Martin Weiss discusses his deportation in May of 1944 from the ghetto in Munkacs, then part of Hungary, and his arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi killing center.
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“They separated men from the women, and then we had to go through a line and an officer would go like this, left or right. If you went to left you went to your death. If you went to right you went to work.”
Over sixty years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.
This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program, First Person Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.
In today’s episode Martin Weiss talks with host Bill Benson about his deportation and arrival at Auschwitz, the largest Nazi killing center.
One day they pulled up a train with boxcars and immediately they had us board those trains, the boxcars.
Now at that time, you have to remember, we went as Hungarians. We were occupied by Hungary. Now there was 125 to 135 people per boxcar. You have to remember young, old . . . I had one uncle, he had tuberculosis. He had TB and he was in a sanitarium. They even picked him up on a stretcher and brought him in. They wouldn’t leave him behind. And shipped him to . . .
And shipped him to Auschwitz.
Well he died just before the shipping, but the point is that they would not leave anybody behind. And it was that kind of a situation. And what happened is that they put us on train. Again they put us on a train with 125, 135 per boxcar with these bundles. No toilet facilities, no water, no food. And for three days and nights we were on a train.
Finally we did get to Poland. And then frankly, we got very frightened because we heard of all the things that were happening in Poland. And the reason, we saw through the crack of the door the names of the cities and we also heard the Polish language spoken outside. So people knew we were in big for trouble.
But we never heard of Auschwitz until we got there. When we got to Auschwitz, it was during the night like about twelve . . . I don’t know, sometime, it was late at night, twelve o’clock at night. Anyway, they opened the doors and there were floodlights surrounding us. And you got off the train. If you ever saw bedlam, or if you could imagine hell, that must have been it. Because everybody was trying to hold on to their children; they tried to hold on to each other. And in the meantime, people in those striped clothes that you see in the Museum, which prisoners wore, which was the first time we saw them, walking around with big sticks screaming and shouting “Schnell, Schnell” “Get out!” and “Move, move fast!” And so everybody was trying to hold on and everybody was scared out of their wits. And the floodlights, like I said, were shining in your eyes.
But in the meantime, they had guards, with their finger on the trigger, I should say, and German police dogs are surrounding us. And until this day I don’t know why because it was all enclosed in a yard with electrified fences. And nobody could run any place.
As soon as we got off they started separating us, men from women and so on. And then we had to go through a line. Everything had to move very very fast, high speeds. And these guys with the sticks were going around and forcing that. And the Gestapo was overseeing that. And they all, whether they were nasty or not, they had to act nasty. And some were, some were just acting that way. But nevertheless, they separated the men from the women. Then we had to go through a line, and the officer would stand there and go like this, left or right. If you went to left, you went to your death. If you went to right, you went to work. And so basically this was our initiation or our first experience in Auschwitz.
And of course we never heard of the crematoriums. We never heard of anything like this. It wasn’t even in our vocabulary, it just didn’t exist. But anyway, we went through, we were picked my father, some of my relatives, a lot of other people from my town. We went through the line. I was not that big. I was like just about 15 years old; I was actually small for my age. Turned out to be, I was the only one from the boys in my age to come through; from about 30-35 boys, all of them went first to their death the first night we came to Auschwitz. And the reason I attribute it to I put on like two or three jackets because they told us about work so I wanted to make myself look bigger and somehow I passed. And it was just a matter of luck actually.
And so we went through the showers. Or before we went there . . . Ok, we were separated and we were picked for work. And so they grouped us together and all the other people went to another side. And while we were standing there I noticed there was a little empty space between us and there was a group of people, and I noticed my mother and my two little sisters on the other side. So I said to my father “You know, I’m going to run across this space and I’ll go with my mother because I’ll be able to get some food or something.” Because my sisters were too young to be able to do it and this way I could be of help to them.
So my father said ok, so I tried to make a dash across the space. And this man with a stick in the striped uniform comes and grabs a hold of me and says, “Go back there, you can’t go there!” Like I said, very nasty. And I came back and I complained to my father, “Could you imagine? I found out he was a prisoner. He acts like that.” And, to make a long story short, we went through the showers, we came out on the other side, they cut all our hair off. With a grown man they even took a razor and shaved their body hair off. That’s to prevent them from having lice, they said. We came out on the other side. We also had these striped clothes; they gave us striped clothes. And they took us to the barracks. And they were big barracks, almost like they were made for horses. They had like something in the middle to tie up the horses and stuff. Anyway, they were big barracks with bunks. They put in twelve people in a bunk, believe it or not, we had to sleep there.
We came out . . . oh, next morning . . . oh no, when we got to the barracks, before we went into the barracks dawn was coming up. All of the sudden we saw these big flames coming out from under a bunch of pine trees. But the flames were shooting up very high into the sky. And we could also smell flesh burning. And then we saw the chimneys, the big five chimneys with black smoke coming out. And all of the sudden, at that time somebody found out what it was and they told us what had happened.
And so by next morning, when we saw those fires and stuff we realized all our families were already going up in smoke by that time.
You have been listening to First PersonConversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, D.C. We would appreciate your feedback on this series. Please visit our Web site, www.ushmm.org/firstperson, and follow the prompts to the First Person podcast survey to let us know what you think.
At our website you can also learn more about the Museum’s survivors, listen to the complete recordings of their conversations, and listen to Museum podcasts Voices on Antisemitism and Voices on Genocide Prevention.