Fred Ferber

"We need a religious G-7, like the finance ministers of the “Group of Seven” industrialized nations, we need for the leaders of the world’s religions to come together to resolve differences and problems.   It may be hard to create this at first, but like the G-7, it can be done.  Also, about the Palestinians, who I call the poorest people in the world, for 60 years now, normalcy has not returned because they have been kept as a show to the world.  They blame everything on the... (continued below)"

Name at birth
Ferdinand (Fredek) Ferber
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Chorzow, Poland
Name of father, occupation
Abraham Ferber, Painter
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Rozia Ferber, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, me and my brother Teofil(Tolek)
How many in entire extended family?
Over 60
Who survived the Holocaust?
Myself and from my mother's side: her mother one sister and seven cousins; from my father's side: two brothers who fled to Russia and one sister who survived Auschwitz
In 1939, before World War II started, my family evacuated to Cracow from Chorzow which was intermittently Germany or Poland.  The area of Poland where my family lived had many Volksdeutschen or Germans who lived in the area.  They were hostile and threatening to the Jewish men.  My father and some of his brothers went temporarily eastward to Russia and later came back a year later.  

March 20, 1941, was a traumatic day.  All Jews of Cracow were sent to the ghetto.  Jews had lived in Cracow for generations.  Some said why should they go and they refused.  They were pointed out by Polish people; some were beaten up, some were shot.  

There was a curfew of 8 PM; those who didn’t listen were beaten.  Jews who refused to wear an armband were pointed out by some Poles to the German authorities and were beaten.  Later, people rationalized it, “It’s a war; it’s not going to last forever, so we wore an armband, it’s no big deal.” People thought that sooner or later it will all go back to normal.  

We were told to go to an address in the ghetto.  We were assigned to a go to a smaller residence.  No one fought back but some ran away to the forests, we didn’t realize how bad it would become.  No one realized that they wanted to kill us.  

I came from a background where it was hard to get enough food.  We worked making brushes.  My mother went with us to a kitchen to get free soup, free food.  My younger brother wouldn’t eat, my mother cried.  She had nothing to serve at home.  

I could never cry, I carried a steel cover that didn’t allow any feelings to get through. However after seeing the film, Schindler’s List, we allowed ourselves to get exposed to the reality of what we went through.  I see the pain now; it goes right through me, even soap operas now.  Now pain goes right through me.

The Germans couldn’t recognize who was a Jew, the Polish people did.  They hated Jews with all their hearts.  The fault lies with the thousands’ of years of their religious upbringing.  Every year, for six weeks, we would go to a rural village during the summer.  The priest said that the Jews killed Christ; they believed that they should hide their children.  When Passover (festival that commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt) was coming, they were told that the Jewish people needed blood.  They were taught to be afraid and hate the Jewish people.  They had no other point of view.  

In the ghetto, there was little food, there was hunger and sickness, but we still had Jewish schools and theatres.  My mother spoke German, not Yiddish.

During the ghetto, there were round ups, they would close parts of the ghetto and pick up older people and others.  They would go to different places in the ghetto; it was always a traumatic time.  I had a cousin who was beautiful, she disappeared; the Germans would come in and pick people up.  

We heard rumors about different places where Jews were forced to dig their own graves, we heard they killed Jews of whole cities, nobody believed it.  The human mind cannot comprehend, thousands people to get undressed, and be killed.  Six million people killed, we should mention each of the six million killed.  

Imagine what was happening at Auschwitz, music was playing, people were being gassed and going out through the chimney.  People being burned doesn’t quite make the point.  We are talking about millions of people.  My brother was one of those.  

On the day they evacuated the Plaszow ghetto, was especially horrible.  There were shootings on the streets; they had a Selection as people were leaving the ghetto.  100 people at a time went through the gate.  There would be a line of twenty; five people at a time.  I remember one mother in particular who held on to her children tightly as they tried to separate them from her.  They separated them in a brutal way.  She was beaten up and her children were thrown against a wall.  All day long this horror went on.  I was in hiding till about 6 PM until it became fairly dark, I was able to get in the line with my father, brother, mother.  We all got through.

