In spite of the way we were and the way we were treated, we still acted like decent human beings.
Over 60 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 liberation from concentration camps in 1945.
Marty, it would be at Gunskirchen where you would be liberated.
Tell us about your liberation.
Liberation… again, like I said, my cousin was there. He had about two or three other friends. We sort of formed a group and we started going, looking for, the first thing, food. The first day we were afraid to leave the camp. We thought it was a trap, that they were going to shoot us on the way out so we waited, believe it or not, another night before we dared walking out.
And the SS are gone now?
Now we made sure they were gone, right. As a matter of fact, to show you that our assumption about killing us wasn’t just an assumption, a Wehrmacht officer was left in charge and what he did, he took a couple of people from the camp, a couple of elders, and went on a Jeep to greet Americans and he showed them the orders, that he had the orders to kill us, but he didn’t do it.
But anyway, we got out of camp and we started looking for food. This I have to tell you and you’ll see why. We came across this truck in a field—an army truck, abandoned, and we noticed a tub of lard, a big tub of lard on the front seat in the cab. One of the guys, like I said, they were in fairly good shape yet and he just took his fist and went right through glass.
Through the windshield?
Through the windshield on the side door, actually, and all the glass went into the lard. The reason we wanted the lard is it had something to do with food. We just took the glass with the palm of our hand and threw the stuff on the grass but we kept the lard.
We looked in the back of the truck and we found a bunch of hides. They were already refined. We were all excited because we knew we needed shoes and we knew after the war there wouldn’t be any shoes to be gotten anywhere, so we figured we’d take the hides, go to a shoemaker, and he’ll make us shoes.
So each one of us took several hides, whatever we could carry. Now we’re looking for more food, for something else with food. We saw this farmhouse and we went to this farmhouse. You have to remember, by now, when it came to hate, believe me, we had it. I remember feeling like, to me, every German was a Nazi and every Nazi deserved to be killed.
It was just that simple. That was how your mind worked. We were really very, very angry, really just plain angry. But we came to the house, instead of barging in and acting like uncivilized…and believe me, we were not civilized. We really felt like animals or less than that.
But oddly enough, it’s funny, I started speaking only about a couple of years ago and this came to my mind. That’s the reason I like to include this. We came to the door… and these guys, like I said, were in fairly good shape yet. A lady opened the door a crack.
A German lady.
A German lady, yes, and we told her what we’d like, we told her we’d like some eggs and some flour. And she obliged.
She gave us the eggs and the flour. We never pushed in the door and never talked nasty to her. We took the eggs and the flour, and she had a barn and outside of the barn, there was a kettle for heating up water, with wood underneath. We got some water and one of the guys took the lard, the flour, and the eggs, mixed it up and made dumplings.
We cooked the dumplings in this kettle outside the barn. We never went into her house. After we finished eating, to my amazement, we didn’t even have a conversation, one of them suggested, “You know what we should do? Take some hides and give them to her.”
Without much conversation, each one of us contributed towards it and we took it to the door and gave it to the lady in payment. The reason I always like to include this is because at that time I would not have considered myself a human being.
For years I forgot all about it. Then I remembered I always like to include it only for one reason: In spite of the way we were and the way we were treated, we still acted like decent human beings.
The reason I want to bring this up is to show you that even in the worst of times, if you bring up your children properly…and it shows you that all of us had basically the same upbringing. As Bill mentioned before, we were raised Jewish Orthodox, we were religious, but we lived by the code. And I’m just amazed that even under those conditions, it didn’t leave us.
You have been listening to First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, DC. We would appreciate your feedback on this series. [Please take our First Person podcast survey (external link) and let us know what you think.]