29 August 2013

Holocaust testimony of uncle Yaakov Weiss

My name is Yaakov Weiss, I was born 5th Dec 1910 in Soldobos near the town of Chust. At that time, it was in Czechoslovakia. My late father Moshe Ben Yona died at an early age in 1922. He was a pupil of learned Arigat-Habosem. After my birth, my parents moved to Nizhniy Verecki, my late father having been a native of that area. There my father, a strict religious observer, had opened a shoe and leather goods store.

                                  Nižní Verecki (in Czech) is called Nyzhni Vorota (in Ukrainian) today 

My late mother Rivka Idl, daughter of Yitzhak Yosef Stern, was also very observant and so she did not work outside the house. But she had no spare time as we were 6 children, 4 boys and 2 girls, all educated in religious and secular schools.

When I reached age 13, I had my Bar-Mitzvah and was sent to the city Bratislava where I attended a Yeshiva and also a secular school (Idi-Deutsche Birger-school). After completing my studies in the latter school, I continued my studies in the Yeshiva, I also started working in the confectionary store belonging to the brothers Kastner.

In 1930 I moved to Brno in Moravia where I worked for the Salpeter company until 1932; then I had to join the army. For two years, 1932-1934 I served in the city of Zilina in an artillery unit, reaching the rank of sergeant. After discharge I married Frieda Dawidowicz Munkacevo, a seamstress, and lived in Zilina. In 1936 our daughter Chaja was born. In that period Hungarian troops occupied Munkac (now Mukachevo) and I was ordered to work in several work camps.

After release from the work camp, we moved to Chust and opened a confectionary workshop; we managed the business together. In 1939 our son Moshe was born, named after my late father. That year Hungarians occupied Chust and I was forced to work in a work camp in Kosice, Slovakia. From there I was transferred to Saros-Patak and later to Kiskunholas in Hungary. There we worked on the damaged rail road and on fortifications. From there we returned to Kosice; then we were divided - some were sent to the Ukraine and others received temporary medical discharge.

In that period I was able to maintain contact with my family and helped as much as I could in my wife’s work, since my health was marginal. Consequently our income deteriorated because business permits were taken away from Jews.

I learned in Chust that my brother Chaim Weiss was sent to Ukraine with my younger brother, Willi Weiss. I also had a brother, Israel Mordechai Weiss who made aliya to Israel in 1938 and joined the Brit­ish army as part of the Jewish Brigade. During the war he partic­ipated in the battles of Tobruk-Bengazi-Tripoli and other places unknown to me.  

The SS soldiers questioned us near Warsaw, asking who was too ill to march 120km. Some 2,500 people answered that they could not walk, believing that they would be transported by truck. After half an hour we heard machine gun fire, the SS killing all those who could not walk.

We remained in camp till morning, we received a portion of very salty margarine so that we would be very thirsty without water. I remember that we arrived in a wood in the afternoon and were given several barrels of water, but had to stand in line to receive it. Many people were killed while waiting to quench their thirst. The next day we continued the march hungry and thirsty, arriving on the shore of a river. Many people jumped into the water, only to be shot and fished out by dogs.

We continued our march toward Dachau. Those who were exhausted and lay on the ground were immediately shot. We arrived in pouring rain at a train junction, the guards prevented us from finding shelter in cattle cars. WE stood in the wood, many were swollen from the rain and hard march. We had to dig a large pit that was covered. A few hours later we were ordered to enter the cattle cars. We each received a can of salty meat, but no water or bread. To quench the thirst, people urinated into the cans and drank their own urine. Many people became deranged - the Capo beat to death many of these people with a leather whip. I too was beaten on the head and face, and my teeth were knocked out with the roots.

The Carpathian Mountains (CM), once part of Eastern Czechoslovakia, are now part of the Western Ukraine. All the towns mentioned in the testimony - including Chust, Nizhniy Verecki, Mukachevo and Soldobos - are in these mountains.

Later only 250 people out of 8,500 who had left Warsaw reached Dach­au. Only half of the survivors maintained their sanity, me among them. Even I was not completely sane, due to the suffering and pain.