It was traumatic for the older people, for the mothers and small children especially.  They were separated or shot at will; it was so meaningless; there was no place to hide when you went through the gate.  All day long I heard the killings, the crying, I hid in our home.  There would be Selections during life in the ghetto, this time they had the selection as people left the ghetto.  Every house had a basement, coal there, many times my brother and I spent a day there, covered up by the coal, I was about 4 by 7 feet.  When the Selection was over, our parents would tell us when we could go out. 

We made it to the concentration camp at Cracow-Plaszow.  On the third day in the camp, my father and I were in the paint area, there were a lot of people there.  My father said to me that he knew that life would now be short.  It was a very sad meeting.  On that third day at 5: 45 PM, there was not enough work.  Amon Goeth, the Commandant of Plaszow came in to the paint factory.  He was not expected, we were getting ready to go back to our barracks.  The one in charge did not say Achtung (attention) to him.  He was very upset; he gave an order that no one is to leave the factory.  The man in charge of Jewish police said he’s going to shoot everyone.  Some of the men said to my father, “Romek, go out,” since he knew German.  My father stepped out.  I was later told that my father was whipped three times across face and then Goeth shot him right there.  That was the third day.  We were waiting with others inside.  We heard shots, my brother went out, Goeth had left.  My brother came back and said, “Our father is no more.”  

Seeing the film, Schindler’s List was very personal to me.  Goeth had a dog, Rolf, who chewed people apart.  Our camp knew that whenever he went out someone was going to get shot.  

In 1944, my mother was taken to a women’s camp, my brother and I worked in a shop making metal molds for war materials.  I worked on shaper machine, lathe, and a whole number of machines.  We made all the tools.  I was very good with the shaper machine. One day, Goeth came in with a whole set of representatives from Berlin.   He went through our cooperative, there were 100 people working as he went through.  I was working on the shaper; there were about twelve Germans with Goeth watching me one by one, doing one stroke at a time.  I survived.  

There were always killings, At the Appelplatz, there was a roll call every morning, about 20,000- 25,000 in groups of 100 went to a field.  Every day we were counted, every one then went to work.  If anyone was missing, we went back to the barracks and were counted.  At night, on the way back from work, everyone was counted again.  Some worked on the outside like my mother who worked in a sewing factory.  Once, three were missing, they ran away in Cracow.  There was a tremendous penalty for the others who allowed them to run away.  In this case, they found those three people and brought them back.  Every one was assembled in the Appelplatz.  It was summer, around 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening.  They hung those three in front of everyone. They brought up 50 tables or more, they brought a lot of Ukrainians to give us each 10-20 lashes. 

Once Dr. Mengele came in, they had a Selection, 100 at a time were told to get undressed.  We ran in front of him, everyone then got dressed; this went on for a whole day, 25,000 people.  A week later, everyone was called out from the Mengele selection.  On that day, the children were taken away in trucks.  The mothers, fathers, and children were waving and crying.  A group of 5000 children was selected that day.  They were put on a train, two or three days later; they went out through the chimney.  Not a single one survived.  These were innocent, sweet children; the word murder doesn’t cover it.  

A bit later on, where I worked, I looked out of the window where I worked.  There was a bit of a valley called Putz’s Hill.  They would people in trucks, sometimes seven, sometimes fifty.  They were made to undress.  A fellow with a machine gun, gunned them down, Jews, political prisoners.  They poured gas on them and they lit up, we could smell flesh.  Plenty of people were shot, but many did not die.  

In June or July, 1944, there was a selection, I was sent by cattle car with about 5000 others to Mauthausen.  We did not know where we were going.  There were about 100-120 to a cattle car.  It was hot, it stunk, we sweated, there was no air.  There was one little window, one by two feet at back of each cattle car with a German standing on top.  The door was closed for an hour or two before the train started to move.  I was young and short, and happened to be near the door when they closed it.  I realized the humidity on the metal pieces turned into water.  For three days, I licked the water.  We had no food, no water, and little air to breathe.  When we came to Mauthausen, many had died from that journey. 

