Markus (Mordechai) Lustig (Kanengisser)
( Originally written in Hebrew - Translation by William Leibner – 9/292005 - Revised –11/2006 )
I was born in 1925 in Nowy Sacz to Yaakov and Ita ( Lustig)Kanengisser. The family consisted of my father, Yaakov, my mother, Ita, my sister Rachel, myself and my brother, Moshe. We were surrounded with an extensive and warm supporting family. My father was a bookbinder. We lived in the Jewish section of Sandz. Things went along pretty well until September of 1939.
As soon as the Germans occupied the city, things started down hill. Jews were grabbed for all kinds of work details, daily ordinances aimed at the Jews, hunger became widespread, Jews were limited in their movements and instant killings of Jews became a favorite pastime of the Germans. I was constantly forced to work at various hard working jobs until a traumatic event took place that affected me for the rest of my life.
On April 29th 1942, in the evening, the Germans
murdered 300 Jews at the Jewish cemetery. From there, the Gestapo went to the
Jewish street and began a killing spree. The street was densely inhabited by
Jews and the Germans smashed through doors and windows and entered rooms and
shot everybody in sight. They entered our apartment, which was part of a large
complex of flats and fired at will. The screams and shouts could be heard
throughout the houses. We lived on the first floor, but heard the commotion on
the ground floor. Soon enough they burst into our flat, they entered my parents’
room. They asked my father what he did for a living, he replied that he was a
bookbinder. They shot him; they shot my crying mother and my crying sister,
Rachel, who was sleeping in their room. They then entered our room where I was
sleeping with my younger brother, Moshe. I heard one of the killers say,
”leave the kid”. But, someone else fired the pistol and shot my brother right in the head. I froze. I was under the same blanket, but my head was in the opposite direction. The killers then left the room and said sarcastically “good night” in Polish. More firing took place on the stairs. I remained under the blanket, until it was absolutely quiet. I then left my bed and saw my totally destroyed family. Next day, they were all buried in a mass grave at the site where the other Jews were killed during the previous evening.
My uncle provided me with a working permit at the end of the month of May 1942. He listed me as a locksmith. It was a known fact that without a work permit and an important trade, the chance was excellent to be sent to the Belzec death camp. With the work permit, I was sent to the Roznow labor camp situated about 20 miles north of Sandz where I worked from May to August 1942. We worked on the construction of a dam. We had to dig 4 cubic meters of earth per day and in addition unloaded many bags of cement from the trucks. On August 23rd , 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and I was sent to the Rytro sawmill labor camp situated in the vicinity of Sandz. I worked there at the sawmill a 12 hour day shift with little food. Here I received 25 lashes.
In February of 1943, I was sent to the Damler-Benz plane factory in Rzeszow where plane engines were built. In April of the same year, I was transferred to the ghetto of Rzeszow where I came down with typhus, but was lucky and recovered. Many people died from the disease. During August or September of 1943, I was sent to the Pustkow death camp. This was a vast training camp for the Waffen SS units. Here I remained until March 1944, when I was sent to the death camp of Plaszow near Krakow where I remained for two weeks. I picked up my wheel barrel every morning and had to spread sand along the road, especially near the villa of the sadistic camp commandant, Amnon Goeth. I also had to clean the tower guard look-outs.
Towards the end of March I was sent to the Schindler labor camp, since I was listed as a locksmith. This transfer saved my life for I began to eat decently. The food at the Schindler camp was very good in comparison to all other camps. Frequently a man by the name of Dr.Weihert (he was head of the J.S.S. -Jewish Self Help Committee in Krakow) came to the camp and brought money, various boxes of food and very good things. These were of course donations from Swiss and American Jews. He also brought medications to the camp occasionally. The testimony merely reinforces the dedication of Schindler to his Jewish workers. The food and the care extended the workers at the Schindler labor camp was very good by all standards of the time. The fact that the guards were not permitted to harass the workers on their job was already a great achievement, since it enabled these people to recover somewhat from their fears. Every body worked at the Schindler labor camp, but the workers knew that they were protected from the daily harassment.
I worked in various capacities namely with metal boxes, hand grenades, wheel bearings and also dunked items into chemical baths to protect them from corrosion. These items were then shifted into high temperature ovens to bake the enamel coatings. I worked until August 1944 at the Schindler camp. Then they made a list of all technicians and some of us were led to the train station that was near the Plaszow concentration camp. We were issued bread and a can of preserved meat for the journey. The train stood at the platform the entire day. It was extremely hot and we were 140 men in the car. Then Schindler appeared and ordered the attendants to hose down the wagons in order to cool them off. The train then left for the Mauthausen death camp in Austria.
