B: I couldn’t, that’s what I was having trouble with. I could not find Hel anywhere. So, you were on foot, you were walking, how long did you walk and what did you eat during this time?
S: What we eat, I don’t even remember what we ate. In Praust in the camp where we were, you know, at one point we stopped down, stepped down, we, seven women, we separated ourselves from the… You know, we took a risk, but we separated ourselves, because the SS started to kind of disperse, because they were so close, the Russians, you know, they started to disperse. And then we separated ourselves in, in there was in among the seven women, we stuck together, you know, we lived together all the time in the camp. Two of us were sick, myself and another woman. We had a high fever and we just couldn’t go. So we went in a bombed out house, and there we were for two weeks. I was in delirium, I don’t even know what happened. I just didn’t know. And the two nieces of mine took care of me at that time. So, five of them, they were on foot and they, they, you know, so they tried to take, get, they got some connections with the SS, not, the Wehrmacht, the soldiers Wehrmacht. You know Wehrmacht?
B: Um huh.
S: You know those fighting soldiers?
B: Um huh.
S: They told them that we are Hungarians, since luckily we didn’t have any numbers, you know, they said we are Christians and we are not Jewish and we are coming from Praust – not Praust, that camp, the Praust camp – and we were overseers and we, we watched those girls, you know. Because we did have over there five Polish women who used to beat us up. They were the ones who took care of the girls. They were SS women. So, anyway, that was, the, we were those girls, you know, while we were sick we had to stay there. So they told them we just can not go, we are Hungarian women and we all gave false names.
B: And they believed you?
S: They had to. What else could they do? What else could they do?
B: These are Hungarian soldiers then? No?
S: German, not SS. Fighting soldiers.
B: Fighting soldiers but not SS.
S: Not SS. As I told you, SS started to run every direction. And after the two weeks I, — we had to go because some kind of a dam they opened up and it should flood that the Russians shouldn’t come through, can’t come through there or whatever, and they emptied that house where we were, and since we were a friendly nation, Hungarian nationalities, they put us on a wagon and took us to the peninsula, Hel. That was Hel, a peninsula that was actually like a fishing village. There was a village on it, you know. And they say it was a fishing village, and they put us down there because we were very sick.
B: The fighting soldiers did that?
B: They helped you.
S: Yeah, because we are not the only ones, it was not just us there. There was lots of them, women and men, women. These were Polish people, because they’re from the Polish side, you know, over there, near Danzig. And all the civilians, so we were handled like civilians, you know, like the rest of them. So we went to Heala. They also bombed our house while we were there, and we lived through until May 8th until they wanted to take us. Once they put us in a ship, they wanted to take us to Denmark, and in the ship I was terribly sick. It was a freight ship, and a freight doesn’t have… it has a deck and then a bottom. And there were thousands and thousands of people there, you know, sitting on the floor. I was there with my two nieces. And we were there to go to wherever they wanted to take us. And they started to bomb the ship, and they couldn’t go, so they took us off. You should have seen that ladder that was made from the bottom up to go up. Everybody wanted to go up, they were afraid the ship was going to sink and everybody gets… you know, because it was bombed.
B: Yeah, right.
S: It was daytime and I remember how they had to come to get me, because I couldn’t go. I was so sick, you know.
B: They had to help you get out.
S: And then my two nieces, they turned back from the ladder, they came down and just took me up there.
B: So you got off the boat then.
S: And there were the Germans. There were the Germans. So we were among the civilians then, you know, so we weren’t handled anymore like, — they didn’t know. If they would have known, they would have just shot us, if they had known we were Jewish.
B: So the Germans were helping you…?
S: Not helping me, helping the civilians.
B: Helping, and you were a civilian at that point.
S: A civilian at that point. And then we, we really got…. Then the Russians came in the seven of us, women, seven of us, we went up to the Russians, because, you know, all the Germans were… That was a glorious time to see all those Germans, throwing their weapons down. They didn’t know we were Jewish, except that we had our, — how do you call it in English? Anyway, we saw their downfall, that’s all too…
B: You got off the boat because you were afraid it was going to sink?
S: Not afraid, everybody was taken out. You see, these are all civilians. They didn’t want them to drown.
B: Right, so what happened when you got off the boat?
S: Well, we were in a bombed out house.
