Kurt Hirschfeld

"Be kind to people."

Name at birth
Kurt Erwin Hirschfeld
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Berlin, Germany
Name of father, occupation
Max Arthur Hirschfeld, Jewish Affairs Office, decorated WWI soldier
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Henritte Hirschfeld, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Mother and father, one brother, four sisters and a great aunt (mother's side)'
How many in entire extended family?
Who survived the Holocaust?
Only myself and my cousins Hebert and Willie Nossen
In January 1941, I went with my father, who had diabetes, to his doctor, Dr. Perlstein.  He was a Jewish doctor, but still could not help.  The doctor did not have insulin for Jews, only for non-Jews.  My father and I came home and I saw him have a diabetic-induced stroke and die.  In June of 1941, Hitler opened up the war on the Russian Front.  It was “total war”.  All the Jews were being picked up. Around December 1942 I received my draft papers for the German Army, I knew that I would be turned away, but I had to go to the draft office.  Once they saw I was a Jew I was sent home.  I knew I shouldn’t go home because they would come pick me up, but I had to feed my sisters.  The following day my family received orders to be ready to be picked up.
The Nazis in Berlin would use furniture trucks and Jewish helpers to transport the Jews away so not to alarm the Berlin public. They took us to “Grosze Hamburger Strasse” which used to be an old age home and school in Berlin. Nobody could leave.  Once this was completely filled, we were taken directly to Auschwitz in passenger train cars.
We arrived in Auschwitz in January 1943 and it was so cold.  My sisters were marched out of Auschwitz and into Birkenau.  They went directly into the Birkenau gas chambers.
In my line, those found to be fit to work, were given numbered arm tattoos.  After many hours naked in the cold, we were given striped prisoner clothing and jackets with a Star of David and also the identical number that had just been tattooed on our arms.  In place of socks we were given rags and the shoes we received were wooden.
After a few days we were marched out of Auschwitz and into Jawiszowice to work in the coal mine.  I was there for two years.  I was one of the younger prisoners and was able to speak and write in German.  At times, I was ordered out of the coal mine and assigned to handle clerical duties.  At those times, I was also assigned to bring mess tins of food to the SS guard towers and to retrieve their tins and clean them afterward.  I would eat any food that was remaining on the plates.
One day I was in the sick bay because I had a very sore throat and could not swallow.  I overheard two guards speaking.  They had no idea that I understood German and they said the “gas wagon” was on its way.  My survival instincts told me to not cause a panic so I got out of bed very cautiously and pretended to be feeling better.  As I was walking out I whispered to another German speaking prisoner to get out of the sick bay.  He said he had broken toes and couldn’t move, I told him to forget about his broken toes and get out of here which he did.  
I made it back to my group in time to march to the coal mine. During the march, I saw a truck arrive at the sick bay.  Before we reached the mine, I saw the same truck driving away (toward Auschwitz-Birkenau).  It had a hose going into the rear cargo area.  The other end of the hose was attached to the gas pipe.
In January 1945, the Russian counter-offensive had re-taken much of Poland and was closing in on the Auschwitz-Birkenau prison camps.  The SS officers began the evacuation of all prisoners back to Germany.  The Birkenau crematoriums were destroyed by the SS.  This was the beginning of the death march.  Between January and April 1945, I was transferred from Buchenwald to the Buchenwald sub-concentration camps of Zelt Lager, Bunker Lager, Ohrdruf, then back to the main concentration camp of Buchenwald.  While at Ohrdruf, I was ordered to stack the bodies of dead prisoners for mass burning. While doing so, I contacted typhoid fever and nearly died.
On April 11, 1945 I was liberated from Buchenwald by the United States Third Army under the command of General George S. Patton.  At the time of liberation I was 19 years old, weighed less than 70 pounds and could not have survived another day.
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
What DP Camp were you after the war?
Yes, D.P. #7 in Bavaria. We were taken care of by the UNRRA
Where did you go after being liberated?
First, I went to Berlin to see if there was anyone still alive from my extended family but there was no one. I heard that if you waited long enough you could get to Palestine or you could go to the USA.
When did you come to the United States?
Where did you settle?
Originally New York, then I moved to Michigan
Occupation after the war
Tool maker, fixture builder
When and where were you married?
July 5, 1948 in New York
Wilma, GM sewer and sewing inspector
James Hirschfeld, Patrol Sgt. for the Franklin Village-Bingham Farms Police Department
What do you think helped you to survive?
My nature- I never gave up. I am a happy person. As I was lying in my middle bunk in Auschwitz I was whistling. The guy below me kicked me and asked if I was happy because I was whistling. I said I was not happy, I just like whistling. That guy is dead and I am still here.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Be kind to people.
Charles Silow
Interview date:
To learn more about this survivor, please visit:

Contact us

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to our email newsletter to receive updates on the latest news

thank you!

Your application is successfuly submited. We will contact you as soon as possible

thank you!

Your application is successfuly submited. Check your inbox for future updates.