Emmanuel Mittelman

"A person who cannot live with their faith, your life is like there is no tomorrow. If you die tomorrow, lived with thought in mind, whatever, we are too small to understand G-d.     Live a life where you spread out goodness, share with the people who have not the things that you have and be good-hearted to everyone.  That should be a fulfilling life in my opinion.      I believe in being happy.  Even in Auschwitz, I tried to say a kind word or make a joke to cheer people up.... (continued below)"

Name at birth
Emmanuel (Meilich) Mittelman
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Name of father, occupation
Jacob Samuel, Produced and sold wine, retail and wholesale
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Pessel Klein, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, five sons: Meyer ben Tzion, Yosef Zvi, Yisrael Aryeh, Pichas Meilich (me), and Chaim Yeshaya; and two daughters: Rochel Leah and Sura Gutel
How many in entire extended family?
Who survived the Holocaust?
Maybe 15 total from the entire family. Ironically, the four children that were in Auschwitz: Meyer, Yosef, Leah and myself- all four of us came back. How do you explain that?
I do not know why I survived and so many people greater than I did not, my father, my rebbe (a learned rabbi and teacher).  There is no answer for us human minds.
It started in 1941 when the Slovaks were talked into, by the Germans, to try to make laws against, the Jews.  Jozef Tiso, an anti-Semite, who was hung after the war, made a decree that all Jews had to wear a star.  Our movements were limited and new restrictive laws were made everyday.  
In March, 1942, a law was made that all Jewish young girls, ages 17-35 had to register within a month to go to work in Poland.  After that, they were told, that they would come back home.  The Jewish leadership said go to work, in three months, you’ll come back.   
Our family made arrangements for our sister Rochel to run away to Hungary, which was one hour away.  The guy who took the money, who was supposed to take her and two of my brothers to Hungary, then called the authorities.  My two brothers and my sister were caught and put in jail.  They were the first to be deported.  Then they came for me, I had just turned 17.  I was taken to a gathering camp in western Slovakia, Zilina.  There they had a camp; I went on a normal passenger train.  I was going to Poland. 
By the time we arrived, on Pesach (Passover), 1942, Hlinka guards, Slovakian Nazis with black uniforms and carbines were beating us.  They loaded us up in cattle trains.  We landed in Lublin, Poland at Majdanek concentration camp.   There were no facilities; people were squashed together, all we had was the food that we brought along.  There was a barrel for toilet facilities.  The first thing they did was take away our shoes and give us all clogs (wooden shoes).  You couldn’t walk or run away in them.  The camp was brand new.  We were one of the first groups.  I arrived there with an uncle of mine who never came back.  I think he was 32 years old.
I was able to save my prayer book but my Tephillin (phylacteries, set of small cubic leather boxes worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers), they took away from me.  I was religious and constantly said prayers.  A Nazi caught me saying Tehillim, (Psalms) and gave me my first 25 lashes.  
Later on when the Tzuris (the troubles) became so big, you lost your religion and also your mind.  On Shavuos, (the Jewish holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai), I arrived from Madajnek to Auschwitz-Birkenau. 
I came to Birkenau in 1942, we got out of the train.  People’s ages ranged from 16 to 35 years old.  We were “volunteers.”  The Germans played tricks on us.  They would ask who’s a musician, who’s a baker?  We all fell for that.  We thought if we said we were bakers, we would have plenty to eat.  But they didn’t need bakers or musicians. They were tricky.  This way we volunteered, rather than having to drag us to go to Auschwitz where they were going to kill us.  
There were 1500 in a transport, on this transport I was on, they did something very unusual, they tattooed us using needles on our chests not on our arms.  I was 37014.  This was on Shavuos, 1942.  I have had people telling me I was an imposter because my number was on my chest.  They added a triangle, a half of a Jewish star, in case we escaped and got caught.  People would know we were Jewish and would shoot us. 
They brought us into the Birkenau camps and within 24 hours, I found my two brothers, the two that had been with my sister.  Their number was 32000.  I’m 37000.  If you tell Auschwitz survivors your number, we can tell you when you came.  The survivors that have an “A” tattooed with their number, they were from Hungary from 1944.
In 1944 at the end of the year, I was working in “Kanada.”  That’s where they brought Hungarian transports.  We would unpack their suitcases and sort them.  That’s how we found food.  It was the only camp with a lot of girls together with men.  Women would unpack suitcases and sort their clothing and the men would deliver it to other women.  
I would bring clothing to this one woman everyday.  We got to know each other.  One day she said I’m choking on something in my heart, can I trust you?  She said, in 1942, girls went first to Birkenau.  After six weeks she said, she ran away and made it back home.  She told her employer what was happening.  The guy looked at her and told her that she was crazy.  He said, if she didn’t stop talking, that he’d put her in a crazy home.  So she said, she picked up and ran away to Hungary.  Two years later she was captured and ended up at Birkenau. 
