South Carolina Council on the Holocaust

“The work that the SC Council on the Holocaust does is so important for our students in South Carolina. Having a chance to discuss and reflect on the past gives students the tools to be better citizens for our future.”

--Molly Spearman, State Superintendent of Education

The Survivors' Stories -- A Virtual Library

RUDY . . . .

Rudy and the Nuremberg Laws

In 1936 the Nuremberg Laws decreed that Jews could no longer have a German, an Aryan, of childbearing age in the house. You had to hire a woman of over 45. We had some young girls cleaning the house for us. They had to leave.

The treatment we got in school also changed. We were not permitted to join the youth groups. Our textbooks changed as well. The textbooks no longer agreed with what my parents and my grandparents told us about world history. The new textbooks took a nationalistic slant. They emphasized the Germanic heritage. We did not have the judgement to know that much of what was in our books was false. Its only purpose was to glorify the Germans. We accepted it because, thinking of ourselves as Germans, we felt that we also had been fighting the Romans with the German national hero Herman the Cherusk. We pictured ourselves among the brave German fighters in the Teutonberg Forest, defeating the Roman General Varus and his superior army.

Before long the local Nazi authorities told my father it would be healthier for us if we moved into the larger Jewish community in Cologne. Those that didn't move voluntarily were forced to do so in 1938 by an edict from the Reich, the German government. The law stated that all Jews must leave villages of less than 80,000 or 100,000 and move to larger population centers.

In Cologne, my father was no longer allowed to have his grain business. He took over a small transport business. We had two small pick-up trucks and we did hauling until 1940 when all business activity was forbidden to Jews by the German government.

We began seeing signs in the store windows: swastikas and the words, Jews Are Not Welcome Here. People who did not wish to say that on their windows said instead, Aryan Proprietors or Aryan Business. Most merchants had small flags with swastikas flying in front of their stores.

Rudy in Germany

In 1939 Kristallnacht occurred. Overnight my grandmother's house was totally ruined. She was pushed down the stairs into the basement of her house by the Nazis. The Nazis broke the water pipes and my grandmother who was about seventy nearly drowned. A neighbor had to haul her out of the basement. The neighbor was later denounced for helping a Jew.

My family was saved by circumstance of which I was probably the cause. Some time back I had found in a magazine a large picture of Paul von Hindenburg, the field marshall under whom my father had fought in World War I. When the Nazi Storm Troopers burst into our apartment in Cologne, the first thing they saw was this large picture of Hindenburg. It surprised them a little bit. We were all hiding except my father, but I could see where they were standing. They asked my father how the picture came to be on the wall. He said that his son Rudy had pasted it there. My father explained that he was the recipient of a decoration for bravery in the First World War. He told the SS men he had served under Hindenburg in the 65th Rhenish Infantry Regiment for four years and then had been a French prisoner of war not released until 1921.

After hearing this, they decided not to bother us further. They just smashed the front door and warned my father that he and his family should leave Germany as soon as possible. Unfortunately for us, almost all the borders were closed, so we stayed in Cologne.

Rudy in the Ghetto

When the war began, Rudy and his family were living in Cologne, Germany. In this reading, Rudy describes his family's forced move to the ghetto and their separation from other family members.

On September 1, 1939, the newspaper on the corner proclaimed that Germany was at war with Poland. Three days later Germany was fighting France and England as well. I had just turned fourteen and to me this was all marvelously exciting. There was a small overpass near my house and I saw a German sentry guarding the railroad with bayonet and rifle.

We had many relatives in Cologne. My father had three sisters. My cousins were also there. In 1941 the resettlement orders began coming. All of our relatives were taken away. We were spared to about the beginning of 1942.

On May 30, 1942, Cologne suffered a devastating bombing raid by Allied forces. Around one thousand British and American bombers took part. Cologne turned into a rubble heap.

Two months later we received our notice to report to the railhead with fifty pounds of personal baggage. They had old railroad cars with wooden seats, and we were given one compartment for ourselves. We did not know where we were going. We were nervous, but we were still together. My grandmother was with us. We had my small baby sister with us. We had a baby carriage and food. We had taken some water.

I don't think the train stopped anywhere in Germany for anything: for food, for water, anything. It reached its destination in about three days.

We arrived somewhere in Czechoslovakia. We were told to get out of the railroad car. None of us knew where we were. We got out and started marching. Each of us marched with fifty pounds of baggage. We trudged some five miles to an old fortress where we were met by Czech militia. All of our belongings were inspected for valuables. They were very thorough. Not very many people came through with anything but the bare belongings and some food.

It was still daylight when we passed through the outer gates. We had to pass through a checkpoint. At the other end, families were separated, male and female. My mother with the two youngest children went one way. My father, three brothers, and I went another way. We were sent to an old, two-story house with six or seven rooms. We were assigned a room in which there were already eight men. Several days later we learned that our mother and the two younger children were in a large stone barrack for women.

We did not know where we were until the next day when we saw Czech writing on old stores. We were in Czechoslovakia in the Theresienstadt (Tur-Ray-Zen-Stat) ghetto. Over 60,000 people were crowded into a space that had never housed more than 8,000. By the end of 1944 around 120,000 people were crammed into this ghetto. No privacy whatsoever. We did have our small, assigned space. Our suitcases were there and a few blankets that we put on the floor.

