Oskar Jakob

Oskar Jakob
Nationality: Romanian
Location: Althammer Concentration Camp • Auschwitz II - Birkenau Concentration Camp • Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp • Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp • Frankfurt • Germany • New York • Poland • Romania • Satu Mare • Simleu • United States of America • Zelle
Experience During Holocaust: Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Gas Chambers • Family Died of Starvation • Liberated • Lived in Multiple Concentration Camps • Sent to Concentration Camp • Worked in Masonry

Mapping Oskar's Life

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“I remember several of them was taken, especially those who really did a lot of torturing, that we would take a guy and tie his hands and legs together and take him up on the second floor and drop him. And this was done several times till the guy was dead.” - Oskar Jakob

Read Oskar's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1 (Heifetz)

JAKOB: My name is Oskar Jakob and we are getting ready for an interview of practically my life history. (CHUCKLES)
HEIFETZ: Would you begin by telling me where you were born, and when?
JAKOB: I was born in Simlul, Romania, August 29, 1930.
HEIFETZ: Could you spell that for me?
JAKOB: Simlul? S I M L U L, Romania. What was the other question?
HEIFETZ: And the date was…?
JAKOB: August 29, 1930.
HEIFETZ: And your parents?
JAKOB: My parents’ name? My mother name…mother’s name was Gisela and my father’s name was Herman. And I had a brother, his name was Henry, and a sister, her name was Irene.
HEIFETZ: And where were you in the placement of the children?
JAKOB: I was the oldest of the three. And we lived in this city approximately four years after my parents got married and, and, the depression was in 1929, the little bit of things that they had, they have lost everything and about 1933, ’34, my dad decided to move and they moved to a small town called Dobra, approximately 40 or 50 kilometers from Simlul.
HEIFETZ: And what did your father do?
JAKOB: My father? At that time, when he lost his business, he use to be in the sewing machine business and that was lost. And then when he moved to this small town, he acquired some land and he did some small farming and he had a small – what we call here – a general store. And it was a very small store, but you could get everything in there. And that’s how he carved out a very meager living, but it was a living that we could exist. I should mention this though, that my father had a brother, a younger brother, who was with my father together in this sewing machine business and when the business went bankrupt, both of them moved to this small town. And we lived here, up until we were deported. And it was a very difficult time, especially after my uncle and the children moved away from Dobra, we were the only Jewish family. When I went to first grade, I can recall the children would call me “Jew,” “You dirty Jew.” They would say, “I don’t want to walk on that side of the street because the Jew is walking there.” So it was very difficult time, as a child, and children can be very rude. I know I realize from my own children today. But it was very painful. I use to go home and cry and I said to my mom, I said, “Well what’s going on? Why don’t they want to play with me? Why do they make fun out of me?” Uh, there’s a little resentment even against my father, who, he should rest in peace, that he made…I believe he made a mistake living in a, in a town where there was only Gentile people. We were strictly Orthodox and very peyos, you know, you looked out from the crowd, like you don’t belong there. And many times, you know, they would come and they would pull on the peyos and it was a very difficult situation. And many times I think back, how we were able to survive.
HEIFETZ: Did you ask to have your peyos cut or did you…?
JAKOB: I wouldn’t have dared to ask. There was no such a thing. With my dad, he was so Orthodox and so rigid, that this was part of life. Now I had no objection of having the peyos, what I had objection is that since we’re living in this town, it was not for a child to be with all the other Gentile children, to live in this way, you know, with always wearing the hat and the peyos. I should have been in a city with the rest of the Jewish children. And that was painful because finally to get some kind of a Jewish education, my father would hire – what use to be called – a melamed. Melamed means a teacher, but he only teaches you Hebrew, you know, Hebrew, davening, Chumash, and Rashi and Gemara and all the Talmudic things, you know, that he wanted me to be knowledgeable in. It was very difficult, almost, almost impossible. We were very impoverished, but my dad wanted us to grow up as Jews, in a world where it was almost inhumanly impossible. So after a couple of years when he saw that it wasn’t working too good, he did…made arrangements…since I was the oldest, he took me into a city which was called Satmar.
HEIFETZ: Would you spell it?
JAKOB: Satmar? S A T M A R. And this was a very big Jewish town. A lot of Jewish people use to live here and this is by the way where his brother, my uncle, moved from Dobra, and…
HEIFETZ: How old were you at that time?
JAKOB: At that time I was about nine years old. And those were terrible days because of being so terribly poor. Communication was almost nil. There was no telephone. We didn’t even have a radio. We didn’t have electricity in town. There use to be one bus and that would go from the next town. We had to walk or drive the horse and buggy to the next town which was about seven miles. And from there, a bus would go to Satmar twice a week. But even that, twice a week, if you don’t have the money to spend for the bus fare, you just don’t go. It was like, if you left, you were gone for the year. And I was in Satmar and he made arrangements first with my uncle that I was going to live with them and that worked okay but then they had marital problems about a year after that and that didn’t work out. So my dad made arrangements with my Hebrew school teacher that I would be living with them and go to school from their house, first to public school and then to Hebrew school. The Hebrew school was like this. In the morning we use to get up at five o’clock in the morning and go to Hebrew school, daven, learn yet a certain amount – go to public school about seven thirty-eight o’clock. The minute you come home from public school, we could never go home. We went from public school straight to Hebrew school and finished the learnings of the week, the Chumash, or whatever assignments we had for that week, and this went on every single day. It was a very, very tough life. And the sad part was that there was no food. We were actually going hungry. Back in Dobra where my home was, at least we had enough food to eat. But here my rabbi was so poor, and he had several children himself, and they would just cook a little soup once a day and it was just a very meager diet that we had to survive on.
HEIFETZ: Difficult to study, much less…
JAKOB: Yes, yes. It was very difficult times.
HEIFETZ: How was that?
JAKOB: At that time we didn’t think about it in that way; at least I didn’t. Today, to our standard what we know here in the United States, when I think back, I, sometimes I wonder, I even sit here and can’t help to wonder back – how did we survive? You know, like in Dobra, we had no doctors. We had to go…travel for hours to get to a doctor. And I was in Satmar for about three years and my mother was very much concerned, more concerned than my father. My father had one concern – that I should be knowledgeable in Hebrew – whatever the cost. My mother…
HEIFETZ: Was he…?
JAKOB: Pardon me.
HEIFETZ: Was he, your father, very knowledgeable?
JAKOB: He was very knowledgeable. He went to yeshiva and he was, oh yes, he was very active in synagogues and studying the Torah and in every aspect of Judaism, he was very well versed. To the last, until he died, he was active in synagogues. As a matter of fact, he was a Chasan for as long as I can remember. He was davening, you know, as a Chasan. And when my mother got a whiff of the situation what was happening in Satmar, how difficult it was, and the weather was almost unbearable, and clothing, we didn’t have very good clothing because we didn’t have the money. So she came in one time to Satmar and she had to come on horse and buggy and she spent the whole day with me and wanted to see how I’m existing there. And when she saw what was happening, she said to my father that she will not stand for it, that I will have to come back, and I will learn whatever I can learn back in Dobra. She will hire a teacher and she will pay for the teacher and that’s the only way I will continue. Before I go any further, I should say that, no, we did go back to the Dobra. She did…persuaded my father to go back to Dobra. And when I got back, things were not so good anymore. Things were happening already in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, the Nazis were marching from one country to another.
HEIFETZ: How did you know this?
JAKOB: We heard it sometimes on…we didn’t have a radio ourselves, but we would go into where my grandparents use to live, which was also the next town in Supur and they would get news. Some people did have a radio. There, they had electricity. In our town we didn’t. And people would travel; Jewish people would travel from one town to another to earn a living. Like we had one old Jewish guy, his name was Mr. Klapner and he…I remember him…big long beard and he had a horse, a blind horse and he would travel from one town to another to pick up rags. And the way he was able to do this, that he knew his route – wherever there was Jews in certain towns – he would be able to stop when evening came and sleep over, get his meals, daven in the morning and he kept going. So he knew that here was a place in Dobra, and I can’t help it, I get choked up when I think about it (PAUSES)…my mother would take this gentleman and she would (PAUSES – I HAVE TO COLLECT MYSELF)…she would feed him give him his bed and (LONG PAUSE)…it’s so hard to continue, I get choked up when I (PAUSES) talk about my mother, I get choked up. (LONG PAUSE – TRYING TO CONTROL TEARS) She was a human being that, almost seldom you find a person like my mother was. And the reason I say that is because whoever came, a stranger in this town, she would always (CLEARS THROAT) find time, food they can take, they can wash up and they knew they had a place. You almost have to picture the situation that a man like the man that I just mentioned had nowhere to go. He could not stop at a Gentile house because nobody would accept him and it was a “must” for him to stop at our house when he came to this town. And he was so happy to be able to lodge, have his food, daven, and continue the following day. I get choked up because I remember people talking how wonderful my mother was. And she was a person that, as far as I’m concerned, she never did anything wrong. And maybe I shouldn’t mention this, because two years ago, we went back to Romania, my wife and I, and the Gentile people that use to know her, they were telling me what kind of human being this woman was. And that’s why I get choked up and it’s so hard, it’s so difficult to talk about it.
HEIFETZ: She must have been really dear to you then.
JAKOB: Very dear. Anyway, we got back from Satmar and continued living in Dobra, going about our business, and…
HEIFETZ: Were you glad to be back home?
JAKOB: I was very glad. I was glad that I was with my family again in another way, because being 40 miles away in this part of the world, at that particular time, was like being away – you can’t even make a comparison – like 3000 miles away from here. But here you can go and sit on a plane and you can be there in several hours. That was almost prohibitive in this part of the world. I was very glad to be back, not thinking of how the Gentile kids will treat me. But at least I was back with my family which was very important and you don’t think about what’s going to happen next year or the following year, but immediately, at that particular time, it felt good. I was back with everybody. My grandparents weren’t far away. I was able to see them and…
HEIFETZ: And your brother and sister were how old then?
JAKOB: My brother and sister they were quite young. My brother…my sister was at that time, seven and my, no, I’m sorry, she was…she was eight and my brother was six at that particular time. Things were getting bad in this respect that the little farming that my father was doing and trying to carve out a living, was very difficult. My father worked very, very hard. It was manual labor at all times. We had no machinery whatsoever. Everything that you needed for your survival had to be done with your own two hands. You couldn’t go to a store and buy a can of food. You couldn’t buy hardly anything. The only thing that we actually needed to buy was salt, pepper and sugar. The rest was produced with our own hands. We would raise chickens, we would raise geese, we would raise ducks, corn, wheat, oats, grape for wine. My father would make kosher wine in Dobra and sell it somewhere else. Of course that was a project by itself to make kosher wine in a, in a town where there’s practically no Jews except one. And I don’t know how well you know about the kashrut, but if you have kosher wine, a Gentile person is not even supposed to touch it. The minute that he or she touches kosher wine, the wine is no more kosher…it’s called naisach.
HEIFETZ: You mean before being bottled?
JAKOB: Before being bottled. If it’s closed, if it’s sealed, perfectly sealed, then it’s okay to touch it, but not if it’s open. So that was a job by itself. We would make this wine and my father would hire a Jewish person from the next town and me, my brother, my sister and my mother and my father – the Gentile people were able to bring the grapes in to the wine cellars, but they were never able to touch the finished wine until it was sealed. When it was sealed, we were able to put it again in a horse and buggy and send it to Satmar or to other cities around us and that was also part of earning a living. That was the only way that my father was able to get some cash in his hand; that we were able to buy a pair of shoes sometimes, or a pair of pants, or some kind of clothing that was needed, a winter coat, every five years maybe.
HEIFETZ: Now you helped with the processing of the wine?
JAKOB: Yes, I helped with the processing. I was the oldest so I had to help with everything. That was, we use to, we had two horses, we had two cows and we had two water buffalos. The water buffalos was important in that part of the world because it was very mountainous and very hilly areas where when you went out to the fields, you were unable to use sometimes the cows or the horses, because the cows were not able to climb a very steep hill. So we would use the water buffalos where they go very slow and they will climb the steepest hill with a buggy. And it was part of life, you know, that you had to have these animals.
HEIFETZ: So did you take care of the animals?
JAKOB: I took care of the animals. I had a very big role of taking care of the animals because my father would be gone sometimes and when he wasn’t there, even when he was there, I already knew enough and was knowledgeable enough of how to take care of them. And after you take care of them for a while, you get to like them and you get so attached to them that you really want to take care of them. And you know that they’re dependent on you, so even as a child, you know, you get so attached to these animals that it’s almost part of you. And this went on for several years until the Hungarians came in 1941 and at that time I was already 10 or 11. This part of the world where we came from, it’s called in Romania, Transylvania. In Yiddish, it’s called Sieben Bergen or also in German.
HEIFETZ: This is where the stories of…about…
JAKOB: Of Dracula, yes. As a matter of fact, he was supposed to come not far from Simlul where I was born.
HEIFETZ: He was actually a Count, wasn’t he?
JAKOB: Count Dracula, yes. When the Hungarians came in, which by the way I should mention is the reason the Hungarians came in, they made a deal with the Germans, the Nazis, that this part of Romania will be taken away from the Romanians and given to the Hungarians. And the Hungarians allied themselves with the Nazis. They became real good buddy, buddies. So the Hungarians came in. Actually they didn’t even have to fight to get this piece of real estate because the Nazis were behind it and there were much bigger and stronger countries that didn’t oppose them so Romania was no match for them. So the Hungarians came in…
HEIFETZ: You remember that?
JAKOB: Yeah, I remember very vividly what has happened. There were people in town, nobody had no weapons, but they would go with, with pitchforks and shovels and handtools. They thought they’re going to fight the Hungarian army. And it was a very tense few weeks until it was actually occupied by the Hungarians.
HEIFETZ: What did your father do?
JAKOB: At that time, he didn’t do anything. We were still going about our business like we always did. But not long after the Hungarians came in, they have…taken a lot of able-bodied Jewish men and they took them on forced labor. This happened months after they came in. I cannot tell you if they got orders from the Nazis, from Germany, or what took place but right away they started with this and my father was one of them. The only Jewish man in town – they found him. So they took him. They also took one of our horses. They said that they need the horse for the war effort. So they left us one horse so that we can survive. My father was taken away in civilian clothes. He didn’t have to wear a uniform and they told him that he’s going deeper inside in Hungary, near the Balaton Lake, it’s called Balaton Lake…Lake is a (I can’t think of the name now) it’s a big body of water, but it’s a land-lock water, you know, it’s a…(can’t think of the name I can call this) Anyway…
HEIFETZ: Would you mind spelling that for me?
JAKOB: Balaton – that’s B A L A T O N. And they told him that he’s going to work here for quite some time. They never tell you how long and what kind of work he’s going to do.
HEIFETZ: Now did they tell him before he left, or…
JAKOB: No, they, we found out because he wrote letters back where he was. They didn’t tell him or us where he’s going. And when he was gone, I was only 11 years old and all the work that he was doing, I had to take over and I had to do. My brother and sister were much younger. They helped a little bit, but in a situation like this, especially in Europe, if the head of the house was gone, then the oldest son usually would take over. And I cannot tell you what’s very difficult, it was so difficult, the little money that my father was able to earn, that was no longer coming in.
HEIFETZ: Were you continuing with school during this?
JAKOB: I would go to school, yes, in public school, but no longer in Hebrew school because we were unable to hire any Hebrew school teachers. And this…almost busy around the clock because you have to feed the cows and the animals at night. You have to feed them early in the morning – had to go to school – you came home from school, there was never a dull moment that you could sit down and relax. You always had to do something. So when my father was gone, I had to go and bring the corn in, bring wood in for the winter, from the forest. We had to find wood because we didn’t have no forest. How to bring it in…in the wintertime, you had to go with a sled.
HEIFETZ: And you were 11?
JAKOB: I was 11 years old. And then things were very rough, because no money was there at all and nobody would help you…nobody could help you.
HEIFETZ: What was your mother doing?
JAKOB: My mother would help me in the fields. She would cook. You know, cooking there was a full-time job. I don’t know how to explain this to you, but you had to grow vegetables, or potatoes, or carrots, or tomatoes, or what have you and you can them for the winter. And of course we had the chickens or geese and ducks. We would have to take the live chickens and geese and take them to the next town because we didn’t have a shochet in our town so we would have to go to the next town, shlep it, five miles by foot. You had to walk and sometimes the weather was so bad and we would walk in the mud and sometimes there was so much water, you had to make a big round way, you know, through another town to get to the shochet. But you had to do it. The shochet would kill the chicken and you had to bring the chickens back, clean them, and then cook them. It was, it was a very, very difficult job to live as a Orthodox Jew. But that’s the only thing we knew at that time. And there was no other way. And when we needed some money, we were desperate for some money, and my father couldn’t send any because he didn’t make any. They didn’t pay him a nickel. As a matter of fact, we had to send him certain things because he would have to use his own clothes. He would have to use his own shoes and sometimes it would go bad and he wouldn’t have nothing and so he would write, you know, that things were very bad and at no time, could we go and visit him.
HEIFETZ: Your mother must have been really lonely for him.
JAKOB: It was very bad, very bad times, she had. And we went and decided to do something about it. And I took our horse and buggy and told to some people that I will haul things from Dobra to Satmar once a week and if they’re interested, I will do it for a fee and we could do this once a week. And I had three or four women that they agreed that they would take grapes, in the summertime, and they would pack it in baskets and fill the horse and buggy up…all the way to the top…just enough for four-five people to sit. And I would take these ladies and the grapes to Satmar and stay there all day ’til they sold their grapes and they paid me a certain amount of fee. And it worked! We actually – I made my first money as an 11 year old. And I did this on a weekly basis until the weather got bad, and then you know, I couldn’t continue. But it was something that my mother was very proud and pleased that we had a few cents in our hands, that the most necessities that you have to have, we were able to acquire.
HEIFETZ: So even though the children made your life miserable, the Gentile children, you were able to, at least, have business relationships within the community?
JAKOB: Yes, but let me say this, not everybody in this town was a Jew-hater. There was many, many people that actually liked us very much. The children were cruel. And then, of course, when the Hungarians came in, this Jew-hating business started and I should mention that this town was actually a Hungarian town. There were more Hungarians living here than Romanians. We were surrounded by Romanian towns all around us, but this particular town was basically Hungarians. So many have sided with the Hungarians – right or wrong – because it was Hungary that occupied this land. No, I do have to say this again and repeat – there was many people who were decent…decent Gentile people. And of course, there were many who were very hateful and would have much rather saw our destruction. Then after my father was taken away, I was almost 12 years old, actually I was 12 years old, then the order came out, that all 12 year olds will have to go to pre-military trainings because the Hungarians they needed a lot of soldiers. And they started already with 12 year olds of how to train them militarily.
HEIFETZ: Including Jews?
JAKOB: Including Jews. At that time we were not excluded yet. I will get to that because this was already where the difficulty, where we actually felt the Nazi horror approaching. We were told that we will be given wooden rifles, you know, just plain wooden rifles – not rifles that you could shoot. It looked like a rifle, but it was carved out of wood and twice a week we had to go to pre-military training. And they took us in that town in Dobra and we would march back and forth. They teach you how to march and how to obey orders and all that, and march, you know, like soldiers. And this happened for about four or five months that I was marching with the Gentile children. I was marching with the rest of the kids and at one point an officer comes over to me and he says to me that starting next week that I will no longer have to go with the rest of the group that I will have to surrender my wooden rifle. And instead, he said, I should bring a shovel. It was very flabbergasting to me. I didn’t know what this meant. And I thought that some other kids got the same order, but when I arrived the following week, I saw that I was the only one with a yellow ribbon on my arm and a shovel in my hand. All the others were able to go with the rifles and marching and I was taken out from my spot because everybody had their spot already prearranged before. I was taken out and I was put all the way in the back.
HEIFETZ: Before you got there, what had you thought it had meant? Did you…
JAKOB: I had no idea. I had, at that point, I had no idea that I was singled out before I was a Jew.
HEIFETZ: Did you think it was an honor kind of a thing?
JAKOB: No, I had no idea. Things were there such a peculiar way that they would never tell you anything, you know. They would never say that we’re doing it for this reason or that reason. They give you an order and you have to obey it and there was no other way. So…
HEIFETZ: Your mother got the yellow ribbon for you?
JAKOB: Yes, she made up a yellow ribbon. She made up a, yeah, I had to wear it. It was a “must.” And…but when I got there, when I saw I was separated, that’s when it started hurting. That I was no longer with the rest of the group, then I realized that something is not right. But to whom am I going to protest? There was nobody to protest to. This was the order and you just have to do it. So I thought maybe this is temporary, maybe in a week or two, this is going to change. But it didn’t. Every week was the same and I had to go and these officers that use to come to train, they came from other towns and some of them already were real bad Jew-haters. So one day a Hungarian officer comes over to me and he slaps me for no reason. He just gives me a hard slap on my face and he says to me, “Listen you Jew, what are you doing?” He says to me, “Are you burying a Hungarian in those holes?” Because I was out in the soccer field, I was making the soccer field smoother so they were able to play soccer – not in a bumpy field. He just actually started to give me a hard time. That’s what it all meant. And when this happened, I started to cry – I didn’t know what to answer him – so he slapped me again and he said that I didn’t stay in attention talking to him. You’re supposed to stay in attention, even though he slaps you and I was a 12 year old kid. So I remember that it was so painful, it was so difficult. So I went home and I cried. I cried all the way home to my mother and I ran to her. I said, “What’s going on?” I said, “What did we do so wrong that this is happening to us?” And she tried to comfort me and she said, “It’s going to go away, things is going to change.” And the following week was the same. We had to go the same way with the ribbon – the marching in the back always. That hurt even worse, the marching, because when you went through town, the people would watch you and this, again, I’m resenting my dad, that I was alone. If I would have had two or three other Jewish kids, it wouldn’t have been so painful. And this went on for quite some time, actually till the time came to pack. And my father was sent back home, I would say, about four or five months before we actually were given the orders to leave.
HEIFETZ: Which was what date?
JAKOB: I can’t recall the date but it was in the winter of 1944, the early part of 1944. I can’t remember the date. I do remember the date when we were given the orders to leave because it was my brother’s birthday. But I don’t remember the date when my father came back, but it was early winter of 1944. When he came home, of course, we were very happy and we were united again and things were very rough. My father came home and he saw that all the hay was in the barn, all the cattle was fairly well fed, we had wood for the winter and he was real proud. He said, “My guys.” He said, “I never expected this.” And of course he knew the work that was involved here. But I did it, I did it. Actually I would have to say, almost single-hand. And I think back sometimes, how difficult it was and I was able to do this as a kid. Maybe that was part of the survival in the camps.
HEIFETZ: You must have been very strong.
JAKOB: I was very strong and I was bigger. I grew very rapidly as a teenager and I was, actually, I looked and physically, I was older than a 12 year old or a 13 year old. And that helped. I was strong and able-bodied and that’s what you needed in those days.
HEIFETZ: And determined.
JAKOB: You didn’t need a lot of brains, but you needed a strong back.
HEIFETZ: It sounds like a lot of determination as much as physical strength.
JAKOB: Oh yes, you needed a lot of determination. If you didn’t have no determination, you couldn’t make it. And of course we would go every Shabbos, we would go to the next town where there was a synagogue, where my grandparents lived and it was always nice to see them. They were wonderful people. And my father would daven in the synagogue. He would be the chasan, so we had to leave early Shabbos morning and I cannot tell you the…it was actually a tortuous walk on Shabbos to walk from Dobra to Supur to daven and then we’re not supposed to eat until we come back. We’re not supposed to eat when we left. We, you know, Orthodox Jews do not eat before the davening is finished.

Tape 1 - Side 2 (Heifetz)

And so my mother would always have a delicious meal on Shabbos. There was, as poor as we were, but on Shabbos we were the kings. It was always a special day to look forward to.
HEIFETZ: Even with the walk?
JAKOB: Even with the walk. Of course (LAUGHTER) when we came home, we were completely exhausted and I remember, as a kid, maybe my dad he didn’t have such a hard time walking and fasting for a half a day on Shabbos. But to me, it was a very difficult time and I’ll never be able to forget about it because it was so difficult. And we would come home and have a delicious meal. We would sing and we would sing the songs of Shabbos. In the afternoon, you know, you have Schela Shuddas and…
HEIFETZ: Excuse me. Could you explain that to me?
JAKOB: Schela Shuddas? You see on Shabbos, you’re supposed to have three meals and before the Shabbos is over, you have a Schela Shuddas, another meal before the Shabbos is finished.
HEIFETZ: I see.
JAKOB: You sit down and you sing special songs and praise that you have on Schela Shuddas. Usually it takes place about four or five o’clock on Shabbos afternoon, before the Shabbos is finished. That’s how you finish the Shabbos. And my dad, he went according to the book when it came to this…these kind of things. And we knew the songs by heart, you know, to sing. And of course we would lay down for a half hour or hour on Shabbos because we were so tired. So when we got up for the Schela Shuddas, for the feast, before the Shabbos was finished, we were rested and we were able to sing the songs better and nicer and be happier. Then of course when Shabbos was over and then we would make the Havdala. You know what a Havdala is? That’s when actually the Shabbos is finished and you light the Havdala candle, you say the prayer and you also, the spice that you’re supposed to smell. And then you say a blessing on that and then the Shabbos is finished. Of course I forgot a lot of things already because I do not practice now as an Orthodox Jew. My father resented me for that for quite some time. Of course I couldn’t, after the war, do what he was doing, I could not practice as an Orthodox Jew. And he did, and somehow put even a bench between him and myself which was very tragic and very sad because I could no longer continue. My question was always, “How could God do this to us?” So, always questioning. And he always had a different answer for things and I wasn’t satisfied with the answers.
HEIFETZ: His answer was, just fate?
JAKOB: His answer was fate and he would find reasons why God did it, you know; that we didn’t obey the way we should have and many other people didn’t. Because the Orthodox Jews believe that if all the Jews in the world would preserve only one Shabbos according to the Halacha, according to the Jewish law, that the Messiah would come. This is what they believe. And of course, all Jews will never do that. See, it just will never happen. And this is why, you know, where in Germany for instance, people would intermarry already and they would do certain things. They would not live according to the Jewish law and teachings. So he interpreted this that God is punishing us for others also. Even though we did, most of the time, the right things what the Jews are supposed to do, but other didn’t. And I couldn’t buy it. I couldn’t buy it. It…my thoughts were different. I said, “They were innocent children, you know. Why do they have to suffer like that? And they didn’t do anything wrong. They don’t even know what life is.” And I would argue with him. I would argue with other Orthodox Jews and slowly, but surely, I separated myself and when that took place, my father and I was…we were on speaking terms, but he lived one life and I lived a different life. Of course when he remarried – after we found out that my mother passed away – she was murdered in Auschwitz; in 1947 he remarried and things changed by us, so…
HEIFETZ: (TAPE STOPS) Let’s go back.
JAKOB: Go back, yeah. So let me finish this here though, that going back to Dobra, the order came for us to leave that as bad as things were, my father was back and I was back from Satmar; we were still a happy family. Things were very, very rough, very hard, but at least we were together. We saw each other every day and we were very happy, content.
HEIFETZ: Did you, with all the hard work, was there ever any times, except for Shabbos singing, for the children to play, or…
JAKOB: No, never. I have never gotten a toy as a child. Never ever remember receiving a toy, any kind of toy. The only toy that I would have, that I would make myself to play with, because we didn’t have the money. It was very, very tough time. Now that doesn’t mean that some other children in cities where their parents were able to have a better life, that they didn’t have no toys. I didn’t have any.
HEIFETZ: What did you make for yourself?
JAKOB: I would make, for instance, in the wintertime, would make a sled to ride on because we couldn’t buy one. So I would go out to the woods and cut out the proper kind of tree, where it had a bend in it, and fix it, you know, and carve it out. First I made it and it broke and I figured out a better way to make it. So eventually, I made it strong enough that two-three people could sit on it and go way up on the hill and slide down, sometimes for two-three miles. So it was fun and, but, I remember those things because that was the only way to play, although my dad, he would never let us play. He didn’t think that playing was proper and the minute he saw me, that I was doing other than the most important chores outside, he would say, “Inside and take the Chumash and study.” There was no time for anything else. So that was…this is what he believed. I’m not blaming him for that. There was really not a lot of time for studying left so he tried to utilize the time that was left and he thought that playing was a waste of time. And I always had to hide from him so he didn’t see that I was playing with my sister. Of course, my brother was much younger so he was allowed to do things that I wasn’t allowed to do. My father was very, very strict, extremely strict. I do not raise my children, never raised them that strict. Again, I do not blame him for that because that’s the way he learned from his parents. This is what he knew, but a certain amount of resentment is there that builds up through the years that maybe he should have done things different. He, he had his own way of thinking and just like I do, and he wasn’t a stupid person. And he could have done things a little different.
HEIFETZ: You mean a little resentment of the way Judaism was practiced?
JAKOB: I didn’t…
HEIFETZ: It seems it’s almost like an interference with joy in some ways.
JAKOB: Yes. You mean as far as playing?
HEIFETZ: As far as, you know, that religion was kind of the burden.
JAKOB: Well, see, they took the religious part of Judaism deadly serious. It was “the” most important thing. As a matter of fact, we were not allowed to speak Hungarian in the house. We were only supposed to speak Yiddish. Again, I am not blaming him for that because we were able to survive in a sea of Gentiles as Jews and had he not done that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to speak Yiddish. See, I can still speak Yiddish after so many years, although I hardly ever speak now. There’s nobody here to speak to. But I didn’t forget to speak Yiddish, but I forgot to speak Romanish which I spoke at one time fluently. And if you don’t speak a language for a long period of time, you can forget. But no, I definitely do not blame my dad of doing certain things like forcing us to speak Yiddish in just one family. And I would have to speak Yiddish to my mother, to my brother and to my sister and to him. If I would say something in Hungarian, he would answer in Yiddish, see. And it’s a shame because Yiddish is a dying language and the people of Europe that’s the way they…it was like a universal language among Jews from every country. A guy could come from Poland to Hungary and we couldn’t converse with him. We didn’t, and if a Polish person would come to Hungary, he couldn’t say nothing to a Hungarian. But because you spoke Yiddish, you could go to any country and you could…you could communicate. It was really a wonderful thing, you know, for Jews. But, and this is why the Jews were able to survive. The Torah, that kept them alive through the centuries and also being able to speak one language where we could converse with the rest of the Jewish population from other countries – from Germany, from France, from Lithuania, and it didn’t make no difference, from Russia, wherever they came from, they spoke the language. They spoke the Yiddish! And when we would study the Hebrew lessons, Chumash and Gemara, it would always have to be translated in from Hebrew to Yiddish. Whenever we said a word in Hebrew we had to…so that they knew that we understood what we were learning…it had to be translated from Hebrew to Yiddish. And that way they knew that we understood what we learned. And that was very important and I hate to see the Yiddish language die, although Hebrew takes over, you know. But the problem now with Hebrew is that if you get an American Jew and you talk to him in Hebrew, he don’t understand Yiddish and Hebrew. Very few people speak Hebrew in this country. I’m sorry I don’t speak any now. I understand a little bit from the Hebrew school that I went to as a child, but basically, I don’t speak Hebrew.
HEIFETZ: But your father, and I guess other Jewish fathers at the time, felt that it wasn’t just for you to learn, but it really was to preserve the culture that they were so adamant.
JAKOB: Oh definitely, but of course, we was part of that Jewish culture and he believed in it very strongly. And of course, I believe in it very strongly today that my children should. Even if you’re not a religious person, but as a Jewish person, you must practice your tradition and if you don’t practice, whether you’re a strong believer or you’re not a strong believer. But as a Jewish person, if you’re not going to keep the Jewish holidays – if you don’t know when Shabbos is here, or you don’t know when Succos is here or Simahas Torah or Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur or Purim or Hanukkah, any of these holidays, then pretty soon, you’re going to be happy to see lighting the Christmas trees and you’re not going to worry about the dreidl, you see. So it is very important to be a practicing Jew, even though you may not be a very religious person. You know like what I mean by “religious” that you’re eating kosher, keeping the Shabbos. What I mean by keeping the Shabbos, like the Orthodox, a Jew believes in keeping the Shabbos, is not traveling on Shabbos, because you’re not supposed to travel on Shabbos in a car. Even when you go to shul, you’re not supposed to do it. But the shul that I belong to, the B’nai Amoona, Rabbi Lipnick says, he says, “I’m not telling you to travel on Shabbos anywhere,” he says. “And you shouldn’t,” but he says, “In order to come to shul, if that’s the only way you can come,” he says, “use the car.” But you cannot tell that to an Orthodox. They say you’re better off to daven at home because once you allow yourself to use the car, even to go to shul, it won’t be long before you’re going to (TAPE STOPS – THEN HE CONTINUES WITH)…make sense because once you’re in that car, the human mind is peculiar, you know, you say, “Well what am I going to do at home? One time I’m going to go shopping,” you say. But at any rate, I’m not an Orthodox. I left Orthodox because it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I admired these people and I still do, that at that time, it was our survival as Jews.