B: And how long was that?
S: They wanted to take us again and again, and again and again, but we were sick and couldn’t travel. So we stayed there because we didn’t want to go. We were there until May 8th, that’s my son’s birthday.
B: Is that right?
S: Then the war ends, ended.
B: Was that like for a period of days or weeks that you were in that house?
S: Well, we started out February.
S: Isn’t that right?
B: You started out in February…
S: Started out in February and then we were going and stopped between — because I was, — we were sick.
B: In a farmhouse…
S: In a farm house. And, you know, there was no window, no nothing, and it was raining and it was snowing and everything and we were there. But there was no choice, that’s all. And I had such a high fever, I was in delirium for two weeks.
B: Did you ever get any medication?
B: You just got better on your own.
S: I had to. (LAUGH) It looks like it. There was no medication, they just, you know, I was just lying there, that’s all. The other woman, she was also, she had a high fever also.
B: Now you then went up to one of the Russians and told them you were Jewish?
S: No, no. We went up there and they had their official quarters there, you know, and we went up there. They wanted to know civilians who and what they are, you know, and there were thousands of them, not just us. And we went up and said we were Jewish women and that we wanted to go to a railroad to get home. And they finally, after they said we should wait and they posted out two soldiers, the Russians really, so that we shouldn’t be molested. Did you know that?
B: Um huh.
S: And then after a few days they, you know, had other more important things to do. They gave us a fishing boat with a soldier, and we told him that we wanted to go someplace where there was a railroad so that we can go home. So they took us, you know, we had to go to the harbor, you know, to Krakow, to Krakow, a city, you know, and it was all bombed out. It was terrible. So the station, they took us, the men, over to the station finally. And there we met these people. You see, they were coming in from Hungary on coal trains to pick up the women, because they heard about it, that the Russians are picking up these women who were coming from concentration camps, picking them up and taking them places to work for them. So they all tried to save them from that, so they came. So on that train I had someone there who recognized me. There was a whole group of men. They were lawyers, doctors, all kinds of good Jewish people who had that whole train, also cattle cars, not the luxurious first class seats, but they had food and everything. And one recognized me. We were lying on the floor over there, there were thousands of people. You cannot visualize, my dear, what it is. And they were walking around and he who recognized me said ‘Aren’t you Dr. Mysner’s sister-in-law from…?’ You know, that was my sister’s husband. And I told him, ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I know you.’ So he told me who they are and what they are, and I said, ‘I cannot go with you because there are seven of us.’ I wouldn’t leave without them, if you can take us on the train, all seven of us, I would go home badly. So they took us. They took us halfway home to Csop, not far from our…
B: This was, you were trying to get to Munkacs at this point? And they got you pretty close?
S: Pretty close.
B: Did you walk the rest of the way then, or …?
S: From then we tried to catch another train, it wasn’t a train but an open car, you know, one of those straight cars. So we all seven of us went home like that.
B: What happened when you got back to Munkacs?
S: Everybody was telling me they saw my son, they saw my husband in October. I said, ‘Don’t tell me about it,’ about October, because it was May. – Do you know what happened in October? There were marches, they rounded up all the Jews in Budapest and took them to Auschwitz. And they said they were sure they saw him in Budapest, they saw him here and there, and then finally I was there for two weeks and I used to go to the station every day to find out, you know. But there was no train actually; there was no mail. You couldn’t get from anybody, just by verbal something. So, after two weeks, one day, and I lived with some young women. You know, they had an apartment, I don’t know how, and they also came back, you know, there were about twelve women in an apartment. I was good and they gave me a couch and I lived with them. I ate in Munkacs on the what do you call it, kitchen, what was put up by the Joint Committee, you know, from America.
B: The Distribution Committee.
S: The Distribution Committee, they had a kitchen, a free kitchen, for people who came home and wanted daily breakfast.
B: You went there to eat?
S: Soup, to get soup. And someone was calling, ‘Schonfeld, Mrs. Schonfeld, you want to go over there and stand in line?’ I said, ‘Listen, I didn’t create this situation.’ You know?
B: They were telling you to go stand in line, or were they asking you why you went there?
