Ray of Hope

From Auschwitz to Concentration Camp Rhemsdorf 1945 and Finally to Freedom at Theresienstadt

Biographical Episodes

by Victor Breitburg

Victor, a survivor of the Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz, is one of "The Boys", a group of several hundred young camp survivors sent to England in 1945 and 1946. Their experiences have been immortalized in Martin Gilbert's acclaimed book, "The Boys: Triumph over Adversity," published in 1996. Victor arrived in England with the Windermere group and lived in the Cardross Hostel in Scotland. He emigrated to the United States in the late forties and has maintained contact with "The Boys". He is actively engaged in Holocaust education and is held in high esteem by the educational authorities in New Jersey. 45 Aid Society Web Site.


This story is about the three of us, Adek Wasercier, Julek Zylberger, and me. Adek was my partner in Auschwitz, and Julek became my partner in Rhemsdorf. We were all friends, and we have stayed together since we left Auschwitz January 15, 1945. Whatever happened to one affected all of us. Even though we were always together, each one of us has his own recollections, and there are no two identical stories. After the liberation of May 8, 1945, the three of us went to England together.

The Road to Buchenwald, Germany: January 1945

On January 15, 1945, we marched out of Buda, which was one of the enclaves of Auschwitz. There were two barracks, which housed about two hundred inmates in each. Hungarians occupied one, and the other one had a mixture of political prisoners; most were Christians, Polish, and Greek Jews.

It began on the morning of January 15. We were told to get ready to be evacuated from Buda. For the past three months I had been working on a pig farm. The SS officer ordered us to slaughter all of the pigs before we leave. This was a monumental undertaking because we were only fifteen workers and there were over one hundred pigs. The Germans didnít want to leave anything behind for the Russians. This was one of the hardest things for me to do because I never killed any animal before. Towards the evening we were finished, and in our bloodstained clothes we were ordered to march. We were rushed because we had to catch up with the other inmates from Buda. As we marched the temperature started to drop, and if this was not enough, it also started to snow. Sometime during the night we caught up with our group, who were sleeping in an abandoned wooden stall.

Our Kapo told us that we were going to sleep in the barn nearby. When we walked into the barn, it was filled to capacity. Our group, who came late, had no place to lie down, so we had to sleep wherever we could. We certainly could not sleep outdoors because we would have frozen to death. I looked around to find a place to lie down; I noticed a heavy beam above. Thatís where I slept for what was left of the night. Next morning at dawn, we were reassembled, counted, and ordered again to march. I was tired from the night before and smelled from the blood, which started to get brown on my clothes. I caught up with Julek and Adek, and just having them near me gave me support to go on. We had light clothing and a single blanket, which was the only thing we had to protect ourselves from the freezing snowy winter cold. We continuously heard the popping of gunshots, and every time we heard one, we knew that another human being just made it to heaven, because surely we were in hell. I donít remember whether we got any food that day, but we survived.

Late on the third day we finally came to a railroad station. We were surrounded with SS soldiers and their dogs, they laughed as their dogs attempted to bite us. There were several groups of inmates from other camps. As we passed one of those groups I heard my name being called. I turned around and from a distance I saw my Uncle Moses waving at me. That little wave invigorated me; at least there was another person from our family alive. I waved back, and with tears in my eyes I yelled back to him that I am doing fine. I hoped that I gave him back what he gave to me.

I really do not know where this station was. Maybe it was Kattowitz (Katowice). We were put in open, iron, coal trains and by the time we arrived at Buchenwald, half the train inmates had frozen to death. What was hard for us to take while we were traveling through many German cities, and passing under the bridges was the people spitting down on us. They must have seen the dead bodies on one side, and on the other side, a pitiful bunch of half alive, frozen skeletal human beings. We were huddled together with our blankets, which we took from the dead. We were lucky that when we arrived in Buchenwald none of us had to go through a selection because most of us would not have passed. In Buchenwald they didnít know what to do with us. We were put in a barrack with three hundred people. There were not enough sleeping bunks for everyone, and some of us had to sleep on the ground. In the morning we got our 200 grams of bread, a small piece of margarine, and some ersatz coffee. In the evening we got a little watered down soup with three small pieces of potatoes floating on top of it. We spent our twenty-four hours in the barracks with nothing to do. There were rows of barracks, and between barracks there were cattle wires we were allowed to walk around within the perimeter of our barrack. We were allowed to communicate, but we were not allowed to cross.