Tape 2 - Side 1 (Heifetz)

HEIFETZ: Your father came back and those months in between, you continued in the army, in the pre-military training?
JAKOB: Right, right. That continued all the way ’til, ’til, the deportation time – it continued. And it never stopped. Every week we had to go the same as before. It didn’t make no difference whether he was home or not. Except we heard bad news, like you know, from people that would come from Poland and other parts of Germany. Jews were being persecuted and they would come, bypass our towns and cities and we would hear rumors how the Nazis were treating the Jews in those countries.
HEIFETZ: Now in your town, did you feel the difference in treatment by the townspeople?
JAKOB: By a few people, yes. They, they were chronic Jew-haters, those people you know. They’re always against you. Some of them don’t even know the reason why, but they are…they are a hateful bunch of people and, yes, we did feel…and I don’t know if I can say if I felt it, more as a child from the other children, whether it was before and after – they still called you a Jew. It didn’t make no difference. What I would like to say which I don’t believe I mentioned is, something about my grandparents who lived in the next town, about four kilometers from us. And that’s where we use to go to shul every week, without fail, rain or shine, we went to shul. And about my grandparents, especially my grandfather, I must say that I have learned more character from this man, more decency and honesty, than I have learned from any other source or human being, including my parents. Because he was an exceptionally bright and decent human being.
HEIFETZ: Was this your father’s parents, or your…?
JAKOB: No, this was my mother’s parents. And he…he would be so kind. He would never raise a voice. He would explain things in such a manner that…here I’m 54 years old, and still rather talk about the way he raised us and he told us things, than my own parents. And it sticks with me for life because many times, I have done business dealings and, and, things were rough and somehow I think back of him, what he use to say…
HEIFETZ: Can you give me some examples?
JAKOB: He would, he would say to me that…he had a moustache and it was parted right in the center, he would brush it every morning, he would brush it at night, he would show me…he would tell me, he says, “You see this moustache?” He says, “I can go out on the street and look everybody straight in the eye.” And he was that kind of a human being because people, when they saw him walking – sometimes we would go for a walk with him – and people would tip their hats, “Good morning, Mr. Gluck, good morning Mr. Gluck.” He was…he was a special kind of person what people looked up to.
HEIFETZ: What did he do?
JAKOB: At one time he was a wealthy person. That was before the crash, before 1929. After the crash, he lost everything. And he was…he didn’t have a trade, but he was like a merchant. He would buy grain from people around and resell it and he would buy skins from wild animals that they have processed. And he also, his biggest living, the better part of his living, was made by making whips for horses, for cows, for…bull whips and this kind of a leather (how I should I say) everything made out of leather. And this was a big thing because we didn’t have no cars and trucks, and so he would manufacture this. He had a, like a little factory, and he would manufacture this. And he took even my father in as a salesman and my father would go on trips in the surrounding towns and cities and would sell these whips, you know, for the peasants, that they needed. And my father would leave Monday morning and he would be gone till Friday evening, just before Shabbos, he would be back. And this is how we earned a living. This was almost to the end that this was continued. Until restrictions came that Jews were not allowed to travel anymore. We heard that Jews were being thrown out from trains, religious Jews that would go with their peyos and beards in a train – that they would cut it off with a knife, they would…the torture started already. We heard these rumors but we didn’t see it with our own eyes. And many times, even as a kid, I would…I would doubt and our parents and grandparents would doubt also that something like this could take place. Here we were living for practically hundreds of years in this part of the world and born and raised. Our grandparents and great-grandparents and God knows how far back and living among these Gentile people, that they could do such a thing to us.
HEIFETZ: Would you explain to me why you lived in a town different from your grandparents, where there was a shul and where there would have been other Jewish…?
JAKOB: I, I cannot explain it because this was my father’s doing. Why they picked this, I would say, this God forsaken place called Dobra, I really don’t know. I was too young at that time to understand the situation, but in retrospect, looking back, I wish they wouldn’t have picked it. I would have much rather lived in a town where there was, at least, a few more Jews.
HEIFETZ: With your grandparents there…
JAKOB: My grandparents there. All right I guess they felt since they were only four kilometers away and we could walk the distance; that it wasn’t really that far. But when you have to walk four kilometers, believe me, it’s very far. So, but it was good that we were able to see our grandparents, at least once a week, we were able to see them. And I have spent one year, I believe, when I went into first grade, I spent a full year with my grandparents. I slept there, I ate there and I studied there. And it was a very memorable time that I can remember spending with these grandparents because they just was wonderful human beings…beautiful people.
HEIFETZ: How did it happen that you went there for first grade?
JAKOB: I guess my father realized that I should be together with some Jewish kids and it was better. It was better, why, why I was taken back, I don’t recall. And he took me to go to Satmar, to go to Hebrew school, I cannot recall the reason, but I felt more comfortable in…in this town Supur than I felt in Satmar because it was closer to home. And at the same time, there was Jewish kids that you could relate to and be friends with, because in Dobra, I didn’t have no friends. I didn’t have one single friend. If they…they thought that being a friend of a Jew…it was contagious. So the Gentile kids would not even walk on the same side of the street where I would walk.
HEIFETZ: And when you lived with your grandparents, that was a warm…
JAKOB: It was a much pleasanter situation, yes. Because when I would go to school, I could talk to…there was Jewish kids around. So you didn’t feel so alienated, so strange all the time. You could speak to somebody. Living in Dobra and going to school in Dobra, I had to fight my way through always. There was always fights. They would pick on me. They would call me names and pretty soon, a fight broke out and I had to defend myself. And sometimes I had to defend myself against two and three. And one instance, I do want to mention this, I had a fight against two brothers. This was, by the way, in the classroom. They called me names and they started to fight. I never initiated the fight, they always did. And it came to a blow, I mean, we were really fighting in the classroom and two brothers, I decked one from the front and one from the back and I fought back. And believe it or not, I was strong and I was able to beat both of them. When the teacher came in and he saw the other two were bleeding and I wasn’t, he thought that I was the culprit. Then I got it from the teacher so that’s the way it was…it was a rough situation. No matter how you did things, it was always against you. It was, I’m sad to say that I cannot remember, that I can say that I had, even a short period, of a happy childhood. Even a short period, it’s just very sad. When I hear people talk about – “How was your childhood, did you…was it happy, did you enjoy it?” I have to think back, “Gosh, what a childhood I had, how rough it was.”
HEIFETZ: Did you talk to your grandparents about the fighting and about the unhappiness and loneliness?
JAKOB: Not too much. Not too much. I did tell them that I liked to be with them. I didn’t tell them the reason. I thought they understood the reason besides I was too young to explain the reasons. They didn’t ask no questions, but I liked to be with them. And I liked to be with them for one thing, because they were just nice, good people. And also that there was some Jewish kids around. And it felt so good to be with Jewish kids that you could talk to. Dad, I guess he could not see this, maybe he did and maybe I shouldn’t blame him. He would bring…when we didn’t go to Hebrew school in Supur and I was back in Dobra, he would hire Hebrew school teachers…Hebrew teachers I should say. And they would live with us and teach us, me and my brother and my sister and this went on for a couple of years that we had these teachers stay, actually, with us to teach us to read and write Hebrew. But it was also a strange situation because they were unhappy because they, they were alone. The teacher was alone in a town where there is no Jews but they did it because they needed the money so bad, and they came from a very poor home also. So they came sometimes for six months, sometimes as much as a year they spent with us to teach. And…
HEIFETZ: How old were the teachers?
JAKOB: The teachers, I would say, they were in their mid or late 20s. It was a bad setup. I would say this…I wouldn’t do that to my children. It’s easy for me to talk today because we live in a different world, but maybe at those times, my father didn’t have no choice. I say he did and I don’t like to talk, especially he’s not alive any more but when I think back that he could have done things a little different, and either move away…I don’t know if he was afraid that he wasn’t going to be able to make a living in another city or town, or whatever the reason was, but raising a Jewish child in a complete Gentile world, I would say it’s almost impossible.
HEIFETZ: How did they feel about you fighting?
JAKOB: My parents? I would never tell them. When you fought in school, you never got right. My parents would never tell me that I was right. And you was always wrong. A person who was involved in a fight, that was a European mentality anyway, that you were involved in a fight, there was something that you did was wrong. So I would never discuss it with them. My mother, sometimes, I would tell her that I was in a fight. She would see the scratches on my face and she would ask me what happened. So I told her. So she would tell me that try to do this…try to do that…try to word-fight, but sometimes it was impossible…it was impossible.
HEIFETZ: You know I’m thinking that a child in a situation like that, even though they’re told the reason for the hostilities because they’re Jewish, often I think a child might feel it’s really them…something about them.
JAKOB: Yes, I did feel that. I did feel that and not only that I felt it, but – then I don’t want to jump ahead, but after the liberation, after we went through the Holocaust, I started thinking, “What did we Jews do so terrible that we deserved this?” I asked this question from myself. I even started thinking, I said, “Maybe we shouldn’t be Jews, that if we did such a terrible thing that we deserve this from the rest of the people, from God, that we must be doing something wrong. We must be a terrible people.” So me, in my little way, start researching.
HEIFETZ: Did you feel, as a child, you had done things wrong that deserved this?
JAKOB: Well yes, but that was in the religious sense. I…we, feared God. We feared God very, very strongly and we were all taught that if we didn’t do the right thing or we didn’t perform our mitzvahs every single day, 613 mitzvahs we’re supposed to perform. And if we didn’t do that, then God would not look at you favorably and things would not work out to the best. It was a time where looking back (PAUSES) where I have thought that we Jews must be doing something not right. And by calling us always such bad names… “You dirty Jew,” “You lousy Jew,” you, they use to make songs, write songs about Jews. In Hungarian, they had a song, “You Jew, you dirty Jew, why don’t you run to Palestine, you Jew,” and songs like this…countless songs about Jews and you have to listen to this constantly. After a while, you hear it so much, you start humming it, the song yourself, you know, that you heard it so many times. And you start thinking, “What happened here, why do we deserve this?” We lived with these Gentile people, we did everything, we obeyed the laws, served the land, we did everything like decent human beings supposed to do. Most of the time, more so than the people, than the Gentiles themselves…we obeyed the law.
HEIFETZ: It sounds like you, at least at the time, had some feelings of guilt about not having been a good enough Jew.
JAKOB: That feeling we had, sure. I had that feeling constantly because we were thought that…that I wasn’t a good Jew. And I tried when it came on holidays, on Yom Kippur, our parents, you know, we would daven and my father would say that if you can stand up davening all day on Yom Kippur, that God will forgive you. So I would stand up on my feet and daven. I couldn’t stand on my feet all day, but I would stand on my feet the better part of the day on Yom Kippur and daven and watching these people in shul, davening, and they were actually shedding tears. Our parents, our grandparents and the other people, that they davened with such a feeling and asked God for forgiveness. And as a child you see these things, you really, truly become a true believer. I cannot say that today I am like that, not after what has happened. But I cannot help remembering what…how we were taught. The strong teaching that they have given us, the fear of God and believing God, and every move that we made, it had something to do with God…to wash your hands before you sit down and eat and say your blessing and when we get up from the table, you’re supposed to say the blessing. On Shabbos you’re supposed to sing the songs of Shabbos and it goes on and on…never go without a yarmulka on your head as an Orthodox Jew. Even when you sleep, you’re supposed to have something on your head. And also I was wearing the tzitzit and that too, sometimes it would stick out and the Gentile kids would make fun of it, they would pull, they would tear it for you. And you get into a fight, you know, you fight with one Gentile kid and in the process of fighting, your shirt comes out and your tzitzit is sticking out and the other guys would pull out it. Sometimes they would just tear it and you have to go and get a new one. But, you see, this is in a Gentile world. Like Dobra, or it didn’t have to be Dobra, any of these surrounding communities where there was one, or 10, or five, or 30, or 100 Jews, they all had this confrontation with the Gentile kids.
HEIFETZ: Did you take any consolation from your brothers and sisters…your brother and sister?
JAKOB: In which way?
HEIFETZ: Did they make friends with you? Were they confidants for you?
JAKOB: Oh, my brother and sister? Sure, we were very close. The only thing is they were younger than I was.
HEIFETZ: How much younger?
JAKOB: My sister was two years younger and my brother was four years younger. So they would…we had no other friends, although we did play sometimes with the Gentile children and we had certain games that we were able to play with some of them. Some would never play with you, under no condition. Whether they were told at home, you know, not to play with us, or whatever the reason was, but there was some. And of course, you know if you’re three years old…if I was 10 and my brother was six, you know, it’s a different age group, so you don’t want to play with a six year old. And, but we were very close. And of course I had a little cousin that I should mention…I definitely want to mention her. Her name was Judith, that they lived in Czechoslovakia…Prague…Czechoslovakia up until 1939 when the Nazis marched in to Prague and before the Nazis marched in, my grandfather and my aunt who had the child, was only six months old, my little cousin, and they were fleeing. They had to leave the country because if not, they would have been already deported by the Nazis. So I remember when my aunt came to see my mother and her father and told them that the doctors have told her that since they have to flee and they have to go through forests and strange countries and land and didn’t know exactly where they have to flee, that they have told her not to take the little child who was only six months old. Plus, because she was so young that at night when they would have to cross borders, that the child would cry and would give them away. So a deal was struck between my mother and my grandfather that she would leave her daughter with my mother. My mother would do the actually upbringing and my grandfather would help financially. And…
HEIFETZ: Now at this time, you were how old?
JAKOB: In 1939, I was nine years old. But I remember this very vividly because it was such a big happening that here’s a little human being is coming to our home and she was already six months old. And she stood with us and she became part of our family. To me, she was like a sister. And she was very lovable, very adorable, pretty as can be. I do have a picture of her. And how I got the picture is that my aunt is still alive, who when they left Czechoslovakia, they just managed to get to South America to, I believe, they went to Uruguay and then from Uruguay, another country somewhere in South America and then they ended up in Argentina. And after the war I asked my aunt to send me a picture so she had a picture of my mother, my grandfather and this little cousin of mine. Because I do not have a picture of my sister. I do not have a picture of my brother which is very painful that not even a picture that you could remember how their faces looked. This little girl was part of our family. As far as I was concerned, to me, she was a sister and so was it to my brother and sister up until deportation time came, and…
HEIFETZ: Tell me what…when that time came, when you were notified…?
JAKOB: When we were notified? It was a very strange situation. We went about our life as normal every day, went about our business. One morning, on May 4, 1944, (PAUSES) we get a knock on the door. This was early morning, it was still dark and a man comes to the door, has a rifle on his shoulder. We didn’t know if it was a soldier or a civilian. It was pitch dark, because we didn’t even have electricity in this town, and he says to my dad that he has orders to tell us that we have two hours to pack, that we will be taken, the whole family will be taken away to another community. It was so confusing. It was so…such a surprise, like I said before, we did hear what was happening to Jews in other communities, in other countries mainly, but we never dreamt that they’re going to come and take this single, one Jew out of this town. We thought they’re going to leave us alone. So they gave us two hours to pack and…
HEIFETZ: Who told you about it? Did you overhear this conversation or what?
JAKOB: I heard it…I heard it because we were all sleeping in the same room and we heard after the knock that he was telling my father that we’re supposed to pack and we don’t have to pack too much stuff. Food, we don’t need much they said. Clothing, we can take along enough for two weeks, we were told. It was a total confusion and chaos that morning. Those were a long two hours because we didn’t know what to take along. We tried to talk to one another. My parents would be very nervous. We couldn’t talk to them. They would holler. We would ask questions. They were scared. They didn’t know what was happening and we started packing. My mother said that we didn’t know where we’re going so we took our best clothes…

Tape 2 - Side 2 (Heifetz)

She took the feather bed and shoes and clothes and some bread, some cookies…we took along and a few other items that we could actually carry in our hands. And of course, transportation was nil so we had to use our own horse and buggy…our own horse and buggy. They told us that somebody will drive them back after they deliver us to the next town which was my grandparents’ town…Supur.
HEIFETZ: Did they tell you what would happen to your house or your animals?
JAKOB: No, absolutely nothing was told, nothing. I do remember though that my father, that morning, somebody came over, one of the Gentile families and my father told him that he had a calf in the barn, that he should take that calf and take care of it until he got back because it was a young calf and it needed some care, which he did, and no one said anything. One more thing that I had to do, my father asked me to do. My mother had a wedding band, a little diamond ring, a couple of earrings and my father had a gold pocket watch with a chain that he got from my grandfather when he married my mother. And he told me to…he had it in a little yellow metal box and he told me to go out – this was right in front of the Hungarian Nazis and the German Nazis because there was already one or two, I don’t recall, German SS with the Hungarians, who by the way, cooperated very willingly with the Germans. I took this little box, hiding it, so they didn’t see what I was doing and I must have been successful because it was recovered later on. I took this little box and took it in the barn. I took a shovel and I dug down about a foot deep, in the barn, in the ground where one of the horse’s bed was and I buried this little box. No one knew where this little box was except me. And that was the end of it at that particular time.
HEIFETZ: Did you tell the animals goodbye yourself?
JAKOB: I did. Not only I told them goodbye. I kissed them goodbye. And I went inside the house and we were almost all ready to pack and all of a sudden, they hollered outside that two hours is up, that we have five more minutes and we had to leave. And we got our horse and buggy…everything was loaded up on the wagon…by that time it was bright. It wasn’t dark anymore and all of us went on the horse and buggy and one of the Hungarian Nazis were riding the horse and some of the people came out from their houses as we were going through town. And we had a dog, by the way, that we left behind and the dog wanted to go along with us, so they didn’t allow the dog to go with us. But as we were driving through town, some of the people came out and they did wave. They didn’t know what was happening; whether we did some kind of a criminal act or what was happening, they had no idea. And I remember that they were waving. They were saying goodbye. Not all of them some of them just stood there and watched and some of them said goodbye. And that’s when we left Dobra and we arrived…
HEIFETZ: Did you wave back?
JAKOB: We waved back, yes. All of us waved back because there was some good, decent, honest human beings, even among these people. As a matter of fact, two families, they were outstandingly good people. And I should mention this, there was one family, can’t think of their name now, but this lady, they were one of the wealthier families in town. They must have known more than we knew because this lady came over the day before the deportation and she told my mother if something should happen to us that she would take my sister and keep my sister, if something should happen to us because they must have heard on the news; they had a radio, we didn’t. They had a battery radio, and my mother said, “Absolutely not, wherever we go, my children go with me.” But the gesture itself was nice and wonderful. Had the Nazis found out that there was a Jewish girl in town left, they probably would have taken her anyway. But I cannot help to mention it and remember these kind of gestures coming from a Gentile person, to say that she would take care of my sister if something should happen to us.
HEIFETZ: Surely, and she was risking her own life as well.
JAKOB: She was…I don’t know to what extent her life would have been at risk because these were still Hungarians and the Hungarians were not as strict with their people who helped Jews as they were with Germans who helped Jews. Maybe so, I cannot say what the outcome would have been. But anyway, it was a nice thing to do and we shall never forget those who actually offered help and there was a very few, but just a handful that actually did help and risk their lives to save Jews. And it was very difficult. And that’s why I said that we shall never forget those. Then we arrived in Supur and in Supur the other Jews were already gathered in a schoolyard and people that we went to shul with every week, we recognized everyone and then they brought in from the next town…some towns had five families, some towns had 20 families and pretty soon the whole schoolyard was full.
HEIFETZ: You were aware at this time that they were all Jews that were being gathered?
JAKOB: All Jews, only Jews.
HEIFETZ: And you knew?
JAKOB: We knew they were all Jews because we…we recognized most of them. And these Jews here, believe it or not, they were, I would say 90 percent were very religious Jews. And in the morning or in the evening, when it came time for davening, you knew who was a Jew because they davened. Now we were here approximately two days in this school yard and all of a sudden, we had a girl in Dobra that use to help us and would help my mother with some work and we would pay her sometimes. If not money, we would buy her clothes or food and she was a single woman. She must have been about 30 years old. And she had been with us for several years, about three years or four years even and all of a sudden, we see at the gate, at the fence of the schoolyard, she appeared with a bag on her back. And she gave word to somebody that she’s looking for us. And we heard about it. We went to where she was, and believe it or not, she brought us bread. And we took the bread because the stuff that we already took, it was going kind of low and we didn’t know how long or where we’re…or how long we’re going to be. So we figured it won’t hurt to take a piece of bread. But the gesture that this woman walked four kilometers and came and brought us the bread. Of course she knew we were kosher. We wouldn’t eat no meat or anything else, so she brought bread only. We were in the schoolyard for another additional day after that and then word came out that, by truck, we will be taken away. Then the secrecy started after this schoolyard.
HEIFETZ: The schoolyard was patrolled?
JAKOB: It was patrolled on the outside but not too heavily. At that time, I feel, we could have escaped. I cannot answer you why we didn’t escape – maybe we should have escaped – whether we should blame our parents that they didn’t tell us to go into the woods or fight or do anything – just don’t go. Sometimes I do blame them. But the secrecy started. No one knew any more what was happening, where we’re going. When the trucks arrived, everybody embarked on the trucks…men, women and children, and the old people, I remember some of the old people, including my great-grandfather who was gathered here in this schoolyard, was brought on a stretcher. He could not walk; he could barely talk. This was my mother’s grandfather. And once we were on the truck, the convoy of trucks started to roll and the schoolyard was empty. I remember I looked back, nobody was left in the schoolyard and they brought us to a place, in an open field, which they called Shomyo Chechy. It was a God forsaken place. It was no buildings here, no trees, no nothing, just an open field.
HEIFETZ: What does Shomyo Chechy mean?
JAKOB: Shomyo Chechy was the name of this, maybe the town near by, but it wasn’t in town. It was, we didn’t see…we didn’t see no town, no houses, no nothing, not a building except the railroad track…it was not too far away.
HEIFETZ: What was the reaction of the crowd of Jewish people all through the school yard time and through the…?
JAKOB: It was still kind of in a disbelief. We, we knew something was wrong. The people were flabbergasted and we were still hoping that they’re taking us into a camp and some rumor went out that they’re going to take us somewhere in Hungary, into a labor camp, that we will be working in a, in a war project. That rumor kind of persisted for a while. But no one gave us any information where we’re going next or how we’re going to travel, with what we’re going to travel, nothing, nobody said anything. But what I am going to say now is very important because this is where we tasted our first bitter pill. After we arrived in this field where we spent, by the way, two full weeks and we arrived in this field, this is where they gathered the Jews from a whole big area, like a whole county, and there was already people there when we arrived. But after we arrived, you just stake yourself out a little corner of ground and we tried to make the best of it.
HEIFETZ: Were your grandparents near you?
JAKOB: My grandparents were, we tried to stick together. The conditions were worsening especially when it came in the evening, they…one night I remember it was raining. I don’t know if it was the first or second night, but it was getting worse by the minute because once we got wet from the rain, it was a terrible thing because we couldn’t dry our clothes any more and we were under an open sky. There was nowhere that you could go so we would take a blanket and hold it over our heads so at least the clothes that you had on…tried to keep that dry. And all of a sudden, orders started to come in; no one was allowed to pray anymore. The Nazis were marching back and forth in the camp. You could see SS uniforms and you could see also Hungarian Nazis who collaborated with the SS. Orders came out that anybody that will be caught praying will be severely punished. And you cannot tell that to an Orthodox Jew because he is going to pray if the…even to the last minute…before he’s going to be shot…he’s gonna pray. So we didn’t take it very seriously, so people would still take the tallit and tefillin was always with them and they would daven in the morning – they would put on their tallit and tefillin. And all of a sudden we see that the Nazis were coming and they took one Jew and took another Jew and they took another Jew with their tallit and tefillins and hung them up on a tree with their hands tied in the back – the tefillin on their head and their tallit and their feet had to be off the ground. And kept them there for several hours till the first one passed out. When this happened, we saw that these guys mean business, that we better start listening. Then after a person passed out, they poured a bucket of water on him and they still didn’t cut him down. They use to tie him down with his own tefillin, you know, that you wrapped around the arm, they tied him down with that. So they tried to intimidate us. They tried to make us feel bad about ourselves. They tried to put fear into us and they succeeded. We were already very scared. We didn’t know what was happening. Then every day new orders came out. Then everybody had to give up everything that they had; gold, silver, diamond, everything. And every day a new order came out how severe the punishment will be unless people will give up everything that they have, including pocket knives and flashlights…we had to give up because that use to be a luxury too at that time. So my parents didn’t have nothing because I hid mine…ours, what we had in the barn, but my grandfather they thought that he was a wealthy man and at one time he was, but he lost everything. They didn’t know that he lost everything. So they called him in and he was gone for a whole day at one time and when he came back, we see he’s black and blue on his face and he had burns on his hands and his feet. They tortured him severely because they wanted to know where he put his money, where he put his gold, his diamonds and everything. And I don’t know whether he gave them anything or he had anything to give. I have no idea. But they did this several times with him, tried everything to get whatever they could out of him.
HEIFETZ: It must have been very painful for you to see.
JAKOB: It was very painful, it was. We were shocked. We were walking around in a daze. The sanitary conditions were becoming worse by the minute. It was so bad already because if it started to get muddy, you know, the open field, that if it’s raining and this was by the way the beginning of May, and there’s a lot of rain in this part of the country, in early May, and it was muddy. The toilet facilities were extremely bad. All they did…we had to make a big hole and a blanket was put in the center of this big hole and people would have to use this hole…ladies on one side and men on the other side. And it was, it was unbearable already, the conditions. The food ran out but here we were already on the mercy of the Nazis. Nobody knew already where we were. We felt that nobody cared. Even here we were taken away on some forced labor in that couple of weeks that we were there. The Hungarians took us out in the forest. We had to cut some wood. Had I known where we were heading, I would have disappeared in the woods. However, I would have survived, it wouldn’t have made no difference, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad of knowing what was to come.
HEIFETZ: You must have been terrified also about knowing you had hidden that box of possessions in your house.
JAKOB: I wasn’t terrified because we were considered very poor and they went more after the people that they thought that they had more money. And that’s where they went after those people. Some people they tortured beyond recognition. Things were getting worse every day. After they have taken everything that they could from us, then they left us alone. Again, people were hiding and davening under extreme circumstances but still people would daven. They took their chances.
HEIFETZ: Did your family?
JAKOB: Pardon me?
HEIFETZ: What about your family?
JAKOB: Oh my family? My dad would take a blanket, you know, and would hold it up and somebody would stay guard and watch. Even if he could put on his tefillin. If I put on the tefillin for one minute to say the blessing, it was sufficient. At least we felt good. We felt good in our heart that we did what we’re supposed to do as a Jew. It was already 10 days have gone by and all the Jews have arrived and things were getting so bad. I cannot describe in words how bad it was. It’s impossible. We looked like, like rats come from a hole and it’s all muddy, wet dirty. Water was very scarce and the only water we would get is just to drink a little water, just to survive. There was no water for washing, for bathing, was absolutely out. Food was running out. We were very happy at that time that we had that piece of bread from this lady that brought to us.
HEIFETZ: What did you talk about among yourselves?
JAKOB: We were walking around in a daze. We couldn’t even sit and talk. It was completely chaos. There was a lot of people gathered in a one…small area. And there was nothing but people. Wherever you went, there was just people, children crying and screaming…old people from their pains and aches you could hear them and what can I tell you, it was so bad. The place where you layed down at night, was soaking wet. It was extremely bad situation, so bad that we thought we cannot hold out any longer. After two weeks were up, the order came that we will be evacuated. And at that time we said, oh, we were so happy to leave this place and we said, “Well it’s gotta be better. It cannot be worse than what we have here.” And we see a train pulling up. The railroad track wasn’t far and then we realized why we’re near the railroad tracks because that’s where they put us on the train. So we were very happy to go on this train. And they started putting in people on the train and jamming people in and more people, and more people, about 180 people in one boxcar. People who couldn’t walk, we had to help them. Nobody helped them. We had to help our loved ones. And I should mention this that my great-grandfather did die in that camp, in Shomyo Chechy, he did pass away there. And I don’t recall the burial so well. My cousin remembers it better than I do because when we sit and talk about this, his recollection is vivider than mine…how my great-grandfather was buried. But he was blessed that he didn’t have to go on this trip. He was much better off. When they put all the people on the train, we tried to stay together, my grandparents, my cousin Erwin who is alive today was also with us who was, by the way, visiting my grandparents from Satmar and that’s how he ended up in this transport and not with his family from Satmar, which he didn’t mind, because he loved my grandparents also dearly. So we went on this train and when, after everybody was pushed in the boxcars, they closed the door and they chained the door. They put a big chain on it and they left, maybe, about three to four inches of an opening on the door so we don’t suffocate in there. When this happened, I remember my grandfather’s words. He says, “Children we will never come back here again. They’re doing something bad to us.” I remember those words. At that time when you are so flabbergasted, with, so…you’re feeling bad about yourself, you’re wet, you can’t even think straight anymore. You don’t, you know, you don’t listen to what people say. You no longer want to hear about whether you come back or what’s gonna happen to you. You figure, well, wherever we go cannot be as bad as this place was, that’s what you think.
HEIFETZ: Was anyone able, was your parents able to give you any consolation? Did they try in any way?
JAKOB: No, because they needed consolation themselves. They probably realized the horror even worse than we did, us children.
HEIFETZ: Was there any physical contact, aside from being shoved up against each other?
JAKOB: That’s the only physical contact we had. We were so close together. Not everybody could sit down in the train. There was not enough space in the train; it was dark. Once they closed the door, it was dark. The little bit of food that we still had, my grandmother I remember, she had the little bag that she saved some cookies – that she saved a few cookies and gave it to the children who needed it the most. But when I think back on that train ride, it was just sheer horror. The train started rolling. People would step on one another. People would scream. Children would cry, they needed water. The situation was extremely bad; it was from bad to worse.
HEIFETZ: What did you do? Did you scream and cry?
JAKOB: I didn’t scream, no. I was able to control myself, listening, trying to help some people as much as I could, old folks that needed to get up from the floor, I tried to help them up. Sometimes they would feel like they were suffocating, we would bring them to the door to get a little fresh air. And this went on and on, you know, trying to move around in a dark boxcar. How can I tell you how the situation looked in there? You can’t even picture it in your mind. People had to go to the bathroom. That was the worse part…people had to go to the bathroom. There was no toilet facilities. The place started to smell. After a half a day, it was imbearable. And we didn’t, we had only a little bucket or something for so many people. The train started to roll and the screams, the hollering went on, it got dark at night. It was even worse at night, no one could sleep.
HEIFETZ: What about your brother and your…?
JAKOB: They were with my, they were holding on to my mother, all three of them, my little cousin, my brother and my sister. They held…they stood with my mother so they don’t get lost in the crowd. Although it wasn’t a big area but still they – we tried to be together. I believe the train was rolling about 24 hours before we came to a place what they called Kassau. The trains came to a halt here and they opened up the doors and we had no idea what was happening. We thought we were happy that this is the destination where we, where we want to be or where we’re going to be. They opened up the door. That was a relief already by seeing a little daylight. No one was allowed to leave the train. We see the German Nazis marching around, walking around in their fancy, shining boots and also the Hungarians and we were pleading for water. Every time a soldier would go by, if we could get some water, please give us some water, we’re dying from thirst. Finally after several hours of pleading and screaming and hollering, one of the German police came with a bucket of water and he deposited the bucket of water right next to the boxcar and he was saying in Hungarian. He says, “Here Jews have some water. Never again will you drink water on Hungarian soil.” This was his goodbye to us.