S: They said, ‘Are you going to stand in line, too?’ You know, my husband was a permitted doctor in Munkacs, and then in Munkacs you would stand in line for food… I said,’What, I didn’t create it, I’m not ashamed to go, I’m hungry.’ So I went there too and stand in the stupid line and I got some soup. I think that was my first and last experience to get any kind of public help, because then, you know, I met my husband there. It was later on, two weeks I was home, and then I was so disgusted that I hadn’t heard anything here, concrete: he’s alive or he’s not alive, or whatever. I didn’t plan to see my son at all. I just blocked out from my mind, because the child was 10 years old, and all the kids up to 16 were gassed. So, huh, one day a Russian soldier comes into the apartment and says that he is looking for Mrs. Schonfeld. So they, the girls, called, ‘Mrs. Schonfeld…’ – I was the oldest, I was 32 and I was the oldest, — and the Russian soldier, they said a Russian soldier was looking for me, and then he comes to me and introduces himself and he said that he was coming from Prague and it took him two weeks to get here and that’s how, otherwise it’s a 44-hour trip by train, you know, in two weeks he got here.
B: How was he traveling?
S: By train.
B: By train at that point.
S: Two weeks it took him. So he came in and he told me, ‘I saw your husband.’ He was standing there and talking to me and said, ‘I saw your husband and I saw your son,’ but it didn’t even phase me that he said, ‘I saw your son,’ because I thought that was impossible. That was the nerve, you see, it was terribly taxed, my nerve and everybody else’s nerve, you know.
B: So did you believe him or…?
B: You didn’t believe him.
S: I didn’t believe him. He was talking and talking. Then he was asking me, — the reason he wanted to see me really that if I saw his family, his sisters who were also from Munkacs, had I seen them during the years someplace. You know, that’s how people tried to get connection or know about each other and each other’s family. So he was talking and talking and I was sitting there listening, and finally he gets up and pulls out a newspaper from his pocket, and he said, ‘Look the doctor gave me this address, that I should look him up. I met him at this station in Prague and I should look him up here.’ It was the medical society’s address; he knew it by heart. So I looked at it, and it was his handwriting, and I said, ‘Do you know that all this time that you were talking to me I didn’t believe a word of what you said. Now,’ I said, ‘I get to see his handwriting.’ I said, ‘He’s alive.’ That’s how I found out he’s alive. Then he started to tell me again, he said, ‘Your son, you won’t recognize, he’s almost as tall as his father.’ You can’t imagine. It took me another four weeks until finally I got to Prague.
B: Oh, you went to Prague. Oh, you mean he gave you the address of the medical society in Prague?
S: Not me, to him.
B: And he gave you that address.
S: But the soldier said there was a train, you see, there was no scheduled trains. He was staying there and my husband said, ‘I’m going to this address, to the medical society, with my son, and you come and look me up.’ But he got a train right away to go towards Munkacs.
B: So he never knew that your husband was…
S: You see, he never went back to see him at that address. But he just pulled it out and he gave me and I recognized his handwriting. So from then on it started to come letters from him. He sent with other people letters. But that was the first time I saw his handwriting. You can’t imagine that. So it took me about four weeks before I got up to Prague.
B: Did you leave immediately?
S: No, I couldn’t leave immediately because there was no way up from Munkacs. But then I got letters from him, and he was telling me in the letter that he got in a TB center he had a job.
B: In a what?
S: In a TB center…
B: A TB sanatorium.
S: …not far from Prague. And he was there with Gus and I should come because he’s not coming.
B: How would, who did he send the letters to that they reached you?
S: People who went to Munkacs, he said, ‘Here, take it to my wife.’
B: He thought you would go back to Munkacs.
S: He was the one who said when we left in Auschwitz from the cattle car and we were going down, loudly he was telling the whole family, “Anybody who survives, we meet in Munkacs. We are going to meet in Munkacs, those of us who survive.’ There we were going to meet. Because he was very, very optimistic.
B: He was sure you were going to survive, huh.
S: Not me, just, I mean there were eighty people.
B: But he just thought that, yeah.
S: He said, ‘We’re going to meet in Munkacs.’ And he was the one, you know, who never went back to Munkacs, he didn’t go back to Munkacs.
B: So you finally got to Prague.
S: Finally I got to Prague, and he met me at the… what’s the name of the station… It was, huh, Ples, near Prague, Ples. Nobody spoke Prussian. There was the sanatorium near the station, so he was waiting.
