Viola Klein

"Do your best. Don't discriminate, raise good children, be good people."

Name at birth
Viola (Rifka in Hebrew) Greenberger
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Name of father, occupation
Julius Greenberger, Had a “mom and pop” grocery, sold liquor, built houses, had a farm.
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Rose Lefkowitz, Owned a kosher resturaunt in a resort.
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, four daughters and one son: Alex, Ilona, Rachel, Magda, and Viola.
How many in entire extended family?
Large extended family, over 100. My father lived in the United States for a while but he came back to take care of his parents.
Who survived the Holocaust?
About ten in the extended family, In my immediate family, only me.
In 1939, the Hungarians came in to Czechoslovakia.  Czechoslovakia was divided in half, the Hungarians were on one side and the Slovaks were on the other.  

In 1941, the Hungarian government took away our license to do business.  We had a farm with lots of land.  We had cows, milk, and butter; we had everything.  We could still help the family.  But after they took away my father’s license, things became worse and worse.

I couldn’t go to school anymore.  One sister was married, one had three children, my other sister had two children.  They lived about three miles from us but on the Slovak side.  They took away the Slovak Jews in 1941.  My mother paid someone to bring two of my sister’s two little girls to come live with us in 1941.  Those two little girls were with us when they took us to Auschwitz.

The Hungarians were against the Communists.  A Gentile man who was caught and interrogated said that it was the Jews who were involved with the Communists.   

On a Shabbos (Saturday) afternoon, in the spring of 1942, right after Shul, (religious services), Hungarians came and beat up my father so badly as they thought that he was involved with the Communists, which he was not.  My father had just eaten lunch and went to lay down.  
They later caught the Communists but by then it was too late for my father.

We had a room in our house in which we hosted for the three small villages around, a Minyan (small religious services) with a Sefer Torahs (Torah scrolls).   Everyone was religious.

Jews then had to start wearing a yellow star to show that we were Jewish.  I was ashamed to go outside.  From day to day, we didn’t know what was happening.

Even though we had been good to our neighbors, they did not like us either.  My father used to read a lot, people used to come to our house in the evenings for their entertainment and listen to my father read stories. 

Even our best friends were happy when the Jews were taken away.  There were some who were Mensch’s, (good human beings).

In 1942, Hungarian police woke us up in the middle of the night and took us away.  They took us to a big barn on the Polish border.  We stayed there about three weeks with very little food.  Then they brought us back home, Poland didn’t accept the Jews.  

We were taken by the Hungarian police to the ghetto in Uzhgorod in April, 1944.  My grandma was 86 years old and she didn’t want to go.  They were ready to shoot her.  My father said come on mom, we should all be together.  

We barely had any food.  We were there in the ghetto for four weeks.  We were there on a cement floor.  It was one day after Passover, so we took with us baked goods.  We shared our food with our mother’s brother and their small children.

From there, they took us to Auschwitz.  They said you should pack up; they put us in cattle trains.  We traveled for three days without food or water on the way to Auschwitz.  They didn’t let us out.  We had no idea where we were going.  

Inside the boxcar, everybody was sad, we didn’t know what happened.  We stopped in Cracow; my father knew Polish and asked a Pole where we were going.  He said, everyday those trains are coming and take people to a place, there is a place.

We arrived early in morning.  Mengele and other ones with big black dogs came and started yelling, “Heraus, heraus, heraus!”  “Get out, get out, get out!”  So we went out. 

And the fire and the smell was horrible!  One man said to us, kids, look, we’re going to burn there soon.  Mengele started hitting him and said Du Schweine Schweig!  Be quiet, you pig!  

When we arrived at Auschwitz, we jumped out, we didn’t think, your mind didn’t work, we just smelled that, we got out, they said one side, the other side, one side, the other side.  The horrible smell was like when they burn something, like when they burn cattle or something.  We saw a big fire.  We didn’t know what was happening.  

I didn’t even see when my mother and my sister and those two beautiful little girls, to the other side and me to that side.  They were moving people from side to side.  I was with my mother, sister, nieces, my grandma, and father.  They sent them to one side, I was on the other side.  I was young and they needed labor.

My sister who was single, took the two children.  The children’s mother was in the Slovak Republic.  They were all sent to their deaths.

I was picked to live, to walk.  The others were put on trucks and sent to the gas chamber. 

We were walking, the others they put on trucks.  

Propaganda.  They had a few old people, beautifully dressed, sitting there on the way we were walking.  They had a young girl with beautiful little children, with about six from a nursery school; they walked in front of us.  Everything was arranged so that people wouldn’t get wild or get any ideas.  

Then I was taken to a building where they shaved our heads, we had to strip off everything, even with our shoes we had to go into hot water.  They gave us wooden shoes.  I was upset because they shaved our heads.  The one shaving our heads said you silly girl, if you don’t want to have your head, then you’ll have your hair, if you wouldn’t have your head, then why do you need your hair.  I still remember what she said to me.