At Mauthausen, I was looking at pictures of my family that I still had with me and I was crying.  A German comes in, tall and fat who was part of the Wehrmacht.  He asked me why I was crying, I showed him my pictures.  He took them away from me, I started crying even more.   We then had to get undressed and take a shower.  There was no gas, they then shaved us everywhere and gave us new striped uniforms.  Each one of us got one and then they threw shoes at us and told us to get dressed.  As I walked out, that big German hands me my pictures back.  For the rest of the war, I had those pictures in the sleeve of my shirt, I folded them over and over and over, the  pictures survived with me for over a year, being hidden in sleeve of my shirt, as part of shirt, my father, my mother, my brother.

For about four or five weeks, I worked in the stone quarry at Mauthausen.  There were about 130 steps going down.  Those who couldn’t carry the heavy stones were pushed from the top, down.  We couldn’t drink water because we would get diarrhea, those who drank didn’t live too long.  We slept on our sides, like herrings in a can.  

A few weeks later, I was sent to Gusen II.  There were 800 to a barrack, we were sent to work under a mountain.  There were Messerschmitt airplane factories there.  I worked creating those huge holes, making rooms underground where the factories were supposed to be built.  We dug the dirt from under the mountain; actually the mountain was over us.  We were quite deep inside of the mountain.  I was working making cement, everything was cement, we poured the water creating the cement.  It was a very hard life; it was a different way of killing.  We also had an Appelplatz, every morning we were counted, but in front of the barracks.  

The person in charge of the barracks was a German with a green insignia on his lapel.  Green meant murderer or a rapist; they had just been released from a German jail. 
There were lots of Spanish people there, not as prisoners, they worked with the Germans.

The German in charge had some people working for him.  There was a barrel of water in front of the barracks for the “fire department.”  It was supposed to be in case of fire, one night I see someone grab somebody, he cries, they held him down in the water, after two or three minutes, he died.  Every morning, there were always five to seven people who they didn’t like, they were too young, couldn’t work, or who were sick who were drowned.  

My Uncle Herman was moved to a different barrack.  I went to see him, he had diarrhea and looked like a Muselmann (a concentration camp prisoner suffering from the final stages of starvation.)  His eyes were already wild; he knew he was in trouble.  The next day I was going to give him some of my food, but the next day he was not there.   They had that look in the eye, they knew they were dying, they walked on their hands and knees, and had a wild look, not an angry look, it was like they were lost, a scared look, a scary look, their mind was already gone, and their brain was not functioning properly.  They stopped eating; everyone could see the bones on their bodies.

I spent a few months there, I survived that.  Then six to seven weeks before the war ended, I had red bugs, people died of typhus from that.  I was sent to a different barrack.  We had Appelplatz in the morning.  I talked to the fellow next to me for a moment and then I got socked in the face by a Kapo, a Jewish policeman.  I said to him, one day you might come into our barrack and I’ll get you.  That night, I was taken to Block Eltster, Block Elder, he socked me so hard in the face, I went across the table.  He knocked me out.  I woke up and saw a foot on my face, several times he kicked me.  I was pretty much unconscious.  The fourth time, he kicked me in the rear with his boot.  My friends outside gave me some water.  Every doctor I’ve seen has wanted to fix my nose but I can breathe ok, but I took quite a beating.  I was lucky to survive.

The last camp I was in was Gunskirchen.  It was March, wintertime.  We were in the forest, we were marched, there was a small mountain.  There was no work, no labor there.  During the daytime they gave us some food.  There were some Hungarians at that camp; they went with the Germans to Russia and then back.  They were digging deep trenches for them.  They were strong.  They didn’t like Polish Jews.

It was winter, it was cold and muddy.  There was no where to sleep in this particular place.  We slept against each other inside a building; my friend was next to me.  If you needed to go to bathroom, you would lose your spot.  If you moved your foot, someone would yell out in pain, you would get thrown further away, there was no room.  There were ten to twenty people outside, they were so cold and weak, they died. 

On May 7, at 5 PM, the Germans began to put on Red Cross armbands on, I went up to the hill, all of sudden, the Germans left.  I realized the war was over, people were sleeping.  We had been there for six weeks.  

I said to my friend, “Yidilech, (my dear Jews) the war is going to be over pretty soon,” we heard shots from the artillery which brought us much hope, these were very memorable moments.