Hungry, bored, walking around, I heard someone calling my name. I turned around and I saw Motek Lefkowicz, a childhood friend of mine. Both of us were overcome with emotion, each one thought that the other one was dead. "Are you hungry?" he asked me. "If you are I, can give you some food every day." He explained to me that he landed a job in a soup kitchen, and if I would look in a designated area at night I would find some bread and some other things. At night I sneaked out and near the gate I found a parcel of food. This lasted about a week, and then I heard that he was sent out from Buchenwald. I truly can say that he saved my life with the extra food I got from him. Through the years I thought about him and what he did for me. In 1995 when I met him in England and reminded him about his helping me out, he did not remember anything about it.

The Road to Rhemsdorf, Germany: End of January 1945

We arrived at Rhemsdorf around noon. The first thing we noticed was that the prisoners were working with gloves. But we also noticed the slime of oil all around us. It did not take us too long to find out where the oil was coming from. We saw storages had blown up and oil was still trickling from them. A little farther on we saw the devastation from the bombing that must have occurred a couple of days before. We were assigned to a barrack and we were given bunk beds to sleep in. It was everywhere like it was in Birkenau (Auschwitz); each bunk bed had five inmates and they were three rows high. Unlike Auschwitz, the barracks were filthy. Around six oíclock we were called outside for the evening roll call. We waited for the other inmates to arrive. To our surprise when they showed up, we noticed what we thought were gloves on their hands was dirt mixed with oil sludge. Rhemsdorf was a huge chemical industrial complex. They were able to extract gas from coal. Also unbeknown to me there were other chemicals manufactured. Within a couple of days, we were as dirty as they were. The water was rationed, and with the little water we were able to obtain, we had to wash our laundry and ourselves.

In Auschwitz we had to wash up when we came back from work, and if one was caught dirty, the whole block paid the consequences. We had two sets of uniforms and we continually wore one and the other set we had washed and hung up to dry. In the morning we once again washed and then we went to be counted; we called this the "Appel."

But Rhemsdorf was not the same. We went to sleep dirty and woke up dirty. The bed bugs and the lice had a field day with our bodies. The food ration was the same as it was in Buchenwald, but this time we had to work for it. We were working in the midst of the German civilian workers. They saw our wretched bodies, and sunken eyes, which were begging for some food, but none of them volunteered to give us any. We did not mind the bombings. We knew the war was winding down, and this time it was in our favor. When we heard the sirens we knew that we were going to be hit but we didnít care. Gazing up to the sky, we saw wave after wave of planes coming in our direction. We were put in a gorge where we were kept till the bombing was over. How beautiful were those planes, like eagles high in sky with white vapor trailing.

We heard that if you worked certain jobs you were given some soup for lunch. It didnít take too long before Julek and I were able to push ourselves in. What I didnít know was that I was going to become an expert in digging out unexploded bombs. It was dangerous, but that extra soup was a lifesaver. Sometimes those bombs were as much as eight feet down. First we had to dig around them and always the tip of the bomb was the deepest end. For the last couple of weeks we had rain, and most of the time the lower part was immersed in water. Maybe Julek and I were lucky because neither of us got killed. Sometimes the bomb broke in half and that yellow powder got wet and that eliminated explosions. When it got dark we dragged ourselves back to the barracks half-alive. After the "Appel" (counting of us) we got our liter of soup. You would think that we would rest, but we started to talk about how we outwitted the Germans and some of us were even able to organize some extra food. Due to the rain, and to our dismay, the Allies had not bombed our complex for the last couple of days. And once again my unexpected luck played a role that saved Julekís and my own life, and later in Marienbad, Adekís as well.

As I was standing in line to go to work, I was pushed back three lines behind Julek and was left behind. Whoever was left over was assigned to clean bricks from bombed out buildings. While we were working I started to whistle when I noticed that an SS officer was observing me and smiling. He looked different, his hair was gray and his face was not as stern. He motioned me to follow him. He stopped and asked me if I spoke German. Without any hesitation, I said "Jawohl" (Yes). He took me to a hut and he told me to take care of it. I looked around and I noticed a couple of SS soldiers at a long table sitting around and reading newspapers. At the same time I also noticed a shelf above the table lined with canteens. I immediately knew I hit the jackpot. The voice of the officer jarred my mind, this is the SS mess hall and there was another room around the corner where the French prisoners of war are having their meals. Finally he showed me his office, told me what he expected of me.

