I grew up in Schenklengsfeld, Germany until I was 8 years old. When I was 8 years old, I left my public school because my teacher and the students accosted me. There was a picture of Hitler in my public school classroom. On my birthday; the teacher accused me of sticking out my tongue at the picture. My teacher became very upset with me and assembled a lot of students into the classroom and had me beaten up by some of them at request of the teacher for insulting Hitler’s picture. He also had also placed a board covered with nails on top of a chair and pushed me on top of it as punishment. That was the last time I attended that school.
My parents then sent me to a Jewish boarding school in Bad Nauheim about 150 miles from home. I was by myself with other children my age and younger from the district. I was in that boarding school for two years. We were all Jewish young children and could not go home because the times were very bad. We were not allowed to travel anymore because traveling was restricted and we needed to get a special permit. We could only come home for summer vacation, not even for Jewish holidays. While we were in school, it was a wonderful life, all of us were there for the same reasons; we got along very well, because that’s all we had but we were homesick.
For two years, I was confined at the school in Bad Nauheim. In 1938, when I was 10, my parents were forced to sell our property and move to a larger city which was Fulda where a Jewish school and synagogue existed. We were forced by the Germans to live in a small apartment with other Jews. Life in Germany was getting quite bad and we could not afford to emigrate out of Germany so we had to remain.
A lot of laws had been passed; our German citizenship was taken away and other laws against Jews were instituted. My great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents and my family were all born there. My father served in the German army during World War I.
We had a normal life until Hitler came to power. My father like his father and grandfather conducted business selling various products to farmers for their needs, but then people refused to buy from us Jews. Before the war, we were five children. After Hitler came to power in 1933, our house was burned down. Across the alley was a beer hall. Young farm hands got drunk and were apparently coaxed to burn down our house. We had lost everything and became very poor when I was 5 years old.
My sister Berta and my brother Hans were insulted and abused, and were told to go to Palestine. Those two had a chance to leave for Palestine through the Hachshara, the Zionist youth movement, and so they left in 1933-34. Thinking that Hitler would not stay in power too long, we built a new house. In 1934, we moved in. Shortly afterwards, my mother gave birth to twin boys, Fritz and Kurt, who were still given typical German names.
On November 9, 1938, while attending school, rocks came flying through the windows, when three classmates were very badly hurt from shards of glass and stones. The teacher dismissed class immediately. On the way home, we saw Jewish people being beaten and accosted in the middle of the street.
We lived behind the synagogue which was already in flames. All Jews lived in a centralized location near the synagogue. We saw sparks flying, the flames became more intense. It was a terrible sight; people were screaming and were being beaten in the middle of the street. Nazis smashed windows of the few Jewish stores, people were bleeding, we were so afraid. I was 10 years old.
Then we were afraid that the sparks and flames would spread to our apartment. We left in the middle of the night and joined another family. The next morning, we went back to our apartment again, some of the rioting had subsided. The synagogue was still smoldering. This was Kristallnacht.
We then heard heavy boots coming up the stairs to our apartment. A policeman and a Nazi soldier came to arrest my father. My father told them that he had been an officer in World War I, but it did not help. All Jewish men from age 16 to 60 were arrested from all over Germany and Austria. About 36,000 Jewish men were taken to three concentration camps, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald.
My father was in Buchenwald for a month. He was more fortunate, some stayed there as long as a year, some never came back. People tried to flee Germany but since there were quotas to immigrate to various countries including America, it was very disappointing.
My father was extremely upset and nervous after he came back from Buchenwald. We couldn’t get near him because he was so upset. He had never experienced anything like this. While all the men were gone, including the teachers, (there were no female teachers at that time) there was no school, besides the school as well as the synagogue had been completely destroyed. There were no religious services which usually consisted of a quorum of ten male adults required for public prayer services.
People tried in vain to get out of the country, but it was really difficult. You couldn’t fly, since there were no commercial planes or private planes in existence, only military planes. You couldn’t go anymore by ship, which was very expensive. People would take your money. You would arrive at the point of departure, but there would be no ship. It was all lies.
We were already poor since the fire, and now also we were the victims of special high taxes, the Judensteuer, the Jew tax, so we were stuck. It became worse, as people would no longer sell us any food. My sister Eva was a blonde; she pretended that she was not Jewish, but had to be very careful to find some good natured person who would have pity on her and us.
We received identification cards as we were no longer German citizens. I could hardly go on the street anymore since I was intimidated by the Hitlerjugend, the Hitler Youth, who were taught to molest Jews. We could only live in tenements with other Jews. We started to attend religious services in people’s apartments, when we left to go out in the street, we would be accosted. Boys and girls didn’t go to school at all. In September, 1941, we were forced to wear the yellow Jewish star with the name Jude (Jew) emblazoned on it. It became more difficult from now on to go out on the street without being accosted.
My father was forced to work digging ditches on the autobahn, the German highway system. It was digging and digging. That’s the only work Jewish men were allowed to do. They got little pay, the work was very difficult. In general, it was very difficult buying food; my mother would send me to the store to buy flour, sugar. I would be told, “We don’t sell to you, get out, you Jew.”