When the Germans left, we went to the kitchen, I saw how hard people can be trying to get food from each other.  On May 8, we were liberated by American soldiers.  We went near Linz, later a DP camp was established there.

A few of us walked, the Americans gave us food.  We saw seven or eight Americans walking, we saw black American soldiers, we never saw black people in our lives.

That’s it, we survived.  There was typhus after the war.  I went to Cracow to look for my mother, I didn’t know if she was alive or not.  We found each other.  But my brother went through the chimney with 5000 others.

We spent half a year in Poland; I went to school as a non-Jew.  We were not allowed to leave Poland at that time, this was a huge problem.  Every dollar I had, my mother made me spend on teachers and professors.  She wanted me to learn.  

People played soccer, I learned.  In December, 1947, I came to the United States to San Francisco.  I went to Lincoln High School and lived in an orphanage.  Originally people thought I was an idiot because I could hardly speak English.  In 1948, I went to City College of San Francisco for two years.  Nothing came easy.

Then my mother came to America two years later.  She made it look like I was not her son because she feared another war was soon coming.  We parted again; it was not easy.  I sent letters to my mother addressing her as though she were my aunt not my mother.  

Life was hard even in the United States.  I got a job paying 35 cents an hour.  I would send four or five dollars worth of coffee to my mother who was now living in Germany.  For this five dollars of coffee, my mother could get five to ten times its worth.  I lived in an orphanage which was actually a fabulous place.  Someone took care of us and it was well run.   I was fortunate that people wanted to adopt me.  

I came to Detroit because my mother was now here.  If she would have gone to San Francisco, there would have been very few Jewish people of her background.  She came with her uncle to Detroit. 

I worked nights earning $94 per week.  During the day, I attended Wayne University with a degree in electronics.  I couldn’t find a job though.  I went to a TV store and got a job paying $35 a week being a serviceman.   I met a man there, Max Markowitz; he was of Czech origin and came from England.   With a little bit of money we saved up, we opened our own business servicing TVs.  After four years, we parted, he kept the business, and I opened another one.  I did well; my customers were Jewish people, refugees in particular.  I serviced the TV’s of all of the Holocaust survivors.  

I went to Chicago, to an electronics show, I started realized could sell products for less.  I started a wholesale business, selling transistor radios to other dealers.  This is the greatness of this country.  People come to America to look for freedom and don’t mind working hard.  I ran away from being persecuted.  This is the background of American people.  We are a special breed of people; this is a land of opportunity.   Everyone who gives an effort can do well, maybe not necessarily to become rich but to have at least to have all of the necessities of life.
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Occupation after the war
Electronics Engineer, electronics distributor
When and where were you married?
1962 in Forest Hills, New York
Miriam Monczyk
Fay Sarah, lawyer Ron, businessman Annette, lawyer
Sixteen: Daniel, Alex, Jonathan, Brett, Joshua, Madeline, Laurenne, Jonah, Isabella, Samuel, Natalie Rose, Rosabelle, Joey, Ari, Leah, and Ziv
What do you think helped you to survive?
Ninety percent was mazal (luck). Hard work is meaningless without mazal. People stronger and older than me, didn’t survive, they had diarrhea, they died in thousands of ways. People in a concentration camp had a sixth sense, we could tell, like an animal in a forest; we could tell things were not right. I could smell someone behind me who I had to be careful of, I could see faraway or close up, a bird would stop singing or chirping, I would notice little things that something wasn’t right. I learned to be alert if someone was watching me; they were liable to beat the heck out of you. It didn’t take too much be finished. You could not be timid, you had to be bright but this was not the major component, you had to have mazal.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
We need a religious G-7, like the finance ministers of the “Group of Seven” industrialized nations, we need for the leaders of the world’s religions to come together to resolve differences and problems.   It may be hard to create this at first, but like the G-7, it can be done.  Also, about the Palestinians, who I call the poorest people in the world, for 60 years now, normalcy has not returned because they have been kept as a show to the world.  They blame everything on the Israelis.  When they come to the conclusion that they are being used by their brethren, then beautiful things can happen.
Charles Silow
Interview date:
To learn more about this survivor, please visit:
The Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, University of Michigan

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