Describe Gusen for me.
It’s really just another camp and barracks,
and they were numbered, at that time, from one to about nine.
And the Jewish people were put into number five. I remember the number.
This was only the Jewish people who went into that number.
So it’s very similar to Auschwitz.
The beds were, instead of triple-decker, here, they were double-decker.
Three in the bottom, three in the top.
But the way they did it was two side by side
and one facing the other way.
Between the two legs of the other persons, instead of three side by side.
Maybe it was more room that way or whatever.
This is where we stayed, in these barracks for the next year,
until a few weeks before the end of the war.
- And what did you do? - Well.
When we got there, we were assigned to different work details.
Some of them– Well, I was on many of them, quite a few of them.
Some of the details were just to torture people. They were torture.
One I can really think of
was called Kanal bauen, meaning to build a canal.
And a Gypsy was in charge of this– very, very brutal.
This was up the hill.
The canal was built on a very, very steep hill just outside the camp.
What we had to do is carry rocks from one place to another.
The rocks were so heavy that it was impossible to carry.
And this Gypsy was so brutal
that he used to take people’s caps off,
and he used to throw it out, towards the guard, past the guard,
and tell the prisoner to go and get it,
and the prisoner actually went to get his cap.
But when he went to get it, the guard shot him in the back
because he passed the limit where it’s as far as we were supposed to go.
So the next day, when he tried to do this to somebody else,
and he didn’t want to get his cap, he actually beat him to death right there
for not obeying his order to go and get his cap.
Fortunately, I was only there for a few days to that detail,
but I don’t think I could have survived.
Even though it wasn’t done to me, but just watching this done to others.
So I was sent to a much easier detail, go to a tunnel.
It was on the night shift where we dug a tunnel,
and my job was to shovel the sand on the belts carrying it out of the tunnel,
digging deeper and deeper the tunnel.
I was there for a while.
Then I got luckier. I got on even to an easier detail
where we were also on another place
where we were exploding rocky areas.
We were always carrying rocks for some reason from one place to another.
Before we started our work, there was this guy who looked everybody over
to assign to different details, even in this one group.
He took the young people like myself– I was skinny, young, 15–
took us to a lighter detail to just clean up the area of one place.
We went over just to clean up the dirt and everything.
So this was a little bit much easier detail.
I had a lot of lucky incidents
and fateful events that I can really attribute that I was able to survive.
Besides just God’s will, that God willed me to survive.
Were you aware of what these tunnels were being built for?
Not really. No.
Could you describe what it looked like outside of the camp
when you were able to look outside?
Outside the camp, it was full of hills.
Really very, very hilly area and rocks and hills all around.
That’s all you could see.
As a matter of fact, whenever we had
air raids we had to go hide.
We always went up to these hills to hide and in the caves
in order to be protected from the bombs.
It was a very, very hilly, rocky area all over.
It was away from town, outside town.
There was no civilian populations around.
How often did you have air raids?
During summertime we had quite often, maybe an average of once a week
or twice a week we had air raids.
I used to see the airplanes.
Did you know whose airplanes they were?
Well, I was hoping–
I knew it was Allied airplanes because otherwise
we wouldn’t have gone to hide in the caves, you know, from the bombs.
We’re going to change tapes again.
...1997, with Mr. David Abrams.
Mr. Abrams, could you give me an example of your daily routine at Gusen?
I’ll be glad to.
We woke up around 5:00 every morning.
They woke us up. The first thing we did,
they gave us some hot liquid that they called coffee in a little dish.
And we drank it.
After that, we went back to the barracks and waited.
As soon as daylight came, depending on whether it was winter or summer,
we all had to go out and line up in four files, company files,
and they had what they called the appell.
The SS came and counted all the prisoners to make sure
that it was the same amount as yesterday.
After that was done, we went back to the barracks
and waited to go on our work details.