Tape 3 - Side 1 (Heifetz)

They started closing the doors back on the, on the boxcars, chained it back again. We saw that the Hungarians are moving away from the train and the gray, the uniform which was the SS and black uniformed soldiers were taking over, which was all Germans. And we didn’t…they didn’t say anything to us. We couldn’t talk to them anymore. We couldn’t even plead with them because they didn’t speak Hungarian and we didn’t speak German. The train started rolling. One terrible incident, the following day, that took place and it was also at a, at a station. I don’t recall where it was. It could have been somewhere already in Poland or where it was I have no idea. But the train came to a stop and I remember that one of the buckets was full, that we had to expose, and we didn’t know how to get rid of it, so one of the men took this bucket and threw it out that little crack of the boxcar. And a German officer was just walking by there and somehow hit him and he was so upset. He started screaming and came to the…to the gate…to the door and said, “Who did that?” He wants to see the man who did that. And the man gets to the door and he shot him in the head immediately. So we had our first dead person that we knew of. Probably some others died already on the way. After a while…
HEIFETZ: What happened to the body?
JAKOB: The body was left in the wagon. We traveled with that body. After several days of traveling like we traveled, you become so numb; you become so bewildered; so…that you don’t care anymore what’s going to happen and things quieted down already. The third day finally the train came to a halt. We arrived to a place, we had no idea, but later on we found out the name was Birkenau, which was also called Auschwitz. And when the train arrived, they opened the doors and they started screaming in German… “Everybody out of the trains,” and “Schnell, Schnell, Schnell.” That means, “Fast, hurry up, everybody out of the trains.” A lot of people couldn’t get out fast enough. Here already they had prisoners that arrived earlier from other countries that they were already recruited of how to handle the new arrivals. So they were using whips. They were using rifle butts…hitting people, screaming, screaming at us just like if you were chasing cattle. We got out of the train and they were telling us to stay in line, four in a row and they will tell us what we have to do next. And again it was night. We had no idea of what was happening and some people who were separated before we got on this train, they tried to be reunited again, you know, they tried to find each other again. I remember that my mother, my brother and my sister, and my little cousin Judith were together. My, my little cousin was…my mother was holding her in her arm because she was the youngest and my sister and my brother would just walk next to her. And we heard somehow it was translated to us that men be separated and children and women would be separated also
HEIFETZ: Were you with your father at this point and your grandfather?
JAKOB: I was still with my father. And I also had, I should say this, that I had my brother, holding his hand because I was watching for him because my mother had my sister and my little cousin. So we tried to form a line and stay in line. And my grandfather was with us and my cousin Erwin, my father, me and my brother. And as we stay in line, one of the German officers sees that my brother, he was four years younger than I was, he grabs him from my hand and pulls him away real hard and he just throws him like this and he falls down, and he screams in German – which some people spoke, you know, they translated – that he’s supposed to go with his mother. But by this time my mother and my sister disappeared. I didn’t see them anymore. So here’s my brother in a big crowd…thousands of people…
HEIFETZ: How old is he at this point?
JAKOB: He was eight years old. See that picture there. (SHOWS PICTURE) I look at that picture and I remind myself of my brother. (LONG PAUSE) So I took his hand again and this Nazi left…and started to locate my mother. So I look in the crowd…I tried to holler, “Mom, mom, mom,” but everybody else was hollering mom. It took me about, at least, a half-hour. Finally I located her and when I saw her, I said, “Mom, mom, mom, here’s Henry, he’s supposed to go with you.” And (LONG PAUSE) (SPEAKS QUIETLY)…this becomes so difficult…that’s the last time I saw her. (VERY LONG PAUSE) I went back where my father was, my grandfather, and we stood in line. For hours we stood in line and we couldn’t help it but not too far, you could see the German officers standing there with their little stick, the shiny boots and separating people and telling the women and the children that they’re supposed to go to the left and they looked at you, if you were old enough or you were able bodied, that you were able to work – that you would go to the right. And my grandfather actually was put to the right with me and the rest of the men. And I was put to the right. I was big and strong, although I was only 13½ years old. So I was told with my father also to go to the right. And when the selection was over, we marched to this camp in Birkenau, always hoping that things will get better. Little did we know, at that time that once we were separated, that our mothers, brothers and sisters who were young, that they were heading to the gas chamber. We had no idea. Later on we found out what was happening. And we were put into these barracks in Birkenau. A lot of people were put into these barracks, like a couple of thousand in a barrack.
HEIFETZ: Excuse me. (TAPE STOPS FOR A SECOND) We just listened to a really difficult part of this and after I left last time I was thinking that one of the difficulties for you, you said, was not being able to say goodbye…anything to your mother and I wonder if you’ve ever thought what you wished you could have said?
JAKOB: Well, there would have been a lot of things to say, looking back at it hindside. Not knowing what was happening, of course, we didn’t even say goodbye. We thought that we will be reunited again, probably the next day and that was the furthest thing from my mind that I won’t be able to see her anymore. What I would have said to her, if I would have known that I wasn’t going to see her, it would have been a terrible goodbye. But at least I would have been able to hug her and kiss her and say at least goodbye to her, which of course it hurts today yet, that I wasn’t able to. What I did miss last week when we talked is that when this selection took place, this notorious Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, was among the Nazis who were selecting the people and I came face to face with Josef Mengele three different occasions.
HEIFETZ: How did you know that’s who it was?
JAKOB: At that time we didn’t know. But later on, at the second and third selections, we knew that he was Josef Mengele. And of course, now we know that he was there at all times. Of course the selection was over, we were put in the barracks, all the clothes were taken away from us, everything. Again threats were given to us. They said that anybody that has gold, a diamond hidden anywhere on their body, that if they will be caught, they will be shot on the spot. At this point, we were already so dehumanized that there was still people left that were able to hide some of their gold or diamond ring, hoping that since money couldn’t have been taken along anyway that some day this will come handy for them to buy some food or whatever. So there was still people who were giving up their wedding band or a ring, or some other valuables. And every…so and then they would take one or two persons and make an example out of them. They would beat them, sometimes unconsciously so we can see what will happen to those who will be caught hiding some of their valuables. Anyway, in Birkenau, we were in these barracks. The following day after we were given these striped clothes, wooden shoes, all our good clothes had to be given up, and we were given a blanket and a round dish and a spoon. This was our total belonging what we owned.
HEIFETZ: What did you think about when they told you you had to give all this up? What were your thoughts?
JAKOB: At this point we were so frightened. At this point we were unable to think clearly…our thoughts were only one thing; we had in mind from this point on, is how to survive because rumors went on already here from people that came from Poland who were already in the camp for two and three years in ghettos and concentration camps. So they knew a lot more than we did. And rumors would go that you’re going to end up in the oven anyway, no matter what you will do. And no one ever had a smile on their face. Everybody was just very serious. People were very irritated. You couldn’t talk to anybody. Even if you asked a question, either they didn’t answer you back and if they did answer you, they were very nervous, a very somber mood. Everybody was just in an angry mood.
HEIFETZ: So it didn’t help much to be with your father and grandfather?
JAKOB: My grandfather was put in a different barracks. From the first day on when we were put in the barracks, he was no longer in the barracks with us. My father, my cousin Erwin, who is still alive today and me, the three of us were put in the same barrack and the following day we were told that we have to stay in line. And always this ever-staying in line business was just mortifying because we had to stay in line sometimes for four and five hours and people would pass out in the line because they already didn’t give us no food. The water was bad. They didn’t give us even enough bad water.
HEIFETZ: And the weather?
JAKOB: The weather at that time wasn’t bad yet. This was in the summer of, let me see, of ’44. So the weather wasn’t bad at this particular time. At least we had that much going for us. Then order was given, we have to stay in line again and they were tattooing us. Everybody got a tattoo on their arm, which by the way, I still have. The “A” stands for Auschwitz and it’s 12577 and my father had 12576 and my cousin had 12578, so I was in the middle. I was the youngest, so they put me in the middle and…
HEIFETZ: What was the tattooing like?
JAKOB: The tattooing like? How it was? It was a frightening thing because we had no idea how it feels although it hurt when they did it. And they definitely wasn’t careful with any kind of infection or what may happen to you, so all they said is that they’re going to tattoo us and you cannot wipe it off for several hours. So when they tattooed, you could see the blood coming out on top and from this point on, we had no more names. Nobody called us by our name anymore. I had this number and they just went by this number and every time I was referred to, I was referred to as 12577.
HEIFETZ: What about people you knew and your family?
JAKOB: We called each other by our names but any other authorities who had anything to do with us, mainly the kapos, the kapos were the over-seers, they were the group leaders. They would always call you by your number. Whenever we were put to work and a group of people like 10, 15, 20, a group of people, they would call you always by the number from that point on. They wrote down the number every time that they have counted us, was always looked up by the number. They hollered out the number and you had to say you are present. And from then on, you were just a number and nothing else.
HEIFETZ: So you had absolutely no individuality, no…
JAKOB: No, absolutely none. You felt you were stripped as a human being. You’re no longer as a human being, functioning as a human being. You were like…you felt like you were an animal, the treatment that they gave you, the little food that they gave you, the beatings, the hollerings, the cursing constantly. From this point on, we had one thing in common, is to try to stay alive if it was possible.
HEIFETZ: Is there anything that you did, either in your own mind or with other people to try to combat the feeling of dehumanization?
JAKOB: We would talk to one another and reminisce about things back home, although today, I no longer want to call this home. To me, when I say “home,” don’t take me seriously because to me Hungary and Romania is not my home…never was truly. But we did reminisce about the good food we use to have. Our mother would be cooking some good food and when you’re hungry and you talk about food, it somehow satisfies the hunger.
HEIFETZ: Almost like having it.
JAKOB: I wouldn’t go that far, but it does help a little bit just to talk about it. Then they asked for volunteers. Volunteers were always looked for because they needed tool and dye makers. They needed machinists. They needed masons…bricklayers which, by the way, we volunteered, although we had no idea of how to lay bricks. But we did volunteer, my father, cousin Erwin and me. We volunteered that we were masons and there was only one guy among the whole group that knew actually how to be a mason and secretly he would teach us on the side and tell us if we have to take a test of how to do it. And that’s exactly what happened! They did take a test and a certain way of how to lay a brick and all you had to do is lay three or four bricks and they say that you were laying it the proper way, even if you were not perfect. But they figured, well, that you know something. So they accepted us as bricklayers. But little did we know at that time, what a hard work this was and how torturous we would have to work later on.
HEIFETZ: At what point did you volunteer? How long had you been there?
JAKOB: We volunteered actually the third day, after we were given our clothes, we were tattooed, we were put in certain groups. The group that we belonged to was called the B.B.D., which in German calls Bau Bedienen…what was the D for…Bau Bedienen…I don’t remember the D what it was for. But anyway, it was a group that was doing masonry type of work.
HEIFETZ: At what point were you told about your mother and your brother and sister?
JAKOB: At no time. We had no idea what happened at that particular time. We were hoping that they’re okay. We had no idea at that date that they died the second day…we had no idea. We know now because we heard from other sources that the people that arrived in Auschwitz, the young children and the mothers, that they were killed and the old folks. They did not want to waste any food. An efficient German genius went to work here of not to waste any food for those people that were not capable of performing any type of work for the Third Reich. So only after we were liberated that we actually knew that our loved ones have perished the second and the third day. Although as we were marching every day back and forth to work, we would meet certain groups of people, and men would always be with men, and women would always be separate groups of people. And we, we marched side by side. One group was coming the opposite way, we would prepare little slips and put our mother’s name or a brother’s name or a sister’s name, we would put on the slip that we are in this, and this camp, because Birkenau was a tremendous big camp. It was one of the largest camps that I have seen, as far as concentration camps. And we would tell them that we are in Camp C, or Camp G, or Camp A and please let us know when you can what camp are you. So slips would be passed along. Also we had to be very careful because the Nazi guards were always around us…always. And anybody that was caught passing a little slip to the next group either got a beating, or sometimes even got killed. So we would still try to do it and hoping that, you know, what’s happening to somebody that you loved, or your parents, or whoever it may be.
HEIFETZ: Whose idea was it to do this?
JAKOB: I cannot say whose idea it was. If it was started by one person, it was repeated by others. And it went on constantly, as long as we met other groups of prisoners that we have not seen in our camp. They were also building in Birkenau, pig stalls. I have no idea why they built pig stalls and so many of them. And it reminded us the biblical story when the Israelites were working in Egypt and they had to build mud houses and mud bricks with straw and clay, that here we had to do almost practically the same thing – making bricks out of mud and straw. Whether they did it deliberately because they knew what the Israelites went through in Egypt, because I could not see any kind of a value of what they have benefitted by this, to build all these pig stalls in Birkenau. I could never figure out and I still cannot figure out why these pig stall were built or whether, in fact, they were pig stalls.
HEIFETZ: They remained unused at that time?
JAKOB: We don’t know. At that time we built hundreds of them.
HEIFETZ: Can you describe them?
JAKOB: It was just old huts, small huts, you could barely fit inside. They told us that they were pig stalls. It was just a plain little hut and nothing else. And this went on for several months until again they were looking for volunteers. And at that particular time, we already were convinced that as long as we are able to work and willing to work and we are needed to do certain type of work, that we’ll be able to stay alive. Because we already were convinced that many people have perished, many people were killed. They were brutalizing so many people and people would be beaten to death already at work.
HEIFETZ: Were you aware of the ovens?
JAKOB: At that particular time, no, although we heard from other prisoners that you’re going to end up in the oven anyway. And they were not wrong when they said that, because that was their goal anyway to…to liquidate every single one of us. But we didn’t take them real seriously because we felt at that time still, that we’re going to make it. I particularly felt that I will have to make it and get out of there. I just could not imagine that I’m going to perish there. I always visualized that some day I’m going to be out of here and I’m going to talk about this what was happening here. Maybe I was too young, too naïve, to realize in what danger we were.
HEIFETZ: But you saw people dying around you.
JAKOB: I saw people dying almost daily. As the days went by, the people dying daily was more numerous. There wasn’t really a day that I have not seen people die, sometimes from beatings, sometimes from being shot and sometimes of outright execution…they were hanging people.
HEIFETZ: So death became a way of life.
JAKOB: Death became a way of life. They were terrorizing us. They would hang people for many different reasons. If you were hiding; if they claimed that you were hiding from performing any kind of work, they called it saboteur and that was punishable by death and you didn’t…they didn’t have no trials. They didn’t have any kind of an accusation. They just found the person that they thought was hiding from performing any kind of work…they would take that person or persons, sometimes as many as 20 and there would be a gallow set up just not far from the barracks and they would hang as many as 20 people at a time. And that was frightening. We were…we were so frightened that, you know, one word was said to us by these kapos or by these Nazis, we obeyed like God knows what, because we were afraid what may happen to us.
HEIFETZ: You know I’m thinking, at this time, you were still 13 and a 13 year old boy still thinks his father is Superman and capable of all kinds of tasks. But not in that circumstance, you saw your father as being as helpless as you.
JAKOB: That’s exactly and what took place and after…I shouldn’t go talk about “after” but after we were liberated, we both claimed that we saved each other’s lives and maybe we did…good for one another…

Tape 3 - Side 2 (Heifetz)