I was left alone and I also felt very uneasy with the SS around me. What a dump that hut was. Immediately I knew what I had to do: a lot of soap, water and some paint to brighten up this place. The next day I found out that the officer was a Major. I started to work on his office first. Within a couple of days I had his office spotless. Then I asked certain SS soldiers not to wash their canteens in cold water, I would clean them. When I was finished with them, they looked like they were new. Within two weeks I had approximately twenty canteens, and most of them had some food left over in them. As time passed, I became at ease with everyone. But not for one minute did I forget where my place was and who I was.

I knew that I had to play their game. I never wore my hat inside the hut therefore I did not have to take it off for them. I kept myself spotless. I shaved off every hair on my body and organized another set of uniforms which I kept in the hut.

The SS Major must have been in his sixties, and most probably obtained his rank during the First World War. Working there I got to know many German SS. In the next hut there were some French prisoners of war. Whenever they received packages of food from the Red Cross, they shared some with me. In turn I shared it with Julek; Adek also had some position with a capo and was able to obtain some food for himself.

At times there were some high-ranking officers sitting around at the table discussing their war stories. Normally, I brought some ersatz coffee or schnapps, and they just chattered away around me like I didnít exist. At the same time I tried to stay out of harm's way. Many times the Major engaged me in some conversations regarding my being there. He asked me, Where I was born? How much schooling I had? Where did I learn to speak the German language? Most of the time I told him what he wanted to hear. At one of these chats at the table, one of the officers asked me in a half-drunk tone, "Hei Victor, wo ist deine familie?" (Where is your family?) I am not a hero, but I was choking at that point. I blurted out about the Ghetto, Auschwitz, how I found out what happened to my mother, brother, and my sister and about all the children who perished in the gas chambers. I felt this would be my way for them to hear so that none of them will be able in the future to deny that they did not know, because I might never have another opportunity to face a German again. I must have spoken for about half an hour, finally the drunken officer quietly said, "Das ist genug." (That is enough.) There was a silence, I was seventeen-years-old, and choking up my feelings in my throat, but I was not about to show them the tears in my eyes. I walked out of the hut, all my memories, pain, and guilt from Auschwitz resurfaced. It still hurts. Today I wonder how I had the guts and dared to stand up and face up to them. Personally, I think it must have been temporary insanity, but I did it.

There were many things I did. But if I had gotten caught, the consequences would have been my own, I did not have to worry about my family. But when I was born, I was told I was born with a gold spoon in my hand. Is that why I am here? But I cannot explain a lot of things, including working at the SS hut. Even today the sight of my little sister and the rest of the family never leave my mind

The Major lived in a nearby city, and used to go home for the weekends. Something changed in the Major. Was it finally the realization that Germany was losing the war? Or did he for the first time hear about Auschwitz? When he would come back from the weekends, he would to ask me how I felt. And to top it off, he brought back some home cooked food, it wasnít much but it carried me forward for another day.

A week before we had to be evacuated from Rhemsdorf, the Major asked me whether I would visit him after the war. I never thought that a German would ever put a question like that to me, nor did I want to answer. Yes, he was trying to be nice to me, but he was wearing the SS uniform with plenty of medals, and if our roads would have crossed again, and if I had the resources, I would have most probably killed him. Could I have done it? I donít know? A couple of days later we all were evacuated from Rhemsdorf and I never saw the Major again.

In mid-April as the Allies were approaching Rhemsdorf, we were once again put on open cattle trains, and evacuated. We took our blankets and one day's provisions. They selected eighty prisoners for each open cattle train. It was April, not January like the last time, and this time we were a little better prepared. One of the Germans who knew me, ordered me to create a corner where he would sleep and guard us. Julek, Adek and I created the corner and that was also our place to sleep. While everybody was packed in, we at least were able to sleep in comfort. The train was moving south, and it was weaving through the mountains, continuously climbing higher and higher. Most of prisoners were young like myself, at this age one could survive the conditions we lived in.

