Behind Every Name a Story (BENAS) is a project of the Museum's Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center. The BENAS web project consists of essays describing survivors' experiences during the Holocaust. Guidelines for submitting essays can be found by following the links below. The Museum honors as survivors any persons, Jewish or non-Jewish, who were displaced, persecuted, or discriminated against due to the racial, religious, ethnic, social, and political policies of the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945. In addition to former inmates of concentration camps, ghettos, and prisons, this definition includes, among others, people who were refugees or were in hiding.
Joseph Moses Lang Remembers
It began in May 1944 when my family and I were told to pack whatever we could carry and we were placed, along with many others, in an old factory building in Targu Muresh, Romania. My father, Leopold, had already passed away, but for my mother, Seni; brother, Alexander (Meir); little sister, Yutzi; and myself, Joseph (Mozes); we would spend about a month in this factory. Alexander and I had buried a large box containing some food, oil, small items, and a few photos under a shed on our property and we had the opportunity to run away into the nearby woods, but elected not to do so and stay with our mother and sister and face whatever was coming with them. During the month that we were in the factory, food was scarce and people would steal food from others who had brought food with them. Alexander would often steal food and give it to our mother and sister.
On June 7, 1944, my 17th birthday, we were transported by cattle car, along with hundreds of others, to Auschwitz. All of us on the train were already very malnourished and the conditions on the train were terrible. Upon arriving at Auschwitz, men and women were immediately separated and this would be the last time that Meir and I would ever see our mother and sister.
For the next several days, the Nazis undertook the process of sorting out the men to find strong workers. The young, old and weak were sent elsewhere. One of the soldiers asked me in German, how old I was and I lied and said “19” while standing on my tiptoes in order to look taller. The soldier allowed me to join Meir, who was already 20, with the workers because of my age.
Meir and I were sent to a work camp, Dachau-Rotschweig, but we were transferred to another work camp, Allach, rather quickly. At Allach, I worked in a cement factory, did railroad work, and also woodworking. Every time I returned to camp from a work detail, I was sprayed with some supposedly bug poison, which I believed resulted in my suffering from skin cancer for most of my life after the Holocaust.
Living conditions at Allach were not good. Several times I was beaten very badly. On one occasion, I was accused of not lining up on time and I was sent to the “dentist” who then yanked out my wisdom teeth with a chisel and hammer. Though this caused me to bleed severely, I still had to report for work the following day.
On another occasion, the Nazi in charge of my work detail made me run four laps around the barrack's yard while being chased by one of the Nazi's German shepherd dogs. I tripped and fell during the third lap and the dog bit me on my neck, removing a chunk of skin. To this day, I continue to have the scar on my neck from this incident. After the dog bit me, I still had to get up and run the final lap; even though I was badly hurt.
Living conditions and the food remained horrible during the winter of 1944-1945. The men also had to go to work with no shoes or just sandal-like footwear. Meir contracted typhus shortly before Allach was liberated in April 1945. After Allach was liberated, Meir was taken to an infirmary in a nearby town for six months of treatment. During this time, I lost track of where Meir was taken.
Following liberation, when I regained some strength, I went looking for Meir at various hospitals and treatment centers. At one such center, Meir raised his hand and weakly called out my name and we were again reunited. I explained to Meir that I planned to return home to look for remaining family members and then would find him after my trip and he was stronger and healthier.
The trip to Targu-Muresh in Transylvania/Romania took months. I walked and hitch hiked and traveled through Budapest and Debrecen in Hungary and Kluge (Cluj-Napoca), Romania before reaching home. It had now been over two years since I had been home.
I found some members of my mother's family but none from my father's side. A new family was living in my family's house, but they were kind and helped me dig up the box that my brother and I had buried in 1944. I only kept the photo of Yutzi and distributed the food and other items to others. Though members of my family asked me to stay, I needed to go find Meir and there really was not anything left for me in my hometown. Even the cemetery had been ransacked! I stayed a short time longer, unsuccessfully looking for more relatives and it was time to leave.
An older uncle joined me in my travels. He was much more familiar with the area than I. We could not go back through Hungary as the borders had been closed. We made our way to Arad, Romania, and then to Belgrade, where we were taken in by an underground group that told us that they could get us into Israel, which was not yet an independent state. We ended up staying a few months in Italy, where we were given food and shelter while we awaited the boat to Israel. Of course I had not yet found my brother, Meir.
When the boat finally arrived, we embarked on our journey but soon ran out of drinking water. However, salty sausage was plentiful and after eating, we would all be terribly thirsty and I would even take small sips of seawater to ease my thirst. By this time, the British were diverting boats bringing survivors and settlers to Israel and we were placed in a holding camp in Cyprus. Our stay there was approximately eight months. With lots of time on my hands, I began to create small, limestone sculptures. Two of these are now owned by my son, Yoram; one with the legend: Cyprus, November 20, 1947.
In 1948, I was able to enter Israel and about a year later, Meir and I reunited there. We each married and raised families. Unfortunately, Meir would be killed in a freak agricultural accident in the mid 1970s. I worked as an expert finish carpenter and woodworking teacher. I had always been too angry and bitter to discuss my story but now that I have contracted a rare form of cancer, I realized that it was time to tell my story. My thanks to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for having documentation that verifies my story.