Now I’m with my two brothers and the troubles are so big.  There is no running water, there’s hunger and of course beating in Birkenau.  People would drink urine. If it was raining, people would fall on the ground to suck up the water.  It was unbelievable.  
It’s a miracle that one out of thousand would stay alive.  People within three days were dying.  They would give us coffee in the morning and soup in the evening.  The Ukrainian anti-Semites were the worst.  They would watch us for fun, licking liquid off the ground.  Not just one time, lots of times.
I used to get up in the night, I can’t describe it but being a human being with a lack of moisture and no food will make you lose your mind.  I couldn’t think straight.  I wasn’t able to even think like an animal.  Then one day, I heard an announcement to work in a special outfit where there would be enough food.  So I joined the group.  Our group name was Sonderkommando.  
I didn’t know what that meant at the time.  There was a Sonderkommando 1 which would actually gas the bodies.  There was a Sonderkommando 2 which would take the bodies out of the miniature train and bring them to where the mass graves were.  I was part of the Sonderkommando 3 which would dig mass graves.  At night when it was dark the Sonderkommando 2 group would bring the dead bodies to the mass graves and dump them.  They would cover them up a bit and then in the day we would come back to fill it up completely.  None of us knew what we were doing our minds were so gone.  Until one day the Sonderkommando 2 did such a poor job and we could see a foot or a hand.  The ones who could think straight figured it out.  I couldn’t.  My mind was dead, I couldn’t. 
Every few months they would kill these Sonderkommando units so no one knew what they were doing.  So I went to the infirmary and I told them I was sick.  In the infirmary I wasn’t working, I was resting.  But when the infirmary would fill up they would take everyone in a bus to a gas chamber.  One day, it was full. I remember we all had to walk out in the yard.  There were two guards (prisoners) who said what’s your problem?  My head hurts and I can’t stand on my feet.  I heard one guy say to the other I think he has typhus.  Go back and lay down.  When I woke up the whole place was empty.  
At night my brothers would normally come talk to me through the window of the infirmary.  But that night they didn’t.  I wondered why they aren’t coming to see me.  So I told this guy outside my window that I would trade him half of my portion of bread if he would go find my brothers.  He took the bread but never went looking for them.  So the next day I gave him my whole bread and said please you have to go look for my brothers.  I don’t know if I weighed 50 pounds, I was nothing.
In the evening my brothers came and they were crying, Meilich, you can’t stay here; you have to get out of here!  They showed me on the Jewish calendar that they had, that they had marked down that I had died.  That’s why they stopped coming to visit me, they saw that everyone had been evacuated and they assumed I had died.  
So the next morning, I went to the guy and told him I feel better already and I was able to go back to work.  I got out of that calamity.  This was all done without seichel (logic or forethought).  Seichel we didn’t have.  It came out like this, this is what I always say, “Destiny, happenstance, through G-d’s fingers.”
I was in Majdanek for three months.  I was in Auschwitz for two and a half years.  I was in Auschwitz, the whole year of 1943, the whole year of 1944, and a half year of 1942.  Then we were taken on a three day death march from Auschwitz to Gleiwitz where half of the people died on the road.  They couldn’t make it on the roads; they couldn’t go anymore, so the guys shot them.
In Gleiwitz, they loaded us up onto trains and we went on a cattle train deep into Germany.  That’s where my feet froze up and up until today I have a problem with my circulation.  
We stayed very little time in each place.  We went to Zolsteht, Osterode which had an underground rocket factory, Solstet.  Until liberation, we traveled from city to city to city loaded on a train.  I can’t describe the circumstances of that train.  We had little food, we were subject to the authority of the German commander, and he did with us whatever he wanted.  Everyday that before war is over he would shoot every Jew.  
One day we landed in Czechoslovakia, Kattowice at a railroad station.  American flyers came and started shooting at us thinking we were Nazis.  So we took off our striped jackets and shook them to show a guy in the airplane we were not Nazis.  He could not see us.  I remember my friend and I were sitting under a bridge talking about whether we should run away or stay, a train was over us.  As we’re discussing, bullets are flying around us, I got scared.  I said, “Imre, let’s get out of here.” He said, “No, I’m staying.”  I picked myself up and started running.  All of a sudden, one of the planes saw me; everyone else was lying down, I kept running.  I figured if I’m running there’s less of me to hit.  
As I was running, I felt bullets falling on me constantly.  If I can describe to you, when you take peas or beans and throw them at a wall, and how they slide down.  I constantly felt I was being hit by bullets and I kept running until I ended up in a chicken coop.  I checked myself but I didn’t find anything on my body.  It’s like the bullets slid off me.  