Finally the train stopped at the railroad station and on the sign was written, "Welcome to Marienbad." It was Czechoslovakia. The air was pure and cold and this was the famous spa that was well known throughout all Europe. The whistle blew and all of the SS stepped off and lined themselves around the train. None of us knew what would happen next. We were watching them for their next move. I donít know why there was no fear in us. Maybe because we were young and we also felt that the Allies were all around us.

First they fed the SS, and then they told us to disembark from our trains. Under the watchful observation of our guards, we were given our first and only meal for the day. For the next couple of days we were allowed to walk around the trains and mingle with each other. What helped us is that I knew some of the Germans and this gave me the opportunity to organize some food. Even in the middle of April the nights were horrendous. Most of the guys were starving. The cold and the frost were unbearable but we hoped that we would be liberated here and now. The Allies surrounded us, but we didnít know which Allies. We knew that it was matter of days or hours, and we would be free, therefore we were cautious not to do anything foolish.

An Unforgettable Episode: A Spoonful of Sugar

There was a young, red-headed, Ukrainian SS guard and every once in a while we would engage in conversations. He was one of the German SS guards who came to report to the Major, who I was working for. He also was assigned to guard a certain section where the concentration camp inmates were working. He was most probably two years older than I was and had some college education. And now he was guarding our supply train. Once he asked me whether I missed the Major. Of course I said that I did, but I didnít mean it. I think it was the third day at Marienbad, when I happened to walk towards him, and I noticed that he was watching somebody under the supply train.

There was a young Hungarian boy who I had befriended in Auschwitz. He always smiled and greeted me. Whenever I was able to help him, I did. Just as I had lost my family in Birkenau, so did he. All of us tried to protect our youngsters wherever we could, especially when there were selections to work; they always were put in the back so that they could stand on their toes to
make them look a little bit taller. I noticed that he was under our supply train and trying to scoop up something into his hat, whatever it was that was trickling down onto the railroad tracks. It looked like sugar. I noticed that the Ukrainian was also eyeing him. What was he doing under there? He should have known better. The Ukrainian removed his rifle from his back, my heart stopped. I was walking towards the SS guard, hoping that he would start to talk to me and forget about the kid, but he ordered me to go back. I wanted to call to him to run away, but it was too late. The SS guard called the boy over, when he did, the guard looked into his hat, he must have seen what he had in it. I heard the young boy pleading with him but to no avail.

Somehow I already knew what the outcome was going to be. Next he led him into the forest, and I heard a shot. In my short life I saw thousands of people die, what was so special about him? Was it that he was the same age as my brother would have been? He had in his hat a spoonful of sugar. Did he have to die for that? Didnít God know that he was the last of his family? For six years he fought to survive, only to die three weeks before the end of the war. What is life all about? He was only fourteen-years-old. Where was the Almighty, to permit things like this to happen? Fifty-five years passed since then, but the haunting memory of this young boy keeps lingering in my mind. Why?

At Yom HaShoah I always light a candle for him, and for the other victims of the Holocaust. I also made a promise, that if I ever would write, I would mention this young boy who became another victim of the Holocaust. He wanted to live, but his life was shortened on the top of the beautiful mountain called Marienbad.

I donít remember his name any more, but I know it is my duty to remember him, Because if I donít . . . he will be like he never even existed.