And I should not leave my cousin out. My cousin, Erwin, was constantly with us, at all times, we tried to stay together. Now at no time, even our friends, some of our friends, some of our real close friends, knew that we were father and son. But many of our friends that we have made acquaintance we didn’t even tell them we were father and son because had the Nazis found that we were father and son, uh, they would have separated us, or one of us would have gone in the gas chamber for sure. Because they didn’t want people together, because they were afraid that we may start something. Uh, they didn’t want any kind of a relationships develop in that…in that camp.
HEIFETZ: So the relationship between you at that time, what was that like?
JAKOB: It was a relationship, to me, my dad was like a good friend. Uh, he had his things to do and I had my things to do. Uh, he had his ration given to him. I had my ration. We tried to get a bed always right next to each other. Uh, if we went washing we tried to be together. We tried to be together most of the time.
HEIFETZ: What happened to all the parental things where a father tells his son what to do and how to do it?
JAKOB: Uh, that was completely non-existent at that particular time. There was…it was a kind of situation that every man was for himself. And not only because we…that I wanted to be disrespectful to my father, because I certainly didn’t want to be, uh, I respected my father to the end…till the minute he died. But it was a situation where the Nazis had created an atmosphere, that everyone had to be for himself. Uh, and as I’m going to speak later on, I will talk about it, of what has happened, uh, when I claimed that I have saved my dad’s life although I’m not looking for any, uh, credit, or I don’t want to be a hero about it, I…I saw a need that it had to be done. Of course my father said that he did things for me that saved my life. But it feels good to talk about it and while he was alive we reminisced about it and, uh…But going back to your question that a father and son relationship what we know in a normal way of life, did not exist in the camp. And it couldn’t have existed. It was impossible.
HEIFETZ: He didn’t tell you, come wash with me. It was not at his direction.
JAKOB: It…yes…he would go that far. He would go and wash up in ice cold water and he claimed that that was good because he felt better after a while. And I just could not wash up in ice cold water because the temperature was sometimes below zero. And he would wash up in that ice cold water and I don’t know how he could do it. I washed myself but not the way he was washing himself. It was practically impossible for me to do. But as long as we had water, we had to take advantage of it, see. Uh…
HEIFETZ: Did you…what about his attempts as he made in the schoolyard to continue davening and practice…
JAKOB: Uh, davening was a different situation here. We were not able to daven. If he davened, I may have not even been aware of it. I didn’t daven. Every once in a while I did. You forget about it. You are so preoccupied with your life of how you’re going to stay alive the following day, and they keep you busy constantly and you wake up early in the morning…about four or five o’clock in the morning, you have to get up already and you didn’t get back into your barrack sometimes till nine-10 o’clock so the davening was out at this particular time. Although we were aware of…of the Jewish holidays. As a matter of fact, we had a rabbi, Rabbi Lipschitz, I remembered him when he still had his beard when he arrived in Auschwitz. And the poor soul when they cut his beard off, uh, and he was put together with a group where my father was and this poor man, all his life, all he did is study and he was a teacher. He taught about the Talmud, and he was such a pious man, a good person, and they beat him to death. My father came back from work that one day and he was just totally devastated because he liked this man so much. And one of the kapos took a two by four and he just beat him to death…did not stop beating him until he died, because he was unable to perform hard labor as we were. We were…we came from a rough area and we had a rougher life than a person who was sitting and studying most of his life. And it made the difference of staying alive or not being able to stay alive.
HEIFETZ: So the people around you that you saw making it, were people who were used to hard, physical work and could handle it.
JAKOB: People who were used to hard, physical work, uh, from back home, they had a much better chance of staying alive. And my personal opinion is today, that the attitude that you had of wanting to stay alive and if you were the kind of person that you gave up, that you figured that you’re not going to make it anyway, that made almost all the difference. Because I remember many people that they have said, “We will not make it.” And those people did not make it. They have perished right in front of our eyes, whether it happened a week later or six months later because I don’t remember any of them staying alive. But those who…who, uh, decided that no matter what, they’re going to stay alive and they wanted to live so bad, and I must say that all three of us had this attitude. My dad, me and my cousin Erwin. We wanted to stay live so badly that we were ready to take any punishment and survive it. And that we did.
HEIFETZ: Do you think that not knowing what happened to your mother and all, helped you have some kind of hope that contributed to your staying alive?
JAKOB: That is a possibility. Uh, had I known that my mother and my brother and my sister and my little cousin, uh, were murdered, probably it would have been a different thing…had I known it. Uh, it may have devastated me so badly that, who knows, I may have perished also. So I’m sad to say that it may have helped by not knowing. (PAUSE) Uh, anyway I’m going to go on. And, uh, when we were transferred from Birkenau to the city of Auschwitz, where we were put to work as masons and here we actually got better, uh, living situation. We were in better living conditions than in Birkenau…the barracks were better, they were better insulated and things looked a little better that we were…we were given a little bit of hope that maybe things will get better here. Uh, we were put again in groups and we were sent out daily to the city of Auschwitz where the bombings took place almost daily. The Allies were coming in and bombing the city of Auschwitz. They were always very careful. Evidently they knew that this was a camp of displaced people from all over Europe and never at any time that we were aware of that a bomb fell in the camps. But the city of Auschwitz was bombed daily or practically daily and we had to go and clear the rubble…sometimes build up a house that belonged to one of the Nazis and we worked on this endlessly. It was very difficult work. I would have to carry sometimes, uh, all day, two buckets of mortar, sometimes up on the third and fourth floor…an extremely difficult thing to do. It was very heavy. It would cut my hands and it was so difficult as I was walking by myself, I would cry. I was afraid to say anything so I would just do the hard work and cry at the same time. Nobody saw you crying…nobody wanted to hear you cry and…
HEIFETZ: So even though there was people around, there was still a feeling of being terribly alone.
JAKOB: You are alone, yes, because you knew that nobody could help you. Uh,
you get to a point here where even good friends look out for themselves.
HEIFETZ: In what way?
JAKOB: They look out for themselves because you…the little food that you’ve got – the hard labor that you have to perform – your life depended on whether you’re going to help another person, or not. You could never, uh, share your ration with another person, no matter how hungry he was because your life depended on it whether you’re going to be able to stay alive. It was so little that it barely kept you alive.
HEIFETZ: Can you remember… are you remembering a specific situation where that happened?
JAKOB: I remember things like, there was people who were heavy smokers, for instance. Uh, they were so craving for a smoke…for a cigarette, that for a quarter cigarette, they would share half of their bread ration. And later on it cost them their lives because you didn’t get no nourishment from a quarter cigarette. But that piece of bread was so important at that particular time, that if you had it you were able to go on and if you didn’t have it, your body was already depleted from all nourishment that you needed to stay alive. And what I’m trying to say is that the smallest amount of food that you gave away, could have meant whether you’re going to stay alive or not.
HEIFETZ: So here’s a boy who is good and kind to others, under normal circumstances at home, put into a situation where you knew you couldn’t be generous; where you couldn’t share.
JAKOB: No, you couldn’t share and I remember only that at one particular time that I have, did share my ration with my father when he was very sick and I knew that if I wasn’t going to share my ration with him, that he would die. So the little ration that I would get at work…by the way, they did give you certain times when you said that you were sick, there was a…what they called a hospital…there was no bed, there was no doctors, there was nothing, but you could take off from work a day…sometimes as many as five days…if you were unable to work. Uh, why they did that, I don’t know. Whether they didn’t want to take a single person to the gas chambers so they rather took this person who was sick and let them stay at the barracks or this…what they called the hospital…where my father was and kept him there for several days until he, himself, felt that he was okay enough to go back to work. And he was anxious to go back to work because you just didn’t know when you came back from work if you’re going to find your friend or your father there; whether he’s going to be already in the gas chamber. At that time we already knew that there was a gas chamber. So…so in Auschwitz, where this took place where I shared my ration with my dad and my cousin Erwin knew about it and I told him that I’m going to have to share my ration with my dad because he doesn’t have anything to eat. Now they did not give you any food if you did not go to work; whether you were sick or not, he did not get any food. They did not waste any food so if he would have died it would have suited them fine, they wouldn’t have said “boo” about it…nothing. So I went and I got one ladle full of soup at noon time and I saved half of that soup…
HEIFETZ: In your cup?
JAKOB: In my cup. I saved it…I shlepped it back from work…when I came back to the barracks, I went straight over to my dad, although I couldn’t…he was upstairs on a second floor…I could not go upstairs…they wouldn’t let anybody upstairs so he lowered a little string and I tied a string on the little dish that I saved the soup for him and he pulled it up. I could see it happening today.
HEIFETZ: How did it not spill?
JAKOB: It was tied so that it didn’t spill, and I had a chance I took my time to…to tie it together so it didn’t spill. I was very careful that it didn’t spill. And he pulled it up and I shared half of my ration with him and this happened two days in a row, uh…
HEIFETZ: What did he say to you?
JAKOB: Uh, he didn’t say anything. What could he say? There was not much that you can say or talk about. I felt that I had to do it because, here he was, he was starving, uh, I would have felt much worse if I wouldn’t have done it. Although, again, many times it occurred in my mind, “How am I gonna work, how will I be able to keep my strength?” with the little food that was left which was practically nil. It was so little, uh, that it’s almost unbelievable how little the food was, that how we could survive on so little. And sharing that little with somebody, it was really a heroic thing which I’m not…I don’t want to be identified for that as a hero. I felt at that particular time that I had to do it. I don’t know if I would have been able to continue it, but I was glad that it did help and I survived and he survived. Uh, in Auschwitz at this particular time, I was still very religious. My dad was too. Deep inside our hearts we were still very devoted Jews.
HEIFETZ: What does that mean?
JAKOB: Well that means, I’m going to say it to you now is, very few people know about it. My cousin Erwin he knows about it and when we get together we reminisce about it because nobody that was together with us is alive today, including my dad, he died last year. There was a pair of tefillin smuggled in…into the camp, into Auschwitz…
HEIFETZ: A…a what?
JAKOB: A pair of tefillin.
HEIFETZ: Pair of tefillin…
JAKOB: Yes…was smuggled into the camp. Who smuggled it in or how it got in, I have no idea, but the word passed around to those people who were interested of davening, even under the noses of the Nazis, took their chances and put on the tefillin, even if it was for 10 or 15 seconds, just to say the blessing and take it off so another person could do it and another person could do it. And this was like three o’clock in the morning, because five o’clock we had to go…get up and an alarm sounded and everybody had to get up and there wasn’t any time to put on any tefillin then because in split seconds you had to get dressed and be outside to be counted again. But I remember in Auschwitz, that several mornings, that I put on that tefillin and said the blessing; my father did; my cousin Erwin did and many other people did. There was many people who didn’t care anymore, although they came from a religious background, but they didn’t care anymore and these were the people somehow didn’t make it. They gave up all hope. They gave up everything interest of being alive or being able to survive.
HEIFETZ: And for you being able to practice your religion was a way of being alive…your way of staying alive.
JAKOB: I still believed so strong in God. I said, “He’s going to help us out here…” And I cannot tell you the feeling that this was, the feeling was so strong that I’m going to make it. And I believed in God, I said, “God you’ve helped us before, you’re going to help us again.” This was in the mind that we talked about and the hope was there and, who knows, maybe it did help. I don’t know. Although today I’m no longer a religious person. I don’t consider myself a religious person. Uh, and I wasn’t that religious after the camp anymore – after I found out what has happened – because I had a big quarrel with God after. I said to Him, “How could you, you know, we behaved ourselves…we were good…we did everything what a Jew is supposed to do.” And I just could not get a satisfactory answer and I still can’t get it. I cannot get it today. And I was arguing with Orthodox Jews, that why this had to happen and usually I would lose my arguments because they said that I’m using that just for an excuse because I don’t want to be a religious person. But I want to be honest and sincere…I want to say it so, at least, others can hear it also…I believe there is a God, but I cannot be devoted anymore to God like I was before. I paid too high of a price and nobody can give me the answer why my mother who was 33 years old, a healthy human being, a kind person; my sister who was only 10 years old who didn’t do anything to anybody…anything wrong, who didn’t do anything bad. My brother who was six years old, no, I’m sorry, eight years old, uh, who was just a kind, decent human being. And my little cousin…why should they have to give up their lives…for what…just because they had committed one crime that they had to be born Jewish. And nobody can give me the answer for this.
HEIFETZ: Certainly if there is a God as you feel there is, it would be a God that you’d feel awfully angry at…
JAKOB: I no longer feel angry. There’s a saying that time heals everything. And it’s been 40 years now, uh, that we were in the camp…that we survived…and I no longer feel angry at God…I no longer feel angry at hardly anybody except I do feel angry at the Nazis, even those few that are still alive and who knows how many are still hiding. I do have this angry feeling in me and probably will stay with me as long as I live. I still feel that I should take revenge of what they have done to our people and to our loved ones. Uh, if you talk to psychologists and psychiatrists, they say that if you’re angry that you’re punishing yourself. I cannot help but be angry. And if I have to punish myself with this, then so be it! Because I can never, ever forgive these people for what they have done. It is something that you cannot forgive.
HEIFETZ: You know, I’m not familiar with what the psychiatrists are saying that you’re punishing yourself but a real justifiable rage that a person would feel even if he doesn’t feel that it would be there, and…
JAKOB: I’m saying that because I overheard on the television just a few weeks ago that one psychologist said that, uh, there was a case, I believe it was in New York, where a young girl was raped and murdered and the guy was convicted and the mother went over to the jail and forgave this guy because she wanted to be free of not hating. I cannot buy this kind of a reasoning. It’s…it doesn’t go into my mind into my psychic. So I strongly believe that an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life. I believe in that and I think that that’s the proper way of punishing these types of murderers who have no mercy on innocent, decent, human beings. They could just kill you in cold blood and they felt that they were actually performing a good deed by murdering a Jew.
HEIFETZ: Did you have conversation with the kapos or others in authority…with this doctor…
JAKOB: The doctor we were never able to talk to – this is the doctor who performed the experiments on twins and all kind of experiments, uh, on humans. He was hoping to advance a technique of how to raise a super race…a super Aryan race in Germany. We had no chance of talking to these people, absolutely, we were forbidden even to speak to any of the guards. The only ones we could speak to, and very little, is the prisoners themselves who were also in prison for murder, like the German prisoners. And my kapo was a murderer and he was a German. But even in the camp, as long as he was not a Jew, he had the right of being the kapo and overseer over us. So he didn’t have to do no work. He was the one that assigned people to work. He was the one that had the right to beat you to death if he wanted to, and without any punishment to him. In other words, your life was in his hands.
HEIFETZ: In the hands of a murderer.
JAKOB: Right. So to talk to this man…he never wanted to be our friend, he never wanted to get close to you, besides he was a kind of a person, he didn’t want to be your friend and you didn’t want to be his friend. So it kept on day after day, in Auschwitz…the winter was approaching, things were getting rougher and rougher and wintertime was very, very hard. Already in November was extremely cold and snow, uh, in Auschwitz which is in Poland and the covering that we had wasn’t enough, the wooden shoe sometimes, the top part would tear. You had to fix it and nail it whatever material you had to work with. And we kept working day after day, hearing the horrors of this guy was beaten to death…this guy was shot…people that we already knew, made friends in the camp, and sometimes we would come home and had to stay in what they called “appel”…means they were counting the people. And when we had to stay longer than an hour or two hours, we knew that something was wrong. So one evening some hanging took place and they hung about 30 people, and first we had to march through and see the gallows and then we had to march through after the people were hung to see the bodies themselves. And there were signs on every body that said that, “This will happen to you if you try to escape.” Evidently these people, these 30 people tried to escape and they were caught. And there was no trial. They just hung people without any trial, without any, uh, even suspicion, if they claimed that these persons tried to escape, it was decided they will be hung. Every moment, every hour, every day we were so close to death – you just didn’t know when your turn will be to die or for what reason. If it wasn’t from beatings or being shot, it would be from hard labor or from malnutrition, from lack of food, or lack of water. And as the winter was…

Tape 4 - Side 1 (Heifetz)

HEIFETZ: I wondered, you said you were the youngest child really in your barrack because they did not know you were just 13, you lied about your age.
JAKOB: That’s correct.
HEIFETZ: Did you make friends or was there no such thing under those circumstances?
JAKOB: I made friends with some people, especially, a few years older than me. Uh, I was 13½ and there were boys who were about 16, 17, 18 year old and we did have some friendship. Of course there was no time that we could spend together, uh, hardly any time whatsoever. When you did have a little time that you could spare, it wasn’t spent to talk to friends; it was spent to sleep and to rest, so you had enough strength the next day to go to work. Now as far as in Auschwitz, where we left off, let’s see, we left off with my dad being in the hospital and finally he was discharged from the hospital. And this went on in Auschwitz, almost till about January of the following year of 1945…we’re getting into. And we went to work day after day, not knowing whether they’re going to move us here but we heard rumors that the Russians were coming closer and closer. And at one day, word came out that certain people will be moved to another camp, didn’t say anything specifically where or how or when but, one morning, we didn’t have to go to work and they started calling out numbers…numbers that we have on our arm. And it was an interesting thing here, uh, that again I have to take a credit for. I’m talking now between my father, me, and my cousin Erwin. My father’s number was called, my cousin Erwin’s number and my number was not called. And this would have been the first time that we would have been separated from one another, had we not done what I’m going to talk about. When all the numbers were called approximately, I would say about 60 or 70 thousand people and this went on all day long. We were very distressed, not only distressed, but very scared, that here we were together for so long, and now we will be separated. And no one…we were afraid to say to anybody that we were…that it was my father, that I was his son, my cousin, we didn’t say except to a very few close friends that we could trust. After all the numbers were called, I said to my cousin Erwin, “Look, we have nothing to lose, let’s stay in line, make believe that our number was called also.” (LAUGHTER) And we grabbed our blanket, our little utensil, whatever we owned, and we stood in line for a whole day we stood in line. And finally they…they…we were there and our numbers were not called because they checked the numbers and we were the last two youngsters in that group that they have, uh, decided to move. And when we arrived to the SS Commandant there from the camp and at first they bawled us out, you know, “Didn’t you hear your number?” We said, “No we didn’t hear our number but we were told that we’re supposed to be in this transport.” To make a long story short, they decided to enter our number with a pen on the list. And we were so happy that we could be again together. And my dad was gone already, he was gone for over a half a day…that they marched him away because there was so many people that they have moved. And he had no idea till the next day till we started already to march that we were within his group. We said goodbye to him and he had no idea that we will be reunited again. But little did we know that this was a horrible march. And it was such a terrible march. It was a march three days and three nights with no food, no water, and it was in early part of January. It was so bitter cold; it was so miserable. We would walk all day and all night. And on the second night, my cousin Erwin was unable to walk. And anybody that could not walk and fell down, they shot them in the head and they took…there was several trucks that was following the transport, and they put the body on the trucks and later on into the crematoria. When this took place that my cousin Erwin could not walk we knew what the consequences were. No one had to tell us anything. There was one young fellow. He was about two years older than I am…he was also from Satmar from nearby where we came from. And I started talking to him, I said, “Listen you gotta do me a favor,” I says, “And do my cousin a favor, he’s unable to walk,” I said, “We will…we will have to help him.” He finally agreed and this was a very difficult decision for anybody to agree to because by helping someone, you…you had a very good chance by you not making it because you use up your own strength. I cannot explain you that friendship stops right here. You see, no matter how much you like somebody, but right away you think about, “What if I’m going to help this guy, I hardly have enough strength myself…how can I help someone else? And then maybe I’m helping him, maybe we both die.” So anyway, he agreed and the only way we could do this is that he put one arm on my shoulder and he put his other arm on his shoulder. And walked for hours upon hours that night till it was about five o’clock in the morning. And we were exhausted, uh, my friend was exhausted and we thought this is the end for him because he was still unable to walk. And he, somehow, he was walking like a zombie in his sleep but it gave him enough rest that around five o’clock that morning that it was getting bright already, all of a sudden he…he started to move again on his own strength. And what a relief that was. Not only it was a relief for us that we didn’t have to shlep him but it was a relief that we saw that he don’t have to die. Uh, a few times he mentioned already that I saved his life, although I’m not looking for credit here, you even feel bad when he says that because you felt if the same thing would have happened to me, that he would have done the same thing for me. But we were very close. We were not only cousins, we were actually double-cousins. His mother and my mother were sisters. His father and my father were brothers. So we felt like being brothers. And we marched after three days and three nights, we arrived to a camp was called Althammer. And we were, first we were happy that we arrived to a destination. And we were hungry, and starved, and frozen. And here were people, they were eating up themselves…they were hungry, they were fighting, there was no place to lay down. They just shoved in people by the thousands into a barrack, just to be inside and under a roof. But the situation was so terrible, so miserable that I had…I had…I was able to keep my belt that I brought from Romania yet…that’s the only thing they left us. Here in this camp even that was stolen. And if you didn’t hold it in your hand whatever little bit that you owned yet or whatever you had, the other prisoners stole it from you. Especially there was prisoners from Poland, from Russia, they had a baked-in hatred towards the Jew, although we didn’t have nothing to do with them, many, many times, but the minute they found out you were a Jew, there was instance fights broke out; because the hate was so great. Even though their life was still in danger just as bad as ours. But what hatred can do is almost unbelievable. And I cannot say anything nice about these people because they were so miserable towards us. There was constant fight and constantly the most miserable language that you can imagine and they would use against us, and…
HEIFETZ: It’s interesting there wasn’t enough time for friendship but there was enough time for anomosity…
JAKOB: Yes, yes. Well see they kept with their own group. We tried to keep with our own group but certain times, you had to mix, especially like this camp when we arrived, we were strangers, we didn’t know who are here in this camp or what was going on. And we were here approximately two days in this camp, exhausted and hungry and weak already from the march and many, many people have died on this march…
HEIFETZ: Were you looking for your father during all this…
JAKOB: My father I found the second day. We didn’t see him the first day because he was already so far in the march. But we marched, you know, with the same transport marching and we were, I don’t know, a few kilometers away from him. But the following day, in the march, we found out that he you know, that he found out we were in the same group.
HEIFETZ: How did he react when he found out?
JAKOB: Oh he was happy. He was…we were all happy, we were so jubilant and we were just happy and I must say to you that that alone may have helped our survival by being together. See, you nourish yourself with a thought that you’re not alone. Although you have the feeling that the world has forgotten you, nobody cares, nobody wants to know anything about you what’s going on and that’s the feeling we had at all times.
HEIFETZ: You know the one person that you’ve not referred back to was your grandfather. What…
JAKOB: Okay, my grandfather, we were told, now this is from people that knew him and this was after the war already…after liberation, that first he was put into a group of working people and then later on, someone saw him that he was selected by…in Auschwitz by this group of Nazis whose leader was, by the way, that Josef Mengele who was that notorious doctor, that he was selected and he was put in a gas chamber. This is, was what we heard from others but that’s the only thing we heard. And that’s the only thing I can say about him. We never heard anything else about him. And, uh, (Shall I go ahead?)
HEIFETZ: Sure.
JAKOB: Uh, okay. The word came out that we will be sent further…deeper inside Germany and we had volunteered at that point to be tool and die makers, although we had no idea whatsoever what tool and die making is all about. But again, any time they have looked for volunteers for any kind of work, we always volunteered. We were always among the first ones to volunteer because we felt as long as they can use us and we are able to work, they will not kill us. And this was a good idea at all times because it was a natural thing; as long as they needed you, they kept you. But we had no idea of what the next step will be and how the next day will end up. So from this camp we marched again to a railroad station again, it was, I don’t remember about 40 or 50 kilometers to go from this camp to a railroad station where they put us all on a train. And we must have been again about 50 or 60 thousand people on this transport and we arrived to a camp that was called Dora. Dora was the name of the camp itself and it was near Nordhausen. This was in Germany, the eastern part of Germany. This is where the Germans were building the V1 and V2 rockets. Here we were put in groups of…certain people were put in day shift, night shift, but it was a 24-hour day shift factory. We were put to work and they showed us what type of work we had to do. I, for instance, had to cut up little steel sections of, maybe less than a quarter inch in diameter, and maybe about two inches long and I had to drill holes on both ends. What they used it for, evidently they used it for their rockets and I had to produce between 450 to 500 of these nervewracking things in 12 hours and they counted it. And if you didn’t produce the amount that was required, you got a beating. The situation was horrible in this camp. I should have mentioned, but when we arrived to this camp, on this transport there was thousands of people dead on the train. We had to take the dead bodies ourselves and carry it up on the hill where…near the crematorium and we had piled-up bodies. I have seen this on one picture in one of the magazines (I don’t remember what magazine it was) but it was the picture that I actually saw with my own eyes, that we piled up dead bodies as high as a tree. They just brought them up from the railroad tracks and just dumped them on top of each other. There was nothing but dead bodies. And there was only one crematorium they could only burn a certain amount of bodies, but because it was so bitter cold and it was winter, the bodies didn’t stink…didn’t smell.
HEIFETZ: You had to pile them up by yourself?
JAKOB: We had to pile them…Each person had to pick up a dead body, put it on your shoulder and climb this hill and it was very, very difficult and hard and exhausting. And you must remember always that there was no food given. They just gave us barely enough food to keep us alive. Nobody cared if we had enough vitamin C or vitamin D or vitamin A. We didn’t get no butter, we didn’t get anything that could really take care of your body…that the body needs every day.
HEIFETZ: It must have been even for a 13 year old, that the body (CANNOT HEAR) that you had to carry weren’t human, they were just dead bodies?
JAKOB: That’s exactly what it was. And after we carried the bodies up to this horrible place and farther up and I remember I had to look up high on those piles of dead bodies, then they put us to work to pick up certain sections of these rockets and had to pick it up manually. They would take like 40 or 50 people and lift it up and here it was so heavy that I actually cried like a baby. It was just a back-breaking situation and the SS would stay right behind you with their rifle butt and if they saw that you didn’t lift hard enough or you gave in a little bit, that the others had to carry a heavier load than you, they would take their rifle and break it almost on your back. They didn’t care if they broke your back, they hit you so hard.
HEIFETZ: Did that happen to you?
JAKOB: Oh, I was hit many times with a rifle, sure. Not only hit, but sometimes they would come with a rifle and they just jerk it into your side or to your back, you know, to…to lift higher. And it was so painful, not the beating, you would rather take the beating than the lifting. The lifting was so horrible that it was just impossible for 40-50 people to carry this terrible piece of…giant section of rockets. It should have been done with a crane or with some other machinery. But they used manpower because it was cheap, it didn’t cost them anything. And I remember how I cried because I actually ruptured myself in this. I could feel that I developed hernia in this particular instance. And this went on for several days that we had to move these sections. Finally the whole thing was cleared and everybody was assigned to these tunnels. There was miles and miles of tunnels in a forest where this camp was, Nordhausen. And I remember I was working in one tunnel, my cousin Erwin was working right next to a tunnel. My father was working about five or six tunnels away. And first of all you were not able to wander from one place to another. You could visit, like at midnight, 12 or one o’clock in the morning when we were on the night shift, we were able to visit for 20 minutes. They gave us, they called it “pausa.” It means that uh, that you stopped working for 20 minutes and you could eat if you had something to eat, but there was nothing to eat so we were just, uh, sitting around. And I remember my cousin Erwin and me, we would sit down for that 15 or 20 minutes that we had and we would just reminisce, nothing else but about food. How my mother used to cook and what she used to make and how his mother was making delicious meals. And this whole 15-20 minutes and this went on day after day. Your mind was always on food. And then we would say, if the day will come that we could just have, just enough potatoes, that we would be satisfied…not bread, just potatoes. And we had no other yearning for, you know, we didn’t want to be a chazer and say, here we would like to eat this we would like to eat that, just enough potatoes so your tummy would be full that you wouldn’t have this constant, hunger pain. So sometimes I think back, when the kids were growing up, my boys, and I would tell them you know, “We don’t want to throw away no food.” You know how easy it is in the United States, we have all the best food in the world, and it would break my heart when sometimes a piece of bread would get dry and my wife would throw it away, you know, nobody would want to eat it. And I would tell the kids, so the kids… “Yes, yes I know.” (LAUGHTER) You know, they don’t want to hear this, you know they don’t want to hear it. But it hurts because you know what can happen and what happened and how happy I would have been for that piece of dry bread at that particular time. Anyway we worked in Nordhausen all the way till about March. Again, the Russians were pushing…coming closer and closer to Germany. By this time, we had no idea that the Nazis were losing the war or how bad shape it was.
HEIFETZ: There was no difference in the way the guards were reacting?
JAKOB: Nothing, nothing. They didn’t, they were not nicer to us, they wasn’t uglier to us, they were always bad. And at no time, did we have any kind of indication that liberation day is near…at no time…not in this camp except the last day when we went to work, we had some kind of, uh, a intuition that something is happening. And the reason for that is we saw the officers carrying papers back and forth and somehow it looked like they didn’t care what was happening to the papers, they’re trying to destroy papers. And that…we were suspicious that something is happening. And I should mention this also that while we were working in Nordhausen, they, if somebody, somehow, uh, was hiding and didn’t perform his work, they called it saboteur, that anybody that didn’t perform his duties, he was a saboteur. And they would get these guys together and they would hang them in the tunnel…they would…they were hanging people. And one evening, I remember, they were hanging 27 people because they were hiding out for an hour, they didn’t perform any work. And again we had to march through and watch always the hangings. You couldn’t see the minute that they were hung but you had to march through and they were hanging with a sign on their body that this will happen to you if you don’t perform work. In other words, they were trying to get every little strength out of your body for the least amount of monetary cost of the Third Reich. That’s the way I look at it and view it today because we performed an enormous amount of work for the Germans, and for such a low cost. What did they pay us? They didn’t pay us anything. They didn’t feed us. It didn’t cost them hardly anything, all this work. So the word came out that we will be moved. Now this was in very early March and evidently the Russians were coming very close and they tried to liquidate this camp. Uh, they had a lot of secret…rockets were here that they thought would be very valuable, either to them…if they still hoped, as far as we knew, that they’re going to win this war to the bitter end. Because they never, they never surrendered, they never gave up to the bitter end, hoping I guess, Hitler hoped that he will be the one that will develop the atomic bomb and not the Russians, or the British, or the United States. And if he would have developed the bomb, he would have been the winner…let’s not kid ourselves. We were told that we will be moved and again we will be put on a transport, but we didn’t know where we’re going. At a later point we found out that they were going to move us, by train, and they were going to put us on a ship near Hamburg, Germany and take us out to the sea and they were going to blow the ship up and sink us in the ocean. Because they didn’t want anybody to stay alive if we were no use for them. Whether you want to call it luck or you want to call it…whatever you want to call it, uh, after we were on these trains and traveling day after day, I think we were about five days on this train, thousands of people have died, that the bodies didn’t have no more strength, people were dying much faster rate towards the end than at the beginning. We were so many people packed into these trains that we were actually relieved when a few people died so you had more space. Because we were packed like the herrings. There was no place to sit down and the boxcars were open on top. It would snow, day and night, and we were covered with snow; we were wet. What can I tell you, it was the most miserable condition that anybody can be.
HEIFETZ: What happened when someone died that – it gave you more room?
JAKOB: We sat on the bodies, we just sat on the bodies and as cruel as it may sound, it was a relief, you could sit down. Because before, there was no room to sit down. And you were afraid to sit down. Even if you were unable to stand, because the rest of the people trampled you to death. They would just walk on you. There wasn’t no room, barely enough room to stand. Uh, while this train was traveling and as the open cars…and it was freezing and it was bitter cold, the thirst was worse at this point than the hunger. This time it came to a point where we no longer felt the hunger pain so much, our bodies…our stomachs shrunk so much, those that survived, that we did not feel the hunger pain as bad, as before. But the thirst was so bad that we felt we’re going to die from thirst. So every once in a while the train came to a stop and they had these locomotives with, you know, that they were using steam locomotives, and they needed water. So they would stop at a certain station and they would fill up the locomotives with water. And when we saw that water and as thirsty as you were, you thought, you know, that you’ve got to have a drink. There was some people who jumped off the train just to get a drink and bring back a little bit of water to the rest of their friends whom they favored that they should have a drink. And you could hear shots as people jumped off the train, they were shot at, left and right, you know, the SS were from one end of the train and there were guards on the other end, in the middle, there was always guards. And I was so deathly thirsty that I told my Dad, I said…

Tape 4 - Side 2 (Heifetz)

