Gustav Schonfeld

Gustav Schonfeld
Nationality: Czech
Location: Auschwitz Concentration Camp • Czechoslovakia • Dachau Concentration Camp • Germany • Hungary • Missouri • Mühldorf Concentration Camp • Mukachevo • Munkács Ghetto • Nová Ves Pod Pleší • Poland • St. Louis • United States of America • Warsaw
Experience During Holocaust: Liberated • Lived in Multiple Concentration Camps • Lived in Munkács Ghetto • Sent to Concentration Camp • Sent to Ghetto • Was a Child During the Holocaust • Was a Forced Laborer

Mapping Gustav's Life

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“We got on the train and, after something like three hellish days, we got out and we were in hell... It was very frightening and I remember just going off with my father and I don’t even remember whether I kissed my mother goodbye, if I had a chance to do that or not, and we wound up in Auschwitz.” - Gustav Schonfeld

Read Gustav's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1

BURDE: Gus, where were you born?
SCHONFELD: I was born on May 8, 1934 in a town called Mukachevo, uh, which is in the eastern part of Czechoslovakia. And it was Czechoslovakia when I was born there. Before that, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Right now it’s part of the U.S.S.R. Ukraine, since the Second World War.
BURDE: So that even in your early childhood the political situation was changing.
SCHONFELD: Well the only changes that I experienced had to do with the Munich Pact in 1939 when our town was given by Czechoslovakia back to Hungary. And there was a little bit of…battling at that time. Uh, but at the time that the Russians took it over I was not there. That was after the war.
BURDE: How large a town was it?
SCHONFELD: It had a population of about 30 or 35,000 and half the population was Jewish.
BURDE: Can you tell me a little bit about the nature of the Jewish population. Were they Orthodox, were they well educated and what were their trades or professions?
SCHONFELD: Well I was quite a young kid when I left there so I can’t give you an adult’s view of it. But I can tell you that the vast majority of the population was Hasidic and the town, for all practical purposes, was closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays because just about all the businesses in the city were Jewish businesses. And the thing that I remember very vividly is on Saturdays all traffic, vehicular traffic ceasing on the street. This included of course, horse drawn vehicles and vehicles drawn by oxen, as well as motor vehicles. And large numbers of people wearing caputas and schtreimlachs and the East European dress of those days, walking in the middle of the road because there was no traffic.
Uh, most of the Jews were in business of one type or another. But there were craftsmen as well. I remember some Jewish cobblers. I remember Jewish tailors…and I remember of course merchants of all types, in my own family, my two uncles had, each had a bookstore and a stationery store. I remember a pharmacist who was a family friend; he had a pharmacy. I remember one of the cousins, one of the distant cousins of the family, owned a drayage firm. I mean he had, he had wagons and he would be hauling heavy stuff from one town to the next…Oh yeah, I had a cousin who had what they called a korcsma in Hungarian, which was I suppose like a, like a bar or an inn. And one of my early memories is sitting under a table in his bar and getting a little glass of beer. This must have been when I was, I don’t know, maybe five or six years old. Of course there were a lot of people in education. We had a very strong day school in our town. There was a…grade school which I attended, and there was also a gymnasium which was a Hebrew gymnasium and the teaching language was Hebrew so that math, for example, was taught in Hebrew. All the secular subjects were taught in Hebrew.
BURDE: Hebrew, not Yiddish?
SCHONFELD: Not Yiddish, Hebrew. This was a school that was started by the Haskalah, the Maskilim. And it was very strongly opposed by the Munkacher Rebbe.
BURDE: So the Munkacher Rebbe was a Hasidic Rebbe?
SCHONFELD: He was a Hasidic Rebbe and the vast majority of the people in the town, at least to begin with, uh, were Munkacher Hasidim. But there were some folks… “modern Jews” in the city. And there was a modern Orthodox synagogue in the city as well. That doesn’t mean…I mean it was strictly Orthodox but it was sorta modern in the sense that people wore western clothing, not the caputas and streimls. And there was a strong Haskalah movement as evidenced by the gymnasium and by the day school. The day school and the gymnasium were both very poorly received by the Hasidisha community because it was felt that these modernist movements would somehow harm the observance of the laws. So I suspect that it was a fairly typical town, a Eastern European town of those days.
BURDE: It did have a high Jewish population.
SCHONFELD: It did have a very large proportion of Jews in the population. It had a reputation for being full of very sharp Jews, sharp dealers and the Hungarian Jews and the German, that we called the Deutsche, the German type Jews were sorta of straight arrows, you know, liked to deal straight and according to the rules. I always said that Munkach was full of drayers, full of people who liked to cut corners and engaged in sharp practices. Other people…the other occupations, of course, were physicians. There were several Jewish physicians in town. My father was one of them. And…so that it was a very rich, a rich kind of life from the Jewish point of view. I mean, Shabbas was very traditional and very much observed and everybody had cholent, I remember taking cholent and there was a place across the street from us, a bakery which had a huge oven where many families took their cholent on Friday. And then on Saturday at noon, they would go across the street and pick up the cholent and eat it.
BURDE: Did you have some way of marking the cholent pot?
SCHONFELD: Everybody recognized his own pot, everybody had a pot. (LAUGHTER)
BURDE: Were any…did any of the Jewish children go to government schools or Czech schools or anything but Jewish schools?
SCHONFELD: There were some. Yeah, there were some. I can’t give you the proportions. But there were, I think I had a cousin, for example, who went to a government, sort of a business school, if you like. The schools were divided into academic schools which were directed towards going to the university and more trade schools if you like. The trade schools didn’t have the same kind of connotation that they have here. They are higher level schools than the trade schools are considered to be here. But they led to occupations. They led to occupations in business for example and they taught people how to do bookkeeping and the various skills that were needed for business. And I had a cousin who went to one of those schools. That was a government school. And there were people went to government schools but most of the Jews, uh, went to Jewish schools. And many of them went to cheder and very traditional kind of Jewish education.
BURDE: But from the gymnasia then, the student could go to the university?
SCHONFELD: Yes.
BURDE: And were Jewish students accepted in Czech universities?
SCHONFELD: Yes they were, yeah.
BURDE: Without discrimination or…
SCHONFELD: I think there was probably very little discrimination in the Czechoslovakia Republic between the two World Wars. It was, from everything that I hear about it, I…you know, as I said, I was a child. I only lived in Czechoslovakia for five years. I was born in 1934 and it all came to an end in 1939 for us because we were transferred back to Hungary. So I don’t really have any strong, first-hand memories, but everything that I was told by my parents and relatives was that Czechoslovakia was a liberal democratic republic; that the various minorities had representatives in parliament and that there was really genuine, genuine attempt to give everybody a fair shake.
BURDE: Had your family lived in Munkach a long time?
SCHONFELD: From what I’m told, at least something like four or five generations. Before then, they lived in the areas around Munkach, not very far, you know, Poland was very close, Transylvania was very close and some of the people came in from those areas. So the family has been in that region for as long back as anybody can remember.
BURDE: Was there, uh, did they have citizenship in any country and did it change?
SCHONFELD: Yes while we were Czech citizens and as a matter of fact when we came to the United States we came on Czechoslovakian passports. We were Czech citizens, you know, between the two World Wars and then we became Hungarian citizens in 1939.
BURDE: And they accepted you as citizens?