Early in 1942, I was in a forced labour camp run by Hungarians. I was in Kosice, Slovakia where my number was 108/8. From there I was sent to Kiskunhalas in Hungary. From there we moved to Munkac that was located in Carpathian-Russia. There I worked on various projects: digs, railroads and fortifications.

In 1944 I returned to Chust, my native city. When the Germans arrived I was placed in the ghetto and after a few days, we were taken in cattle cars with few belongings to a work camp. Everybody took their valuables; I hid my wife’s Frieda coins and dollar notes. I did the same for my late eight year old daughter, Chaja and my five year old son, Moshe. In transit, the train stopped a number of times and was boarded by SS men. They demanded all valuables, several people surrendered their valuables believing that they would receive preferential treatment; others demonstrated their anger by throwing their valuables overboard. When we reached Krakow, we knew that we are going to Auschwitz.

When we reached Birkenau, an inmate dressed in prisoner stripes boarded the train and advised us not to go with the children. He told us to turn over the children to an old woman - my wife refused and walked with the children. I asked him how our belongings would reach us and he replied by truck. I removed from the belongings a pouch of coins that I took on my person. As we disembarked and walked on a narrow path, we saw at the end of the path the abominable Mengele who pointed with his finger who to the left and who to the right. This was my tragedy when I was separated from my family and walked in single file. On my side was an SS man. When I saw the smoking, smelly crematoria chimneys I asked what are they burning. He replied old clothing. When I asked why I hear crying, he said don’t ask.

I understood then that they were cremating the children - it was beyond my comprehension that my children were being burnt. We were taken to a large hall and told to undress and throw our clothes into a pile, our hair was cut, we showered, dressed in prisoner clothes and given wooden shoes. We were taken outside through a side door. We were taken to prisoner huts and I was fitted with a chain on my arm.

The food was below animal standards, the watery soups was more like food for pigs and dogs. Meal times were accompanied by merciless beatings. Twice a day we were counted. I tried to avoid the counting, as I heard that those who were ill were told that Mengele could cure even cancer. I tried to escape this fate as I had a strong will to live, to be able to tell later about all these brutal crimes.

During one of these counts I managed to escape, when I returned, I was told that their arms were tattooed with a number. I was very upset because I was told that only those with a tattoo remained alive. During the coming weeks in Birkenau, dead and sick inmates were taken to the crematoria. Later we were taken to Warsaw.

After the Warsaw uprising, we were forced to clear the rubble from the demolished buildings. Unexpectedly, we discovered a young woman still alive in the rubble, but her fate is unknown to me.

Yaakov's sister and brother in law
Miraculously they survived the Holocaust and moved to Australia in 1952

From Dachau we were sent to Kaufering where we laboured nights until we collapsed. We worked with concrete and made shirts from the empty sacks, as the nights were very cold. I remember that the son of our cantor in Chust, whose name was Landau, found warmth in a crate. An SS man opened the crate, saw him and immediately killed him. This happened in camp 4, in Kaufering.

The nights were very cold, and our clothing was inadequate, we cut up the few blankets to cover our stomachs at night. One Saturday night the lager commander had us all come outside to witness the hanging of nine inmates who squandered the Reich’s belongings. In this camp we slept in bunkers. Above the bunkers was a lawn and so many of the hungry inmates tried to eat the grass and old potato peel. Those who were caught were never seen again.

Later a typhus epidemic broke out. We had our doctors but no medications. Sanitation was non-existent, so many inmates died daily. The death units extracted the gold teeth from the corpses. One day we were put into cattle cars and taken in the direction of Landsberg. We reached a wood and saw American and English bombers bombing the area. When SS troops entered the train and told us that we are free, many escaped from the train and were shot. I refused to believe that we were freed, and remained in the train. I found a large wheel of yellow cheese, I ate a measured amount, others overate and ended up with diarrhoea. In Landsberg we received medical attention from the American forces.