…maybe I shouldn’t do it because I’m going to get killed but I didn’t ask questions, I jumped off this train. I knew the danger that was involved, I may never come back again and I ran over, it wasn’t too far where this water was pouring into this locomotive. And you could see every once in a while a guy jumping off the train and you see this one guy gets away with it so you feel that you are able to get away with it. So I jump off the train and I start running and I’m running zig-zag in case they shoot after me. And, but one thing you have to be very careful is come back to the same car, you know, because they were all almost alike. So I told my cousin Erwin and my Dad, you know, to be there so that I’ll be able to see them. So as I ran, another guy jumped off from the next car. So I fill up this little dish that I had, that I took with me and I was drinking with my other hand, I was taking some water in my mouth, as much as I could within seconds…this happened in seconds. And shots are being heard. Of course the Nazis had to be careful of how they were shooting because there was SS on the other end so they didn’t want to shoot each other so they were careful how the shots were being fired and I would run back next to the boxcar and then move away so they don’t hit me. Finally I come back with a little water in my dish and I recognize my dad and my cousin Erwin there in the train and I tried to give them this little water before I jump up in the train. In the meantime another guy is running and a German guy, he is running after this guy and here I’m trying to give this little water…I can’t even tell you the whole situation what a confusion this was…to stay alive and being able to give this little water to my dad and my cousin. What the end result was, that when I reached up with this water, there was hundreds of hands grabbing the water. Finally every drop of water was lost and they couldn’t get one drop of water. And here I’m trying to save my life, I’m trying to get back on the train and this guy is running next car and the SS is running after him and finally he catches up with him, shoots him in the head. And I’m half-way up already on the train and luckily I got back onto the train. What a terrible thing that was, but what a human being is willing to do when you have the thirst and hunger. You take chances, you do anything to try to stay alive, whether it could have killed me, but I felt it was worth the risk. So the only way we could moisten our mouth after that is we picked a little cup and tied a little rag on it and as the train was moving, we scraped up a little snow, let the snow melt and we drank the little water, whatever was left in there. We were on this train, I would say, five days and no food and no water. They didn’t care anymore because, we didn’t know at that time, but we know later on, that they no longer will use us for work because the war was coming to an end. But they also, for some reason, and for unexplained reason, they didn’t want to keep us alive. But at the same time, they were busy to save their own necks. And this is, I’m talking about now, in March. Finally it was decided, we didn’t know, but later on we found out, it was decided to send us to a camp, Bergen-Belsen. And we arrived at a station, a very small station, and thousands of people died on this transport. There was a lot of dead bodies again on the train. Again the three of us managed to arrive intact…we were still alive; dazed, hungry, weak, but we were still breathing, we were still able to walk. We arrived in Bergen-Belsen. Again, there was only one crematorium. They had to burn all these bodies and it took weeks and months to burn all these bodies. And it was impossible now to burn all the bodies because there was not enough time. So when we put in the camp in Bergen-Belsen, here again, you know, you always have hope…well they’re going to feed you now. They’re going to give you something. You arrived in a new place. They can’t just let you die, you know, from hunger and they’re not going to feed you anything whatsoever…days have gone by, days, and I would say to you as much as ten days we went without food.
HEIFETZ: You wouldn’t think it was possible.
JAKOB: You would think it’s not possible and believe me, it’s not possible, that’s why so many of them died. So you think, you know, where is it possible to have something to eat. So my cousin Erwin, all of a sudden he was walking around in this camp…here they didn’t, nobody told us that we’re going to work in Bergen-Belsen. So you walk around and you try to figure out maybe there is something you can steal to stay alive, or maybe somehow or somewhere somebody’s going to have mercy on you that you’re going to have a bite to eat. So my cousin Erwin discovered that one of the basement were near where the Nazis were cooking their own meals, there was some potatoes, raw potatoes. So he went down, I wasn’t aware of this, he went down and stole about a half a dozen potatoes. And it was discovered when he came out of the basement that he had several potatoes on him and one of the SS confronted him with a rifle and the bayonet and stabbed him on his arm, he’s still got a scar on his arm. He took away all his potatoes. I think he’s had one left that he didn’t catch. He had it in his shirt and it was hidden somewhere on the side or in the back, that the Nazi didn’t take away from him. But at least he had one potato left. And this is where the story, why we had discussed last time, uh, originated and I don’t know if I should talk about it or should I say again what we talked about?
HEIFETZ: Yes.
JAKOB: Uh, every day we walked around in a daze hoping that somebody’s going to give us some food, somebody is going to announce that we’re going to get a piece of bread…nothing was happening, nothing. And people were dying day after day, not by the hundreds but by the thousands here already. And we thought that this is it. We’re just going to die, every single one of us. My dad was already in such a bad shape that he was unable to walk. He could not walk on his legs. He would just lay down in the barrack, and at this point he said to me, he says, “We will not make it,’ he tells me… “We will not make it.” And we were actually just days away from liberation and again, we had no idea. By the way, I must say, that I’m skipping an awful lot, I didn’t go into a lot of details because we don’t want to drag it out that long. Uh, so I was in distress, I didn’t know what to do, what to say. I kept telling my dad, I said, “Hold, you’ll see we will make it.” And I pleaded with him, I said, “Don’t give up, you were brave all this time,” I says, “And you cannot leave me,” I says, “You just have to stay alive.” And every time, again, I still had to walk outside and hoping, you know, you’re going to find something because every once in a while you’d see somebody running with something. They stole, even from another prisoner what they found or they have found something, you know, that was unexplainable and they were running, you know, and trying to stay alive, even if it was just one bite of something. So I would check on my dad every hour, every two hours I would check because he was…he was almost unable to talk. And I remember that one or two days after he was unable to move around, that all of a sudden that I found myself that I’m unable to walk. So what I did is, I had to crawl on my hands and knees. I just crawled out of the barrack and still I had to go outside, you know, and get a little fresh air and hoping again, you know, you’re still hoping. And as I’m crawling on the ground, I discovered something in the ground sticking out. And I had no idea first what it was but what else was there to do. So you’re looking around in a daze and I finally see, I go closer and it looked like a hoof of a horse. Now when I saw this, right away you know, you start thinking, you know, is this edible; what can you do, what is the possibilities. So I went and tried to find something to dig this bone up, or whatever it was left there, and I found one of these can tops that the Nazis were cutting off from the ration of what they were getting, these can goods. I found a piece of this metal thing and I start digging and digging and digging. No one paid any attention, you know, what I was doing and besides when somebody came closer, I would cover it back with loose dirt so they don’t see it, because I was afraid they’re going to attack me and take it away from me. So I started working on it, I worked for hours, I worked a whole day. Finally I was able to dig out enough, ’til I was able to get to the second joint and I realized this was a horse leg. And then to cut it off, I worked for hours and hours and hours to try to cut this piece of…rotted piece of bone off. And when I did that, I took this bone and I hid it under my shirt and I went back, the first thing I went to talk to my dad. I said, “Dad,” I said, “I’ve got something.” He says, “What’ve you got?” And he doesn’t have enough strength to talk but when I told him what I had, somehow he had enough courage to get up, because I told him I need his help, I says, we’re going to cook a soup. And something clicked in his mind, you know, it makes sense. And when he heard, you know, what I had and I needed help and my cousin Erwin was also, you know, involved in this because with the three of us we were able to guard it better. Because here you always have to be afraid you were going to be attacked by other prisoners that they’re going to steal it from you. And if you were out-numbered, there was no way to hold onto it. So we decided we’re going to hide it and we’re going to start cooking, make a little fire and we started cooking. We didn’t have a match but there was some people who were smoking, you know, for them one puff of smoke was just as important as to some people of the food. They were so addicted to cigarettes and at that time nobody thought about tobacco or cigarettes being cancerous, little did they know how dangerous it was for them to smoke and the kind of junk that they smoked. But anyway, some people had a match and we borrowed a match. We were able to make a little water in a little dish and we put this bone in and we started cooking. We actually saw the water boiling and I went in back of the barrack I could see myself doing it, even now. And this was end of March, beginning of April. We saw the weed was coming up in back of the barracks so it was maybe an inch, two inches long so I would rip off the weed and brought it and put it in the soup with this bone. And I told my dad he should watch it and he should cook, you know, let it cook as long as it has to cook. So when he saw the little fat on top of the soup and that green weed, you know, on top of it. It somehow, it gave you new hope that you’re going to be able to stay alive; that you’re going to be able to drink something warm a little soup. There was no meat left on the bone but that weed and that bone somehow cooked and we drank it. And it gave us a little strength, just enough that we were still able to move around. And what can I tell you, as you moved around in the camp, there were dead bodies laying everywhere on the ground, you couldn’t walk 20 feet of not finding a dead body. There was so many dead bodies that they were unable to gather in Bergen-Belsen. It was impossible, you know, they had prisoners, you know, they would come in and clear a certain area of dead bodies one day…if you went back the same area the next day, it was full with dead bodies again. People just layed down and died. That was it, you know, you don’t get food for 10 days. What’re going to do, you’re going to die, especially in the shape that we were already. So we cooked the bone day after day. I think we must have cooked it for about six days, the same way I described it to you. And it was discovered by some of our friends what we were doing. But friends, you know, they weren’t like the rest of the prisoners…animals you know that they would steal it from us, they would come and say, and my father was guarding this bone like a dog would guard a piece of bone, you know, and, “Don’t you touch this bone.” And they would come and say, “Mr. Jakob could we borrow the bone from you so we can cook a little soup also.” And my father would lend them the bone. And there would be one contingency had to be attached, that they had to return it. And it was agreed – they cooked themselves – that bone must have been cooked, I would say at least, 15-20 times.
HEIFETZ: It gave a lot of people hope.
JAKOB: Hope, that’s all it was, is hope. And maybe a little warm water, or whatever, maybe, maybe the inside of your stomach needed that little water. It was a miracle also that that bone could have been so contaminated and rotted that it could have killed us, too. Anyway, the end was coming near and it was April 14th, the 14th of April 1945. All of a sudden we see on the outside where the fence was, a whole bunch of tanks and trucks lined up on the side of the camp and it did not look like German tanks. And at that time, we still had no idea how close we were to liberation. Had we have known and we would have been able to spread the news to the rest of the people, many of them could have been saved or by hope, they could have stayed alive. But we were very suspicious that something is happening because of these non-German looking type of vehicles.
HEIFETZ: Were you also suspicious of the lack…of the lessening of control it sounds like, for instance, in earlier times in Auschwitz you would never have been able to have been free to take that bone and cook it. It seems there’s a little less attention paid to the prisoners.
JAKOB: Yes, well what we were surprised here is, not a surprise, because you don’t…when you’re so down that you feel that you’re going to die any minute, you are unable to think normally. You cannot think…
HEIFETZ: You don’t put things together…
JAKOB: No, you don’t think. But we did…had that much capability of thinking that something is happening. First of all, there was Hungarian soldiers in this camp that were fighting along side with the Nazis and the Nazis were giving the Hungarians the power to guard the camp, mixed also with Germans. And that same day when we discovered these tanks were outside the camp, we noticed a lot of the German soldiers packing and leaving. Then we knew something serious is happening because usually when they were packing and trying to leave, we were supposed to go with them. See they were our guards. And here no orders were given to us, so we were very suspicious and I kept talking to my dad. I was more worried that my dad is not going to make it than I’m going to make it because here is already the end, you know, you see already and you watch, you know, every minute, you have a suspicion that something serious is happening. Anyway, that day the 14th was the turning point. The following day, the following morning we went to sleep hoping that we’re going to be able to get up that next morning. All of a sudden we see that some of these vehicles are starting to move and one of the tanks, uh, they had loudspeakers all around the tanks and moved towards the fence, towards the gate and just knocked the gate down – didn’t try to open it or anything, just drove over it and came inside the camp and got in where an open place was and started speaking in all languages, any language that you can imagine, they spoke. And at that time we discovered that this wasn’t Americans and it wasn’t Russians, they were English…the British. And they started to announce in Yiddish also that we are being liberated by the Sixth British Army and as of today, the Germans have nothing to say in this camp, no longer. And they also told us that we should be patient, that we will get food to eat as humanly possible and they will try to do everything possible to make us comfortable.
HEIFETZ: Did you believe it?
JAKOB: Yes we believed it. Even if it wasn’t true, by somebody saying this…who said it to us for the past year? Nobody would say such a word. But by saying it, you know, you heard it from somebody saying it, it was already hope.
HEIFETZ: How did you react? What did you do when you heard?
JAKOB: Well that’s a very good question and believe me, we did not dance from happiness. We didn’t have the strength. We were, first of all we were in disbelief that it’s happening. Second, we just walked around in a daze. How you going to be happy and dance when you don’t have enough strength to walk. And as sad as it is, we should have been, you know, jubilant and be happy and dance and sing. There was no such a thing. Finally they kept their word, the minute they came in, they tried to do the best they could under the circumstances. The very first thing that they gave us was a loaf of bread. Everybody got a loaf of bread and little did they know, that no matter what they gave us to eat, it was dangerous. The reason it was dangerous because our body was not used to food. Every person that was found in this camp should have been taken to a hospital with tender loving care and somehow, you know, try to keep them alive. And how sad it was that people ate the bread and many just died from the bread because they were unable to digest it, a lot of people, a lot of diarrhea, the cholera broke out anyway already and people died from cholera by the thousands. And it is true that my dad was pleading with me that I shouldn’t eat the whole bread at one time but how you going to prevent it when you’re so hungry, you know, so he almost literally took it out of my hand. He says, “Just save it, maybe you’re not going to get nothing tomorrow.” So we had a little fight but I listened to him anyway. And this is what we got, at least, you had that little bread and if you didn’t die from it or you didn’t get violently sick, you were in good shape. You know, you had a little strength that you were able to walk. But every time I think back that what a shame it was that here some people made it already, you know, they lived through the horror and they had to die from food. That hurts me today yet because so many people that I knew that could have lived and they died in the bitter end after the British came in. Anyway, the British put us in certain groups. They started cleaning up things the best they could. We were promised food the next day and that’s all we wanted to hear…is food. And the very next thing they did is they used this DDT powder on us. Everybody had to stay in line and they had a machine that just blew this DDT powder all over your body, on your clothes and everywhere. Little did we know at that time how dangerous it was and how bad it was. But it was such a relief; it killed all the lice because we were being eaten up by lice. When did we take a shower? When were we able to take a bath? We were actually rotting away…rotting live human beings and by killing the lice that we had, that we were so terribly infested with, it was a relief by itself that you didn’t have to itch so bad. And the following day they gave us again food to eat and here was another mistake made. And I’m not blaming the British, they did it because this is the best they could do and the war was still on, they still had to fight a war, uh, fight the Germans to the bitter end. So they gave us this ration that they captured from the Wehrmacht, from the German army and everybody got one of these cans of stew, it was, with potatoes and meat and all kind of junk in there. Anyway we started eating this food. Again people got sick whatever was left was in…I got sick, my dad was sick, we didn’t finish the whole thing, you know, we ate a little bit but still even from that little bit you got sick because the stomach was not use to this kind of food. Anyway we were able to survive it. When I think back about the dead bodies after the people have eaten the food, it was just a horrible sight. Julie, there was so many dead bodies that it was impossible to pick them up, one by one, human beings. Some of the bodies were so decomposed because they stood on the ground so long that if you picked up a body by his hands and feet, it would just come off. They were so decomposed. So what they did is, they took bulldozers, the Germans, and they dug great big holes and big trenches and big holes in Bergen-Belsen and they started shoving in the bodies into these big holes and I revisited, by the way, Bergen-Belsen three years ago. Uh, what I have seen with my own eyes at that time, uh, I was able to see the graves now – the Germans made a nice cemetary out of it, uh, there was bodies anywhere from 200 bodies in a ditch and as much as 8,000 bodies in some of the graves. Even now, if you go to Bergen-Belsen and I recommend every Jew who has a chance to go, at least, visit the graves. I think it would be a wonderful thing because they are so forgotten. Uh, if the Jews are not going to visit these graves, these thousands of people who died, who is going to visit them? Although we have seen busloads of people coming from France, from Switzerland, and not Jews but Gentile people. While I was there with my brother-in-law and my wife and his wife, we saw people coming in and look at the graves. And what can I tell you, I have walked the grounds in Bergen-Belsen now when I was there and it was a horrible, creepy feeling that I got and you could almost hear the voices from the people. It was…it moved me so bad I started to cry but at the same time, I felt that it was an obligation, you know, that I had to go there. I don’t know if I want to go back again because the pain was so great and…
HEIFETZ: Even now, even thinking about it.
JAKOB: Oh, it’s just awful because, you know were there and what happened and you know, and I could…

Tape 5 - Side 1 (Heifetz)

Bergen-Belsen where I remember two brothers where one of the brothers died and this was after the liberation, after we have gotten food to eat and he didn’t want his brother to be buried with the rest of the thousands of bodies in these ditches where the bulldozers, uh, were pushing in all the bodies. So this poor guy he was digging a grave for his brother and I remember that he was separate, you know, not too far from one of the big graves. And I tried to locate it because I remember vividly that he had his brother and tried to bury him. And there was graves where there was three and four and five people in it, uh, and who knows how many that’s not even marked. So I tried to locate that spot and I was unable to. And when I walked near the graves and I looked at it, I said…8000 people here…and then you start…it’s back-flashing, you know, a back-flash that here all of a sudden you see the bulldozers pushing all these bodies into the grave and now here you are looking at it…40 years…38 years later at the finished grave. I must say that the Germans did a real nice job of making a cemetery out of it and it’s kept up and there is memorials…several memorials that was put up by certain Jewish organizations which is there, but it’s a sad sight because not too many people go to visit. Of course, I can understand people in the United States, it’s a very far away place but I would suggest, even if I could persuade one human being on this tape and who knows, even if it’s 20 years from now, that if they could go there and visit and don’t let these people be forgotten, uh, I think it was worth it. Anyway, let’s go on further. After the bodies were buried, there were approximately about 40 or 45 German officers and SS guards that was left behind by the Germans. Evidently they were afraid that if they don’t leave the guards behind, they didn’t want to depend completely on the Hungarians, uh, that we may riot or who knows what may happen so they left these people behind. And here we were, we knew we were free and you look at these guards that you hate with passion, that you hate, you’re ready to kill on sight and now we saw that the shoe was turning…the shoe was on the other foot. So still the British took these 40 men; they stripped them of their ranks but we recognized their faces and they had to pick up the dead bodies from here on, whatever was scattered, what the bulldozers couldn’t gather, so they would put them in pushcarts and other moving vehicles. And as they were marching by, you know, in front of us, we would take our wooden shoe off and run in…and you know the British was surrounding them actually because they knew, you know, the hatred that we had for these people. So every once in a while we would just jump in and punch one. And sometimes, you know, would just take one and kill them on the spot. That’s how mad and angry we were. So I remember one English officer said, he said, “Now why would you want to do that?” He says, “If you would do something like that, you would not going to be better than they are.” But still we wouldn’t listen because had he been in our shoes, he would have done the same thing. And we were still, I feel that us Jews were still kinder to these prisoners than the…there was Polish prisoners, there were Russian prisoners and a few others from East European countries. They were so angry and they would just…wanted to kill. If the British would have just let them loose there on the spot, every single one of them would have been dead. Later on they were killed anyway because the minute that we had a chance to do harm to them we would not sit still and do something. So they would do like…I remember several of them was taken, especially those who really did a lot of torturing, that we would take a guy and tie his hands and legs together and take him up on the second floor and drop him. And this was done several times till the guy was dead. And things were…I remember the Russians took one guy and tied a rope on his testicles and just pulled them until…until they ripped them out. It was very gruesome. And the British tried to stop as much as they could; of course they have no real love for the Germans anyway. They hated them too because of what they have done to them. But you must understand us what was going on here. And we felt here was a little revenge that we could…that we could do and we did whatever we could.
HEIFETZ: Your rage was liberated.
JAKOB: Our rage was liberated and maybe we needed it too. Of course how can you take the rage out on some 40-odd people after what they done to us…killed millions of our people.
HEIFETZ: It didn’t satisfy anyone.
JAKOB: It didn’t satisfy us but it was…it was a little relief. It was a little relief, you went back to your barrack and you started thinking, well my God at least I hit one punch, you know. Uh, this went on several days till the camp was freed up. And after a couple of weeks, the…no, I shouldn’t say that, before all the bodies were being buried, uh, the British went to the next town which was called Bergen…Bergen was the next town and the camp was Belsen, that’s why it’s called Bergen-Belsen. They have taken hundreds of people from this town, civilian people, and they just brought them into the camp and, so they can witness what their sons have done. And they were in disbelief whether they were putting on a show or not, we could never understand it. I can’t understand today because they kept saying they didn’t know anything. I cannot believe, unless you’re a very stupid, naïve person, that after doing these horrors, that they didn’t know what was going on. It just…it just…it is unbelievable.
HEIFETZ: It doesn’t make sense.
JAKOB: Pardon me?
HEIFETZ: It doesn’t make sense.
JAKOB: No. And, but they did act like that in disbelief and they came into the camp and they would hold handkerchief on their mouth and noses because the smell was so horrible and nauseating. And they marched them through there and let them see for themselves and also the British told them that they must liquidate that whole town because they could not guarantee their lives. And although we were not allowed, legally, to leave the camp, and as a matter of fact, we were given a little identification card and at that time I didn’t speak a word of English – it said specifically on there – “This is not a pass,” it said on there but who knew what it meant. But at least you got a little identification card, you had your name on it…
HEIFETZ: No number…not a number.
JAKOB: No number. It had your real name on it. And we got out of the camp and we went to this town, to Bergen…sometimes, like bunches…like 40-50 people at a time. And when we arrived to this town, the town was completely deserted. There was not one single German in this town. And it was a good-sized town. And you could walk in…some of the houses were left open, you could just walk in. And some places the table was set and the soup was in the plate…and, and we just sat down and ate! And we started shedding our striped clothes you know we had our striped prisoner clothes on and we started looking at some clothes what was left behind and sometimes a pair of pants was five times as big as I was because we were so skinny. But still it was better than a striped clothes. And we would find handkerchiefs, sometimes a shirt and we would just help ourselves. And the British they tried to look the other side, they didn’t see every thing. They saw in what shape we were and they couldn’t help everybody. But it wasn’t too long after that when the Joint – I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Joint and other Jewish organizations, mainly from the United States, that things were being sent and things were arriving slowly.
HEIFETZ: I think that’s a good point to stop.
JAKOB: Okay. Okay what I started to say is that things were going fast, and things were moving fast, but not fast enough. Because once we were not hungry, that we had enough food to eat already, the next thing you start thinking about your brother, your sister, your mother, and your grandparents…your relatives. After all we arrived in this God forsaken place together. What happened to them? So everybody was urged to register and they were making up lists. And everybody made…put their name on the list and these lists were duplicated – I don’t know how many times over – and they were sent from one camp to another. And I’ll never forget the day that there was one list, that my mother’s name, exactly like my mother’s name, Gisella Gluck was on one list. And I cannot tell you the joy, the happiness that we had experienced. I said to my dad, I said, “Dad, it must be my mother.” But it was so far away, it was in…near Munich. Transportations at that time was almost nil. There was no trains. There was no buses, there was nothing. The only way you could go from one camp to another is by hitchhiking, hopefully that the Germans would stop one of those big trucks, and they used to go with two and three, uh, trailers that they were pulling behind. So my dad, for some reason, decided to go by himself to this place, I believe the name of the camp, was Feldafing in Germany and I’m sorry to say that after he has arrived there, the person that was the same name as my mom, was not my mother. And he came back, he couldn’t call or anything, I had to wait till he came back and I couldn’t wait till he came back. And it wasn’t her, it was somebody else. (So we can stop here.)
HEIFETZ: The disappointment, I can just imagine.

Tape 6 - Side 1 (Heifetz)