We arrived at the death camp of Mathausen in Austria where we remained for one week in transit. Here I met the late Shimon Wiesenthal. I was then sent to the Melk camp where we worked in the tunnels building an assembly plant for the V-1 and V-2 missile rockets. In April of 1945 we were sent across the river Danube to the city of Linz where we started the death march to the Ebensee death camp in Austria. We received 120 grams of bread and soup consisting of potato peels daily. We worked very hard in the tunnels, it was freezing, the brutality of the guards was beyond description and we slept four people to a bunk.
On May 3rd or 4th 1945, we were assembled on the campgrounds. They told us that they wanted to save us from the American and English bombers and told us to enter the tunnels. We knew that the SS had mined all the tunnel entrances and were determined to blow them up with us on the inside. About 25,000 camp inmates unanimously refused to budge and answered the speakers appeal with a resounding “NO”. The camp management then left the camp and the guardhouses were handed over to civilian guards. They closed the camp and things began to disintegrate. A chaotic situation ensued with hangings, settling of scores, killing of some capos, functionaries and block leaders.
Then the happy day of liberation arrived, on May 6th 1945, when an American tank made its appearance and crashed through the main gate of the camp. We were very happy and began to eat the special food that the Army prepared for the inmates of the camp. This food was light and digestible, but provided little energy. Most of the inmates had digestive problems since their systems were severely damaged and this resulted in many deaths. I started to help GIs with various chores and was given extra food, especially combat rations that were rich in vitamins and minerals geared to sustain the combat soldiers in the field. I began to gain weight and felt stronger by the day. As my strength grew, so did my appetite for the rich foods that I obtained from American soldiers for the various chores that I did. Liberated with me were about 20 youngsters from my native city of Sandz.
In July of 1945, I started to work for the American Armed Forces in Austria. I worked in the kitchen serving food to the GIs and then kept house for four American officers. I then worked at various jobs with the American Army in Austria, namely, running a fuel station, guard duty with a rifle, and finally supervising an officers’ nightclub. It was my job to see that the place was clean, well-stocked with liquor, food and musical records.
All these activities did not detract from my mind the question of what will become of me. What happened to my distant family? I then remembered that my mother had a brother who left Sandz prior to WWII for Germany and then to San Paolo in Brazil. I did not have the exact address, but I remembered the name, Chaim Lustiger, the city and part of the street name. The officers helped me to establish contact with the family in Brazil. He indeed lived in San Paolo on Jose Paulina Street. He informed me of the survivors of the family and gave me their addresses. Amongst them was a nephew by the name of Nathan Lustig. He escaped to Russia and from there with the Polish Army of Anders he made it to the Middle East. The British used his language skills in questioning German prisoners of war. We established contact that lasted until he was discharged from the army and then the contact was lost. My father’s sister and her husband escaped Poland into Slovakia and survived the war with a daughter aged 6 years. This girl now has 24 grand children. My uncle Chaim from Brazil sent me the necessary papers through the “HIAS” or Hebrew Immigrant Association office. In November of 1946, I left the job at the American Army in Austria and headed to Munich, Bavaria. From there I was supposed to head to Paris and then to Brazil.
I remained in Germany for a while and then the United Nations divided Palestine and created the State of Israel. I decided to join the new Jewish country and in April of 1948, I enlisted in the Israeli Army in Germany and was sent to Hochland in Bavaria to undergo military training. I was then sent to France and via the port of Marseille reached Haifa in July of 1948. In Israel, I was attached to the Palmach Brigade that was stationed at Kfar Yona and later was attached to the Harel Brigade. When the Palmach Army units were disbanded, I was attached to the Golani Brigade. I was discharged from the active service in the army in August 1949. I started to work for the big construction company of Solel Boneh. I married in 1958 and we have a son and a daughter. Both children married and we have 5 grandchildren. I participated in all of Israeli wars and retired in 1985.
I continue my active life by being involved in various projects and also gave testimony in various Nazi trials. I have also participated in the production of various films dealing with the camps. I am also the secretary of the Nowy Sacz or Sanzer Landsmanshaft Society in Israel.
Signed by Mordechai Lustig ( Kanengisser)