My brother Israel Mordechai visited me while I was in the brigade in Liberec. He inquired who survived the Holocaust; it became clear that my brother Chaim Jona was killed together with my brother in law Zalman, the husband of my sister Berta. They had escaped from a forced labour camp, were caught and killed.

After my liberation, I returned to Reichenberg in the Czech republic, where I learned to my great sorry that my immediate family (i.e my mother, wife and two children) all perished. I decided in my heart to find revenge for the spilled blood. The Czech premier Benes announced in a radio speech that now was the time for the Jews to settle accounts with their enemies. I got a pos­ition in the Czech security administration and arrested many gentiles who tried to smuggle out stolen Jewish property, and handed those people over to the Czech authorities. Thus I tried to calm my deep pain. All this did not satisfy me and I decided to make aliya to Israel.

My brother Willi Weiss told me that he managed to escape from a killing pit where Ukrainians killed 3,000 Jews. He fell into the pit first so that the bullets passed him, and he managed to escape until the end of the war. When we met, he couldn’t talk as his lips quivered so badly with excitement. He recited psalms and praised God that saved him from certain death. In 1947, Willi immigrated to America where he married and had children; 2 daughters and a son. The son was named after my late father, Moshe. Today the son is a pupil in a yeshiva in Brooklyn, the daughters are also being educated in religious schools.

Hall of photos
Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Jersualem

My brother Mordechai who returned with the Jewish brigade, lived in Netanya. Before the new year 1947, I received a letter from his friends that he passed away. I said kaddish for the dead and notified my brother Willi in America. In 1949, I made aliya to Israel and I started to investigate the circumstances of the death of my brother, Mordechai. I learned that he was involved in ferrying by boat refugees to Israel. He and all the refugees in a ship that carried them sunk and all drowned.

By miracle I had two surviving sisters who hid in Hungary using Christ­­ian papers. Today one lives in Sydney, Australia as an observ­ant Jew. They have two sons. My sister Chaya and her family were planning to make aliya, but presently they are supporting me and my family as I am ill, ageing and poorly established economically. The other sister Berta, whose first husband and son were murdered in the Holocaust, moved to Israel in 1960.

I was encouraged to write my memoirs by one of the residents in the sanatorium on Mt Carmel. His name was Lazar Eliezer, he lives in Tel-Aviv on Mordechai Anielewicz street 7. He testified in Yad-Vashem when Dr. Steiner taped his remembrances of the Holocaust.

It was very hard for me to write about the past as it opened all the wounds that will never heal. The pain prevented me from continuing to write, except about one event that I learned from one of the patients in the sanatorium. Her name was Malka Herman who was sent from Auschwitz to Landsberg at the time that we were sent to Warsaw together with her father. She told us that her father left Warsaw with us, managing to get to Lodz. There he became a shepherd for a Polish farmer and thus survived the war.

My journey to Israel passed many difficulties, I crossed the border at night, being afraid of being caught abandoning an important government position. In Bratislava I crossed the border with other Holocaust survivors and reached Vienna where we were cared for by the JOINT organisation. JOINT helped us to travel.

This is how I reached Bari in Italy and continued on the ship Artza to Netanya in Israel in 1949. I served in the Israeli reserve army, and was discharged due to my age. Here I started a new family. Now I work in the Weitzman Institute as a clerk. Although many years passed since I came to Israel, I cannot erase the scenes of the butchery from my mind. I’ll not forget to the end of my days, and I will not forgive. "Remember what Amalek did to you”.

Now I thank the Lord for the miracles in the development of our country, in the courage of our sons who protect our country from a cruel enemy. The enemy schemes to kill our people and the few survivors of the Holocaust who are able to tell what passed under the Nazis. I am proud that I have a son serving in the Israeli army, in an artillery unit defending our country forever.

**

Our dear uncle past away in 1971 and was buried with dignity in Israel. No grave or memorial stone could be built for Yaakov's family murdered in Europe - his wife, two children, mother, brother, brother in law, nephews and nieces. His testimony, published above, was translated into English some time after 1971.
