B: Ples was the name of the station?
S: No one knows what Ples is, that’s in Czechoslovakia, not far from Prague. There he met me on the train in the station with Gus. And my son was at least a head taller than when we left.
B: Is that right?
S: He was just a kid and he was 10. And I just – I almost fainted there when I saw him. I didn’t believe that he was all right.
B: How did he make it? I mean, how was your husband able to keep him alive?
S: I wasn’t easy. He kept him all the time – it was a lot of things he had to do, he had to fight for whatever he wanted and there was homosexuals in the camp and he had to shield him from, you know, at night, from them and that he shouldn’t be taken. And they used to stick home whenever they came for the selections, because there were selections and everybody had to strip and they saw the kid was a kid. He was big, you know, a strong, you know, child and that was the thing that helped him to survive. So he just survived.
B: But he was in the selections too, and he made it through the selections.
S: Sure. Yeah, he said, my husband always said, ‘He’s 16 years old.’ And since he was, also he had an inside job, my husband, not outside where they did the, made the airplanes or worked in factories and stuff like that, he had a chance, somehow… Anyway, I just say it was just the luck and fate and people I think were smart about it.
B: Did Gus have jobs too when he was there?
S: Yeah, he peeled potatoes. And he, he was, what do you call it, a houseboy, or whatever it is, and a kid was hungry and ate a piece of bread if his, so he threw him out. So from then on he worked in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, whatever, you know… I wish you would have him tell his experience, you see, because he was 10 years old at camp, and people should know it, children should know it. You know?
B: Um huh….
S: One of the youngest… One of the very youngest…
B: You’re right, I’m sure.
S: From our city, Munkacs, he is the only one who survived this camp, because there were a few of his age, but they were not in the camp.
B: Do you think he will tell his story?
S: You’ll have to ask him. I wish he would. I don’t know if he would want to or not, but I wish he would. I always tell him that the oldest, future generation, they should know. They should know about it. And to even find anyone like him, you know, who went through it when he was 10 years old.
B: Um huh. How did you come to the United States? So you were in Prague for how long?
S: I had a brother. We were a year in Prague, not in Prague, we were in Nova Plesi in a sanatorium.
B: How do you spell that?
S: Nova, N O V A, I think.
B: Nova Plesi?
S: I don’t know, it was a Czech name. I don’t know how to spell it.
B: Nova something, it was a sanatorium?
S: A TB sanatorium there. There was a wonderful man who were there, 95 years old, a man, a ‘docens’, who was a professor. During the war he sheltered many doctors in there.
B: Oh, at the sanatorium. I see.
S: In the sanatorium. He gave jobs for them. And my husband went out there and he hired him right away, and he gave us a wonderful… it was a wonderful place for us, a very relaxing place. We had two rooms, bedrooms, one for Gus and one for us, and they served three times a day meals. Two rooms, you know, and the doctors had a dining room together. So it was a wonderful place to be, after, it was really a sanatorium for us, you know, after that concentration. And he was, he was a wonderful person…
B: What was his name?
S: Vasaz, V A S A Z. With an umlaut on the Z, I think. Well, I’ll bring in my husband and you’ll meet him, too. I think we’re finished.
B: Let me ask you just a couple of things. I want to know how you came to the United States, what made you decided to come to the States and how did you end up in St. Louis?
S: Because I didn’t want to stay anymore in Europe. But mainly I was very much, I must say I was the pusher to come, because I was just so sick of Europe.
B: So how did you get, how did you…?
S: Well, we were all there a year, my family. Then my brother and my sister-in-law…
B: That’s Glora, right?
S: Glora and Alex. They were instrumental, I mean they did the whole thing. You know, they worked and that’s how we came so fast.
B: They what?
S: That we could come so fast in a year.
B: They were already here?
S: Oh, yeah. My brother came here in 1939.
B: In ’39.
S: In 1939, and he married my husband’s brother’s daughter.
B: So that’s your uncle?
S: Yes, he’s my uncle now. Not my, no, no, I am his aunt.
B: Okay, okay.
S: I am his aunt, because he is a niece of mine, you know, by marriage. That us my husband’s oldest brother’s daughter.
