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The Story of Auschwitz

Concentration Camp Survivor

While visiting the museum of Jewish Culture in Slovakia in Bratislava, I have met Mr. Ernest Berger, originally from Dunajska Streda in Slovakia and since shortly after the end of the Second World War living in Brooklyn, New York.

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This museum is a part of The Slovak National Museum, most of the visitors are foreigners, and the staff speaks perfect Slovak, broken German and no English. Since it is installed in a heritage building, the heritage comity wont even let them to have a door bell outside the door and of course no telephone. Lucky, they did get the permission to install lighting and heating. The permanent exposition is separated to six sections. Jewish religion, Synagogue, service and customs of every day and holiday, the life's circle-birth, maturing, wedding, home and death, important Slovak Jewish personalities, the people's names that died in concentration camps during the war and names of all people that were helping the Jews during the war.

One can't help it, not to get emotional while visiting the museum, especially in the last room that deals with World War II.

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After my visit, while talking with helpful and very knowledgeable staff, Mr. Stefan Silling and Mrs. Maria Martanova, an elderly gentleman entered the museum and from his voice I felt, he wasn't happy. After a short conversation I discovered the reason for his unhappiness: the absence of mezuzahs on every door. There is a mezuzah inside the museum on the right side of the first and the second door to show the symbolism. It was explained to me and after I translated to Mr. Berger, that the museum is part of Slovak National Museum and not part of the Bratislava's Jewish community and it displays Jewish culture as a whole, including religion and not only religion, Mr. Berger was satisfied and not insisting anymore on installing mezuzahs on every door, as he brought them with him.

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We walked together to another room, where just few days ago a new exhibit opened about the concentration camps and after a brief introduction, following my discovery that he is an Auschwitz survivor I have asked Mr. Berger for his eyewitness interview. And here is Mr. Berger's story:

Mr. Berger was born in Dunajska Streda, Slovakia in 1927. In April of 1943, the life was going on in our town, everyone was working, families were together, and nobody guessed what was about to happen. All of a sudden two policemen came in to our house armed with guns and started to read an order from the city government. We were given exactly half an hour to pack up their belongings, one small suitcase per person and were forced to leave our house and go with the policemen. This all happened very fast and at the same time in all Jewish communities in Slovakia, Hungary, parts of Yugoslavia and part of Romania. They did it so smart and fast that nobody new What's going on in the other villages or cities, their families and friends.

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In Dunajska Streda all the Jewish people were concentrated in two yards. One of them was the Synagogue yard and the another was playing field. The whole Jewish community, about four hundred families were out there and kept for about ten days. We were all together small babies, kids, and teenagers, grown ups, elderly, there were no beds or bedding, no sanitation. We were all squashed together in a small place, kids, and many others were crying, not knowing what will tomorrow bring us. Once a day shortly afternoon we were thrown pieces of dry bread. Whoever was able to grab a piece was fed and the others went hungry. Many people were sick, tired, couldn't walk, mostly elderly, many died in the Synagogue's yard. Finally, after about 10 days we had to walk to the train station where they loaded us to the animal freight cars, 70 people to a car. It made no difference who it was, everyone together, babies children, teenagers, men, women, elderly, all of us. The train had 70 cars, together 4900 people. We've traveled day and night for about five days to Auschwitz. On our arrival Dr. Mengele was standing there with another high ranking black-booted SS officer with death's-head badges, guns, whips, and snarling dogs.

The people stepping off the car one by one were sorted by their age, profession, and ability to work as slave laborers. If the answer regarding your age and ability to work was to their liking you were told to go to left side, the children and elderly people were told to go to the right side. This sorting continued on for the whole day. The people on the right side went straight to the gas chambers as they were of no use for the Nazis. The people on the left side were then taken under guard to a big yard, had to take off their clothing, all of their jewelry and all were shaven from head to toes, all together, girls, boys, men and women. We were all issued striped uniforms, like pajamas. After this we were taken to the camp barracks, like bungalow, with nothing in it. The guards pushed everyone in until it was full. There was no place to turn, we were squashed like sardines. Later on we were given soup made of onion and potato skins and horsemeat. That was the daily food. At night there was enough room to sleep on one side, but not for turning. At four every morning they wake us and we had to line up outside in cold for daily counting routine that lasted two hours to make sure that nobody escaped. No one could have escaped Auschwitz anyway, as it was surrounded with high voltage electric fences and barbed wires.

Lots of people that were disgusted and couldn't take it any more ran into the fence and were killed by the electricity if the Nazis didn't shoot them before they got there. As the war progressed and Germany was suffering huge losses, the factory owners in Germany were sending requests for workers to Auschwitz. So every day a selection of workers would take place and they were shipped to Germany. Some were lucky and got a better place to live and work, more food, better conditions. They were still in a camp, guarded by soldiers and barb wires. In September of 1943, I was also selected and shipped to a little town of Wildorf in Germany to work at a farm. Sometimes we've built underground shelters. We were working very hard from 4:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. and once a day we've received food. It was much better than Auschwitz our work foreman was fairly nice; he didn't hit us every day. Because of the unhealthy living conditions and lack of sanitation many people including me got typhus and most of them died.

There were worst camps in Germany than Auschwitz where the people were tortured day and night and treated like animals. Some places were not as bad. In general only one of ten persons taken to Auschwitz made it through the War. At Auschwitz and the other death camps, six million Jews died.

His parents and sister all died in Auschwitz.

After the War ended, Mr. Berger returned to Dunajska Streda. His family property was confiscated and not returned. He stayed in Dunajska Streda until 1947 at which time he immigrated to USA.

Bibliography: Our Worlds Heritage, National Geographic Society, 1987




See pictures from our November 2005 visit to Auschwitz  and Mauthausen





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Published in the Slovak Heritage Live newsletter Volume 2, No. 3, Fall 1994
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 1994 
3804 Yale Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C 1P6
The above article and photographs may not be copied, reproduced, republished, or redistributed by any means including electronic, without the express written permission of Vladimir Linder. All rights reserved.