Ghetto Theresienstadt

We marched all the way from Marienbad where we thought for sure that we were going to be liberated. The Allies were all around us, but at the last minute the Germans were able to get us back onto the trains. It seems they had found another escape route. As the train was descending the mountain, we noticed that planes were coming directly toward us. Before we could respond, the train engine was bombed and we were strafed from all sides with machine guns. The Allied planes mistook us for a German army movement. I donít remember how I cleared or jumped from the trains. All I remember is trying to dodge bullets all around me. Julek, Adek, and I found ourselves in the forest. I read in the newspaper many years later that we lost over six hundred inmates at that time. We were free, we were escaping into the forest with the hope that we might encounter some Allied soldiers. Our faces were torn from the branches of the young trees, but we didnít feel any pain. We were free, we were exhilarated, we jumped through streams, and we were bubbling with excitement. "Did you, did you see?" we kept repeating over and over again. We ran for about five or six hours and were getting tired. Finally, we came upon a valley and from the distance we saw that there were three houses. We needed help to get out of the forest and we were also hungry. Julek decided to go down and fetch some food and clothes. We were observing Julek walking down into the valley and entering the first house. He disappeared behind the door. It took quite a while until we became annoyed at him, jokingly I said, "Julek must be having a nice meal down there." We were ready to join him when we noticed that the door opened up, and Julek came out with his hands up. Nobody had to explain to us what it meant, he got caught. We were ready to run away, because there was nothing we could have done for him. We felt we must save our own lives. We turned around and saw two Hitlerís youths aiming their submachine guns at us. We raised our hands above our heads. We knew what it meant; we most probably were going to be shot unless we did something. Like it was in the Ghetto when I was caught and escaped, I felt that I would have to do something. I could not convey my thought to Julek or Adek. Meanwhile, we were turned over to an old soldier carrying a rifle which must have been from the French Revolution. There was the possibility one of us was going to be killed, but not all three of us. We saw a village in the distance, and Julek decided to engage the German in conversation. With a pleading voice Julek begged the German to let us go. We explained that if any harm came to us, he would be held responsible. He motioned for us to sit down. He took out a piece of bread and cheese from his knapsack and told us to share it with each other. We sat down and it didnít take us long to finish it off.

We looked at the soldier, he must have been in his sixties. We decided once again to plead for our lives. All he was able to tell us was that he was ordered to deliver us to the local SS command. We concluded that if he delivered us to the authorities, we most probably would have been shot.

As we were trudging along, I noticed that a German officer was approaching us. He offered a cigarette to the old soldier, and then they were talking for a while. We didnít hear what was said, but I recognized that he was the officer who asked me what happened to my family.

For a while I thought that he would take pleasure in finishing the job himself. He turned towards me and asked what I was doing here. I explained to him that when the planes strafed us we jumped from the train and ran into the nearest forest to save our lives and we got lost. The officer turned around to the soldier, and explained that he himself will turn us in to the proper authorities. He looked tired and rundown. We stopped at the nearest stream and washed ourselves, and we all rested for a while. When we started to walk again, I asked him if he wanted me to carry his pack. He seemed to trust me, nodding, yes. As we were walking in front of him, I decided to engage him in conversation. Very cautiously I asked him whether he realized that he was now in Czechoslovakia? Also, if we walk and talk to him, we might protect him from the partisans. He looked frightened and kept looking around. I thanked him for saving our lives. I was sure that I gave him something to think about. He really was as much in danger from the partisans as we were if he turned us into the authorities. At that point, Adek and Julek closed ranks with me and we all started to talk. He even smiled, but we really didnít know what was on his mind. Somehow he knew where to walk, because a little later we caught up with what was left of our train transport. He spoke to another officer, and then he came over to us and told us that he would pick us up in the morning. In all honesty, I didnít know what was on his mind. If he was going to kill us he had every chance to do so. The only thing I could think of was that he was as scared as we were. If I am taking too much credit for our luck, it is because Adek, Julek and I we were compatible as a team. The next morning at dawn, he already was standing near the gate waiting for us. As I am writing this episode, everything seems to be so clear. I can see Adek, Julek, the German officer, and myself the way we were fifty-five years ago. I can describe the two Hitler youths with their guns pointing at us. I can describe the rocks, which we hid behind looking at the house that Julek walked out of with his hands high above his head.

I donít remember how many days we walked, but when we walked with the officer we were able to organize some extra food. I donít even remember whether Julek and Adek were walking with me every day. I remember that during the last two days of our march, the officer disappeared and we never saw him again. It seems that a day before we arrived at Leitmeritz (a couple of kilometers before Theresienstadt), we went through a small village, but I donít remember its name. At that time we must have looked awful. Many of us didnít have any shoes, and some of us had to help others to walk. Some of them were beyond help, they looked like they were walking skeletons. We didn't want to lose any more people because we all felt that we were coming to a destination. Life became so very precious. At the same time we tried to muster courage with whatever we had left in us. Every Passover in the Haggadah we read how God supplied manna for the Israelites in the desert. Well, another miracle happened in this little village. From the opened windows loaves of bread were flying out towards us. We scrambled for it. Julek caught one and immediately hid it in his jacket and laid down on the ground like he was sick until we came to him. Julek shared the bread with us, and we survived another day.

