I’m writing this letter to you even though I know you will never read it. The spring of 1944 was the last time we saw each other. When we arrived in Auschwitz, within minutes we were separated never to see each other again. I remember the chaos that enveloped us as soon as we stepped down from the train. It was around midnight and we found ourselves under bright floodlights. Everyone was trying to hold on to their loved ones. Immediately, soldiers with rifles surrounded us, their fingers on the triggers as though we were the most dangerous criminals on the planet. Immediately, men were separated from women and formed a line. As the line advanced forward we encountered a tall, sharp-looking, terrifying SS officer, who pointed his thumb to the left or right, determining if you were chosen for labor or the gas chamber. The same process was replicated for the women in line. After the selection, we stood in a group and saw our mother with our younger sisters, Esther and Miriam, in a group near us. I suggested that I run across the empty space and join them, so I could be of help to them. As I was making a dash towards them, a man in a striped prison uniform grabbed me and angrily shouted, “You can’t go there.” He threw me back toward the men’s group. The next morning, when we found out where we were and what occurred during the night, I realized that what he did saved my life. That night is seared in my mind as it was bedlam in hell. As we went through the showers and came out the other side, our father, Uncle Zalman, Elje, Ernie, and I were taken to a barrack. It was dawn and it was the first time we saw the tall chimneys spewing out black smoke from the crematoria. Then a few hundred yards from where we stood, we saw a huge fire under tall pine trees. Inmates that had been there before our arrival explained that our families had been killed during the night, and that now they were being cremated in the crematoria and the overflow were burned in the pits under the pine trees.
Before this, we had heard of the terrible atrocities in Poland and in the Ukraine and we believed it, yet we could not imagine that modern Germans could be that brutal. Now we were just numb as reality stared us in the face. While there, I recall the weather was very bleak, cold, wet, and dreary while we had to stand outside shivering from the cold, fright, and fear of what was to come next. After a week or so we were sent on a transport to Mauthausen, Austria. I recall it was around Shavuos and our father and many older men huddled together and said the prayers, but I just ignored it all the time I was in camp and after; I have not been religious since. Our father, his brothers Zalman and Elje, his cousin Ernie, Meir, and I were sent to Mauthausen, where our father and Meir died in the Melk concentration camp. The rest of us survived.
One thing I will always remember is what a great brother you were. Even though you were seven years older, we were very close and had many hearty laughs as we horsed around doing our chores around the house and farm. I remember when I was about six years old, you put me on this tall skinny horse to teach me how to ride, and as the horse went into a trot I fell off and you and Azik laughed while I cried. After that, I learned to ride rather well, almost as well as you. I always recall you not showing fear under any circumstances and me trying to emulate you. During the war when we had to slaughter the animals during the night because the Hungarians had made our business illegal since we were Jews, I was your helper and held the candles or the kerosene lantern. I also recall when the Hungarian police (whom we despised) would hire our horses and wagon to take them on patrol in the outlying villages, you would go to buy a calf from a farmer while they were busy and then squeeze the calf into the wooden box that served as a wagon seat. They would sit on the box, providing you a safe escort home.
In closing, one thing that always bothered me is that you did not return after the war, but I did. You were always strong, healthy, and fearless, and there isn’t a day that I don’t think of you. About 30 years after the war, Mania, your girlfriend from back home, told me a story of what she thought might have happened to you, after liberation. After you were liberated you were with some people from our area, one of them was Wolf, the shwartzer, as he was referred to back home because he was not a nice fellow. He had been a “Kapo” and you threatened to expose him for what he’d done, and how he behaved. The story goes that you and he went to town looking for food, and a couple of days later he returned without you. When asked where you were, he said he did not know. They surmised that you got into a fight and he killed you. After the war, Wolf lived in New York City and was invited to a wedding in Baltimore. While at the wedding some people recognized him as the mean “Kapo” and wanted to take some action, but it seems he got wind of it. He sneaked away early and caught a train home. Then a short time later, he died of cancer. That’s all I know about what happened to you, and it has been bothering me ever since I heard it.
My memory of you lives on,
Your Brother M.
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