You’re explaining to me days of liberation really and I imagine it was more…it took days to realize really what was happening, both in terms of the army not doing more destruction than good in coming in and your realization of what liberation really meant.
JAKOB: Uh, that’s true. Right after the liberation, uh, we were walking around in a daze. We could not believe that we were liberated. We were walking and every time, uh, we walked on the outside, we would look back if we were followed by the SS because at no time could we walk anywhere that the SS was not with their gun pointed at your back, following you.
HEIFETZ: Even when you went into the towns? You explained on the last tape that you went into the towns and into some of the houses.
JAKOB: Uh, once we went into town, uh, we also had this feeling that we’re being followed and we had to look back, automatically, you looked back…are we actually alone, we’re not being followed by the Nazis. And this fear of being followed, uh, went on for me, at least with me, for about a year. You know, was always afraid that I’m being followed and this constant feeling that a guard is with you, in back of you and you’re supposed to do only what they want you to do. Uh…
HEIFETZ: At night did this occur for you as well?
JAKOB: At all times. At all times, you just had the feeling that a guard was in back of you. And there was always fear. There was a lot of nightmares, bad dreams. I would wake up in the middle of the night and sometimes start screaming. Uh, you know, you felt like you’re being shot, uh, you’re being shot at. Sometimes flashes would come back in my dreams that…horrible scenes what I have gone through before on the tape…that I’m going to die…that I’m going to be shot and this went on for quite some time. Uh, then of course I had nightmares and dreams that I was back in Hungary with my family, living a normal life. And that was a pleasant dream because I could see my mother. I could see my brother and my sister walking around, and even talking to them in my dream.
HEIFETZ: Now was this…you had not had such dreams during the actual imprisonment.
JAKOB: No, no. And I cannot explain the reason why. I guess the constant fear did not allow us to dream. We were so programmed, to get up in the morning and go to work, do our job, that I had…I think that had something to do with that, that we didn’t dream of back home…what was happening. At least I didn’t dream what was happening, uh, back home. But after the liberation, after we were trying to live as normal human beings, that’s when the dreams started but more of a nightmarish dream than what we know of normal dreams. And I would wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweat and I would start screaming…I could feel my hand clutched together and I thought, you know, that I’m being followed and I’m being shot at. And it was just horrible, horrible dreams.
HEIFETZ: As though your emotional life had the freedom to express itself that it didn’t have during imprisonment.
JAKOB: Uh, true, but depression set in. All of a sudden, I felt very, very depressed. I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t joke. I could…I would talk to people but I was a youngster, I should have been full of life and everything. And I was very, very serious and always thinking, you know, “What happened to us? Why did we deserve this?” Thinking about this constantly…still hoping, I had a vague hope and constantly thinking… “Will we be reunited again with our family.” Still trying to live in a dream that maybe my grandparents, at least one of them, would be alive. And then as the month…weeks and months…even years went by, reality set in and we haven’t heard from nobody; nobody’s seen anybody of our loved ones, you begin to realize that they will not come back; that they are gone forever. And that very first year, right after the liberation, I was very, very depressed. I felt like I was being crushed between heaven and earth. I felt like this constant pressure on me that I can’t even explain the feeling. It was a horrible feeling and I guess we were able to overcome it without any help from anybody else because we were constantly on the move. Once we got out of the camp from Bergen-Belsen, we were constantly on the move. We moved in…we were desperate to get out of this camp…to not even see it again. So we decided, although we were not allowed to, but we were so desperate to get out, without asking any question, we decided to move on. We didn’t know where but we got out…my father, my cousin Erwin and me and another friend, uh, we moved to a town called Zelle. It was about 30 miles from Bergen-Belsen. And this city was also bombed out from the war. And we found an empty house, I shouldn’t say empty, it was a bombed out house. It was a half of a house was standing but nobody was living in this house so we decided that we’re going to move in with whatever belongings we had already…so…
HEIFETZ: How did you pick this town?
JAKOB: Uh, when we left from Bergen-Belsen, from the camp, we hitchhiked from the camp to this city. We had no idea where we’re going to end up but we wanted to get out. The idea was to leave the camp. We didn’t want to be anymore in this camp.
HEIFETZ: Any place was better than…
JAKOB: Right, even outside on the field was better. And, so we made our home at this bombed-out house. I can still see half of the house, it was cut in half, and three walls were up and a piece of roof and we were living right in that bombed-out house and half of the house was still open. But it was already in the springtime; so even at night it wasn’t so terribly cold. And we had some covering and we had a little clothing that we were able to pick up from the town Bergen which I explained to you last time. And…
HEIFETZ: And food?
JAKOB: And food we went begging. We went begging from door to door by the Germans. They were horrified by us. They were afraid…they knew roughly who we were and then when we told them we were survivors from the death camps they did try to give us food, even if it was just plain bread. I don’t know if they did it because they were kind, they had kindness in their heart, or they were just plain afraid of us, because we were four of us and we looked kind of like criminals. We didn’t look like normal human beings. And at that point, we were not afraid of anything. And we did go begging from door to door and sometimes we had a whole sackful of food that we brought back to this bombed-out house. And we could live a few days off of this food. And I cannot remember how long this went on but I would say, approximately about three months that we lived under these conditions. We were undecided what to do and what’s going to happen to us from this point. One thing – we did not want to go back to Hungary, especially my father was very against it to go back. He did not trust the Russians. He was afraid that if we go back, they may not let us out; although there was a lot of people who did go back. Uh, I wanted to go back, not to stay, but to see for the last time with my own eyes. Because always a slight doubt was always there that maybe they’re back home in the house where we came from. Maybe they’re unable to contact us. There was always a slight doubt, and I pleaded with my dad, I said, “Let me go back,” I said, “You will see that I’ll come back, I promise you.” And we used to get into an argument, he would not let me go. My cousin Erwin who was a year older, he decided he’s going to go anyway, no questions asked. And he did go back.
HEIFETZ: How did he cross the border?
JAKOB: Oh it was very difficult, very, very difficult. And he took a lot of chances. You actually took you own life in your own hand because it was…to cross the borders without any papers, without any money, without any documents, it was a very, very tough situation. But he did manage to go back and when he went back, he did find some of the cousins still alive. And, I…we had not heard from him for about three or four weeks and then we got word that he’s coming back.
HEIFETZ: When he left did you tell him to look for the things you had hidden?
JAKOB: Yes and that was a very interesting thing also. I have…since no one knew where this little yellow box…metal yellow box was…I had to explain to him exactly, uh, where to find it in the barn, uh, where one of the horses had his bedding. And I told him to take a shovel, it’s about a foot deep and I almost measured it out to him with my thought. And he told me that when he went back, he took one of the people who lived in our house and he told them, he says, “Do you have a shovel, please help me, I have to dig up something.” And he did do that and he found the box exactly where I told him it was. And there it was. My dad had a gold pocket watch and a chain that he got as a present when he married my mother, from grandfather. My mother had a diamond ring and she had a little gold watch and she had one earring, she lost one earring and that one earring was still in the box. And I don’t recall, there was one or two more items. There was a ring or what it was…I can’t recall exactly. But it was found and this Gentile person was so surprised that here he was living already for almost two years and he had no idea that this was hidden there. And then he also went back to Supur the next town where my grandparents used to live and he also found a little box there because my grandfather told him and us approximately where this was hidden up in the attic. And he says when he went into the house, that house was empty, and the walls were chopped up everywhere because they were looking for things because they thought my grandfather was a very wealthy man and he must have hid a lot of things. Anyway, to make a long story short, he came back, uh, from Romania because at that time it was Romania. After the war the Romanians got back to the part what the Hungarians took from the Romanians. This time the shoe was on the other foot. The Romanians came back. So when he got back, he brought several things back that he found and my father was very happy to see the few things…not so much what it was worth, because at that time we didn’t put too much value on valuables. It wasn’t so important to us anymore. It was very important for us only one thing, is food and clothing. And we didn’t think of any monetary value or gold or diamond…money didn’t mean nothing at that point. As long as we could have enough food to eat and some clothes on our back, we were happy. And in that respect, I’m like that, even today. Money is not that important to me. Of course we all want to live a comfortable life, but I have learned today you have it and tomorrow it can all be gone. So live while you can…
HEIFETZ: Enjoy the pleasures.
JAKOB: Enjoy everything. Because I remember so well that my mom, should rest in peace, she would say, “Here I’m not going to use this, I’m not going to this. This is going to be kept for your sister when she’s going to get married.” She would put things away, the good dishes wasn’t used, a lot of stuff was not used because she was hoping that it’s going to be used later on – so who got it? The people who hated us, they got it.
HEIFETZ: Reminds me of Ecclesiastes, the Book of Ecclesiastes which talks exactly about enjoying the pleasures, there is no profit, there’s only a portion of life, that there is nothing left over afterwards…
JAKOB: That’s right, right, right. So now I tell my wife, I say, “You use the best dishes, you use the best clothes,” I say, “I don’t care if you use it every day,” I say, “I don’t want to put away nothing for tomorrow.” And I strongly believe in that…use everything! If tomorrow will come, will be another day and we’ll face it then, right. Going back, when my cousin came back from Romania, it was in the year of 1946, I can’t remember the month…slowly as the days went by, we tried to normalize our lives. We were still undecided what we’re going to do, and every once in a while we still went back to the camp…
HEIFETZ: You went back to visit?
JAKOB: We went back because we had friends there, we had left behind and also we wanted to hear some news. Does the outside world know that we’re alive? Do they know what’s happening to us? This is the only place where we could get some kind of a news from the outside world. And you must understand the situation, in Germany in 1946 was a very, very terrible situation because the whole country was just bombed to smitherings, I mean there was nothing left. It was…communication, there was no bus service, there was no train service, there was no plane service, there was hardly anything. The only thing…the only way you could go from one point to another, if you would hitchhike with a big truck that was carrying supplies from one place to another. These trucks would come from Hamburg, Germany and pass through, near Bergen, and these trucks went from Hamburg to Zelle to Hanover and these cities. So we would hitchhike and this is how we would get from one point to another. And I remember, I should mention this, this is already about six or seven months after we were liberated and we living in Zelle and we were hitchhiking back and forth to the camp. And one time a truck stopped on the highway picking up the hitchhikers and we were not the only ones who were hitchhiking, there was also Germans…that’s the only way that they could travel. Uh, and sometimes they would stop. There would be just a little room on one of the trailers because they would move two and three trailers and sometimes an empty one so people would just jump on the trailer and there wouldn’t be enough room and some people would gripe…why does he have to stop and one time this truck stopped and one German guy made an anti-Semitic remark and he says in German that…these cursed Jews, what business do they have to hitchhike, he said that. And here we were about 15 or 20 Jews, although we were way outnumbered by the Germans, but at this point we were so wild and so not afraid that we took this guy off the truck and beat the living daylight out of him. We almost killed him on the spot and we did not allow the truck to continue until some of the British soldiers who were also traveling in military convoys and we stopped a jeep and several other trucks that went by and we told them that this guy’s a Nazi and we want him to be examined and see if he was one of the Nazis who were in the camps, and he may have been one of the guards. And sure enough they came and they undressed him on the street and the SS, they all had a tattoo under their arms, all the SS, and sure enough he had a tattoo under his arm. So immediately he put his clothes back on and the British just took him away. And we all went back on the trailer and the truck proceeded to the next town. But what I’m trying to bring out, that here was after the war already, and several months passed by and some of these people were still so bitter full with hatred against us. They knew already what was happening to us. They knew that they almost wiped us out. They still was not satisfied. They still had to come and make these anti-Semitic remarks. And this is why I say that some of these people, you will never change. You will never change them, it is so baked in to their genes, to their blood that they will hate the Jew from generation to generation. Some of them, they never saw a Jew and they’ll hate you, they never met one. But what they have heard from others, what a terrible people we’re supposed to be, they will hate without seeing, without knowing who you are. Uh…
HEIFETZ: How did you…did you…you must have felt really suspicious of all Germans then, knowing that this was the potential.
JAKOB: We were, we looked at them as not a normal people. We looked at them as they must be the most hateful people on the earth.
HEIFETZ: Any German?
JAKOB: Any German at that point. Because we felt that if they could do this to us, they all must have agreed and they were able to raise sons to do these kind of things, then they all must be guilty. This is the feeling we had at that time. And as, uh, months went by, although we tried not to have too much contact with Germans because we didn’t like them. We hated them at that point, uh, we really didn’t know well the population of the German civilians and the women and the children and the old folks…we didn’t know these people. We only knew the trained killers, the SS, the Gestapo, and we knew already who they were. Nobody had to tell us about them. So we were very hesitant to come in contact with any of the Germans, but we had no choice. We had to travel from point to another and we always came in contact with them and they were very much afraid of us. Even though many times we were outnumbered, uh, they always lived in fear when we were around. Going back and forth to the camp. In camp…in Bergen-Belsen, things were being organized. They made their shul, people started to daven again, they had minyans, they even had a little Hebrew school that opened up for young…for the younger people and even older ones, uh, they have found some books, Chumash, some other Hebrew books that were saved. And where they came from, I don’t know, but all of a sudden they appeared. And things were getting back to normal Jewish life, very, very slowly. And we would go to daven on Shabbos and my dad asked me if I would, if I want to go to that Hebrew school there and I did not want to go at that time. I told him that I have to find myself now, and he pleaded with me, this went on for quite some time and he says, “Even if you don’t want to study,” he says, “Just go.” And I remember that he has written some letters to the United States, my dad, because he had a brother here who was a rabbi…Rabbi Isadore Jakob, who passed away. And he also had a sister Auntie Gussie we called her and somehow the letter…I don’t know, he didn’t have an address, but he addressed it somehow so that it did arrive. And I believe that his sister got the first word and once they got the word that we were alive, and who was alive, all of a sudden packages started to arrive…
HEIFETZ: At the camp?
JAKOB: In the camp, yeah. And my Aunt Gussie, she was a wonderful person, a wonderful human being and she sent, I believe, packages came like every two or three weeks after that, once she knew that we were alive. And then we tried to contact my aunt in Argentina I believe it was, but this came at a later…about a year after. And I cannot recall how we were able to contact her but we were able to get word to her and she knew we were alive. And of course the things in Argentina was much different than things here in the United States. They were very, very poor because they had fled the Nazis also not too long ago. So they were unable to help us. But at least we knew, they knew we were alive and at least who was alive. And we told them, uh, you know, how many of us were left and we kept in contact from here on.
HEIFETZ: It must have been wonderful to feel that somebody out there cared.
JAKOB: Exactly, exactly. We knew that we had somebody, at least, some relatives that, that…and it was a good feeling to know that they knew that we were still alive. And in 1946, going into 1947, uh, the State of Israel was being formed. A lot of people were being asked to go to Palestine at that time, and I was one of them. I wanted to go to Israel very bad, to Palestine at that time, very, very bad. And that I’m not in Israel today, I have to say, it’s because of my father, because if it wasn’t for him, I would have been there. Uh, people from Israel…Palestine at that time, they used to come, young men and used to recruit young guys like us. Uh, and wanted us to go to train and then of course to end up in Palestine because they were expecting what’s going to happen, that there’s going to be a war, the others are not going to like it. So they tried to recruit as many youngsters as they could and I had no intention of ever going back to Romania. And the United States, at that time, didn’t mean nothing to me. It was just another word. Uh, I heard there was such a thing as America but I never dreamt that I’m going to live there some day. So I wanted to go to a place where Jews will be welcome and will not have to be afraid or listen to people say…you lousy Jew, and I really wanted to go there. And for weeks and months, my dad and me we were at odds and I wanted to go and he actually broke down and cried.
HEIFETZ: Why did he not…he wanted to come because of his family…
JAKOB: He wanted to come to the United States because he had a brother, he had a sister, he wanted to be with them because he lost everybody else also. He didn’t have nobody left. The only one he had left was me and a few cousins that survived.

Tape 6 - Side 2 (Heifetz)

Okay the argument went on and on and after a while I gave in because I really felt sorry for him. Not because I wanted to because I wanted so desperately to go to Palestine, I thought that that’s where we belong and I was afraid, I was afraid in my mind to go to the United States. To me, that time I thought maybe it’s another anti-Semitic country. Who knows what they’re going to do to us there. Here I thought there’s only going to be Jews living and it’s going to be good for the Jews for a change.
HEIFETZ: A true home not a borrowed country.
JAKOB: A true home of our own and I thought that if us young people will not do it, nobody else will. And also it always was in the back of our minds especially me, I have thought back that the Hungarians and the Germans, they used to tell us that you Jews are cowards, you’re no fighters, uh, you know they kept telling us. And at one point they keep telling you this, you almost beginning to believe it. And I felt that we have to show that we are not cowards. Uh, after many, many arguments day after day this went on with my dad and I gave in, I said, “Okay let’s register.” We wanted to get out of Germany that’s one thing we wanted to do. So I agreed, I said, “Let’s register and we’ll go to the United States.” But it was a very long process to register and at that time they didn’t agree even here in this country, uh, what will happen to us there, whether they’re going to allow us to come to the United States or whether we’ll be re-settled somewhere else. And of course these young boys and girls from Israel they came constantly to recruit people and I felt very bad that I couldn’t be among those. Many times I would just…didn’t want to listen to them because it hurt me that I cannot go with them. And after a while, my dad wanted to come to the United States so bad, he has heard that there’s a way to go from France to the United States. In order to survive at that point we weren’t able to work but we were able to buy some food from a certain group of people and resell it and we made a little profit so we were able to survive, uh, when we were not in the camp. In the camp you was still able to get food from the British or from the packages that arrived. But once you got out of the camp, you still needed a little money, although the German mark at that time was very worthless and you didn’t get much for it, but you still needed it. So in order to survive we would, uh, sell food to the Germans and they were in a desperate shape at that time. They were eating and looking for food in garbage cans because the whole world was mad at them at that point. Nobody even thought of helping them. And they had a very bad, I would say, about three years… ’45, ’46. ’47 they were desperate years for them also. Uh, there was no food, no housing, sometimes in one house they used to have two and three families because all the other houses were bombed and they were not liveable. So at one point we decided that we will leave this place, we will move from Bergen-Belsen and Zella and get out of this whole neighborhood. And we decided to go on to Frankfurt and there was a camp right near Frankfurt also. We never wanted to be too far away from a camp because that’s where the Jewish life was and that’s where you could hear and get some news of what’s happening in the outside world. We didn’t trust the German newspapers what they were writing and we tried to earn a little living. We didn’t know if we should learn a trade; schooling was impossible so when we moved to Frankfurt, I had decided to learn a trade and I decided to be a furrier. I went to a German guy who was a furrier and I told him that I will work for free and I will do everything that is necessary because I want to learn the trade, because I had no trade. Here I was already 15, 16 years old and no trade and I figured no schooling, how will I be able to survive later on in life.
HEIFETZ: You chose a trade close to your grandfather’s trade.
JAKOB: Right, anything that had to do something with leather. Uh, I went to this job for about six months, but I also needed to survive, and that was difficult, no money, no job, no schooling. My dad couldn’t help me even if he wanted to. But things were getting better for us because we were able to earn a little money – what was called at that time – a black market. And that’s the only way we could earn something, there was no other way. People would come from France and bring in truckloads of food, like coffee, cigarettes, uh, other food product. And they would sell it to us and we would resell it to the Germans and we made a little profit, enough to get by and sometimes to buy a pair of shoes or buy a pair of slacks. Anyway, my dad decided to go to France. And by this time, he saved himself up about $500.00 and that’s the only way we kept our little money what we had, not in German marks or in any other currency, but dollars because we knew the dollar was going to be dollar for a long time, at that time. And when he decided to go to France, I decided not to go with him. And I should say that my dad did remarry in 1946, and this was already in Frankfurt. And he married a very nice lady. As a matter of fact, I’m going to visit her next week. When they decided to go to France, I decided not to go with them…
HEIFETZ: It must have been difficult for him…
JAKOB: He wanted me to go but at the same time he was going into the unknown and he didn’t push too hard. But I told him, I said, “Don’t go, it’s not going to be any better there than it’s here.” I said, “Here at least we know what’s happening already and we have contact with one another and we can wait and see what will happen.” So when he left, my cousin Erwin and me and another guy…no, two brothers, uh we decided and we had an opportunity to go into the meat business. And we saw another group of youngsters do the same thing and they were very successful. They were able to buy cattle and slaughter cattle kosher and sell kosher meat. And to get meat at that time was…if you had gold it was not so important as a pound of meat. A pound of meat was worth itself in gold. So we saw what was happening and we went into the German authorities and we told them that we want to open up a business. And we found a German Jew who was also a survivor of the camp, his name was Eisenman and he was married to a Gentile lady I believe but his wife died while he was in camp. And we were able to find a place what belonged to a Jewish family in Frankfurt and the whole place was bombed out but the icebox…was still intact. And this was a butcher shop before, kosher butcher shop before but nothing was left of this building. So, since we were able to do certain work what we have learned in the camp, like laying bricks, we decided that we’re going to build up a little store and things were rolling very rapidly at that time. We moved very much in a hurry to get this little shop together and when the German authorities agreed that we can get two or three cattle a week to slaughter and sell it for kosher meat, things fell in place. And sometimes I have to think back that here we were so young and so aggressive and so thoughtful that what we embarked to do and sometimes I say, “How was it possible that we were able to achieve this.” And I’ll never forget that the first week where we went to the storehouse, we had the shochet, we had the rabbi who slaughtered the cows and it was checked and believe me these guys, those Orthodox Jews, when they said that something was kosher, it was kosher. And I’m sorry to say in the United States, unless you buy “Glot Kosher,” I don’t know if you know what Glot Kosher is, that the meat is really not the kind of kosher what we have known in Europe. It’s not that kind of a kosher meat. When the shochet and the rabbi said it was kosher, in Europe, it was really kosher. And the first week we slaughtered up, I believe, it was two cows and three and it kept increasing and then when we didn’t have enough Jewish customers to sell our kosher meat, we would sell it to the Gentiles. They didn’t care if it was kosher. They ate any kind of meat. And when the word went out, in a very short…within weeks…we had lines in front of our whole store and it was just like a little hole, like four and five blocks long and things were almost out of hand because…
HEIFETZ: Trying to keep up with the demand.
JAKOB: Yes, right, and then of course everybody had these marks, you know, these coupons, that’s the only way they could get a half a pound of meat and we had to take these coupons and then give it to the authorities so everybody would get something. You couldn’t just give somebody five kilos and nothing to the other person. And the Germans were so hungry and they were so, uh, without food for so long, that they were ready to settle just for a piece of bone. And then we just looked at each other and said to each other, “See how the table has turned.” Here we are already, we have enough food to eat and now they have to come to us and ask us for a piece of bone.
HEIFETZ: You must have been full of satisfaction from this.
JAKOB: We really didn’t feel that way but we felt that things were changing and things were turning around and we really felt sorry for these people. We really, truly felt sorry for them but we couldn’t help of not talking about it. And all this happened while my father was in France, in Paris, where he has lost his 500 dollars, a guy had gypped him out of his money. And they told him that he knows a way of how to get to the United States and here he waited about eight months and nothing happened. He took his money and he had to come back to Germany, to Frankfurt. And when he came back he couldn’t believe his eyes that his son and his nephew and two other guys, we’re already selling kosher meat. And of course he wanted to become a partner at that time, which we did take him in as a partner. And my dad was very capable in many respects. He was not so capable of running the business end of it but he was very capable of talking to the authorities and things that had to be done at that time. And we stayed with this little butcher shop for about a year and a half, almost to the time where they have called us, since we registered to come to the United States and that was in 1949. We were selling meat almost to the last day in Germany…’til, which was called at that time the DP quota, the Displaced Persons quota. First they allowed, I believe it was, 250,000 displaced persons to come to this country and then 100,000.
HEIFETZ: Was this handled through Bergen-Belsen for you, or through Frankfurt?
JAKOB: No, this was handled from…we already stayed in Frankfurt, by the American Consulate. And of course we were in touch with my aunt who was…who had a lot to do with it because they have sponsored us and that helped a great deal. She tried to get us jobs and that helped quite a bit. And then when they have called us that we are going to leave, then we didn’t know what to do with the butcher shop. So we sold it to another party…two brothers bought it and I don’t recall the amount we sold it for but it wasn’t a lot of money. But it was something that we didn’t really want to leave because things were going so nice, so smooth and our life was falling in place at this point… ’48, ’49. It was several years after the camp, we tried to forget, although we could never forget. But we tried to fashion our lives in a normal way. My dad became a member of the Jewish Committee in Frankfurt and they had formed a nice Jewish congregation and there was a Jewish synagogue that we went to that was left half standing and it was repaired and we were able to go to pray there. Things were getting back to normal for us. But nothing at that point would keep us in Germany. We did not want to stay. So when the word came to leave, we were happy to go even though we…our lives were settling down but we were very happy to leave. And we did leave; we were moved from Frankfurt to Hannover where a ship was waiting for us, a United States Navy ship. The name of the ship, I’ll never forget it, the Marilyn Marlin and they put about 700 or 800 people, maybe more, on this ship; food was plenty provided by the United States Navy and we were traveling for 11 days on this ship. And I’d never been on a ship before and after 11 days everybody says, we’re almost there, we’ve got to be there any day, any hour now and sure enough, all of a sudden, we see the Statue of Liberty and we arrived in New York.
HEIFETZ: What were you allowed to bring with you?
JAKOB: Uh, we were not allowed to bring many things because first of all, we didn’t have many things. We may have had a few dollars that we were able to save, but I don’t recall how much. But we did have a few dollars saved up and a little bit of belonging, very little. Just clothing, and I believe my whole belonging went into a small suitcase. I did bring a violin with me, an old violin that I bought in Germany for two years. So I played fairly well already and I was hoping to continue in the United States so I brought that with me. So when I arrived in New York, the custom, they had no idea what kind of violin. They thought it must be a Stradivarius so I had to play, take out the violin and play in front of them to show that I’m playing the violin…I’m not just bringing it in to sell it. So when they saw that I can play a little bit they said, “Okay, pack it in and it’s okay.”
HEIFETZ: Did you bring the things you had brought with you from Hungary?
JAKOB: Oh yes, my dad took care of that, he kept it. And when we arrived, my aunt was there waiting for us and I don’t recall…oh yes, my cousins were there, they were born and raised here in the United States and it was a very happy reunion. And sure enough the next day the newspaper headline…it was right on the front page…that brother and sister have met after 40 years. And I believe they have kept it for a long time, now they both passed away, I don’t even know what happened to it. Anyway, we arrived in the United States. Our aunt was so wonderful, such a good human being and she took us all in. It didn’t make no difference how many of us were, her husband was working on two jobs – not that they were well to do people – they were actually poor people. They had a small apartment in the Bronx and we lived with them for a while. And of course, then the Jewish agencies took over. It was the Joint…the Jewish, uh, (I forgot already what the other Jewish organization was)…anyway there was two Jewish organizations that they took over and they helped us. They helped us in many ways, to rent an apartment. They helped us to find jobs. They helped us to pay the rent, at the beginning, until we find jobs. I must say that they have done just beautiful. And it was a very good start. They saw to it that we had a start. And I believe we should forever be thankful for these organizations and in general, to the Jews of the United States.
HEIFETZ: How did you know to contact them?
JAKOB: We didn’t have to contact them, they contacted us. They knew when we arrived, evidently they got hold of a list, and they knew where we were…they were contacting us. And if some of us wasn’t contacted and we saw that others were contacted, we knew where to go and everyone got help…everyone of us. I cannot say one word…I can only give praise of what they have done. I don’t believe that any other group of people that come to the United States are being helped, at least at that time, I don’t know what the situation is today, but they have helped us to get on our feet; because we didn’t want to stay with our aunt in that little apartment and ruin her life with so many people. So we were – although we wanted to be with her but they helped us to get an apartment nearby and they paid the rent for a certain period of time until we were able to get a job. And they actually tried to help us to get jobs so what else can you want? Who else will that do for you? And I remember my aunt went with me from door-to-door to get a job in a butcher shop. That did not turn out to be so good. That was very difficult because it was 1949 we arrived here, I believe it was August 20, 1949 that we arrived and two weeks later I tried to get a job. I didn’t speak a word of English. That was very difficult and going from door-to-door with my aunt, uh, everybody asked – do you speak English – that was the first question. I said, “No, but I speak good Yiddish.” And it was very difficult to get a job. It was…I believe it was a recession right after the war, you know, in ’49, ’50 was a bad year in this country as far as jobs are concerned. And finally one guy gave me a job to clean the butcher shop – not to do anything else and he offered me 10 dollars a week and I was 19 years old, I just became 19, and…
HEIFETZ: That was a real step backward from having run your own butcher shop, your own business.
JAKOB: That’s right, it was a step back, but I figured, you got to start somewhere. But then when the week was up, I was hurt very badly because he said to me that he’s not going to pay me for this week because this week was just to show me around of how things have to be done in his butcher shop. Then I was really hurt. Not so much that I didn’t get the 10 dollars but that he was so narrow minded, you know, that he would let me stay there a whole week, even if I didn’t do nothing, I thought that I was worth the 10 dollars because I was cleaning his butcher shop. So I told my aunt as much as it hurt me, I said, “Auntie Gussie, I don’t want to go back to this job no more,” I said, “I’m going to look for something else,” and I explained to her why and she agreed. She said, “I don’t blame you.” And it was very, very difficult to find a job for somebody who didn’t know much of anything and here I was 19 years old already. So I would go from one place to another looking for jobs, asking people what you can do and I finally found a place where a guy was looking for a man but not for something like…somebody like me who had no experience. Anyway we agreed, he hired me for 25 dollars a week…plucking chickens and that was hard. But it didn’t make no difference, I took the job anyway. It was very hot in back of the butcher shop, no fan, no air conditioning. In the summertime in New York, you can burn up. And I was working here for about six months and after six months, my aim was, is to learn the language and I felt that once I’ll be able to speak the language, I wasn’t going to be afraid. And as hard as it was to work on this job, I tried to go to school at night…to night school because I knew that if I go to school, it’s going to help me some but I was so tired working all day in the butcher shop that when I went to night school, I fell asleep at night, in school. Anyway I was reading newspapers, I was reading magazines. I would pick them out of the garbage cans because if I saw a picture, I said, well I put two and two together what it meant. I read the English words and I saw the picture and I kept this on constantly. And believe it or not, within eight months to a year, I spoke enough English that I was able to get around on my own. I didn’t need no interpreter. The first three months when I went in to have a cup of coffee and I wanted to eat something, the only word I knew is a cup of coffee and apple pie. And I ate apple pie for three months because I couldn’t ask and I was bashful to ask for anything else because I didn’t know how to ask. But after the eight or nine months, I believe it was, that I had the courage to quit my job. I said, now I speak enough, I’m going to try to better myself and I could not get another job in New York, but I was able to get on the bus by myself. And I heard that they’re looking for some help, upstate New York, and that was Grossinger Hotel, I don’t know if you’re ever heard of them…upstate New York and they were looking for help, for glass washers and dishwashers. It didn’t make no difference to me what it was as long as I get a place to sleep and enough food to eat and a little money, I was happy.
HEIFETZ: How did your father react to your leaving?
JAKOB: My father had it harder than I did. He had a much harder time at this point than I did because the language was much harder for him to learn that it was for me. And he was yet already, if he would go somewhere, I was able to translate, uh, what he didn’t know in English. So I just told him that I’m leaving. I said, “I can’t get a job here, I can’t stay on here. If I can’t get a job here, I’m going there.” And I was a big boy already…I didn’t ask no questions. And sure enough I got a job there for 100 dollars a month. They paid room and board and I was happy and things were looking up already. I was able to buy some American clothes…

Tape 7 - Side 1 (Heifetz)