SCHONFELD: I think so, yeah. Yeah, my mother was Hungarian; Munkach is my father’s side of the family. And what I said about Munkach and its environs is true of the Schonfelds. It’s also in part true of the Gottesmans because my maternal grandfather also came from a town not too far from Munkach. My maternal grandmother came from, I guess, Transylvania, part of Hungary which went back and forth between Hungary and Rumania. And that side of the family, the Sonnenwirth side of the family was, came from that part of the world, had been there for several generations, I don’t know how far back.
BURDE: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
SCHONFELD: I had, I had an older brother who was 11 months older than I was and I had a very young brother who was seven months old. My older brother was born with some problems, and he was never really well. He died, I think, in 1943, with nephritis. My younger brother, I’m trying to remember, let me just think, no, I think my older brother died in 1941, I had a younger brother who was born in 1943 and he died in the camp when we were taken away. So, yeah, the older one died, I think in 1941 or 2, something like that. I was, I think, eight years old.
BURDE: Where were you at that time?
SCHONFELD: We were in Munkach. I may use Munkach and Muncachevo interchangably because Munkachevo is the Czech name and Munkach is the Hungarian name…
BURDE: So that the town was turned back to Hungary but you remained there.
SCHONFELD: Yes, we remained in our house and the only thing that happened was, I mean there were enormous changes that took place with the change in government. The one big change that took place was, that as the Czechs were leaving they fired a few shells from artillery. They weren’t very happy with the decision of the government to give up, and to turn back their territory. They fired some few shells and one of the shells happen to land in our guest bedroom in our house. So I remember the big hole in the wall and the dust all over the second floor and you know, the noise when the whole thing happened. So that was, uh, one very memorable way to mark the transition. The other thing that happened was that my father got into trouble with the Hungarians because just before the turnover, uh, there was a big pro-peace meeting in the football stadium, in the soccer stadium in Munkach and sort of a peace rally. And my father spoke on behalf of peace and the Hungarians when they came and took that as a anti-Hungarian statement and so one of the first things they did was to revoke his license to practice medicine and put him in jail for a while. I remember visiting him in the jail, you know, he had…with his beard, he couldn’t shave, so he had a beard and everybody was very upset. It took a few months to get him out and to get his license back. I think what wound up happening was my mother had to bribe some officals to get his license back.
BURDE: He was prosecuted not as a Jew but as a political person.
SCHONFELD: Right, although he was basically an apolitical person. He never held any office or ran for any office. He just made that one statement.
BURDE: He must have been a respected citizen to have been one of the spokespersons in a rally like that.
SCHONFELD: He was a very popular practitioner in the city.
BURDE: Did Jews, did he have both Jewish and non-Jewish patients?
SCHONFELD: Yes, oh yes, he had many patients from among the non-Jews. He was a Governmental District Physician as a matter of fact. I think both under the Czechs and even under the Hungarians and once he got his license back. What that meant was he had to cover several villages around Munkach. And for a while, he had a chauffeur-driven little car, a Fiat; he had a Fiat and a chauffeur. And I remember going around the villages with him, and making the rounds. I mean, that is one of the things that I did as a kid. And another time I remember he had a Tatra which was a little red Hungarian convertible, sorta like the, those…MG’s, you know, with the big fenders that we used to see here in the 50s and 60s. It looked like that, a very beautiful car with leather seats, red leather seats and he would take me along for a ride and we would go visit the villages, and he would, you know, see his patients in the villages. So he had a lot of Jewish and non-Jewish patients.
BURDE: What language did you speak at home?
SCHONFELD: My first language was German. I think when I had a German governess for the first four years of my life and she spoke German so I spoke German and then Hungarian. Yiddish, one just sort of picked up because it was almost inevitable to pick up Yiddish in Munkach. I mean everybody spoke Yiddish. All the Jews spoke Yiddish. They either spoke Yiddish or Hungarian so Hungarian and Yiddish were very easy.
BURDE: Did you have any knowledge of Hebrew at the time?
SCHONFELD: I learned Hebrew in the day school. And I never became as fluent at it as my cousin because I had a cousin who was about, well I still have a cousin, he’s about eight years older than I am who went through that school system during the Czech days. And that Hebrew was the teaching language was true during the Czechs. When the Hungarians took over then they forced the school to adopt Hungarian as the teaching language, so we had Hebrew as a foreign language, but not as a major teaching language of the school. So I did learn some Hebrew but he learned it much better than I did because he used it a lot more.
BURDE: Did you ever speak Czech or learn Czech?
SCHONFELD: I didn’t really learn Czech until after the war where I spoke Czech for one year in my life. We never used Czech. Munkach was a border city, you know, that went back and forth and there were Czech speaking people there. My father spoke Czech and he still does, but it wasn’t anything that I had to learn at the time that I was between the age of four or five or so.
BURDE: Did you have a large extended family in Munkach?
SCHONFELD: Yeah. My father’s family…my father had, I think there were six siblings all together. There were six siblings. There were five boys and a girl and they each had children. Uh, the oldest son was here in the States. That’s how we wound up in St. Louis because he left Munkach in 1913. He didn’t want to fight for Franz Josef so he left and came here. But there were five, and there was an aunt who lived – oh, I don’t know – 20 or 30 kilometers from Munkach in a small village, her husband was a banker there. And my father was a physician; all the other people were business people.
BURDE: Well it sounds as if the Jews enjoyed high status in the area.
SCHONFELD: Well under the Czechs they certainly did in terms of equal rights and everything else and even under the Hungarians when they first came in, it wasn’t so bad because they, you know, they were allowed to keep their businesses. Life went on even though things changed.
BURDE: When exactly did the Hungarians come in?
SCHONFELD: In 1939, I think Munkach was taken over very early in 1940. I think the Munich Pact was some time in the fall of 1939, September or something like that in ’39. And Munkach was taken over, in, I think, something like January of 1940 because the story that is told in my family is that we got that shell into our house, I think, in January of 1940.
BURDE: And it was cold.
SCHONFELD: It was cold.
BURDE: What topographically was Munkach like? Was it in the mountains? Was it…
SCHONFELD: It was at the foot of the mountains…the Carpathian mountains which are very large mountain range in Europe were directly to the east of Munkach sort of north and east of Munkach. And I could get up in the mornings and see the snow capped mountains every day, all year round. It was a beautiful area; it was gorgeous.
BURDE: Sounds beautiful.
SCHONFELD: And you know we would go into the mountains quite frequently in the villages that my father covered were mountain villages going into those mountainous villages. There were many clear brooks, lots of trees, nice fresh air.
BURDE: Sounds idyllic.
SCHONFELD: It was beautiful. I learned to swim in a river which went through Munkach which was a mountain river, swift flowing, and crystal clear stream…very nice, a fairly decent sized river. We canoed on it, kayaked, so forth, recreation…It wasn’t big enough to use for commerce, but it was big enough to use for recreation. It was quite a nice place.
BURDE: Do you remember changes taking place after the Hungarians came in and was it gradual, or were there changes immediately?
SCHONFELD: Well, the most immediate change was this business with my father. And then there were some gradual changes, mostly having to do with the war itself; knowing that there was a war on and then people being called into the service. The Jews being called in to do this forced labor, the men, the Jewish men, were not called in to do regular army duty for the Hungarians. They were called in to do this forced labor. And I had several relatives, a cousin, a cousin’s husband who went in, who is now in Israel, we see him in Israel, and another cousin’s husband who is now in Los Angeles. They were called in and some of them disappeared and some of them were killed. The one in Los Angeles for example, was taken prisoner by the Russians and we didn’t see him until after the war.