I’m in this chicken coop, I’m hungry and I see eggs, food.  I start taking eggs, drinking them one after another.  I sat there for about a half hour and thought about what I had just been through, I began to feel that I would be liberated one day. 
I later realized now it was a miracle from G-d.  I felt every bullet on me and it slid off.   I felt every bullet hitting me and I didn’t have a scratch on my body.  My neshama (soul) started living again, I was thinking, you know there must be a G-d in heaven.  If I survived this, then maybe I have a chance to survive.
But I had to figure out what to do.  Should I go back or stay.  I’m in Czechoslovakia, I speak the language.  I just turned 20 years old.  Most Czechs were anti-Semites and would give me up.  I decided to go back to group.  When I did, I learned that the German officer who had been threatening us, got two bullets in thigh.  They took him to the hospital and he was gone.  His two horses got shot too.  So they let us cut the horses’ meat with our nails and eat it.  At that point I believed that I went through this private miracle. G-d told me that I had to come back to my faith.  Within two weeks we were liberated. 
After the war I was in a DP camp in Austria.  I left with nothing but pajamas and a piece of paper saying I was a DP guy.  I could ride on any train for free and get rations of food for free along the way.  This is how I got home.  After that a Russian solider almost killed me.
Two times after the war, I almost lost my life.  One time after we were liberated we reached the American Army. The American Army was still fighting.  It was May 7 or 8.  We had to march from the train about a mile to the American soldiers.  We looked emaciated.  The soldiers were horrified when they saw us.  The soldiers gave people cans of ham and cheese but I couldn’t take it in my mouth.  I was always turned off by non-kosher food.  Also, in the concentration camps they used to use coagulated blood they used to make like salami.  Some people got sick from over eating.  After a few days they said there is still fighting happening, they have to get rid of us.  A German man with three horses helped us get out of there.  He gave us each a horse.  I had never been on a horse in my life.  I rode the horse to next village where people were drinking in a bar.  An American solider came over to me and thought I was a Nazi.  I said, me Jew, me no Nazi, begging him to let go of me.
Later in Czechoslovakia, there was no transportation.  There was a Russian truck going to our city.  He used to take people places for money.  I had nothing.  I sat down on the truck with six or seven people.  When the truck driver came to our towns, he would start collecting money.  I had no money, nothing.  So he pulled his pistol out on me and threatened to kill me.  Finally a Russian and Slovakian man, paid for me.  That’s after everything.
After I was in DP camp they discovered I have tuberculosis. They took me to a hospital in Germany, Gauting near Munich. I was there for over a year.  Then there was a book called “A Man Called Mike.” He was an American solider who helped refugees in Europe. He and another women from Switzerland came to see me in to Germany to help me get back to Switzerland. So after three years in Auschwitz I spent three years in a hospital. I always say that I started living was after I became healthy in Switzerland I became a kosher milkman in Zurich.
I married Bessie in 1948 in Switzerland. She is a survivor that survived in an orphanage in Belgium. Together we had three kids before we moved to America.
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
When did you come to the United States?
In 1954 with my wife Bessie Sturm and our three kids
How is it that you came to Michigan?
My brother, Yosef Tsvi, lived in Michigan. Jewish people were assigned where to live.
Occupation after the war
Heating, Cooling and Electrical business
Bessie Sturm
Yakov Shmuel, electrician Leah Kohn, housewife Esther Einstein, artist Dina Schwartz, homemaker David Mittelman, psychologist Naomi Rottenstein, teacher
Twenty-two and Forty great-grandchildren
What do you think helped you to survive?
Hashem, G-d. I believe and I trust in G-d.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
A person who cannot live with their faith, your life is like there is no tomorrow. If you die tomorrow, lived with thought in mind, whatever, we are too small to understand G-d.  
Live a life where you spread out goodness, share with the people who have not the things that you have and be good-hearted to everyone.  That should be a fulfilling life in my opinion.   
I believe in being happy.  Even in Auschwitz, I tried to say a kind word or make a joke to cheer people up.   I visit the sick, I sing, I try to be encouraging to others. 
I always tried to entertain, cheer people up.  At Auschwitz, one time I was being given 25 lashes.  The German told me to count out the lashes myself.  When I was counting, instead of saying the word in German for fourteen, Fiertsen, I said the word in Yiddish, Fahrtsen, a pun on the word for flatulence, which made everyone around me laugh.  The German turned around and asked what was so funny.  I always tried to get people to be happy; I sing or tell jokes to try to cheer people up.  By doing so, it makes me feel happier.
Charles Silow
Interview date:

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