B: All right, all right, she’s your niece and you’re her aunt, and the uncle… So now, your brother’s really… you’re his aunt, I understand (LAUGHS).
S: I am my brother’s aunt.
S: It’s funny, isn’t it? Bu they met in Europe, because after she graduated high school, her parents gave her a trip to come to Europe, and she was my guest at that time, she stayed with me, with us. And we became very good friends. And my brother met her at my house, and then she came, I didn’t even know, but then she came back and married him.
B: But you didn’t even know it then?
S: Oh, sure, I knew, but I didn’t know it developed to that… But anyway, they married. She came and they married and they came out in ’39. It was a hard time and they married over there. And they were, ten months she had to wait there as a married woman until they let him come in, let him get out because he was of military age.
B: All right, what kind of training, re-training, was involved for your husband to be able to practice medicine here?
S: He had to take, he had to be one-year interning. He did that at Jewish Hospital, and then he had to take the State Board, you know, examination, and he took it in Illinois. That’s the reason he practiced in Illinois, because over there they gave him after a year’s internship he could take the State Board. In Missouri, it required five years’ citizenship. He had to be a citizen before he could take the State Board. So he went to Illinois to be close to the family and all, but that’s how I happen to be in St. Louis.
B: Did he know English?
B: Oh, so he had to learn the language, too.
S: Oh, sure. The same with all of us.
B: He learned it really quickly then.
S: Oh, yeah. We all had to. Six months in took me until I could open my mouth. (LAUGHS)
B: Okay, you wanted to tell me about how you felt like the effects of that period were much more emotional than physical.
S: I felt, yes. I myself suffered much more emotionally than physically, maybe because I had the good fortune that I had work which wasn’t as taxing as some other one, although girls worked in factories and places like that. But anyway, I just suffered emotionally tremendously, and I know everybody, lots of people did. And I think that the cruelest part of it was really, was people were tortured before they died. Because really we were very at the end, those people who were there, they were at that point, you know, already after six or eight months in a concentration camp, and we saw the wheeling out… You see, it’s all a small camp, it’s a small camp. It’s considered a small camp at 800 people. We had an open grave, because it’s always wired with, what do you call it, wire, in all camps. On the other side of the wire we had an open grave. And people were, and they’d throw over there their dead, and it was always open.
B: It sounded like the most emotional trauma for you was prior to being taken, the anxiety of not knowing what was ahead of you and…
S: That’s right, that’s right, that’s right. And that’s what happened with my mother, and just the whole thing. It was just awful what they did to people. (TEARS)
B: Now in the years now after this has all happened, do you try to just block it all out from your mind?
S: No, I never did that. I never did, people would say, ‘You have to forget and forgive’, and I don’t forget and I don’t forgive, and it’s not that I dwell on it.
B: Have you been back to Europe?
S: Yeah, it took 16 years. I was here sixteen years in the States before I went back first, I went to my father’s grave, because I don’t have a grave for my mother. She, she stayed at Auschwitz. For a long time, you know, it was really eating on me, that she died for me, because she did die for me, because she took my baby. And maybe she would have survived, because then in the camp with me was a couple of women who were her age, with gray hair and all that, and I saw them all the time and said that my mother could be here with me too, but because of my baby, she went to the gas, to the gas. And just thinking about it, what she went through the last minutes, you know, when she knew that she would be gassed, you know, it’s just terrible. We went through that feeling when from Auschwitz we were taken to Stutthof. We were taken in a big place where all those things were, you know, where the gas comes out, and we thought for sure that’s what it is, now we’re going to die, you know, from the gas. We just didn’t know how hard it would be, how terrible. That was after five weeks we were in Auschwitz. But they didn’t do it to us, they just changed clothes. They gave us different clothes, gave us these striped clothes.
B: So they took you in and you thought they were going to gas you.
S: That’s right.
B: And did water come out or did nothing come out?
S: Nothing, we just stayed overnight and it was a horrible night because we didn’t know what was going to happen. And maybe they just decided they needed people to work or I don’t know. We were just a bunch of…, you know. And I first came to the States, to this country, and I wouldn’t talk about it because people looked at me and everybody… We were one of the firsts to come out in 1946.
B: You got here really quickly.
S: Yeah, because my brother and my sister were worked on it, that we could come as soon as possible. So we came out really fast.