Alex Ungar

"I'm an optimist. Memories are now coming back in my older age. You have to have hope. The future will be all right."

Name at birth
Shander Unjar
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Gava, Hungary (about 300 kilometers from Budapest)
Name of father, occupation
Dezso, Bought rawhide from farmers and sold them to tanneries
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Sarena Kohn, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
My parents, my brother Miklos, and me, Shander. Miklos was born in 1922, sixteen months older than me; he did not survive the war.
How many in entire extended family?
Large extended family
Who survived the Holocaust?
My mother's brother, sister and me
I had a normal life before the war.  I went to public school with non-Jews as well as to cheder, Jewish religious school.   Once a week on Sundays, I went to mandatory soldier training, like the ROTC.
My father was taken into the Hungarian army in 1938, 1939 before the Second World War began.  He was then taken to a Russian forced labor camp.  He never came back.
My mother used to say Tehillim (Psalms) for him.  My family was a normal religious Orthodox family.  I remember that our Shabbos (Sabbath) table was filled with all kinds of delicious foods, Gefilte fish and meat. 
In 1939, after the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria with Nazi Germany, all kinds of laws against the Jews began. 
In 1942, my brother was taken to a forced labor camp.  I found out that he later died on the Austrian/Hungarian border.
 In 1944, my family was taken to the ghetto in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary.  They used clubs to force us to go.
At first, everyone was taken to the Shul, the synagogue.  From the Shul we were taken to the ghetto which was approximately 30 kilometers from our town.  Jews from the surrounding areas were captured and also taken to the ghetto.  Several families were put into homes.  I was together with my mother, my Aunt Rosa, my Uncle Joseph and his wife and their two children, and my grandmother.
The Germans took my Tefillin (small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah [Bible] worn by observant Jews during morning prayers.)  After the war ended, my uncle was able to replace them with another set that he found in the ghetto.  
I’ve used those same Tefillin daily and still have them to this day.
I was in ghetto for thirty days at the most.  Men were being removed from the ghetto and taken to Slovakia.  I remember that we had a very anti-Semitic captain who hated Jews more than he hated the Germans.  The young Jewish men from the ghetto were taken into the Army to go to Austria.  We took a train over to the Austrian/Hungarian border and had to dig out and disarm Allied bombs that did not explode.  
Once we hid in a corn field and watched with great delight as we saw American planes bombing the Germans.  Later we saw British planes bombing them.  At night we saw Russian planes bombing, the sky was light like the day.
We marched.  Men were shot if they had problems walking.  We recited Tehillim (Psalms) daily hoping that we would survive.  We had no food; the guards were brutal, German SA guards.  
I met my Uncle Morris on the death march on the way to Mauthausen.  I became sick on the march; my uncle took care of me.  I had hidden some apples in my pants that I had gotten from the woods which I shared with my uncle.  
The Nazis were horrible.  At one point an SS was shooting everyone in our group of 32.  I was the last one to be shot, the 32nd one.  The SS soldier was about to shoot me in the head, but he ran out of bullets.  He hit me in the head instead with his heavy gun and told me to get back and continue marching.
We finally got to the Alps.  People died at Mauthausen continuously, everyday.  Some of their faces were listless and you could tell who would die the next day, we called them Mussulman.  
Non-Jewish Poles watched over us in the camp, they could do what they wanted to do to the Jews.  I saw one Pole viciously kill a Jew with the sharp end of a hammer.
The Germans were losing the war.  Germans were bombing Mauthausen so that they could blame it on the Americans.
We walked from Mauthausen to Gunskirchen.  We were liberated by the Americans at Gunskirchen, a satellite camp of Mauthausen on May 6, 1945.
When I was liberated, I weighed 30 kilos (66 pounds).  
I went to hospital, I got sick from honey.  In the hospital, I received deer soup, little by little.
They made the townspeople “clean up” the camp.

Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
What DP Camp were you after the war?
Welz, Austria, Displaced Persons (DP) camp in the American zone I was in Welz for about a half a year. From the DP camp, I went back to Hungary. I went home, everything was the same. My cat came back to me. I had buried my mother’s engagement ring, other jewelry, and gold coins in the yard. It was still buried in yard and I recovered it. Gentiles blamed communism on the Jews. After half a year, I went to Budapest to a cousin’s house. I planned to go to Austria. Refugees were leaving to go to DP camps in Austria and then to the United States. In 1946, I met my wife in the DP Camp at Bad Reichenhal. We met in a hall in the camp. We got to know each other in the camp school. I could not communicate well with her; we did not speak the same language. After a few weeks, met again in the classroom and were now able to communicate in German a little. Two years later, we got married.
When did you come to the United States?
October 1949 Originally, we wanted to go to Israel. I had family in Israel. I was told though that maybe now, 1948, would not a good time to go because of the war there. A cousin of mine who lived in New York sent papers for two to come to America, but by then our daughter Sara was born and we had to refuse at that time
Where did you settle?
New York
How is it that you came to Michigan?
April, 1952 Our second child was born. My uncle Morris Kohn and my Aunt Rosa Siegelbaumm my mother’s sister and my mother’s brother, brought us to Detroit
Occupation after the war
Metal worker and mechanic
When and where were you married?
In Displaced Persons (DP) camp, Bad Reichenhall, Germany, June 26, 1948
Hanna Perl Bukenholz, Nurse
Sara, Barbara, David
Thirteen and Twenty one great grandchildren
What do you think helped you to survive?
It was decided in heaven. I almost lost my life three times. After the war in America, on a job I was electrocuted, another time I almost fell off of a roof from a second story.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
I'm an optimist. Memories are now coming back in my older age. You have to have hope. The future will be all right.
Charles Silow
Interview date:

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