BURDE: Where were they taken? Were these forced labor camps?
SCHONFELD: Well they weren’t camps. These people were taken to be with the army, with the Hungarian army. And they essentially did slave labor for the Hungarian army. What they did was to dig their trenches, to serve their food, cook their food and just sort of non-combattant things of activities for them. We also heard that they were frequently used as, you know, as cannon fodder in the sense that they would be forced to advance in front of the troops. They didn’t have any arms, of course, but I guess much in the same way as you hear now adays about Ayatollah Khoemeni’s kids, you know, preceding the troops. This is what they did with some of them.
BURDE: Did they write home? Or how did you learn about what was happening with them?
SCHONFELD: Oh a lot of this came out after the war. I remember that…one of the things I remember is my father inflicting wounds on some of the Jewish guys to disqualify them from service. And I remember once walking into his office, he had his office in our house, that was the way it was in those days. He had a wing of the house where he had his office, and he was…there was a man there, a young Jewish man with a big wound on his leg. And from the conversation, it became very clear to me that this was something that had been put there so that he couldn’t go…
BURDE: Did it work?
SCHONFELD: It worked in some cases, yeah.
BURDE: So that was right from the beginning…Jewish men were taken.
SCHONFELD: Yeah, I don’t remember…I can’t tell you the year, but the war, well you know the war in Europe started in ’39 and I suppose the Hungarians got into it in ’40, ’41, you know, so it started pretty early in the war.
BURDE: Was there any hostility from the non-Jewish Hungarian population toward the Jews?
SCHONFELD: Well the only thing that I sensed was having some run-ins with children. And every once in a while when a group of us who were going from the Jewish school, after school, going home, uh, there would be some non-Jewish children, you know, from across the street taunting us or throwing stones at us and things like that. Most of the time we didn’t pay much attention to that, it was kind of standard operating procedures so we didn’t pay much attention to that. Uh, on the adult level you know, as the war got on, the farther and farther the war got on, the more restrictive the laws became in terms of businesses practices for the Jews and what they could own and what they couldn’t own and things like that.
But this is stuff that I learned sorta after the fact. You know, as a young kid, I didn’t know exactly what’s going on. I would hear problems being discussed around the house, this guy couldn’t make a living or the other guy couldn’t make a living. The other thing that we started hearing about in the early 40s was of Polish Jews who ran to our town trying to escape from the Nazis. And there were several families who lived right next door to us in a house which I remember was sorta set way back and in back of our backyard. And I remember my parents talking with one of them and my parents talking about those Jews from Poland who had these terrible stories to tell about what was going on there. A lot of times those Poles were rounded up by the police and sent back and there wasn’t much anybody could do about it.
BURDE: So was there a sense among the Jews of what was happening in Germany, for example.
SCHONFELD: We didn’t, we didn’t, I don’t think we heard a lot in detail, you know, about what was going on. I mean (PAUSE) we weren’t taken until 1944 and I mean there was no, there was no feeling of doom or gloom. I mean, there was a lot of gloom because the war had gone on for such a long time and everybody knew that Hitler was doing some nasty things to the Jews but we didn’t really know in detail what was going on.
BURDE: Were you allowed to stay in your home until 1944?
SCHONFELD: Yeah.
MIRIAM: Well what about those Polish Jews that escaped? Didn’t you know from them what was…
SCHONFELD: Well I don’t know. I really don’t know how much they themselves knew in detail about what was going on, but you know I didn’t…I don’t remember hearing anything about concentration camps or massacres or any of this sort of thing. At least, I would say, until maybe late in 1943.
BURDE: What were the restrictions like? How did they become more progressive?
SCHONFELD: Well mostly they had to do with business and ownership. And here again, I can’t, I can’t tell you in detail because I wasn’t told enough to…
BURDE: But your father was allowed to practice medicine?
SCHONFELD: Yeah, yeah, the kinds of restrictions that he experienced was that, I remember one time – they didn’t pull him into this labor – forced labor business, but they did force him to go up to one of the villages. I don’t remember how far it was away from Munkach, but…maybe 50 kilometers or something like that up in the mountains, and he spent something like three or four months there because he was, you know, forced to work there. He was forced to leave the house and we went up there and lived with him for part of the time. I just remembered that it was physically uncomfortable because we had a very nice lovely home and so on, but it wasn’t so awful. It was scenically beautiful and the rivers and the mountains and the whole business and I believe that’s where I first saw how animals were slaughtered. And I remember that was the first time I ever saw how, how, horses mated and you know, farm-type stuff that you ordinarily don’t see when you lived in the city. So for me, from a child’s point of view, it wasn’t so awful. It was…
MIRIAM: Didn’t your mother…did they say that your mother could no longer have Hungarian help?
SCHONFELD: Well I don’t know – I just know that with the, with the Munich business this German governess we had left because that was…she wanted to go back to Germany. And I think at that time the law that applied to the Germans was that they couldn’t work for the Jews any longer, so she obeyed that law even though she was in Hungary and she left. But I don’t know, I don’t know about the rest of it. I remember there being maids around most of the time.
MIRIAM: Didn’t eventually some people move into the house?
SCHONFELD: That was after the Germans came in. So there were these kinds of restrictions…

Tape 1 - Side 2

The rest of the Hungarians, I suppose the men, were drafted and had to go fight the Russians. There were specific, I mean the specific things that were placed on the Jews were these labor battalions that they had to go into where they weren’t allowed to…I’m not sure that many Jews would have wanted to fight for the Hungarians but they weren’t given the opportunity to fight as the rest of the population was given to fight. And then there were these financial restrictions and this business about my father having to go and work in a village, I think was sort of in lieu of the labor battalion and we were very thankful that that’s all he had to do.
BURDE: And you continued to go to school?
SCHONFELD: Yes I continued to go to school, all the time, and my own every day life was not particularly disturbed. I mean, I didn’t feel these terrors or horrors that were felt by the Polish Jews and so on much earlier in the war. The situation for us really didn’t get terrible until the Germans came into Hungary. That’s when the things really started moving fast and furious. That took place in about March of 1944. And I remember the day very vividly because a whole, huge column of German armored infantry just moved into the city. And the armored infantry also included a lot of SS men and the SS men wore these, you know these vests, had symbols on their hats and on their lapels and they wore black uniforms and they were very frightening. The Wehrmacht looked like most other people but the SS men, you know, looked like they were killers. And they came in with their personnel carriers, and with their tanks and so on. And very soon after that we had to start wearing a Jewish star and then within a matter of, I don’t know, a couple of weeks it seems like, we were all herded into a ghetto, Munkach, well one part of Munkach was declared to be the ghetto. And all the Jews had to move into that ghetto and it probably was like in April of 1944 and that was the time at which 10 families moved into our house. We went from a one family residence to a 10 family residence. And in a way it was kind of lucky because my father, at that time, again was called to go serve in another village. So for the six or eight weeks between the time that the ghetto was started and the time that the people were deported to Auschwitz, we spent most of those few weeks in this village rather than living with the 10 families in our own house because that must not have been terribly pleasant under those crowded conditions. And in that village we lived in somebody’s house and I remember a couple of old maids living in that house and we lived with them and they treated us with kindness and my father was a physician for that village. And then in May, late in May, I remember some Hungarian police, state police, gendarmes came after us and took us into the, not even into the ghetto anymore, but into a brick factory. We were taken not to our house but to a large brick factory which had a direct rail line running into it. And in that brick factory was where all the Jews were. That was the place from which they were loaded into the cars and taken to Auschwitz.