As I said before, things were looking up. I was working here for about a year and here I really had to learn English because nobody else spoke Yiddish and nothing else. It was either English or nothing, in that respect it was the best thing that happened to me because I picked up the language much, much faster. And from this point, I was able to get another job at another place as a busboy and I was able to get a job in Totem Lodge County Club. You see I remember all the names yet in upstate, near Albany New York and I worked here in the summertime as a busboy. I was able to save up about 800 dollars a season and I didn’t spend a nickel of it. I brought it back to New York, 800 dollars I earned…800 dollars was saved. And I went back to this place three seasons in the summertime but I also realized that this is not the future for me to be a busboy, or a waiter, or a dishwasher, or a glass washer, that I have other things in my mind. Uh, I went back to look for a job as a meatcutter again. I figured I’m going to stick with that and some day I’ll have my own shop, my own store and that was exactly what took place. I learned a trade, went and got another job. Later on my dad did the same thing. He learned, uh, something about the meat business and we were able to save and scrape together enough money, after two or three years, being in the United States, that we bought a butcher shop in New York. I’m sorry to say that it did not work out. For one thing, not always is a good idea for a father and son to be in business together. I hope that’s not going to be the case with my sons. Uh, maybe I have learned from the mistakes that my dad and I made and I…I will handle things differently because two of my boys are in business, or are going to be in business with me. As a matter of fact, they’re working for the business right now. So what I’ll probably have to do is when they’re ready to come in full-fledge in the business, I’m just going to step out and let them run it. It’ll be much better. Uh, but it did not work out, the business went bad. We went back to work. Anyway, I have met my wife Margo.
HEIFETZ: How did you meet her?
JAKOB: I used to go dancing, uh, to a certain place. And I went with my boss, believe it or not. He was a single guy and we used to go together, you know, on weekends and went to this place…oh, I forgot the name of the place now…anyway, we went to dance and this was…two young ladies came in and my boss was a very short guy. He wasn’t a bad looking guy, but he was a head shorter than I was. And he, uh, he saw these two girls come in to this dance place and he says to me, “Oh, there’s two nice looking girls.” But they were tall and I said, “Well I’m going to dance with one of them.” So I walk over there and I was going to dance with this other girl first, and then the last second, I decided to dance with Margo. And we’ve been dancing ever since. (LAUGHTER) And we…
HEIFETZ: How did you feel when you heard that German name and accent?
JAKOB: I have to tell you that it did bother me at first. It…I didn’t tell her that but it did bother me and I asked a lot of questions, you know, from her. And I’m sad to say that her father was also one of those guys who didn’t like Jews. And at the beginning we didn’t have no quarrels or we didn’t…because we were so far away. And when they came here to visit one year, uh, things went very bad. It went from bad to worse when I realized that he hated…first of all, he hated everything about the United States, and he hated Jews. Although he tried to deny it but everything pointed to that, that he hated…didn’t like Jews. Uh, we did raise our children Jewish. Margo converted to Judaism before we got married. Not only did she convert to Judaism but she converted through the Orthodox Rabbinism which is recognized by all three branches of Judaism. And I thought that that was the way to go although I don’t belong to the Orthodox at this point. But I was very much concerned how the children will be brought up and I didn’t want to have no problem later on in life so I figured if we take that route, nothing can go wrong. And it didn’t.
HEIFETZ: How long had she lived in Germany?
JAKOB: She came here when she was about 15-16 years old. She came here visiting her aunt and then she remained here.
HEIFETZ: Had she been aware of the anti-Semitism…
JAKOB: Uh, she may have been aware, but she was a youngster. She was born in 1935 so all through the Nazi era until the war was over, she was only 10 years old. So what does a 10 year old child really know of what was happening in the Nazi era. And I’m sure she was exposed even through those years since her father was a hateful person, I have to say, and it hurts me to discuss this in front of her because she knows how I feel about him. And I know she liked her father and she loved him and knowing what he stood for, I have no use for him. So we had some…a few ugly confrontations because I would stay my ground and I would tell him off in a certain way and he was just the kind of person that no matter what, the hatefulness was in there. And I even saved some of his letters, although he passed away, but I still have the letters in case anybody has a doubt some day, to doubt what kind of a person he was. I can show them the letters and let them figure out for himself or herself. Anyway we had one advantage, after we decided that Margo is going to convert to Judaism and we would raise our children Jewish that was part of the agreement that we had. Had she not agreed to raise the children Jewish and had she not agreed to convert to Judaism, although she was raised as a Catholic, I believe that we would not have been married because to me it was so important to raise our children as Jews. As much as I liked her and I loved her, uh, we probably would have not been married. Because let’s not kid ourselves, there is plenty of problems in almost all marriages in just every day living that we don’t even think about it when we get married. And having to live as a non-Jew and a Jew in the same household, I don’t believe that that’s a healthy thing or it should be done. Because the children can be confused, they don’t know where they belong or what they have to do. And then of course, you have to also think, which I always like to do, for the future. What will their children be or do. So all that was in back of my mind and thank goodness it worked out to the best, we’ve been married now for 26 years and we raised four beautiful sons and we love them dearly. There they are. (SHOWS PICTURE)
HEIFETZ: A beautiful family.
JAKOB: Thank you. And Margo is a wonderful mother and she’s a wonderful wife and this mixed marriage worked. It doesn’t mean that all mixed marriages will work and I try to tell my sons, there is a lot of problems and they may not be able to do the things that I was able to do, to raise their children Jewish if they will marry non-Jewish girls. So we have discussed this quite a bit because I am aware of the mixed marriages that they take place. And I’m not against it if you go about it the proper way. It is not easy for the other person to convert to Judaism. You must recognize that first and you have to nurture that and you have to talk about it and you really have to tip your hat for someone who is converting to your religion because it ‘s a very difficult thing to do. And unless you have the understanding, it’s not going to work, you see.
HEIFETZ: Be really supportive of what they’re trying to do.
JAKOB: You have to understand it because this is one of the most difficult things that there is to take a person, especially a Catholic, because they’re brought up so strict…
HEIFETZ: And a German Catholic…
JAKOB: And a German Catholic, right. And it’s very difficult and you must have the understanding that what they have to go through and that’s why I say that you must tip your hat if somebody does make that step. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a must. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m selfish but if I am, I can’t help it, that’s the way I am. And like I said, we live a very happy life and I must say that while her father was alive we had some difficulties because of the way he was. He was against for us sending our kids to Hebrew school. Uh, he didn’t say it when he was here but then he wrote these nasty letters from Germany after he went back. And of course, that’s when trouble started. So, to make a long story short, it wasn’t a smooth sailing all the time.
HEIFETZ: Of course, on your father’s side as well, he was not happy about the marriage.
JAKOB: My father was very much against the marriage. Uh, as a matter of fact he did not speak to me for a full year after we have gotten married. And that bothered me deep inside because I loved my father and I respected him but I also understood his feelings. And I’m not blaming him even today of the way he felt. Uh, he was not sure of what I’m going to do or how we will raise our children. And when he saw that we are doing the proper things and we were on the right road and when he came here to our first son’s Bar Mitzvah, and when he saw that I belonged to the B’nai Amoona, to a beautiful synagogue, a wonderful rabbi, uh, he changed like a different person altogether. And he was shepping a lot of nakhos when he saw, you know, how we bring the children up and although he was an Orthodox Jew and he would not belong to a Conservative movement, but still and all, he saw that we’re doing the right thing. And, of course, there was a lot of hard feelings with him too. And things worked out later on and especially when he got sick and my wife said, “You think I should go down and help?” And I said, “If you feel like going and if you want to go, you can go,” I said, “I’m not going to tell you that you have to go.” And she went down and helped while he was in the hospital. And he realized that this German girl whose father was actually an anti-Semitic person, that here was a good human being. And he actually…he started to like her quite a bit and he realized that she is a good human being. And you can see that it can be done, that it’s…not all Germans are bad. And it took me a long time to realize that, uh, after the war, you know, I thought that all of them are bad. Today I have good German friends, who are decent and good human beings. Of course there are many who will hate us for as long as we live, but don’t we have the same thing here in the United States? We have people here in the United States that would like to see our destruction. So I will never be the one, or want to be the one, to condemn all people and condemn the innocent and the good among them. And that’s why I say, there are decent and good Germans.
HEIFETZ: You have to get beyond the label and learn the individual.
JAKOB: That’s right because we would do a terrible disservice to label all Germans bad and Jew haters because it’s not so, there are good and decent among them. Although I would have all the right to say that it’s not so because of what happened to us and it was them who did it. But I have learned through the years that there are good ones. And that’s basically what it’s all about. Is there anything else that you want me to say?
HEIFETZ: I wonder if there’s anything else – not about your past – that you want to add about your hopes or your wishes about your own life.
JAKOB: Uh, yes, I would like to add this. Uh, going back of my past and the past of the big tragedy what has happened to our people, that six million of our brothers and sisters died. I visualize and I’ve been visualizing this for a long time, as cruel as it may sound, that to ease the wounds that was inflicted on us, that the State of Israel, a Jewish State was born. And I look at this, had there not been a Holocaust, that may have not been a Jewish State in the State of Israel whom I love very, very dearly. And to me the State of Israel is almost everything. They can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. It may be a terrible thing to say but I feel so strongly about the Jewish State. Uh, if you would ask me the question what would I rather have, would I have the six million back, or would I rather have the State of Israel…my first answer would be without any hesitation, I would rather have the six million back. But knowing that we can’t get them back, at least we got something…we got something that will be with us forever and ever, hopefully. A State of Israel where we can go and be proud and see a country of people after 2000 years of suffering, uh, happy people living among all nations and thinking of the people who have called us cowards and no-fighters…we have proven to the world that we are a normal people, a good people. And seeing these soldiers, the Israeli young people…men and women and when I go to Israel, I rent a car…I pick up these hitchhikers and there’s always hitchhikers in Israel. I don’t know if you’ve been to Israel and you saw them, there’s always hitchhikers, soldiers, and I love to pick them up and take them from one place to another, wherever we go. And I try to talk to them and what a wonderful feeling this is to pick up an Israeli soldier and being able to talk to them and knowing that these are the people who are guarding a State, where any Jew at any time, has a chance to go. That he no longer has to feel that there’s no place to go. And that’s a wonderful feeling.
HEIFETZ: Would you still, if you could, prefer to live there?
JAKOB: I would love to live in Israel, at any time, I probably could live there, yes. But now, I look at it differently. Now I have a family. I would be afraid if I would move away from my children, my sons, that they would not follow and I’m sure they wouldn’t and that would be very painful. We have an established business here. We make a decent living. I don’t know how it would be if I would go there to start a new living…a new life. But I will say this to you that I will visit the State of Israel as long as I’m going to live and I’m going to, if I can afford it, live there a certain time in the year and support it with all my heart and do the best I can for the State of Israel. To me, as much as I love the United States and I owe this country an awful lot, but first to me, I always look at it, that Israel must be the number one as far as I’m concerned. And I say that because when the ship that came from hell and ended up in Cuba, 900 somewhat lives and the Cubans double-crossed the Jewish organizations, they had given them passports and then all of a sudden they wanted more money and they were not able to disembark in Cuba and the ship was sitting right here on the Florida coast and President Roosevelt, who was President at that time, could not, or did not, or whatever happened, agreed for these people to land because they knew doggone well that these people will go back to hell and probably perish most of them, if not all. That’s why I say, to me, is Israel number one because these people…we have given room for Hungarians, when the Hungarian uprising was, for Polish people, for Russians, for Chinese, for Vietnamese or what have you, every people that wanted to come to the United States or anybody that runs away for political reason, whatever, we always have room for them. But we did not have no room for 900 human beings that had to go back. I believe that, as a Jew, I have to look at Israel as number one and the United States comes a very first second. And that’s about what my answer is.
HEIFETZ: There’s security really for Jewish people as long as there’s an Israel.
JAKOB: Not only that but we can walk around with our heads up high because of the State of Israel. Let’s not kid ourselves.
HEIFETZ: A national pride.
JAKOB: A national pride, we can walk, we can say and do things now because of Israel that was unheard of before.
HEIFETZ: So no matter where you go, you can carry that.
JAKOB: That’s right. It’s a wonderful feeling, it’s…we’re a nation among the nations where we didn’t have that before. Although the Jewish people I have to say in my research, as best as I could, as a layman, I feel very proud to be a Jew, enormously proud. Because after the war, as a youngster, I have asked questions from myself and from others…What did we do so wrong? Why did we deserve this? Are we really that bad as they paint us to be? And the more and more I researched and the more and more I read I realized that we are a good people. We are a wonderful people and I’ll even go further as…we are the people that no other people, uh, if you just go and see, as small as we are, that most of the time, a third of the Nobel Prize is picked up by a Jew. It doesn’t make no difference if he’s from Argentina or from France or from any part of the world, most of the time it’s the United States, but it makes me to be so proud because we’re only one-half of one percent of the world population. And what other people can boast this. So, that’s why I am so proud to find out that we are a special people.
HEIFETZ: I really thank you and I think the conclusion you come to is really an important lesson for me and I think for everybody listening.
JAKOB: Thank you.

Tape 1 - Side 1 (Prince)

Prince: Our main focus today will be on life after liberation, DP camps, and other experiences that took place. Oskar, let’s just begin at the beginning, even though most of this will about the camps. Help us to begin with your life, and where you were born, and when you were born.
Jakob: My name is Oskar Jakob, and I was born August 29, 1930, in a small city in Romania, it’s called Simlul. We lived in Simlul approximately two years, and then we moved to a place, a small town called Dobra. And we lived in Dobra for quite a few years, approximately ten, twelve years. And from Dobra, we were deported to Auschwitz and went through the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and from there we were shipped to Dora Nordhausen and liberated in Bergen-Belsen.
Prince: And all this…when you were at Bergen-Belsen, you said in the original interview, which was quite full about your early life, you said that the turning point at Bergen-Belsen was when the tanks drove over the gate, and the loudspeaker in many languages said, “The British…”—it said it in Yiddish, you said, right, is it Yiddish?
Jakob: Yiddish and several other languages, yeah.
Prince: That, what, you want to say what they said?
Jakob: They said that we were liberated as of that day, April 15, 1945, by the British army, and the Germans, the Nazis had no longer anything to say in the camp, and from that point on we were free.
Prince: And it’s all yours now. How did you…what did you do?
Jakob: Well, after liberation, it was a long ordeal before we were able to get on our feet.
Prince: But what was it like the first few hours? We’re going to go inch by inch now, and…
Jakob: Um…it’s tough to explain because we were not jubilant because we had no strength…to be happy. And it was a very somber moment even though we were free, but people were dying by the minute from hunger and thirst, and I was not able to walk upright, I was only able to crawl because we haven’t eaten and drinken anything for weeks. Slowly, I believe it was the following day that we got a piece of bread from the British Army. We started eating the bread…little did we know that it will make us sick because we were so dehydrated, we were so starved for food that any little food that we ate, we got sick from it, and many people who ate the bread, the following day, they were dead because they could not digest the bread. And they ate it, and at first we thought that the bread was poison because so many people died after that. And those who survived and they gave us more bread the following day because they felt sorry for us that we were starving to death. And then we realized that we cannot just stuff ourself with bread, so we slowed down a little bit, but everyone developed a terrible diarrhea, and it was just very sad…a sad situation because here we made it…we’re free…and then just die from eating. It was a very, very sad situation.
Prince: Your father was with you?
Jakob: My father was with me, and my cousin Irving (Erwin?) who is still alive in the north…thank God, I just visited him. The three of us, we stuck together and we nourished each other, we hoped, and…
Prince: How did you do that?
Jakob: Um…we nourished each other, we said that we’re going to survive, we gonna make it out of this hell place, and we will tell the outside world what has happened to our people and to us. And we…slowly but surely, each day we were a little bit stronger, and each hour meant something…like eating, and we were able to drink a little water that was not contaminated…gave us a little strength. And I was saying, that within a month, we were able to walk around, and put on some clothes, that we were not…just like an animal laying on the floor…and not being able to function like a human being. So after one month, I could say that we were almost back to normal, almost…not quite. And after two months, three months, we were looking for our loved ones whatever we could inquire, maybe someone is alive.
Prince: Did they tell you what to do? Did the British…how did they play a part in that month, as far as talking with you or helping you in any way besides with the food, and how did they serve it to you?
Jakob: They just served it like army ration.
Prince: Did you sit at a table?
Jakob: No, no, there was no table.
Prince: So you were in the same barracks…?
Jakob: We were in the same barracks where the German SS used to be before we went to Bergen-Belsen, these were army barracks. And once we were given the food, we had no table, we just eat anywhere, outside, inside the barrack—it make no difference, that was the least of our concern, because concern was to get some food. And no, the British did not do anything as far as helping us reunite with our loved ones, or try to find them. That was our doing because we were so eager to see if we could find them. It wasn’t long that each camp made up a list that those who were alive, and we exchanged with the other camps.
Prince: So this place where you were turned into a displaced persons camp?
Jakob: Right.
Prince: People came to it…
Jakob: Exactly. We used to go from one camp to another, visiting to see…because communication in those days was nil. There was no telephone, there was no…we had no radio…absolutely nothing to communicate. So the only way we could communicate—and even the mail, the mail was not delivered, there was no mail. So, we would exchange lists, and sometimes we would just put it on the wall, so if visitors came, they could just read the people who were alive, and then they could see if any of their loved ones are alive, or we would go to other camps and see if we could see their list.
Prince: Was it organized? How did it become a little bit organized?
Jakob: It started to get organized…when we first started with the list, it wasn’t that much organized, it started a little bit after when we put the names, you know on the wall. And pretty soon, the Jewish community started to develop a congregation. And it wasn’t long, I would say within two and a half, three months after liberation, there was already a synagogue. There was a building put aside, and people would go and pray…and pretty soon it was full.
Prince: Are you saying the Jewish community of displaced persons?
Jakob: Yes.
Prince: And when you say put it on the wall, do you mean they had paper and they put it up, or are you writing on the wall?
Jakob: No, no, we had paper, I don’t remember exactly how we applied the paper, but there was lists with hundreds and thousands of names that was just splashed all over the wall, and people were able to read these names. And then I don’t recall how we made copies, but we sent copies to other places, we got copies from the other camps, and I remember that my mother’s name, Gisela ___?___ was on one of the lists, and we were just overwhelmed…we couldn’t believe it that she’s alive. So…uh, so my father…
Prince: Because you lost your mother, and your sister, and your brother at Auschwitz.
Jakob: Right. And the other person, a cousin of mine, who I don’t remember if was in the first interview with you…My mother’s name appeared on one of these lists. And my father decided to go to that camp, and it was in ____?____, the name of the camp, which was in Bavaria. And my father decided right away to go to this camp, and see if he could locate my mother. And…again…the communication…it was horrible…there was no place, you couldn’t buy a ticket, you had to hitchhike. Some trains were running, but we didn’t know where they were going or how you could end up where it was going. But we tried everything—we had to start somewhere. So, my father left, he went to this camp, and he was gone for over a week because it took a long time to make these trips, it could’ve been done in one day today, or even less. So, after one day, he came back…he didn’t have to say nothing…I just looked at his face that it was not my mother. So, it was a very sad moment…
Prince: That must have taken a lot. You had such hope.
Jakob: I had a big hope because I really wanted to see my mother again, and it just wasn’t to be.
Prince: You were very close?
Jakob: Oh, I loved my mother dearly.
Prince: Um…the depression that…and what were other people doing? I mean, everybody…try and describe the…what did you talk to each other about?
Jakob: In Bergen-Belsen, we…we were thinking of how can we improve our lives…how can we…the most thing that we were interested in is contacting relatives. We had no addresses. My father had a brother and sister in the United States. So, he remembered vaguely my aunt’s—his sister’s address in the Bronx.
Prince: That’s amazing.
Jakob: And I wish I could show you the envelope—I have the envelope—how he addressed the envelope, and it’s a miracle that this envelope arrived in the United States…and she received that letter from my father. And she was just overwhelmed, and she immediately wrote back, and we got her reply…I would say this was in maybe four, five months after liberation, we already was able to contact her.
Prince: What did he write on the envelope?
Jakob: Uh…let me think a second…it was written: Josie Zimmerman (?), New York, America. There was no street name or number if I remember correctly, but Josie Zimmerman, Bronx, America. And she got it. I don’t know how she got it.
Prince: Somebody cared.
Jakob: She received the envelope, and from that point she was able to communicate, and then she gave information to my uncle who lived in Syracuse, New York, who was a rabbi by the way. And, then he wrote a letter to my father. So, slowly but surely we managed to become normal human beings again.
Prince: And gently?
Jakob: Yes. Well, I wouldn’t say gently. We were…especially, us, the younger people, we were not afraid of the devil after that, what just happened. We were very flamboyant, and we would go to the next town to Bergen because that’s right next to the camp.
Prince: Tell me how old you were.
Jakob: I was fourteen. [LAUGHS]. I was fourteen, and my cousin was fifteen…going on thirty.
Prince: You or your cousin or both of you?
Jakob: Both of us, both of us. We were glued together, nobody could separate us, we were just always together.
Prince: That was very helpful?
Jakob: It was very helpful by feeling not alone because many people had nobody. And when you’re just by yourself, you don’t have the courage to do the things that we were able to do. So, we would go into the next town, and the Germans left from this town, which was about five kilometers from this camp…and we got into this camp, and we were not allowed to go—actually the British did not want us to go, they were afraid of the lives of the Germans…not our lives anymore, but the Germans because we had such an anger, such a hatred towards them for what they did. So, we would go to this town, and it was a sight to be seen, there was no people there…absolutely nobody, you couldn’t see one German left in this town. But we would go from house to house—the doors were open—and many places, the soup would be on the table in plates because they left in such a hurry. So, the left food behind, they left clothing behind, and we helped ourselves…we just helped ourselves.
Prince: You sat down and ate the soup, and…[LAUGHS].
Jakob: I don’t know if we ate the soup, but we ate other food that they left behind. We ate canned goods that they canned, you know, themselves. And bread, and there was a cow—we milked the cow even.
Prince: What was that like to be in their home, and taking their clothes which usually deserved…
Jakob: We took their clothes…and in a way it felt good.
Prince: Sure.
Jakob: It felt good. We felt like we were humans. We are doing things like other humans should be living like. We looked funny because the clothes didn’t fit, especially for a fourteen year old, I was still skinny, and so was Irving (Erwin?). But we did get dressed, we threw away all the striped clothes, and we got shoes there, and then we brought some food back to the camp. We brought back bacon, we brought back…fruit that was canned, all kinds of stuff. We brought back to camp to share with other.
Prince: When you said the British were afraid of the anger of the survivors, of the displaced people…how did they…I mean, you would think that people would be angry, but was there any outward show to the British that made them concerned about the German people?
Jakob: Well, what happened was that immediately within weeks, within the first two weeks, the main priority was for the British for getting rid of the dead bodies in the camp. There were thousands—tens of thousands of dead bodies in Bergen-Belsen. You can’t even imagine, you couldn’t go ten feet that you didn’t see a dead body. So, that was their number one priority, the bodies were already decomposed, you couldn’t pick them up, you know you picked them up and their arms would come off, their legs would come off. So they took a lot of these SS guys, and they tried to get them to bring all the bodies into one place, and then they took all these bodies by the thousands with a bulldozer and they just shoved them in a huge ditch…and at that time, a lot of us, mainly Russian prisoners, Polish prisoners, as these German SS were picking up the bodies, the British were guarding them. So we would run past the British and would punch these guys, or would hit them, or would curse them, we would be so angry at them. If they would have let us, we would have killed them on the spot because we were so angry at what they did. And…so the British would say to us, and we had translators who translated from English to German, they said, “Don’t be like they were.” They said, “Don’t do what they did.” And we remembered it. So, we Jews, I think maybe we held back but the others didn’t.
Prince: The Russians didn’t?
Jakob: Oh, no, they killed many of these guys. Whenever they had a chance that the British wasn’t guarding them, they killed them.
Prince: Well that was…I mean, if you did, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. But it was a wonderful thing to have someone say that to you.
Jakob: Yes, and the British did say that, and they were guarding these people. I don’t know if they meant at all heartedly because they didn’t like the Germans either, but at least maybe they got orders to do so. The Germans didn’t have much friends those days. And…
Prince: Yeah, but did you all…who were your friends in those days?
Jakob: We had no friends… we had absolutely nobody except ourselves… nobody…
Prince: Each other. So…you registered, that was done…there was a town, Zella (?)
Jakob: Zella, I was just going to get to it.
Prince: Ok, you get to it. [BOTH LAUGH].
Jakob: We had been back in Bergen-Belsen now for about four or five months, and a Jewish community was formed actually in Bergen-Belsen. And the mail delivery was formed then—I was one of the mail deliverer. I stole a bike from Bergen, brought it into the camp, and I was delivering mail to people with my bike, I was fourteen years old—I have a picture of it.
Prince: Oh, I’d love to see that.
Jakob: Yeah. I was delivering the mail. And we did this for a while, but we also realized that this is not the place we want to live. We really wanted to leave Bergen-Belsen behind…it brought back all these bad memories. So, my father and I and Iriving, let’s see…yeah, just the three of us, we said, “Let’s try and go somewhere else.” And we went—we hitchhiked by the way—the Germans used to go in these huge trucks and trailers from city to city, so there were a lot of Germans hitchhiking too because that’s the only way they could go from one place to another. So we would go with them and hitchhike, and we would get on these trucks and go to the next city or town—we had no idea where we were going, we were just going because we want to leave this place behind us. So we went to Zella (?) which was about thirty kilometers from Belgium and we found a house that was halfway destroyed from bombs…and the three of us, we just moved in. We just moved in. What little bit that we had. And…when…and this was on the second floor by the way. Two walls were missing, and a piece of the roof was missing, so we had a nice view from the second floor, and what did we see? We only saw destroyed houses.
Prince: Was that area completely demolished?
Jakob: It was like every German city if you ever saw a German city after the war how it looked, you couldn’t find a house in one piece. So, anyway, we moved into this house. So, next thing is we had to have some food. So, we would go begging from the Germans, we went from house to house. And we told them we needed food, we didn’t tell them who we were, we just told them, “We’re hungry, we need some food.” And they…many of them did give us food even though they didn’t know who we were. And…
Prince: What did they give you?
Jakob: Oh, they would give us a piece of bread, a piece of bacon—whatever they had—it wasn’t all fancy food, it was just food to survive. And—I can’t remember exactly the kind of food they gave us, but we also was spotting if we want to come back and steal some food from them. And that we did. We notice one family—they were raising rabbits…and right away when we saw that we said, “Ok this is a place where we can come back, and we steal some rabbits, and we gonna have fresh rabbits.” And…we did just that the following day…we came at night, and we opened up the rabbit cage, and we took some rabbits, but the rabbit—we got a hold of it, and it started screaming, and the owner heard it and looked outside, and he recognized us. And he says, “Yesterday I gave you food, and today you come to steal.” And we didn’t answer him, we just took the rabbits.
Prince: And left.
Jakob: Yeah.
Prince: I hope you had a boy and a girl.
Jakob: No, what we did, we took the rabbits back, and we ate them. Yeah. My father, he butchered it, and we cooked them, and we had a good meal. We cooked potatoes…but we did what we had to do to survive, and we did the best we could.
Prince: Do you think there were many people who were doing what you were doing?
Jakob: Yes.
Prince: …that left Bergen-Belsen and that were…
Jakob: Many, not all of them, but quite a few. They wanted to leave this place.
Prince: Sure.
Jakob: It was…it was a place that we remembered…with typhoid, with cholera…with nothing but associated with death. And just…we wanted to leave it behind us.
Prince: You were so young…
Jakob: Yes. We just wanted to leave it behind us…we wanted to get to a better place, to a little nicer place.
Prince: Were other people, did they find other things to wear like you did, or did you see people walking around still in uniforms?
Jakob: There was some people that were still walking around in striped uniforms, but not that many because later on, I don’t know what organization, but there was a lot of Jewish organizations that sent in clothes, and people were able to get dressed and discard the striped uniform.
Prince: I want to talk about…where were you going to go with this now?
Jakob: I was going to tell you that from Zella (?), we lived there a few months, and then we decided to leave, and we had…uh, to Frankfurt.
Prince: Ok, I want to be sure to set apart any—can you tell me where to do that—of how much you wanted to go to Palestine. And we can keep going like we’re going now, and we can go back to that. Is that ok?
Jakob: Sure.
Prince: Alright, so you went on to Frankfurt.
Jakob: We went on to Frankfurt, and in Frankfurt…next to Frankfurt there was a camp that was called Zeilitzheim, and it was pretty good-sized camp. And this was typically a D.P. camp—a displaced persons camp.
Prince: It hadn’t been anything before?
Jakob: It was not a concentration camp…as far as I know, maybe they had some Jews there before the Nazis, but I was not aware of it. After the war, I mean after liberation, it was a huge camp, mainly for Jews who lived here. And uh…
Prince: Because those other camps were mixed a lot with other people, weren’t they?
Jakob: But these other camps, within a month or two months…the Poles came and got there people out. Big buses would come and bring them back to Poland. The Czechs came, they picked up their people. The Dutch came with their buses…everybody was leaving except the Jews. We didn’t want to go back to the old place; we had no desire to go back. And nobody was interested in taking us back to those places. Just because you were liberated doesn’t mean that the Polacks or the Hungarians liked us any better than before, just because we went though…you know, we went through hell. So, we stayed behind because we wanted to go to a different place.
Prince: You reached for health, you really did.
Jakob: Yes, we didn’t want to go back…

Tape 1 - Side 2 (Prince)