We came to the barracks, I was in A Lager, number 1 building.  Fran, my daughter took pictures of it when she went to Auschwitz, my building is still there.  Ten people slept on a board.  You couldn’t even turn when you lay on it.  At night, I was assigned to take the waste to the latrine.  

I was there for five weeks. They picked a few of us from the daily Zehl-Appel, (roll call) to go to work in Germany..  They picked 500 of us to go to work in a factory in Hamburg, Germany.  They put us on cattle trains, I read Hamburg when we arrived at the station.  With a boat, they took us to work, it was a factory that needed painting and repairing.  We were always working in construction.  It wasn’t too bad, noontime, we got something to eat when we working there.  We were working there for a few weeks and then the factory was bombed!  They took us to the woods.  I remember that a tree fell and killed five Czechoslovakian girls.

And then we were building little homes for Germans who lost their homes.  We then worked in Riegel, in Eidelstedt until March, 1945.  Then they again took us in cattle cars to Bergen-Belsen.  

On the way to Bergen-Belsen, we heard shooting coming from outside the train.  The war was coming to an end.  The English and Germans were shooting at each other.  A German guard told us don’t get too happy if Germany loses the war because they have our orders to shoot us all if Germany loses.

So when we heard the shooting, we thought they were shooting us.  So we said goodbye to each other, we were crying on the train.

And then we arrived in Bergen-Belsen in 1945.  Bergen-Belsen was horrible.  We saw those bodies piled up outside.  We couldn’t get any of that crummy little food there unless you had a dish.  I did not have a dish and therefore got no food.  Finally a girl felt sorry for me and finally gave me a dish.  Lice were crawling everywhere.  Some people after the war had their legs eaten up from the lice.

I met a distant cousin who worked in the kitchen.  She gave me a job to give that crummy soup out to people. 

I saw Anne Frank there.  I was giving out the soup and I saw a young girl.  Everybody around her was dying.  She sat up and reached for that soup, that depressed me, nobody reached to eat, she tried to swallow it and she couldn’t.  

I said where are you from, she said from Holland.  I didn’t know who she was.  When I saw the pictures, I thought that’s the kid who I saw sitting there.  I came a couple days later and she wasn’t there.  

She was skinny and everyone around her was dying.  She tried and tried, but she couldn’t swallow and she put it down.  It was a thick soup and she couldn’t swallow it.  That’s why she impressed me so, very few who were in that shape didn’t try anymore, they just laid down there.   

She still sat up and tried to survive.  She died a few days before liberation.  We were liberated April 15th, 1945.  That’s what impressed me; she tried when nobody else could.  She never gave up.  

If I wasn’t liberated that day, I would have never made it.  My face became very swollen from hunger and I got typhoid. The English were there already and they took me to a hospital.  I became comatose.  When I woke up, I heard shooting, I thought again we’re being attacked, that’s when I woke up from the coma.  

I asked what’s going on.  I was told you are free, the war is over and Hitler is dead.  I was very weak but I recovered.  The hospital was in Celle.  A Czech doctor took good care of me.  I recovered.  

In June, I was taken to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.  The Czechs were nice to us.  They gave us money to buy things.  I was with other girls who wanted to go home to Czechoslovakia.  

I came home and someone else was living in our house.   I was lucky, I met my husband, Gerson Klein in Prague on train going to Slovakia.  He sat next to me on the train and started talking to me.  He said he would come visit me.  He found me.  We were married a few months later.  Love at first sight.  He was very good looking.  We first lived in Poking and then, Stuttgart, Germany.

My uncle from America, Adolf Greenberger sponsored us.  
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Where did you go after being liberated?
Back home to Jasonov, Czechoslovakia.
When did you come to the United States?
We came to Detroit, April 22, 1947. When I saw the Statue of Liberty, I felt wonderful. I was sick on the ship, when I saw the Statue of Liberty, I got well.
How is it that you came to Michigan?
I had an uncle in Detroit; we lived there at first, with my husband, his sister and our new baby.
Occupation after the war
Bookkeeper for my husband’s business.
When and where were you married?
December 6, 1945 civil ceremony in Munkacz and later in Liberec by a rabbi in March, 1946.
Gerson Klein, he was a Holocaust survivor who worked in labor camps in Romania, Hungary, and Austria. He lost most of his family in the Holocaust., He worked at first in sausage factories, then had his own meat business, and then had his own supermarket.
Al, born October 22, 1946 born in Stuttgart, Germany; Fran, psychologist; Susan, lawyer: Jeffrey, CPA.
Rebecca, Daniel, Nicole, Dylan, Amanda, Jacob, Brooke, and a great granddaughter, Regan.
What do you think helped you to survive?
I was fighting, I wanted to live and I did. I worked hard whenever I had too. My father used to tell me that I could do anything I wanted. So I always thought of him always. He gave me the confidence and the courage to do things. You need a good parent.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Do your best. Don't discriminate, raise good children, be good people.

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