BURDE: So you never even got to go back to your house.
SCHONFELD: No, no, we went directly from the village to this brick factory.
MIRIAM: When was it that time when you think you overheard your parents talking about the possibility of committing suicide?
SCHONFELD: That was in that village. There were some people in Munkach who when the ghetto was declared, committed suicide. And the people…the people I remember best was a dentist and his wife and daughter and she was a classmate of mine in school and a very lovely girl. I guess she was my first love and I remember that before we even went off to that village, the word got around that they had committed suicide.
BURDE: The whole family?
SCHONFELD: Yeah. And then I remember while we were in this village overhearing one night, sorta in the middle of the night, I woke up and heard my parents talking about committing suicide and I told them that I didn’t want to die. And so that closed that subject. I think by that time, it must have been clear to people what was going on. You know, I was never told what was in the offing and I don’t really know to what extent people knew what was in the offing. I think most Hungarian Jews wanted to believe what we were told, namely, was that we were not being rounded up to be taken to Auschwitz but we were being rounded up to be taken into the interior of Hungary, to labor camps.
BURDE: Then Auschwitz was a known entity at that time?
SCHONFELD: I really don’t know. I don’t know whether the adults knew about it or whether they knew about it as a place or not. I’d never heard the word. I don’t remember ever hearing the word before we actually went there. But what we were told by the Hungarian gendarmes and most of the gathering of the Jews, you know, from their homes and herding them into ghettos and so on was done by the Hungarian police; it was that we were going to be taken to do some work and build some things for the Hungarians because they needed the work. And I think most Jews wanted to believe that.
MIRIAM: Your mother told me, she told me, they must have had some idea because…she took a pillow case and filled it full of money and wanted you to have it…she spoke to some of the Hungarians that she knew and asked them to take her baby.
SCHONFELD: I think she wanted those two ladies we were living with in that village…
MIRIAM: She asked someone to take the baby. She gave them all this money. They took the money but they never came for the baby, so she must have had some idea of whatever would happen, the baby wouldn’t…
SCHONFELD: Yeah, I remember a conversation between my father and the, I think he was head of the electrical company in Munkach, trying to persuade him to take us, the children, it was the baby and he refused to do so. So I think those non-Jews who took Jewish children, put themselves in some jeopardy and there weren’t too many of them who wanted to do that. So we were in this brick factory for, I guess a few days or maybe a week and that was the first time I ever ate non-kosher food, was in that brick factory. And I remember my mother brought a ham with her from this village and she offered me some ham to eat and I said, “Can I eat it?” And she says, “Well, there isn’t anything else to eat and you’re not allowed to starve and if there’s a question of starvation then you can eat non-kosher food.”
BURDE: So the individual families had their own food?
SCHONFELD: Yeah, there was no kitchen or anything, you had to bring your own stuff. And so we were in this brick factory for about a week. I remember, I remember some stories in the big factory itself. We slept on the ground, but I remember other people telling stories of what it was like for those few weeks that we were gone when we were in that village and how it was that the Jews were rounded up. And our old neighbor whose…there was a family also called Schonfeld. They were not related to us but they were right next door neighbors and there was a grandfather and two of his children and their families living in a courtyard. And one of the children’s children, who was my age, was a classmate of mine and he was my best friend. You know, we were next-door children and we were always together. We went to school together and played together a lot. I was either always at his house, he was always at my house and the story was told that his grandfather got shot by the police on the way to the (BELL RINGS)…because he didn’t move fast enough while they were being taken to that brick factory.
BURDE: But it was by the Hungarians, not by the SS.
SCHONFELD: By the Hungarians. I think the SS just sort of stood by and sort of were in the background but a lot of the dirty work in Hungary itself was done by the Hungarian police. So after we were there for a week, then we got loaded onto these cattle cars and they loaded, I don’t know, a hundred people or something like that into one cattle car. And I just remember it, sort of as a, you know, as a half way dream or nightmare being in that car. I can’t remember many details except that it was very crowded and suffocating and it stank and it was very unpleasant and after that we arrived to Auschwitz and in Auschwitz itself, we got off the train and that’s when I first saw the SS and their dogs. I mean I saw the SS in Munkach but the whole schmear with the dogs, you know, the German Shepards. And they were screaming at us to get in line and to march and to, you know, this kind of thing, and they would pummel people who didn’t move fast enough. And as we got out of the cars we were told to leave all our valuables by the side and that anybody who was caught with any kind of valuables further on would be shot.
BURDE: How did you have valuables with you if you were not coming from home?
SCHONFELD: Well I mean a few valuables…rings, earrings, you know, things like that…people carry with them. But we were told that if we had anything like that, that we would be shot so people threw stuff away. My mother told me that whatever she had with her, her rings, earrings, whatever, she just threw away. And the thing that I had that was the most precious possession that I had in those days was a small stamp collection and I remember I threw that away (LAUGHTER) because I was afraid that if, you know, that had any value, I’d be shot for that. So there were a bunch of SS men standing up some ways at the front of the train there and we started marching towards them. And in the middle of this line was a guy with a black coat, you know, these SS guys had these very elegant black leather coats with the black boots and the officers had their riding crops, you know. And so we were told that those people who could walk, felt that they could walk about 10 kilometers, should go to one side and those who felt that they couldn’t walk, should go to the other side, should go in one direction and the other people should go in the other direction. My father, for some reason, that he still can’t explain to anybody but he took my little baby brother and gave him to my grandmother, my maternal grandmother was living with us at that time. She had been widowed about a year before that and she was staying with us. And she was in her middle 50s and he was seven months old and my mother was, I don’t know, maybe 31 and my father was maybe 41 and I was 10. And so he gave the baby to my grandmother and said, “You take him and I know you’re going in that direction.” And the three of us walked up to the line and the guy up there said, “This boy should go on the other side because he’s not going to be able to walk.” And my father said, “No, no, he’s 16 years old and he’s a strong boy, let him come with me.” And they said, “Okay.” So that’s how I happened to go with the others. And once we moved over to the side of the living, they separated the men from the women and so the last time I saw my mother was until after we saw each other after the war was over…I was in that place as we got off the train.
BURDE: Right as you arrived.
SCHONFELD: Right as we arrived and…
BURDE: How many people do you suppose arrived at the same time. Was it hundreds, was it thousands…
SCHONFELD: I would guess hundreds. I don’t know, I don’t know exactly but it was a train that had, you know, a number of cattle cars. I don’t know how many, maybe 20, 30 cattle cars and there were probably like, I don’t know, a hundred people in a car or so, you know, several hundred maybe, a couple thousand.
BURDE: And did it…so that you went to one side and did they reject anybody who tried to go to that side?