Jakob: I wanted to go back to Romania for one reason, and the main reason, I wanted to see with my own eyes if anybody from my family is still alive. My father was pleading with me…not to go back…because he was afraid…and I was ready to go back because my cousin Irving (Erwin?), he decided he was going to go back. I just could not believe that my mother, and my brother, and my sister was dead. I just…I just…I said, “If I see with my own eyes that they’re no longer there, maybe I’d believe it.” So—and also my grandparents. So, I agreed that I’m not going to go back, my father pleaded with me not to go, but my cousin, he decided he’s going to go on his own, which was very difficult for us because we’re always together. And he…he didn’t want to go without me, and I didn’t want to stay without him. So…but anyway, we agreed that he’s going to go back and see what’s going on there, and then come back to the Germany.
Prince: That was a big risk for the both of you.
Jakob: It was a big risk. And like I said, the only way he could go was hitchhike, and he had to go through Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and then into Romania.
Prince: And when you say hitchhike, do you mean jump on the train?
Jakob: Jump on the train, and sometimes horse and buggy. And sometimes, oxen and wagon…with trucks, with any way that you could go to certain direction. And he was gone for about four month. And he did manage to get back to Romania. Its’ funny, that when I was in New York just last week, we talked about this…we just talked about this. And he…but before he left from Germany, I told him, I said, “Look, there is a box there I want you to bring back from Romania.” And this box was when the Hungarian Nazis came and gave us two hours to pack to leave, my father gave me this little sewing box—it was Singer sewing machine box, a metal box—and he said to me, see if you can hide it somewhere, right under the nose of the Nazis. And, you know, at that time, I was a year younger, I was only thirteen years old, so…I put it in a bucket, and I was telling the Nazis, “Is it ok if I go and feed the horses and the cows one more time?” They said, “Ok, go ahead.” And it was pitch dark, you know we had no electricity, so…but I knew my way around because I’d been there everyday. So, I took a shovel in the barn, and I knew that I had to do this quick, and I didn’t feed the animals, but I made a hole, maybe I was able to dig down about eight inches, maybe ten inches deep where one of the horses were standing. And one-two-three—I took this box and I buried it in there. And nobody knew where this box was. If God forbid something should have happened to me, that box would still be there…because nobody knew about it. So, but I explained it to my cousin Irving (Erwin?), when he goes there, where this box is…and described him exactly so we…when he went back, he talked to the guy who was living in our house, you know, lived there for free…he said, “Why don’t you give me a shovel, I’m looking for something.” So, he didn’t say anything because he was afraid…I mean, after all this was after the war and he had to agree to it. But he went with him, and he watched him how he was digging this box out, and immediately he found it, he didn’t have to look too far because I told him exactly where it was…it wasn’t a big stable. So he was able to find it. He dug that, and he took it out there, and this guy was polite in his faith that he had been living in our house, using our stable and our animals and everything, and he didn’t know about this. So, he took it out and he brought it back to Germany. So, what was in the box? The box was my grandfather from my mother’s side, he was a well-to-do guy, he always did well, and he was a very capable person, and he brought all his three son-in-laws when they got married, he bought a pocket watch with a gold chain on it. And my mother had some diamond earrings, and a diamond ring, and some wedding bands, and she had a little gold watch, and there may have been something else in there, I don’t remember exactly. But this, what I just said, it was in there.
Prince: It was still there.
Jakob: Yes. So, he brought it back, and he gave it to my father. And my father was…he couldn’t believe himself that this made it after all this because all these months and weeks we were always hounded by the Germans, by the Hungarians to give up the gold and the money, and they would just not leave, on a daily basis. You know, they would tell you, “Where is your money? Where did you hide this? Where is your gold?” And here it is, they didn’t get it.
Prince: Do you still have it?
Jakob: The watch, my father when he passed away—should he rest in peace—he gave it to my sister’s husband in New York, and he’s still got it.
Prince: He gave it to who?
Jakob: I have a half-sister…
Prince: Oh ok.
Jakob: …who after my father got married, and her husband who is a rabbi, he’s got it. So it doesn’t matter, as long as it came back. I would have liked to have had it because it was for me…it was a sentimental because it came from my grandfather, and I thought it would have been more proper if I would have had it, but that’s ok, let them have it, it’s fine as long as the Germans didn’t get it, the Hungarians didn’t get it.
Prince: Right. So, Irving (Erwin?) came back…
Jakob: Irving (Erwin?) came back, and I’ll tell you it was a happy reunion. I was so worried about him that something was going to happen, but while he was there he found…let’s see…four cousins in Romania that they also went back from the camps.
Prince: In that town?
Jakob: Not in that town, but they lived in other towns, two of them lived in ____?____, two of them lived in…
Prince: How did they find each other?
Jakob: He went, he went to each of those places.
Prince: Oh, he went from town to town. Oh my goodness.
Jakob: And he found them, so…then he asked them, “Let’s go back to Germany, maybe we’ll go to other places.” Because none of us wanted to live in these places anymore, in Romania, even though there was Jews who had no place to go, at that time there was no D.P. ____?_____ from the United States that we could get to the United States. The word “Israel” was not mentioned yet, there was a Palestine, and this is where the recruitment came in from the Haganah—they were looking for young Jewish guys to come to Palestine and help create a Jewish home there. And this went…they went to all these camps and tried to find people who were interested in going to Palestine.
Prince: Weren’t most people interested in going to Palestine?
Jakob: There was quite a few interested, including me.
Prince: And more than America?
Jakob: Yes. I had more of a desire to go there than to come to the United States. I had no idea what the United States was all about—absolutely none. So, I…when they mentioned, you know, that Palestine, and they were talking about a Jewish homeland, I said, “It sounds very wonderful, you know, to be a place where they don’t hate us.”
Prince: And people want you.
Jakob: Yes. So, I really wanted to go. And again, [LAUGHS] my father put the brakes on, and I was young enough that he was able to persuade me that I shouldn’t go.
Prince: Well the fact that he had that connection to America.
Jakob: Exactly.
Prince: But, you know, you’d have been a wonder in Palestine.
Jakob: I would have lost it because my heart and soul—even though I live in this country, I have my family here, and I love the United States, don’t misunderstand me, I think this is the most wonderful country on the face of the earth. And in this country the Gentile people are completely different people than Gentile people in other countries, they just don’t have the hatred in their hearts against us. Because you can go to Poland, or Romania, or Hungary today, they still hate Jews; there’s barely any Jews left there, but they still hate you. But in this country, you’re not afraid to say that you’re a Jew. I’m not afraid to—when somebody asked me, I’m not afraid to say, I’m not ashamed to say it—there we were always hiding it. So, but even that…uh, I wanted to go to Palestine.
Prince: And they were very persuasive, weren’t they? Wasn’t the…the Brigade would come in…talk to me about that.
Jakob: They would come in, and they were…actually recruiting people not only just to go, but even how to defend yourself, they already started there, because to go to Palestine it was not an easy thing because the British didn’t want to let us in. So, it was a constant battle. Many times they loaded a ship full of immigrants, the Haganah did, and they were finding out they were heading towards Palestine, and the British stopped them, and they shipped them back to Cyprus. So…we were worried that that’s going to happen to us too. But still in all, I really really wanted to go to Palestine.
Prince: Yes, I can understand that. And how about Irving (Erwin?)?
Jakob: Irving (Erwin?) too. And until today we are strong, strong Zionists—for us, Israel is very, very important. Living as a Jew in a place where nobody wants you, and knowing that any Jew, anywhere on the face of the earth have a place now to go. And I’m certain to say, there are a lot of American Jews who were born and raised in this country do not have the same feeling, and it hurts. But, uh, listen, one thing you cannot change is a person’s feelings. I guess you have to go through the horror what we went through to have the feeling that we have for a Jewish homeland.
Prince: I’m listening to you, we’re sitting in this very pleasant room, carpet on the floor, soft lights, and…talking about Irving (Erwin?) going back, your stress level of everything that you’ve been through, plus maybe losing him, plus trying to go somewhere that you wanted to go, um your father…I mean, the food, the clothes, the health, the…was anybody around in those camps? Did anybody reach out to talk to you about your mental feelings? And did anybody…or did they have anything set up to examine you physically?
Jakob: No…we had nobody talking to us about anything. We were never examined up until…I believe it was 1948…when we registered to come to the United States. Only then we had a physical examination because if you was not physically fit, you could not come into this country. But up until then, nobody talked to us about anything, and we had no physical…checkups or anything. And I did develop a hernia in the camps, and when I did register, after the first check-up they said that I will not be able to go to the United States unless I have surgery…in Germany. So, I went into the hospital as soon as I was able to, and I had surgery in Frankfurt to repair the hernia. And, that’s the only…
Prince: And you were ok?
Jakob: Well…they butchered me up…let’s put it that way. [LAUGHS].
Prince: Did they?
Jakob: Yeah, I think this guy who did it was, I don’t know if he was even a registered doctor or what he was because I had problems all the way…it reoccurred, and I had my second surgery here in St. Louis by Dr. ____?_____, God bless him. He…I told him my problems, and he said, “I can’t promise you anything, but I’ll do my best.” And since then, thank God, I’m ok.
Prince: Alright…from what I…ok, from 1946, are we up to that point? Is there anything else about the camps? I mean, when did they begin to be, what I say organized more—there were schools, and you know, were there that kind of thing? Where did you find something, anything like that anyplace that you were that…were they just places…the places you were in, were they just places where there were lists on the wall, you had food, you could sleep, there was some Jewish life there—you said there was a synagogue—
Jakob: Yes.
Prince: But did it expand at all at the time that you were in any of the places like that?
Jakob: It expanded almost all places. Jewish learning and teaching started to flourish. And I can speak mostly in Frankfurt where we moved from Bergen-Belsen. And we lived by the way in Asheweig (?), and also was a camp, we lived there for a short period of time.
Prince: Did it have a name?
Jakob: Asheweig (?).
Prince: Oh, Asheweig, I didn’t know if that was a city or…
Jakob: But we didn’t live there too long, but we moved back to Frankfurt. And in Frankfurt, my father became active…very active…in organizing a Jewish community. And…because Frankfurt had a huge Jewish population before the war, and Zeilitzheim was not that far from Frankfurt, all you have to do was jump on the street car and you could be anywhere in Frankfurt that you wanted to be. And things were already getting better in Frankfurt, the communication was getting better, we were able to go from one place to another without much problems. So, we decided…no, I’m sorry, I should say this—we moved to Frankfurt, and my father was desperate to come to the United States.
Prince: This was what time? About ’46 or something?
Jakob: This was end of ’46, ’47. We did some black marketeering, you know buying American cigarettes and coffee, and sell it to the Germans, and they would give their right arm for a pack of cigarettes, whatever they had they were so desperate to get a half a pound of coffee—they couldn’t even afford a pound of coffee, but a half a pound of coffee. So we would be the in-between guys. We would buy it from somebody that would bring it in from France or from Holland or from some other country. And then we would resell it. So, we would make a little money that way. And so my father was able to save up a few dollars. And all of a sudden he heard that there was a chance, a much better chance to immigrate to the United States from France. So he decided to go—to leave Frankfurt and go to France, and he was going to go from there to the United States—by that time he was remarried, he married this lady…was a very nice lady, I liked her a lot. He picked himself up, and they went to France.
Prince: Also a displaced person?
Jakob: Also a displaced person. Yes, she lost her husband, she lost her baby. And they got together, and they married in Frankfurt. So, they left—they asked me to come, and I didn’t want to go. Somehow I felt that it’s a sham, it’s not going to work because there were so many crooked deals going on, you know, everyone was promising everybody, you know, how you can go to the United States, how you can go here, how you can go there, but it was a money-making deal, you know, people were trying to make a fast buck. So, he, my father had a few thousand dollars saved up, and he—in those days, two thousand dollars was a fortune—and he left from Frankfurt, and he went to Paris, and he lived there, for about a year and a half they lived there in Paris. And we communicated by mail. And I kept asking him, “What’s happening? Are you going to be able to leave?” And nothing happened. After a year and a half they had to leave France—first somebody took his money and promising him he’s going to be able to emigrate, and nothing of that sort happened. And he came back to Germany. But by that time, Irving (Erwin?)and me, and this story I’m about to tell you…my family loves it. They like this story more than the story about the concentration camps. [LAUGHS]. So, Irving (Erwin?), and me, and two brothers—___?___ and Martin—and a German-Jewish guy, his name was Eisemann (?) was his last name, I don’t remember his first name anymore. But he was a butcher from before the war, and he survived the camp. But he was not a business man; if somebody helped him, he was ok to do things. And I don’t know how we came to this idea, all of a sudden we decided to…sell kosher meat because there was need for it.
Prince: Uh huh. In Frankfurt?
Jakob: In Frankfurt, yeah. So, first the four of us—the two brothers, Irving (Erwin?), and me, and we were just youngsters, you know, who were we, fifteen years old, sixteen years old—we decided that there is a need for kosher meat. People were interested in buying kosher meat again. So, we went to the German authorities and inquired if they would give us the proper documents and licensing that we needed to sell kosher meat—nobody said no. They saw who we were, where we came from, they agreed to everything. There was no questions asked, but it was a huge undertaking. Almost—you can’t even imagine…then we had to worry about a place, where we going to open a place? We found a place on ____?____, which was the name of the street, it was ____?_____, in Frankfurt, nice area of the city, but there was still everything bombed out. But before the war—you saw the pictures—it was a beautiful street. And we found this was actually a kosher butcher living in this place before the war. So, we went there, and we looked through it, and we found…the place was destroyed, the building was destroyed—it was a brick building. But we found the icebox that he used for the meat was still intact.
Prince: That’s like a dream.
Jakob: Yeah, it was still intact. When I say it was an icebox—it was literally an icebox—it had no motor, but he used to put blocks of ice in there, and they were selling, you know, that’s how they kept the meat cold.
Prince: This is very heavy—I mean, this is a very fantastic thing for you all, you’re creating something…
Jakob: Yes, yes. I’m amazed sometimes how we came up with this idea. This is what we talk about when we get together, you know we reminisce, you know, about these things. And…so the…so then we had to go back to the German authorities, and we explained to them that we found this place, but it’s not our place, and if the owner will ever come back, they can have it, but we would like to do something here in this place because it has an icebox, it was a Jewish place before, and we thought that this was the right place that we could start building and sell kosher meat. So, first, we had to build a building because there was no—the building was destroyed. So, we were bricklayers in Auschwitz, we knew how to lay bricks, and pretty soon we went to work, and we built a room big enough to…right in front, you know where the sidewalk was so we could display. But we didn’t realize that we didn’t need no display, we didn’t realize that. So, and this Jewish guy, this Eisemann, he went along with everything we wanted to do, he saw that we were go-getters, you know, we were not the people that just talk about it, we wanted to get things done. So, he just went along with it, we always said he just schlepped along. He didn’t want to believe this was going to materialize, but we said, “Just go with us, we’re not going to stop until it’s going to happen.”
Prince: And you were kids. Was he an old man?
Jakob: We were kids. He was older, yeah, he was probably twice our age, twice. So, it wasn’t long, everybody chipped in, we built this little building around the icebox, and when the building was up we went back to the German authorities again in the city hall. We told them, “Ok, we’ve got a place where we can sell kosher meat. Now we need a license to find the animals.”
Prince: You had a roof and everything?
Jakob: We had a roof on the building, yeah. So, we were not allowed to butcher there…that was not allowed, that has to be in the slaughterhouse. Then we had to have a _____?_____, do you know what a _____?_____ is? There was two of them that survived that camp in there. We approached them to tell them what we had in mind, and they agreed, you know, everything we need was available (?). Everything we had to take step-by-step, and we managed to get there. So, when everything was in place, and the Germans gave us permission to butcher one cow a week. They said, “Ok, we give you—” Because they themselves didn’t want to believe it, they see them young guys, they figured, “They don’t know what they’re talking about.” But they didn’t want to stand up, because they wanted to get along, and they agreed to it. So, they gave us permission to butcher one cow, and pretty soon, we took this guy Eisemann, and we went out to the country scouting by the farmers to find a cow to be butchered, and we found it, we paid for it, we brought it into the slaughter house, we called the ___?___, he came and slaughtered the cow according to Jewish law, and we brought it into the butcher shop—we had a start. And my father was still in Paris. And we were pinching ourselves, “Is this possible?” You know that we were able to do this, that we’re doing this. We brought the cow in—and at first we didn’t…you know, the front part of the cow is only kosher, the hind quarter is not kosher, I don’t know if you’re aware of that.
Prince: Yeah.
Jakob: Yeah. Only the front part of the cow you can sell to Jewish people as kosher meat.
Prince: From the waist…
Jakob: From the waist up. From the waist down is not kosher.
Prince: Oh, interesting.
Jakob: Yeah. We knew that—we learned that in Frankfurt, you know, in Hebrew school. So, we were able to separate that in the slaughter house, and we had no problem selling the hind quarter to other butchers who were not Jewish.
Prince: Were there any other Jewish butchers at that time?
Jakob: No.
Prince: You’re telling me that you all built this little place up where it had been before, in Frankfurt, and you are the first Jewish butchers.
Jakob: That’s right.
Prince: Wow.
Jakob: That’s right. And we brought the meat in, and word got around, didn’t have to protest nothing, but word got around that there’s kosher meat to be gotten. But again, there always was a catch. You couldn’t sell meat, you had to have coupons that you can only sell per person like, I believe it was, a half a pound.
Prince: Oh.
Jakob: Which was ok, too. At least, you know where we came from a half a pound of kosher meat was a big deal. So, ok, so we had to sell it according to German laws, so we did that, and that cow disappeared the first day it was—no trace of it, there was nothing left, it was sold out. And if you could picture when that the Germans saw that we were selling meat, somehow the word got out to the Gentile population, there was a line formed, maybe ten blocks long, they thought maybe that they’d be able to buy meat here because the Germans were starving. There was…this time the shoe was on the other foot, we had food to eat, they didn’t.
Prince: That’s an incredible story.
Jakob: Yeah.

Tape 2 - Side 1 (Prince)

Prince: Ok, you were saying that there were friends and you were telling the same story.
Jakob: We were talking about it just last week in New York, just what I’m telling you now.
Prince: Is it a silly question to ask you for a couple of years before you wake up and you’re in these terrible places, the first thing you open your eyes in the morning. Now, you’re kids, you’re opening your eyes and you have a place of business to go to.
Jakob: That’s right.
Prince: Can we stop just a minute and talk about, maybe you’d filled out now, I mean, your mind, and your body, and your spirit, you’re growing, and you’re maturing, you’re…and here you are in business.
Jakob: Well…it’s a miracle how we were able to accomplish this.
Prince: Were you healing? Or…how did all this…you had so much going on.
Jakob: We had a lot of things going on.
Prince: And your bodies were getting healthier? Your minds…but still you had this…
Jakob: We tried to leave this behind us…the horror. We tried to forget about it, we tried to start a normal life, a life like everybody else has. We didn’t want to dwell on the horrors what we went through. So, this was one of the reasons—and we also wanted to have a better life, we figured we gonna be able to make a little money so we can have a better life which we did—we made a little money, we had tailor made suits, and we had shoes made, hand-made shoes, and pretty soon we looked like millionaires compared to many people who were not able to do that. And…make a long story short, from one cow, by the time we got noticed from the U.S. consulate that we’re being called to leave to the United States, the last week that we were still in the butcher shop we had seventeen head of cattle that we were butchering and selling to the public—to…to our…to Jewish people. Seventeen head. If you can even comprehend.
Prince: No, I’m trying to think, where, where, where did you have it? I mean, your place wasn’t that big—you must have had…
Jakob: We…we…we didn’t bring in all seventeen head at the same time, but everyday we went to the slaughterhouse, and we, sometimes we slaughtered two or three, and we brought it in, and the next day two or three, but we were able to. We made the place each time bigger because as we were growing we had no idea that we’re going to be leaving in 1949; we thought that by the time the U.S. consulate would call us, maybe it’d be another five years.
Prince: You know, I’m trying to visualize your little place, where people are coming in, so where people are coming in, so then they’re milling around, they’re waiting for you to wait on them, so then they’re talking to each other, and were there…did you sell this meat to some of the Germans? And if so, were they matriculating and talking with the Jewish…?
Jakob: There was some meat sold to the German population, not too much because most it we were interested in selling to—
Prince: The Jewish people.
Jakob: —to the Jewish people. And when we did put up a sign that there was meat for sale, we put it up because—for the Jews we didn’t have to put up a sign, they knew where they had to come, and they knew where kosher meat was to be bought. And sometimes, when we had a little extra to be sold, it was gobbled up in not even hours, in minutes, you know, the Germans came and bought it. But of course, we always had to account with the coupons, you know, that we had to…
Prince: Still the half a pound?
Jakob: We had to show it to the Germans, but it wasn’t really that well documented…sometimes we sold more than a half a pound. So, who’s going to start up fighting with us. So, then, my father came back from Paris, and he saw what we were doing here, and he himself couldn’t believe it. He thought it was a joke, and we took him over to the butcher shop [LAUGHS], and so soon he wanted to become a partner, and we took him in as a partner.
Prince: You said that he became part of the Jewish life in Frankfurt, what did that consist of doing or being?
Jakob: He helped to organize a Jewish organization, I’m ashamed to tell you I don’t remember the name of it now…
Prince: Well, in your transcript of your other interview, it said your father was a member of the Jewish committee, and they formed a Jewish congregation, and a Jewish synagogue was half left standing and was repaired. I don’t know…
Jakob: But did I say that this was in Frankfurt or back in Belgium?
Prince: No, in Frankfurt.
Jakob: In Frankfurt. There was an office built in Frankfurt, and the president’s name was Weber, was his name. And my father was one of the officers there in this organization. And they also built a Abra Cadesha (?), you know what an Abra Cadesha is?
Prince: It’s a…is that a burial…?
Jakob: A burial society, yes. And I, I was part of that too, when a Jewish person died, they had to be buried according to Jewish law. They did a lot of good things encouraging people to join the synagogues, and slowly more and more German-Jews came back to Frankfurt. And it started to grow, slowly but surely.
Prince: I think being in the…well you were more in the British Zone?
Jakob: We were liberated in the British Zone, but Frankfurt was in the American Zone.
Prince: So, did you find the camps in the American Zone different in any way from the British Zone—what was happening in them, or how you were treated? Of course, if you were in the British Zone first and then in the American Zone, it’s another year or something later, it might have made a difference.
Jakob: Right, but most, most camps and most of the people that I know they preferred to be in the American Zone because you were able to communicate more with the loved ones in the United States if you were in the American Zone.
Prince: So…let’s see…what else? What am I not asking that you can think about? You can give yourself some time…
Jakob: Well, the next years after we were called for the consulate to emigrate, was in August of 1949, and then we had to liquidate the butcher shop. And we found some buyers, but we almost gave it away because there was no time to sell. So, we got a few dollars, but not too much. So, they took over, and then they continued it, and I don’t think they were there a year, and they emigrated to the United States. And those people that bought that butcher shop there I ended up working for for him here in the Bronx in New York. [LAUGHS].
Prince: Oh. That it is…rather amazing. [LAUGHS]. Did you know they were there? Or did you go in by accident?
Jakob: No, I know they were…yeah because we kept in touch with them.
Prince: When you think about things, Oskar, what do you think about most?
Jakob: About the past you mean? Mostly I think about my family. That is a scar that is so deep that it is impossible to ever forget. Even though they say that time heals everything, it does not. I always think how would it have been if they had been alive. How things would have worked out different. That goes through my mind many times. I think many times about my grandfather that we loved so dearly, and he was such a great person—I always think about him because I learn more from my grandfather than I learned from my own parents. Even though as young as I was, but his teaching remained in me.
Prince: Was it the way he was, or what he said?
Jakob: Both. He was a very, very smart, intelligent person, and a very capable person.
Prince: Your mother’s father?
Jakob: Yes. [LAUGHS]. My father’s father was not so…he needed help from his children to survive, but my other grandfather was just the opposite—he helped his children to get on their feet. All three daughters that married, he helped them to…he put them in business, and he was just a great human being. He was a person that in ___?____ where he was living, he…created that Jewish community, he supported it—morally, financially. He was a person where if a Jewish person was traveling—there was not hotels or motels in Romania—many times Jews would travel with a horse and buggy from one place to another and they would just collect rags, or they would collect feathers from geese…you know, from the peasants. So, when nightfall came, they had to stay someplace, and my grandfather—should rest in peace—he built, it was called the ____?____. A place, it was a room, a bed in there, and when I think about it, that’s the kind of person he was. And they knew, the Jews knew that when they came to ____?____, there was a place to stay.
Prince: He’s like an angel.
Jakob: He was. And there was no…they didn’t have to pay or nothing, this was not come for money. But they knew, ____?____—the word _____?_____ means is “poor person’s house.”
Prince: Well, did he make a difference to you—I know he wasn’t with you when you were in the camps, but did he make a difference that this part of him helped you?
Jakob: It may have. I couldn’t answer that, honestly I don’t know. I consider myself as an eternal optimist. To me, no matter how bad things get, it always will get better.
Prince: What was his name?
Jakob: Moses Glick (?)
Prince: Did you give any one of your children a name like from his name?
Jakob: No, no, I did not.
Prince: But you…one of your children is your brother’s name.
Jakob: Yes, yes.
Prince: Oskar, I told you I felt a little bad about putting you through this.
Jakob: Oh, that’s ok.
Prince: But…
Jakob: If I can do any good, if it can help any kids…or anybody to learn about it, it’s worth it.
Prince: There were so many—I don’t know if you know anything about any of these or came in contact with any of these organizations, and I’ll pronounce them, probably mispronounce them, but Beriha, they organized an exodus from Eastern Europe. Or well, the Jewish Brigade we talked about.
Jakob: The Jewish Brigade, yeah that rings a bell.
Prince: Well I think that they were the ones, some of the people that came into the camps and talked about Palestine. And well did they have uniforms on? Do you remember?
Jakob: No. By the way, I should mention that I met Ben Gurion (?) in Bergen-Belsen, in person.
Prince: Please tell me.
Jakob: Yeah, he came in Bergen-Belsen, I mean this was quite…after the liberation. We were able to get on our feet. But he came and he held rallies, I mean people were storming there by the thousands.
Prince: And you met him? Or you heard him?
Jakob: I heard him, and I was maybe a few feet away from him because I was so eager to listen to him. But he was in Bergen-Belsen, and he went from camp to camp to encourage people to go to Palestine.
Prince: That was pretty special. Well, UNRRA—United Nations Relief…
Jakob: UNRRA, yes, the UNRRA was very helpful in those days. They did help and bring packages, you know, from the United States.
Prince: Now, say for me, the surviving remnant.
Jakob: She’erit ha Peletah.
Prince: Yeah, say it again.
Jakob: She’erit ha Peletah, that means, it’s a Hebrew word, a biblical word…what it means is—and I hope I translate this right, I don’t want to be wrong on this—
Prince: Oh well, we won’t…
Jakob: She’erit ha Peletah is when the harvest season came in the old Judea-Samaria, you were supposed to harvest the grain so that you had to leave something behind for people who were unfortunate so that they could come and have some of your own stuff that you sold. So She’erit ha Peletah means that, _____?______in training, what remained from the screening of the reed or the corn or whatever have you [LAUGHS]…
Prince: I see.
Jakob: It’s kind of hard to explain.
Prince: No, I understand, yeah, I wouldn’t know that, but…
Jakob: But that’s how it is pronounce: She’erit ha Peletah. And we considered ourselves those.
Prince: That surviving remnant. Did you ever run across, like a rabbi or a…you know, in the camps when they said the shules? And where did they come from? Were they army chaplains?
Jakob: Oh yeah…no, well there was an army chaplain in Bergen-Belsen that was in the British army, his name was Baumgartner. Yeah, he was a little short fellow, but wonderful human being, and he did his best to make us feel welcome and Jewish and everything. I remember him well. But then of course, we had our own rabbis who survived the camps.
Prince: And how…I mean, they were weak, and hungry, and…just like you all were. And not…could they handle, did they come back to be…?
Jakob: Most of them didn’t. Very, very few survived—especially rabbis—because they were not used to hard physical work. For them it was very difficult. In Auschwitz there was a rabbi, Lipchitz was his name, and he was with my father’s group when he went to work, and they actually beat him to death…for not being able to work hard. And he just didn’t have the capability of doing things. And one day, my father came back and he…we came to the same barrack, but we were working in different groups in Auschwitz, in Birkenau, and he was telling us that he was beaten to death. He never came back. And that happened to many of these rabbis, especially the orthodox rabbis in Europe, they were all studying the Talmud, that was their job. And they didn’t do work, and they were not used to the physical work, and to just do physical work was one thing, but this was tortuous physical work. And the food…and it was inhumane.
Prince: Nobody can…
Jakob: No, I don’t know how I survived. I really don’t. I was thirteen years old when I got into the camp. When I was in Auschwitz I told the Germans I was seventeen because I wouldn’t be here talking to you. But little did I realize when they filled up my two buckets full of concrete, and I had to carry these two buckets of concrete up to the third floor, on the steps, it was so painful, it was so difficult that my tears would just run down—I remember that well—and I wasn’t supposed to cry.
Prince: Yeah, so if you did you got…
Jakob: …you got beatings. You know, if you just laxed off just a little bit, you know, it had to be done, you did it, or…lucky we have a strong enough to do it. But many times I thought I’m just not going to be able to do it.
Prince: It would have been easy to put down the…
Jakob: I’m telling you, I was carrying this heavy load, and it was so brutal, it was so heavy, and I just couldn’t put it down because they were watching you, they were, you know not only that, they said “Fast, fast. Schnell, schnell.” You know, I had to go up…
Prince: And you knew you had to do it again tomorrow.
Jakob: Had to do it all day.
Prince: Yeah. Well, I think that…I thank you, Oskar. I’ve always…I think people look up to you, I always have.
Jakob: Well thank you, “Sister”, I appreciate it.
Prince: Well, I do remember when you took me off the road. [LAUGHS].
Jakob: I remember that too. [LAUGHS]. We were late that time, remember?
Prince: We were on highway forty, and we were going to be late to the school, and the next thing…
Jakob: Well, we weren’t too much late…
Prince: No we weren’t, we were going to be late if we stayed in the traffic, but you went down on the ground, on the grass…I’ll never forget that. I thought, oh, nobody but you could do that. But anyway…you’ve always had a lot of meaning for me, and I think everybody else too, everybody who’s known you. I thank you, and I’m sorry, and there are other questions, but I think that’s probably more than you need to do.
Jakob: Ok, well good. I’m glad I could help.
Prince: Well you did.
Jakob: If you need me, if you have any questions, I’ll be more than glad…
Prince: I always could have more questions, but I would say this to you: if there is something that you think about that you thought, oh, you know, like, I mean, I don’t know if you, do you have a…something you would want to say to people, you know, like right now, is there some message that you would give to somebody, that you feel would…something you want to say?
Jakob: You mean…if I was speaking to an audience?
Prince: Yeah, leave them with something, a thought…
Jakob: I like to say this: being a Jewish person after all the things that we have gone through, I’m terribly proud to be a Jew. It is my most important thing in life, even though I don’t consider myself a religious person, but to be a Jew and be with my people, is to me is the most important thing.
Prince: God bless you, and thank you.

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