One week later we arrived in the Theresienstadt Ghetto. I cannot honestly say how long or what distance we walked, whether we walked a week or six days. All I know is that we marched, and after each day was over, wherever they told us to lay down to sleep, we slept and were thankful that another day had passed and we were still alive. We all felt that liberation might be within hours. But how many times did we think the same way?

When we walked into Theresienstadt the sight of women and children was too much. Most of us were hardened by our circumstances, and we thought that nothing could touch us. But seeing children once again was just too much. We thought that we would never see another Jewish child alive. As we arrived in Theresienstadt some people came to welcome us. We were not in the mode to be welcomed, because the night before we slept outdoors and we were tired and hungry. They divided us and put us on the top of a fortification. Women came with some bread, which they tried to distribute. I donít know what they were thinking? Did they think that we were normal or civilized? That we were going to stay orderly in line? There were people over there that hadnít eaten for the last two days. Some of the guys jumped onto the women to get the bread and they barely escaped with their lives. Julek jumped into the center and the only thing I saw of him was his legs. It might seem funny now, but then it was a matter of life. We didnít need that piece of bread, but we might need it for tomorrow. Adek and I jumped in and pulled Julek out by his legs while he still was clutching a piece of bread. While we were pulling Julek, two people were fighting for a piece of bread, they both stumbled down from the fortification and got killed, eight days before the end of the war. Julek shared the piece of bread with us. Before the day was over we were put in a building with twenty-five other people, and we were thankful once again. We survived this day. If anybody who reads this article was in Theresienstadt, the building in which we were staying was the Hamburger Kasserne.

Liberation: May 8, 1945

Within ten days upon our arrival in Theresienstadt, on May 8th 1945, I heard a commotion. The Russians are here! That day I didnít feel so well. I had a slight case of dysentery and I had just come out of the bathroom. When I heard the news I felt a little dizzy. I was holding on to the post and trying to formulate in my own mind what I just heard; I closed my eyes. What does it mean? Am I a human being again? Does it mean I can go to sleep and not to be afraid? Does it mean that I just might have enough to eat and not go to sleep hungry? I didnít jump for joy. Six years of slavery and now I am free. Free for what? Just as I was standing paralyzed in Birkenau the same feeling overcame my whole being. Yes I am alive, and I won, and I survived. But what a hollow victory it was. I was not weak but neither was I strong, but I was in much in better shape than most of the others. The first thing I was to going to do was to find some food and get well. Then I was going to go back to Lodz to see if maybe someone from my family had survived. But for now I decided to go and meet the Russians.

June 1945

I came back from Poland, and I closed that gate of no return to Poland forever. (Read The Return to Lodz - Biographical .)

How old are you? I had this question put forth from an investigator from the British Jewish Joint Committee. They came to Theresienstadt to look for young Holocaust survivors. Their mission was to limit the age to fourteen. I knew what to say, "Sir, I am fourteen years old."

The Road to EnglandÖ

I was already briefed, before I was interviewed, to lie about my age. I was born May 8th and I was exactly 18 years old, but the hair on my head was cut off for health reasons, and I venture to say that I must have been weighing about a hundred pounds. It was very easy to mistake me for a fourteen-year-old.

Julek and Adek also signed up to go to England and we all were waiting to be accepted. We were checked medically and ready to leave at any time. At the end of July we were told to get ready to leave. The Russians also wanted us to go to Russia. The Russian commander of Theresienstadt had a very sweet carrot for us, a promise of entrance and free education at the University of Moscow. The night before we were to leave for Prague, a Russian officer came to our room, and tried for the last time to persuade us to go to Russia. After he saw that he was not succeeding with us, he commented, "You suffered, we suffered, we also liberated you, and within five years you are going to come back and fight us." We were appalled. "We will never fight you. You liberated us and we will never forget it." We were just tired of commissars, and besides, England promised us the same package, and also at a future date we would be transferred to Palestine.

We all felt a little twinge of guilt, they fought and some of them died trying to liberate us. They treated us well and took care of our sick. I remember May 8th when the liberation forces of Russia surrounded Theresienstadt. The nightmares of the last six years were over. Immediately I ran out to meet the Russians. When I saw soldiers on a tank I tried to catch up, but I was not strong enough to continue. For a moment the tank stopped and one the soldiers stretched out his hand and lifted me up unto the top of the tank. I grabbed him and gave him a hug, and with tears in my eyes and in his, he whispered very quietly, "A Yid?" He must have noticed the yellow and red star with my number on my concentration camp uniform.