SCHONFELD: I don’t remember. I just remembered it as being chaotic and being very, very frightened because there was an awful lot of screaming going on and the dogs were running around and the SS were hitting people and los, los, you know go, go, move and you know, that sort of thing. So it was a very frightening experience because, you know, I mean we had sort of been spared all of that because we were in this village so we had been spared the few weeks of really nasty treatment before, beforehand. And so we sort of got on the train and after something like three hellish days we got out and we were in hell and it come from something that hadn’t been quite so terrible, you know, we were just in this village. And so it was very frightening and I remember just going off with my father and I don’t even remember whether I kissed my mother goodbye or if I had a chance to do that, or not, and we wound up in Auschwitz. And the other thing that I remember, of course, was this stink of burning flesh because that permeated Auschwitz. You could just smell the burning meat and I didn’t know that it was human beings at that time, it was just this terrible stink.
BURDE: Day and night?
SCHONFELD: Day and night, all the time, and you know, the soot coming out of the chimneys. And so we spent something like two and a half or three weeks in Auschwitz. In Auschwitz itself, we really didn’t do much. I mean, I remember of being assigned to do a little bit of shoveling in front of our, in front of our cabin. There were these rows of cabins where people slept on shelves, they were wooden shelves, you know, like bunks, but there were like a dozen people on each level. And that’s how we slept. We didn’t get much to eat. And I remember just being sort of in a fog most of the time, you know, just being very afraid and I was asked…I mean I was told that I had to do some shoveling there in front of the thing. There were these little, these little “v” shaped, “v” shaped little cars that ran on tracks, you know, like we use for hauling sand around or coal. And there were some of those and the earth was being moved back and forth. I don’t think it was any purposeful kind of activity, I think we were just digging holes and filling holes. But I remember one time when I was shoveling, some guy running at me with a shovel and swinging at me with a shovel and if I wouldn’t have ducked, he would have killed me. I don’t know why he did it; to this day I don’t know why. The other memory I have of Auschwitz, of course, aside from this unrelieved gloom and the electrical fences and the guards and the dogs and the stink of the burning, and this tremendous crowding and being shaved…the head shaved, you know, and my first pair of long pants, you know, kids in Europe don’t get their long pants. It was my first pair of long pants with the blue and white prison clothes. We were not tattooed. We did have a number but the Hungarian Jews were not tattooed so I don’t have a tattoo. In addition to that were the latrines which were these huge latrines that the guys would squat over boards and the smell of this disinfectant that they use to…lime I guess…that they use to throw into the latrines and that was also an awful smell.
BURDE: Were the latrines outside?
SCHONFELD: No, they were in buildings and they were just latrine buildings. And the other very striking memory I have is at the end of the latrine one day, there was sort of like a closet or a boarded-off area and I wanted to see what was behind that area…behind those boards. And I looked through the slats of the boards and there were bodies piled up there, there must have been dozens of bodies that looked like, you know, just like you see the pictures of concentration camp bodies, you know, starved, emaciated white bodies, just stacked like cord wood. That was kind of a shock. So we spent a couple of weeks like that and then we were loaded onto wagons again into railroad cars and we were taken to Warsaw. And this was after the Warsaw ghetto fighting was all over and there was a concentration camp in the ghetto itself. And the job of the ghetto, of the camp, was to clean up the ghetto and try to salvage the ghetto…and to use and to salvage whatever building materials, bricks and building materials that could be salvaged from the destroyed buildings and ship them back to Germany. And so that’s what we did. And we spent something like two months there and then the Russians started coming close and we were taken away. We did something like a 120 kilometer walk from Warsaw to Kutno, this was in August I believe, in 1944. And during the course of this walk, quite a few people died. What the Germans told the people before they started walking, again, was the same trick. Those people who felt that they couldn’t walk, would be put into trucks and so this was an “out” for the big lineup, you know, they would line up all the people and count them, I think this was done every morning, and count them. But in one of the lineups, when we were told we’d be moving out, this was what we were told. And so a bunch of people stepped over to one side and the rest of us started marching and then we heard a lot of machine gun fire, so I assume that those people were shot. I didn’t see it, but that’s my assumption. Yeah?
BURDE: How did you happen…then just assume to – did you know that was going to happen, or did you just…
SCHONFELD: Well by that time we had met old prisoners, prisoners who had been in the camp for a while, you know, like the Polish Jews, Czechoslovakian Jews who had been in the camp for a year or two. They told us that you know, that…don’t do that because those people who show any sign of weakness are just shot or taken away to be killed and you should try to stay in the working part of the camp population for as long as you can.
BURDE: I just have one more question. How long were you in Auschwitz?
SCHONFELD: Something like two to three weeks.
BURDE: Did you have the same routine of having checks every morning or evening? How did a day run?
SCHONFELD: We had to line up in the morning and the SS would come around and count you or the kapos would count and report to the SS. And there was a lot of yelling back and forth and sort of military, you know, type of activity about lining up and keeping a straight line. And then there would be some work, I mean, there would be breakfast which ordinarily consisted of some thin soup or some black coffee or, you know, a crumb of bread or something like that. Then there would be work. I don’t even remember what the other guys did, I just remember, I did the shoveling. I don’t remember what my father did…
BURDE: Did you have shoes or did they take them away?
SCHONFELD: No, I had shoes. I don’t remember whether they gave us shoes or whether I got to keep my own shoes. I know they took away all our clothes. They gave us…they shaved our heads and they gave us these prison clothes, but I don’t remember about the shoes.
BURDE: And then at night again…
SCHONFELD: At night, then, you know, there were meals. We had to line up for meals and they were usually doled out of these big pots. In Auschwitz, I think they were in the cabins themselves. The cabins were these huge affairs, long affairs and they were, and we just lined up for our food and then after dinner, I think people would just sit around and eventually people would go to sleep. It was the time to go to sleep.
BURDE: Was there any sort of, community life? Did people talk…did they sing, did they…
SCHONFELD: I don’t remember any singing, there was talking.
MIRIAM: All this publicity and stuff about the music in Auschwitz and the orchestra in Auschwitz. Did you see that?
SCHONFELD: No.
BURDE: Were there any others your age or who seemed to be young?
SCHONFELD: I was the youngest in just about every place that I was. I don’t remember…
BURDE: And were you with your father?
SCHONFELD: Yeah. I was with my father throughout the whole thing and with this one cousin and a couple of uncles. Yeah, we went through the whole camp together. I mean the whole time we were together.
BURDE: Then were there other people from your town, or…
SCHONFELD: Yeah, I don’t…to tell the truth I don’t remember the other people. I remember my cousin. I remember my uncles and I remember my father. The other people were just sort of shadows.
BURDE: Did anybody get sick, like…
SCHONFELD: I don’t remember anybody being sick in Auschwitz, I remember in Muehldorf, the last place where we were, people got sick.
MIRIAM: (CANNOT HEAR)…march…
SCHONFELD: Well the march was a forced march from Warsaw to Kutno and in Kutno we got into trains and we were taken to Dachau. The march to Kutno was in August and it was very hot. We didn’t…we weren’t given any food, we weren’t given any water to drink, and people who lagged behind were shot. It was just as simple as that…you couldn’t keep up with the march and you just got shot. And I remember my father dragging me along, and this kind of stuff. I remember one time we came to a river. I don’t remember what the name of the river was and they sat us down on the bank of the river. There was a large sort of gravely area and we pled with the Germans to let us go in the river and drink some water and a few people got up and started running and they shot them. And I remember my father begging a German soldier to let…to let me have some water and he, you know, he hit him with the butt of the rifle and knocked him down. And that’s…that’s the way they were. You know it obviously was a deliberate attempt to kill people, not to make it easy for them to march or to get to where it was that they were taking them but to kill as many of them off along the way as possible.