Some people out of the goodness of their hearts would sell to us. For example, my mother had a good friend who owned a bakery who made sure we would have challah (bread) for Shabbat and other baked goods which we welcomed; this was strictly done by the few Gentiles who were very sympathetic to us and made sure we would have enough provisions to get by. As far as meat, it was definitely a commodity which did not exist for us except when a good neighbor would rarely bring over some horsemeat.
I was forcibly taken from my home in Fulda, Germany to the Riga Ghetto in Latvia. Beside the ghetto, I was taken to six concentration camps, Kaiserwald, Riga, Libau, Hamburg, Fuhlsbüttel, and Kiel. After the liberation, I was sent to Sweden to recuperate.
On December 8, 1941, I was deported at age 13 with my parents, my 18 old sister Eva, and my 7 year old twin brothers Fritz and Kurt from Fulda to Kassel, Germany and from there, together with about 1,000 other Jews from our province Hessen taken to Riga, Latvia.
The train trip took four days in old passenger, freight, and cattle cars where I was standing the entire time because there was no room to lie down. After our arrival from the freight depot in Riga, we were forced to march in severe cold temperatures for approximately five miles on snow and icy streets to the ghetto.
When we arrived in the Riga ghetto, we were forced to look at the barbed wire which surrounded the ghetto. Once inside the ghetto, we found blood frozen in the snow and ice, on the streets and sidewalks, which we later discovered came from the previous inhabitants of the ghetto. Furniture, food, etc., was outside the houses or the shacks in shambles, also frozen into the ground, which was from the people who had been taken away. We learned that the Latvian Jews who lived there for a short while had been taken out in two Aktionen on November 30 and December 7, to the nearby forest of Rumbula and Bikernieki and were slaughtered.
Our family of six was forced to live with another couple in one room with no running water or toilets. The previous occupants had left food out uncovered when they were suddenly rounded up. The room was full of rats, bedbugs, fleas and cockroaches.
For us there were no rations from the authorities for weeks and we had to get by with all that I pilfered, such as frozen carrots, frozen potatoes, with other young boys in empty houses, in cellars. We pilfered food like wild animals. If we would have been caught, we would have been punished severely. This was before other transports from various parts of Germany and Austria arrived. We snuck into empty houses and the cellars underneath them to find whatever food we could which was spoiled and frozen. Because of hunger, we risked our and our families’ lives to survive. The taste of the food was horrible.
In July 1943, my sister Eva was taken to a camp, I did not know about the whereabouts of Eva for fourteen months. I later learned that, Eva, age 20, was taken to the Jungfernhof slave labor camp. I was now 15 years old and was considered fit for slave labor as well and was sent to the newly established Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga.
That was the last time I saw my parents and twin brothers Fritz and Kurt, who were just 9 years old when the ghetto in Riga was liquidated on November 2, 1943. The remainders of the ghetto's inhabitants, 1000’s of people including my parents and twin brothers, were taken to the freight depot and loaded onto cattle cars and box cars. They were shipped to Auschwitz where they perished. I hoped that my twin brothers were not the subject of Dr. Joseph Mengele's medical experiments on twins.
In the Kaiserwald concentration camp I was immediately given a number, KL 3698, my head was shaved, and I was given a uniform of striped clothing. I slept on a bunk with wooden slats. The food rations were hardly enough to sustain life; it consisted of one slice of thin bread and two bowls of watery soup per day. I discovered that my sister Eva was working in the nearby Armee Bekleidungs Amt (ABA), the army clothing depot where they washed and reconditioned the German army clothing that came from the front lines. One of my duties was to load and unload ships, I once happened to find some cigarettes which the Latvian guards liked.
I tried to bribe my way to see my sister in a camp that was across the street, but I was caught. The Kommandant (a high-ranking Nazi official) was alerted and came rushing over to me. He reprimanded the guard as well as me. He pointed his revolver at me but chased us out of her camp instead. We went back to the ship and I had to continue unloading. At another time when somebody escaped from our camp, I was held as a hostage and had to squat in bitter cold weather with my arms outstretched for 22 hours.
In September 1944, when the Russian army was outside of Riga, my sister Eva and I were taken to a camp in the port city of Libau, Latvia (known as Liepaja) but we were never together. From there in February 1945, they took us by ship to Hamburg, Germany where we were placed in the Fuhlsbüttel prison and concentration camp with other inmates, which include political dissenters and British POW’s.
In April 1945, we the Jewish prisoners were forced on a death march for four days and nights to the northern German city of Kiel, about seventy five miles away. The only food available to us was beets taken from the fields. Many people died on the way or were killed because they could not tolerate the death march because they were so weak already.
Some were shot as they were trying to find beets or trying to escape. In the labor camp at Kiel, men and women were always separated. Eva and I were put to work sorting out bricks from bombed out rubble. We had to take each brick of the bombed out buildings and clean the mortar off with our fingers so it could be reused again to rebuild Germany. We kept ourselves alive by rummaging for food in the camp's garbage.
Near the end of the war SS Chief Heinrich Himmler made an agreement with Count Bernadotte who was head of the Swedish Red Cross and his committee to exchange Polish national women to be sent to Sweden for the safety of his own family. Jewish prisoners, however, were substituted for the Polish women and Eva and I were liberated in Malmo, Sweden. We spent a year recuperating in three displaced persons camps in Sweden. We were later reunited with our sisters Margot and Berti and our brother Hans in the United States after the war.
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