It is fifty-five years later and I can describe the soldier. His face was dirty, not shaven, his eyes were blood-shot from smoke which was seeping in, and he also smelled; most probably he had not changed his clothes for some time. While I was riding on the tank he gave me some dark bread with butter and once again very quietly he said, "Shalom." The tank stopped, I got off wondering why he had whispered the first and second greeting. Is it anti-Semitism? Slowly mulling over with my thought, I wobbled back to Theresienstadt. It did not take long before food started to flow into Theresienstadt, and with it came typhus, dysentery, and tuberculosis, and once again death made its entrance. The Russians gathered all the youngsters to a central place with better quarters and better food. Within four weeks we started to feel like ourselves. Some of us departed to our home countries to look for families and survivors.

We got our passports from the Russians with a stipulation, that we go to England as students and then we will leave for Palestine. That is how our passports were stamped. The next day we left Theresienstadt for Prague with uncertainty, we felt that the Russians did help us, and now we were leaving them. We arrived at the airport, and there were five four-engine bombers from the British air force. The last time I saw them was over Rhemsdorf when they were bombing the oil installation where I was working. How we cheered them, never giving a thought that we might also get killed.

The excitement started to build up in all of us. I was never near planes and now I was going to go to England in one of them. I touched the plane like a precious gem given to a child. Those were the shining Eagles in the blue sky with the white vapor trailing. Somehow we never gave a thought that we were going to a country with a foreign language. I felt that I was leaving the horrors of the war behind me. I felt that I was going to a country that had so gallantly fought and sacrificed their own lives to defeat the Nazi hordes.

An English pilot spoke to us in German, and asked us to board the planes. As we were walking up to board the plane, we noticed that there was a crowd of people who came to see us off. I heard a commotion. I turned around to see what was happening. I noticed that one of our girls was screaming and running down towards the crowd of people. For a minute we all were stunned, in that crowd this girl found her mother and sister who she believed were killed. There was not a dry eye among the crowd or among us. Ten minutes later we would have been up in the air flying, and these three people would have missed each other. I donít remember whether the girl went with us or remained in Prague.

As the plane taxied down the runway, a silence fell upon us. We are finally leaving the part of Europe which we were familiar with, and now we were going to a new world.

We will have to learn a strange language. What did they expect from us? Are they expecting fourteen-year-old children? There were so many questions going through my mind. I didnít feel so confidant as Julek. I admired him and his confidence. He was one year younger than I was. When we were in Prague, he insisted that we go to the opera. What did I know about opera, or museums, he was far more advanced in these areas than I was, but I eventually caught up.

My thoughts were about my future. Yes we were free now, but who are we going to turn to? None of us had any family, except I knew I had two aunts in America, but where? I did not know their full names, or which part of New York they where residing in. I would try to solve it once I was in England. A little time elapsed; I noticed that we were over Germany. I looked out from the small window in the plane and I noticed the devastation of the town we just passed by. The walls were still standing but everything else was gutted. The streets were obliterated with ruins from falling bricks that once were a building. I did not feel sorry for the people below. They brought it upon themselves. But until I saw it, I never realized how bad it was. I guess they have to thank Adolf Hitler for that. This was the Third Reich, which was supposed to have lasted a thousand years. How many innocent children, on both sides, died? Well, Herr Hitler, you did not succeed. And if you had succeeded with us, would you have closed the concentration camps? Would everybody have lived in a Jewless Europe and been happy? I donít think so. You would have found another victim and sold them to your people as a different form of a Jew, even though they were a Pole, or a Russian, or maybe an Englishman. So what was this all about? Were the Jews the ruination of Germany? How could they? The Jews in Germany consisted of less than one percent of the total population. How could a country with all the intellectuals that Germany possessed turn back to the Stone Age? Suddenly, I was jarred from my thoughts.

"Attention, please look out your windows and see the White Cliffs of Dover, and welcome to England."


If anyone can add to, or wants to use this article, they are welcome, but must get written permission from me.

Victor Breitburg
Levittown, New York
E-mail: victorsb@aol.com

Also by Victor Breitburg:

 

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