BURDE: What was the purpose of the march?
SCHONFELD: Well, to get us away from the Russians. Because I don’t remember exactly when theWarsaw uprising took place, you know, when the Poles started the uprising and the Russians waited for the Poles…for the Germans to kill off all the Poles before they came into Warsaw, you know that story. That was a pleasure, I really enjoyed that story.
BURDE: So that the Russians…
SCHONFELD: Well the Germans took care of the Poles.
BURDE: So the Russians didn’t have to.
SCHONFELD: So the Russians didn’t have to, (LAUGHTER) yeah. But anyway, that’s what we were taken away from, the Russians were getting close. And so one night we camped on a big field. I remember a whole bunch of us, just the whole field covered with people who were doing the walking. And some Greek Jews started digging in the ground with their…we had metal dishes to eat out of, those were Boy Scout dishes to eat soup out of and stuff, and these Greek Jews started digging in the field and a couple of feet down, they found water. It was like a miracle from God and so then of course everybody else started digging and pretty soon there were lots of little wells in the field and the people got some water and it was muddy water but it was water. So I’m sure a lot of peoples’ lives were saved because that water was found. And the Germans were furious. They would come along and they would try to kick the wells closed, you know, and kick the wells to muddy them up and to try to fill them. They couldn’t stand the fact that the goddamn Jews had found some water.
BURDE: But they didn’t machine gun mobs of people, or…
SCHONFELD: No, no. For doing that? No.
MIRIAM: They would have had to kill everybody.
SCHONFELD: They would have, you know, had to kill lots of people. No, they didn’t but and then I remember, we finally got to a place, some kind of a forest where it rained a lot and then they put us into these trains. And then after a few days, I don’t know exactly how long, we wound up in another concentration camp, where each camp which was sort of reminiscent of Auschwitz but I think it was a little more closer quarters than things seemed to be paved a little more than Auschwitz. And I was told that we were in Dachau. And we stayed in Dachau again for maybe a week or two, not very long and they deloused us and gave us some showers and things like that. Then they put us into some more trains and we wound up, they sent us to a place called Muehldorf which was near Munich, I guess not very far from Dachau itself. And Muehldorf Waltlager which was a camp in a big forest where the Germans were trying to build an underground airplane factory and that’s why this camp was established…for the purpose of that. So it was a working camp, it was not an extermination camp, and we stayed there for the rest of the time. We stayed there from, I don’t know, approximately August until we were liberated on May 2, 1945. And there I did a variety of jobs. They started me off in the kitchen peeling potatoes and that wasn’t so bad because I could steal a lot of potatoes and take them back to my relatives. I would put the potatoes into my pants leg, I would tie my pants leg, you know with a string and put the potatoes into the pants leg because if you were caught stealing potatoes, it wasn’t…

Tape 2 - Side 1

…and there wasn’t anything to eat, I mean there was…we were eating raw potatoes, that’s all. There wasn’t anything else for us to eat. And the other job I had which was kind of a nice job for a short while was to be sort of like a houseboy for the Commandant of the camp. I was always the youngest so I washed his glasses and, you know, sort of general kind of I don’t know, like a houseboy kind of duty around his place. And I remember I got fired because at one time I broke a bunch of his glasses. I put the glasses, I put too many of them together and they all fell over and a couple of them broke, so I got fired.
BURDE: Do you remember his name?
SCHONFELD: No.
BURDE: Did you have any contact with him or were you just in the house?
SCHONFELD: A little bit. I mean, you know, he spoke to me maybe two or three words.
BURDE: He was not as bad as some of them…
SCHONFELD: He was not so bad. He was a retired high school principal. This is what my father told me because he got to know him a little bit. And he was not so bad. At the end when he was commanded to have all the prisoners shot and the camp burned down…he was, refused to do that, so he was not so bad. I remember my father testified on his behalf. So the worst part of this…of this camp was that there was no food and that there was an awful lot of cruelty from the German soldiers, from the kapos to the prisoners. I saw a lot of people just starve to death, they were beaten to death. People who got sick from, you know, from any kind of illnesses, there was no medicine to treat them. And periodically, like every month, there would be a big lineup and some big shots came from Dachau or some place, and would select people, those who looked weak got selected out and sent off to get burned. So that was…that’s, that’s how it went. I mean, in the summertime when we first got there, we lived in cardboard huts; they were sort of green, paperboard, they were some kind of pressed paper and we all slept on grass or straw inside of these huts. When the winter came, they had us dig into the ground and we lived in underground bunkers, you know, where there were holes in the ground. And they had roofs on them, made out of wood and straw, so it was like a center aisle with two shelves on the side where the people slept and covered over with a roof, that’s how you slept, that was the living quarters.
BURDE: (UNCLEAR)….Was there any….
SCHONFELD: No.
BURDE: Was there a jacket? How did you keep from…
SCHONFELD: Well, I don’t know, we had blankets, we covered ourselves with blankets, and huddled close together and everybody had lice. There were lots of lice. I remember one of the favorite activities was picking lice out of the arm pits of your clothing because that’s where they liked to congregate, under the arm pits. You’d take off your shirt and you’d always have lice, kill them and squeeze them and mashed them together. I was lucky because my father was put into a hospital, “hospital,” they called it a reviere. It was a building which had some beds in it and had a few medical instruments. There were a couple of doctors in there. My father was in there, so I’m sure that saved his life because he didn’t have to go out there and work. Initially he did, I think the first couple of months in the summertime, he did go out to the work place, but then, I don’t know how he managed to do it, but he got himself put into this hospital. Then after I got finished with my potato peeling and with my job for the Commandant, I was brought into this reviere also, as sort of a little aide or something. And I mean a little thing like that gives you a huge edge for survival, because you’re a little warmer, you don’t have to work quite as hard and maybe you get a little extra food.
BURDE: Who were the patients in the hospital?
SCHONFELD: Well the patients were people who had…I remember there was a tremendous stink in the hospital because of course there were no antibiotics and a lot of people came in and with very badly infected legs, from wounds and from malnutrition, you know, just sort of covered with pus…their extremities. And I remember there was one young kid, a Dutch boy, he was about 17 or so. And in that particular camp the Jews were not the only prisoners. There were some murderers and homosexuals and gypsies and all kinds of other people. The murderers had green, I remember had green triangles. Over your jacket you had a number, over the left upper pocket of your jacket there was a number which was your identifying number. The number was a symbol, a triangle of some sort. And the color of the triangle identified the crime for which you were in the camp. And I think, if I remember correctly, pink was political and the Jews had a Star of David, they had two triangles, everybody else had one triangle. And one triangle was pink and the other one was yellow. So we were political Jewish, that was our designation. There were political prisoners and I think the green ones were the murderers and there were some of those guys. There were some pretty tough guys in the camp and some of the kapos and this young Dutch boy, I think was their…sweetheart. I know there was some homosexual activity going on and I remember they tried to approach me and my father sort of protected me. I remember getting a couple of very long kisses from some of these guys on the mouth. And then my father told me to stay away from them and would hide me whenever they would be around. This kid came in with a, I think, on a hindsight now, with a rectal absess which I think he probably got from, you know, anal intercourse. And I remember my father and another guy doing surgery on him. I held the lamp as they were doing the surgery. And they just did it on a bunk and I was lying on the top bunk with the lamp, holding the lamp and the two physicians were doing the surgery.