The next morning we were given a ration card for food. A man stood there and clipped our coupons. We were given one cup of coffee, a pat of margarine, two slices of coarse bread, and a teaspoon of marmalade for our breakfast.

After two or three days we were assigned work. All the new male arrivals that were capable had one assignment - grave digger. Because we were young and able to lift a spade, we were marched out to the huge burial grounds. There we dug graves. People, especially the older people, 80 and 90-year-olds, were dying like flies. No food or medical attention. We did this job just long enough to learn the ropes. In the ghetto we learned the ropes very fast. You had to know what to do and where to trade what for what.

Then I found out about a separate building within the ghetto were young people ages 6 to 18 lived and worked. The work was less horrible than our first job. I was able to get into this building with my brothers. My father did not go with us. My mother was still in a barracks for women, with the smaller children.

We made the best of our new life. Books were smuggled in to us by Czechoslovakian Jews newly arrived in the ghetto. We had sort of a library. But we were very much restricted in what we could do. We thought that now that we were in the ghetto we would no longer have to wear the yellow star as we had been forced to do in Germany. But no, even in the ghetto with only Jews around, we still had to wear that hateful yellow star.

Daily Routine in the Ghetto

In the morning we got metal cups and spoons. We were each given two slices of bread and sometimes a pat of margarine or a little bit of marmalade. The coffee was toasted acorns ground up. It tasted terrible. The midday meal was potato soup with maybe a little bit of meat. Potatoes were the main ingredient and the kind of beets you normally feed to cattle. We were already hungry in the Theresienstadt ghetto because we did not get enough to eat. In Auschwitz we were beginning to starve. In the evening we got another slice of bread, some coffee, no marmalade, no butter, no nothing.

Every morning we had the counting of the prisoners. We were arranged in groups of five with just small distances between us. The SS trooper would come by and start counting one, two, three, four, five. If he miscounted, he went over it again. Sometimes we stood there two hours. I kept wondering why none of us tried to overpower this lone guard who had just a small pistol. But what could we have done? There were guardposts on either end and high tension wires in between. We would all have been killed.

We did not know that Auschwitz was an extermination camp or that we could be put to death. We did know that there was always this sickly sweet smell in the air. We saw a large chimney belching smoke 24 hours a day. We saw German military ambulances with the Red Cross symbol on them going back and forth. The Germans had painted the symbol on the vehicles to hide their true purposes from the camp prisoners and from overflying airplanes. Much later we found out these ambulances were carrying military personnel or cyanide poison gas canisters for use in the gas chambers.

We made the best we could of the situation. My younger brother had hidden a book by the German poet Goethe. We read it twice. We read it three times. We memorized it. We quoted from it. We had a deck of cards. We played card games. There wasn't anything else we could do. Eventually my brother got a job laying a stone road. They gave him a half a portion of food more. But the work was excruciating.

Nothing grew in Auschwitz. There was not a bird, not a living thing, no grass or anything. A drainage ditch ran through the B camp. Daily the SS guards sent prisoners from other camps to lay sod along the banks of this ditch. We were desperate for food. My mother remembered seeing in our small village the geese eating the wild grasses. She knew there were plants growing in the sod that we could eat. She gathered them and whenever we could we ate them. We were starving. We were dreaming of food. We were talking about food. We had not had enough to eat for three or four months already. Yet we hoped in 1944 that the end of the war was in sight.

At Auschwitz people died of hunger because they had come to the camps already weakened. The people who had died were thrown or stacked at the very end of the barracks row underneath the watchtower. They were stacked like cordwood, naked, without dignity. Nobody to close their eyes. They were stacked four feet high. Every twenty-four hours a cart came. People were simply grabbed by the hand and foot and tossed on there. We knew they were taken to the crematory to be incinerated, but we still had no knowledge of the gas chambers and that people were killed or gassed in such numbers as they were.

Rudy is Liberated

Around April 24 or 25, officials at the underground factory in Gusen, where we were working, started to burn and destroy documents. We knew then the end was near. The first Red Cross packages began to arrive and the SS disappeared. They silently stole away. There were replaced by Austrian military police, who guarded the camp from then one. We still couldn't get out. We were prisoners, but there was no more work, and we waited.

On May 5, 1945, a tank came up to the barbed wire area where my barracks were located. The conversation was in Yiddish mixed with some English. "We are the American army. Your camp is being liberated. Stay here. You will get soup. The soup column is right behind us. You are free. The American army is behind me, but stay in the camps so that there is no confusion. We assure you that you will be fed." This tank was followed by some jeeps and trucks. The Americans picked up the Austrian military police and took them away. The guards' rifles were thrown on a pile and set afire by the American troops.

I felt truly like a bird who has flown out of a cage. I did not know what the future would bring. I made my way to Linz, Germany. I went to a hospital. I go number one American food. The first time I are it, I could not even keep it down. After a while I could eat white bread, some toast. I gradually got a little bit of strength back.