14 comments:

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels,

Testimony like this evokes such a strong reaction that it is difficult to respond, because no words would be adequate to express the horror and sadness I feel at reading this. I do have one question about the context--is this your own uncle, or was this selected from some other documentation?
--Road to Parnassus

Hels said...

Parnassus

I agonised about whether to publish this autobiography in the blog or leave it quietly in the Yad Vashem archives in Jerusalem. But our uncle (mother's brother) died such a long time ago (1971), I was afraid his story would disappear with him.

Deb said...

My dad arrived here in 1939 and survived. His parents, younger brothers and sisters remained in Poland and died. I wish we had letters or records like you have. Even photos would be welcomed.

Hels said...

Deb

Yes indeed. Everybody needs some record of their aunts, uncles, grandparents and first cousins, even if they were all killed before you were born. You NEED a sense of family history.

Andrew said...

Yeah heah, heard it all before, ad nauseum. Oh, your uncle. That makes it different and very personal. Note, Australian government don't let 'illegal' refugees tell their story. Ah, ok, you don't.

Yaakov had an amazing will to survive and how much he suffered.

Hels said...

Andrew

He survived.... a broken man, to be sure, but he did survive. He somehow lived, married and had a second family. And as well as speaking Czech, Hungarian and Yiddish from home, he had to learn Hebrew from the ground up.

I would not have survived at all. Not physically and not mentally.

Hermes said...

Thank you, that wa so moving.

Hels said...

Hermes

Not many people survived the Holocaust so it was essential to record and preserve the histories of those who did. There is something so individual and so poignant about a personal history, far more so than official military or government histories.

Mandy Southgate said...

This is such a powerful and moving testimony, so much so that it makes me angry, furious in fact. This is the importance of testimony like this and I'm glad you did publish it. It is one thing to learn about the Holocaust and other atrocities in the third person but to learn about it in the first person is especially moving.

Ayisha said...

Excellent write up and wonderful post. I love to read your post very much. A big thanks for sharing with us !!

Hels said...

Mandy

Agreed.

The problem is that the last of the survivors would now be 90 years old. Shortly there will be no more witnesses alive and revisionist right wing history can go ahead unchallenged.

Yad Vashem has amazing archives.. I hope some of those records can be published.

Hels said...

Ayisha

Thank you. It is always a risk publishing family histories..our uncle's children, nieces and nephews are alive and may still be grieving. I thought of posting the document without real names and photos, but then all the power of first person testimony would be lost.

Anonymous said...

hello Hels,
your cousin Chaim ben Yakov of Havatzelet(Rehovot) is a close friend.
Somehow he has lost contact with many members of family. Just this morning I told him that I'd search for his family history. I started with Yad Vashem, and as he told me to look under Nizhni Verecki I immediately found the records. Shortly afterwards I landed on your blogstrip.
This evening we doven together and I'll knock his socks off.
His family is currently 2 sons, 2 daughters, 9... or is it 11? grandkids, plus one wife.
Chaim is in private business as a builder and developer.
Do you have family details further back? Perhaps to the rabbinical dynasty of Spinka, or to some other rabbi who wrote a book, was it Soolam Yakov?
Just this week a memorial was inaugurated in the Ben Shemen forest to the
martyrs of Khust. Chaim attended and has a photo.
Buy the whey, I am Peter Hoffman, b.1946 in Perth and an ophthalmologist here in Rehovot. I live walking distance from Chaim.
Do you read Hebrew? It would be easier for Chaim.
shabbat shalom, moadim l'simcha,
Peter

Hels said...

Peter

I gave a copy of your letter to my husband, Chaim's first cousin, and he was thrilled. Everyone in the world is supposed to be connected to everyone else with six degrees of separation. But here you are with close family, professional (medical) and national (Australian) ties to my husband.

Our second son's middle name is Yaacov, by the way. Named in honour of the uncle who was so kind to us when we lived in Israel.

My next post (6th October 2015) is going to be about The Holocaust and the Germanisation of Ukraine, a book written by the British historian Eric Steinhart and published by Cambridge University Press in 2015. In light of Nizhni Verecki becoming Ukrainian, you might both be interested in the topic.