BURDE: There was no anesthesia.
SCHONFELD: No anesthesia. So there were a lot of people who got carried out dead. There was just a limited number…I remember the bandages were made out of paper. My father would put on these bandages and the bandages were made out of this white crepe paper, the same kind of thing that people use to put up streamers for holidays, to decorate rooms with…that same kind of stuff was what was available for bandages. So that’s how it was for something like seven months.
MIRIAM: Weren’t you sort of like the cook also?
SCHONFELD: Well I was the cook for my father and me, yeah.
BURDE: Everything just melted away?
SCHONFELD: Yeah. (LAUGHTER) We got these little pieces of margarine. You would put them on a frying pan or some kind of a pan and the whole thing would just go on “zzzz”….it was all water. The same thing with, they’d give you little pieces of salami or some kind of sausage like that. By the time you fried it, it was all virtually all gone because it was also all water. But I remember my father giving me a lot of his food and he would just say, “You eat it, I’m not hungry.” And so, he’s been a hero to me for many years ever since then; you know there was very few fathers that are tested that way, and he came through. You know, he would hide me when the guys would come from Auschwitz to select or from Dachau or wherever they came from when we were in this Muehldorf.
BURDE: How did he hide you?
SCHONFELD: Well he would just sort of tell me, go and work in the, you know, you stay in the hospital there. And I remember one of the times he said, “Go in the kitchen, and we’ll report you as being in the kitchen working.” You were needed there…so they wouldn’t see me, the kapos…
BURDE: You were so young though.
SCHONFELD: So it went like that and that’s the way it was. And you know there are scenes you remember. I remember there was one crazy German guard who was an officer who was always yelling and screaming at people. I remember him chasing some guy around the camp, the cabin there, with a luger pistol, you know, screaming his head off. He didn’t shoot the guy though, he just…I remember other guards, you know, hitting people with the butts of their rifles. I remember kapos beating up on people with their sticks. There was an awful lot of that kind of brutality going on. And I remember being hungry all the time, I mean there was no food, and being scared a lot of times.
BURDE: What language did you speak in the camp?
SCHONFELD: Oh amongst ourselves, we spoke Hungarian and the Germans would speak German, they’d scream at you in German. I had very little to do with the Germans outside of being the objects of their screams, commands, or something like that…conversations.
BURDE: But were they obvious all the time or were there Hungarians in between or kapos? Who did you deal with?
SCHONFELD: No, in the camp, once we got taken to Auschwitz, after Auschwitz there were no Hungarians, it was only the Germans…the Germans and kapos. The Germans were always there because they were in the watchtowers. Every camp I was in had guard towers and barbed wire fences and those were all manned by Germans. There were always Germans with rifles and German Shepard dogs and Doberman Pinschers walking around the perimeters, so they were always present. The kapos were also present because a lot of times they would direct, you know they were the direct supervisors. And the kapos were sometimes the worst guys. I mean they’d pick out the meanest son of a bitch, murderer, or somebody like that and make him the kapo. So they beat up on people and they were the kings of the king among the prisoners. They lived in better quarters and they got some of the better food. They got the services of the young boys that they could catch.
BURDE: And were most of the prisoners Jews even though there were other prisoners there, or…
SCHONFELD: I don’t know what the breakdown was in this Muehldorf. I suspect it was mostly Jews. But there were a lot of…there were Jews there we ran there. At that particular camp, we ran into Jews from Poland, from Hungary of course, some Greek Jews, some Dutch Jews, some of the Jews, you know, some of the Polish Jews we’d run into had been in camps for four or five years by the time we met them.
BURDE: How did the Jews treat one another? Were there nationalistic kinds of rivalries or…
SCHONFELD: No, I don’t think so. I mean, the kapos were bastards. The rest of the people were just…just cowed. And there were some nice ones. I remember there was one Polish Jew, who was sorta a short stocky guy who had been in the camp for four or five years by the time we met him.
BURDE: He was still stocky. (LAUGHTER)
SCHONFELD: Well he wasn’t too stout. He was just sort of a short, stocky build. And he would sing, he taught me “Belz,” you know, “Meine Shtetele Belz,” you know that song, I learned that in the camp. I learned “Lili Marlene,” that song in the camp. There was a little singing among…there were a few people who were able to keep up their spirits.
BURDE: Was there any practice of religion?
SCHONFELD: Yeah, there were guys who would daven. I don’t remember going to any kind of a minyan except for, maybe for Yom Kippur, there was something.
BURDE: How did you know when it was Yom Kippur?
SCHONFELD: I don’t know, some guys kept track. I was 10 years old, how did I know what was what? But there were guys there who would daven and…
MIRIAM: Was this, I guess for the Polish Jews, Muehldorf must have been, after probably some of the places that you were…
SCHONFELD: Yeah, Moehldorf comparatively speaking, wasn’t so bad. Those guys who had to go out of the camp and work had a terrible time because the work was really slave labor and it was really hard, physical labor. They had to drag these sacks, you know, 25 kilos, sacks, or something of cement around and carry them. My cousin did that. He lives in Atlanta now. And his father, my uncle, and another uncle, my father’s brother, they all had to do that for a while. My father was able to get my two uncles to get off of there and do some work around the camp after a while. My cousin…he couldn’t get my cousin off. He still resents it to this day. (LAUGHTER)
BURDE: He’s the one who’s eight years older than you were.
SCHONFELD: Yeah. Oh he was a healthy young guy. At that time he was 18 years old and his father was, I don’t know, in his 40s and the other brother was in his early 40s. And, so my father looked out for them and he felt that this guy was young enough to be able to handle it. But I don’t know, there were just an awful lot of stories after the camp was over about my father’s helpfulness and heroism in the camp, how he would keep people in this thing and I’ll keep them for a few extra days until they got better, you know, protect them and so on. Of course he was a hero to his brothers because they wouldn’t have survived without him. So it was a tough, it was a tough kind of situation. And a lot of it, I think, was the food, the lack of food, the lack of sanitation and the unnecessary cruelty, it was the whole situation from the Germans and the kapos, the whole system, the way they had set it up. I mean it was obvious that the game was not to nurture a labor force but to kill the labor force.
BURDE: But to keep them going as long as they were useful…
SCHONFELD: To keep them going as long as they could without investing anything.
BURDE: And they continued to build the factory?
SCHONFELD: Yeah. The factory was never finished though. We were liberated before the factory was finished but they kept on going out and working. Then…
BURDE: All winter long.
SCHONFELD: All winter long, sure. Then in…you know, we would hear rumors about allied victories here and there. You know, little rumors would get into the camp about the Americans were in France or they were here or there. Then as the…as the spring wore on, some of the Germans started laying off and they started becoming a little bit less…less cruel. And they also exchanged some of the guards. In the spring, the younger guards were taken away and the really old guys or young boys became our watchmen. I think what happened was anybody who was able to fight, they just took them to fight. You know, Hitler was down to his last troops. And so they brought in a bunch of old guys…guys that were veterans of the First World War for example to become watchmen. And the situation became a lot easier then and the attitude of the guards was not so cruel. And they use to make jokes of themselves…they would say wir alte affen sind diz neue waffen and Hitler would always promise the Germans that they’d have this new weapon…of this new secret weapon that would win the war and turn the tide for the Germans. So they would make jokes and we old apes are the new weapons – this rhymes in German…
BURDE: So for them it was also a good place to be… the older guys?
