I had a very normal middle-class childhood. I studied at cheder (religious elementary school) everyday and had lots of family and friends around. My father worked as a lumber estimator and also owned a farm. I learned many valuable skills in my youth that would later enable me to survive. I was also extremely handy which also helped me get through some horrific conditions.
In 1944, I was 17 and all of the people in my town were gathering for deportation. My family and I were taken to the ghetto of Mukacevo, which was formally a brick factory. My family was then sent by cattle car for three weeks to arrive at Auschwitz on the 19th of Iyar. This was the last time I saw my parents and younger siblings who were immediately killed upon arrival.
My mother was holding the hand of my younger sister Brana who was 11 years old. My older sister Frimet was holding the hand of my younger brother Moshe who was 7 years old. In the Selection, they were all sent to the left to their deaths in the gas chamber.
I spent three long weeks in Auschwitz and witnessed many suicides and brutalities. My brothers Joseph Menachem, Yisroel Dov, and I were then sent to a work camp in Mauthausen, Austria. My brothers and I were together throughout. We were there for four days and then we were taken to Gusen II which was 4 kilometers from Mauthausen. I worked digging tunnels that were made to build underground factories for war machinery.
It was at Gusen II where I met a Spanish doctor who helped me survive. Every Sunday, I used to volunteer to help clean the clinic. This doctor had been there since 1934, since the Spanish Civil War. While we were at Gusen II, a Russian Engineering Corps surrendered to the Germans. They were not trained to fight and hoped by surrendering, their lives would be spared.
There was a Russian general who slept in our barracks who was sick with a very high fever. He was delirious and couldn’t stop talking at night. He was very sick and we couldn’t sleep at night. Attached to the barracks was a little room that had a stove to heat the barracks. I went out onto the roof and lowered a can of water with a wire down the chimney to heat it up some water. For two weeks I did this and gave him the hot water to drink. He came out of his delirium.
But I was exhausted during the day and couldn’t keep my eyes open. I fell asleep for a little bit in the tunnel where I worked. A German spotted me and with his rifle butt, and cracked my shoulder. I was in much pain. My right arm was now useless. I went to the doctor. He used wires and wired up my shoulder to immobilize it. My ribs were very painful from the wires. He said I would have to endure the pain for 2-2 ½ months. Afterwards, when the wires came off, my shoulder was stiff but it felt pretty good.
That Spanish doctor taught me something very important. He told me that before I go to sleep, I should think about my shoulder and let my brain supply medication to the shoulder. Later on in my life I had back surgery, I used this notion. I thought about my injured back and would try to let my brain supply medication to it.
At Gusen II, the Germans had these big grinders that were eight feet in diameter that would grind the rock to dig the tunnel. One time the blade broke. The German engineer could not crawl into the space where the machine was. I tapped him on the foot and volunteered to go in. I have always been mechanically inclined. I was small and was able to figure out how to get the blade out. When I came out, there were a lot of Gestapo gathered around. The engineer said to them, “This young man is going to stay with me.” And I did.
His wife would pack extra food in his lunchbox for me too. I in turn shared my soup and food with my brothers. In this way, we all helped each other to survive.
After a year at Gusen II, I was forced to be in a 110 kilometer death march for one week. I survived the march partly by sneaking out at night to find food in the fields. From my rural upbringing, I knew how to find edible food. In 1945, I was in the death camp, Gunskirchen. I wasn’t given any food or water. I was able to find a creek on the outskirts of the camp, built a fire to boil water and softened birch bark to chew. I believe chewing the bark helped my mouth stay moist with saliva and helped me survive.
On May 5, 1945 the 71st Division of the American Army liberated us. I aided the army in dismantling the same land mines that I was forced to plant several months prior. I also helped them discover an enormous underground warehouse that provided supplies to the whole division.
I stayed on the camp for two and a half months and became inducted in the 71st Division as a hero of honor.
I then spent the next eighteen months trying to get to Israel. When I finally got there in 1947 with a few of my brothers, I entered Mikveh, Israel, a farming school for 400 young survivors. I became a sergeant major in the Israeli army and stayed in Israel until 1953. It took me three months to obtain a passport and come to the U.S. on the ship “Jerusalem.” I came to visit my sister who was living in Manhattan. While in New York, I met my future wife.
To learn more about Mr. Zoldan, please visit this site. http://www.holocaustcenter.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=231