SCHONFELD: Sure. It was better than the German front or the Russian front. But…and then in May, early in May, on May second, we were liberated and I remember we got up in the morning and all the guards were gone – one morning the guards were just gone. You know, we woke up and there were no guards. And a few minutes later we saw this lonely figure with this tommy gun come down and sort of crouch in the way you see in the war movies and behind him was another one and a few hundred yards behind a tank came up. And we knew it was an American soldier and an American tank and that’s how we were liberated. And of course, everybody was ecstatic and very, very happy about it. They rounded up a few of the German soldiers and the guards and they picked up a few of the guards, I think there were two guards in particular who had been very nasty, who were still there, and I remember the people wanted to beat them up. And the Americans took them on the tank and wouldn’t let them…wouldn’t let the prisoners touch them. And that was my first experience with what I consider unnecessary American nobility…unnecessary nobility from the Americans. But we were very grateful and then for about six weeks, we were in a sanitarium where we were sort of nursed back to health and fed back to health…
BURDE: So you left the camp…
SCHONFELD: …we left the camp.
BURDE: …that day.
SCHONFELD: Well I don’t remember exactly how many days after we were liberated, we left the camp, but it was very soon after liberation. This was a very lovely sanitarium which had been a mental sanitarium and which had been sort of cleaned out because one of Hitler’s policies was to give injections to people who were mentally retarded or…in other words he didn’t what to have the state to support these people who were incapable of being productive. So the sanitarium was kind of empty by the time we got there because all the people had been killed, all the Germans who’d been there had been killed. So the American army, you know, and the physicians and the American medical corp people who nursed back a lot of the peoples’ health. Then we were loaded onto trucks and taken to Pilsew, to Czechoslovakia, the trucks was American army trucks and Pilsew was as far east as the American army got by agreement with the Russians. And we got onto a train and then went into Prague and hung around Prague for a little while. Then somehow my father got a job in this TB sanitorium, outside of Prague and that’s where we stayed for a year until we got our papers and…
BURDE: Now – where did you meet your mother and how did you get information about her?
SCHONFELD: Is that what you were going to ask? Well the story about my mother is that she was taken to Poland. After Auschwitz, she spent her year in…most of the year in Stutthof which is a concentration camp in northern Poland not far from Danzig. And she spent, I think, until January and as the Russians started getting closer, they broke up the camp and they started sending the…sending these…these were Jewish women – they wanted to transport them to camps further west. She and a bunch of the other women who’d worked in the kitchen, and that’s how she happened to survive, you know, if you did the routine thing in the camp, most of those people didn’t survive. People who survived were the people who had some kind of edge. So I survived because I was with my father, you know, in this little hospital rather that out in the field. My mother survived because she worked in the kitchen. And she had some cousins whose life she saved because in the kitchen, she was able to give them food. So there were a bunch of these women who persuaded the guards to just let them go. They’d, I guess they’d been around the guards…she, actually my mother, worked in the SS kitchen. She didn’t even work in the kitchen of the prisoners. She worked in the kitchen which took care of the feeding of the SS. And, so she must have gotten, she and some of the other women there, must have gotten to know the guards well enough so that they just sort of let them go when…they just let them escape. And so they wound up, after, between January and May of 1945, they actually spent on a peninsula called Halle peninsula, which is right near Danzig, posing as Hungarian refugee women. And they were sort of intermingled with a whole bunch of other people who were refugees and they just sort of lived in a house…there were something like seven or eight women, Hungarian Jewish women, and that’s how she spent the time. Well, after the war…well before we were taken away, the agreement was made that those who survived the experience would go back to Munkach and so my mother went back to Munkach. You know, she tells this long story about a train ride from Danzig to Munkach, I mean it was chaos after the war, you know, you just caught whatever transportation you could and she got back to Munkach. When we got back to Prague, my father decided he didn’t want to go back to Munkach because what he was afraid of, we heard of course that the Russians were in Munkach, that essentially the dividing line was at Pilsew amd east of Pilsew was the Russians and west of Pilsew were the Americans. And he didn’t want to go back to Munkach because he didn’t want to live with the Russians. He just sort of felt that if he got back to Munkach and found the house intact where we lived, he would start practicing medicine again and then just sort of get stuck there. He didn’t want to have to deal with the Russians. So he decided that we would stay west, away from the Russians. So he got this job in this sanitorium until we found out what was going on. And we would run into people and there was a…and my mother was back in Munkach in the meantime for, I don’t know, three or four weeks. And she would hear from various people about having seen me or here and there, of having seen my father at various places…she didn’t believe that I was alive because nobody that young stayed alive. So she was convinced that I was dead and she didn’t know whether or not to believe the stories about where we were…where we never were, you know, people were trying to be helpful and keep up her spirits. And, but we, I don’t know, maybe four or five weeks after we got to this sanitarium, we were visited by a soldier, a Munkach guy, a Jewish guy from Munkach who…came back from Russia with the Czech army…there were a lot of Jewish guys who were caught by the Russians in the forced labor camp. They were imprisoned by the Russians and when the Czechs decided to have an army to try and come back to liberate Czechoslovakia, a lot of these guys joined that army and they came west with the Czech army. And he was one of those guys, so we ran in…you know, he came and visited us and he was going back to Munkach. So my father told him to go visit mom and tell her that we were alive and there would she please come up. We didn’t want to go back and, you know, we’d like to meet there and…
BURDE: Did he write a note?
SCHONFELD: …and he wrote down the address where we were. And he went and told her this and she wouldn’t believe him so he took out this little piece of paper with the handwriting on it. Of course she recognized my father’s handwriting. So it was the first time she was really convinced that we were alive. And, so she came up and I remember, you know, sort of a red flag day when she got off the train and the hugging and the kissing and the crying and we hired one of those horse drawn taxis…horse drawn carriage to take us back to the sanitarium. And I just remember all of us crying, riding through the middle of the street in this Czechoslovakian little village going back to the sanitorium.
BURDE: What village was it?
SCHONFELD: It was called Nova ves pod Plesi.
BURDE: I’m glad I asked. (LAUGHTER FROM BOTH)
SCHONFELD: And that year while we were waiting for our papers, it was kind of a nice year because we all got to know each other again…we all got fat again. We ate potatoes, Czech potatoes and mushrooms.
BURDE: So, did you ever go back to Munkach?
SCHONFELD: No, never have been back to Munkach. I’ve been back to Hungary several times, I’ve been back to Budapest and to, back to the town of my maternal grandparents, where I used to spend my summers…I’ve been back there several times and I’ve visited my grandfather’s grave. It was his wife who was taken with my little brother and his grave is in this place. And my parents went back to Munkach in 1975. I think they were a little sorry that they went back because the house is still there. It’s now some kind of a state run school, the house where we lived and apparently Munkach is now a town of over 100,000 people and a lot of the population has changed, of course, the Jews, very few of the Jews, survived. But the Russians have this practice of taking border populations and moving them into the interior of the country and moving Russians to the borders, the populations that are more loyal to the system. They don’t want to have disloyal population near to the borders, so the whole town has been changed.
MIRIAM: Your uncle, this is the father of that young cousin…
SCHONFELD: This cousin’s eight years older than I.
BURDE: …and he went back.
SCHONFELD: Yeah.
BURDE: He found his business intact and he stayed, then he couldn’t get out.

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