Exploring possible human knowledge


Paul Vjecsner


My biography is motivated partly by, as indicated on the home page, my status as a Holocaust survivor, inasmuch as not many remain to tell their story. But my life has been somewhat unique for other reasons as well. Setting aside modesty again and notwithstanding lack of recognition by others, I know I have been endowed with exceptional intelligence. To disclose its results has been my effort on this website, and writing an autobiography will perhaps enhance understanding of my situation and correspondingly my work.

My date of birth is March 2, 1926, and the place Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Not to make the reading too dull, I will on occasion intersperse pictures. The drawing at right I now prepared, not wanting to infringe any copyright going with photographs. It depicts a landmark castle of Bratislava on a hilltop over the Danube, the river famously flowing before and after through Vienna and Budapest.

Lest I give a false impression, I was not somehow influenced as a child by this vista, my family having moved from the city while I was an infant. To liven up this page again, the second of the photographs below shows my older brother and me as that infant, still in that town. I know because photographers in those days die-stamped a signature on the pictures, one faintly visible here in the lower left and naming Bratislava. And I could not resist to first below include a picture of my parents when they married, in my mother's likewise Slovakian hometown, Kremnica, mentioned on my PHOTOGRAPHY page here. This town's name, too, is stamped in the picture bottom right. In these photographs I did not remove the blemishes incurred through time, because they are too severe and they also impart a quaint charm to such old things. I equally retained the colors in scanning. My parents' picture is eighty years old, taken in 1923, as it informs on its backside with a greeting when sent to my father's siblings in America. The wavy edge of this picture is not due to age, but made purposely with a specially shaped paper cutter, something I learned about as a photography apprentice (see that page again).



PHOTOGRAPHY, continued1, 2, 3, 4

PORTRAITURE, continued1, 2, 3

COMMERCIAL ART, continued1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25


AUTOBIOGRAPHY, continued1, 2, 3, 4




To say a little more in connection with these pictures, my father was an elegant ladies' man and not a good family man. This was the only major problem in our home before the horrors of the oncoming war. About us children, it was thought early that I took after father, and my brother after mother. I had light-colored hair then, and my father was blond with green eyes. But my hair darkened and my face became more my mother's, whereas my brother had the physiognomy of our father, like a "boxer's" nose, other than being dark.

The city we moved to from Bratislava was interestingly in Sudetenland, the part of Bohemia first occupied by Hitler in his foreign adventures. And we somehow kept preceding him, moving later to central Bohemia and then to Hungary. But let me recount the early years in more detail. Or at least I intend to next time, wishing now to get this page started.

4 December 2003

The reason we moved to Sudetenland, specifically to a smaller city now called Teplice v Čechách (the last two words mean "in Bohemia", there being another Teplice in Slovakia), was that my father was a salesman for a textile factory there, as far back, I believe, as when he met my mother in Slovakia. Being very able, he was soon promoted to manager of the factory, probably at the time we moved, when he was still in his twenties.

It may be of some interest that my brother and I joined as children there what may be said to be Zionist boy scouts. The today often maligned Zionism meant to us no more than hope for a future Jewish homeland, by which to evade the unceasing anti-Semitism of the Diaspora. But our activities were those of any boy scouts, like hiking trips.

Slowly we became aware of fermenting Nazism, which was especially acute in largely German-speaking Sudetenland (Sudety in Czech), in which Germans formed their own "Sudetendeutsche" Nazi party (Czechoslovakia was democratic then, allowing the formation of such parties). I remember the frightening adulation of Hitler—once I saw a big reproduction of a color-portrait of him in a store-window, and a woman onlooker enthused: "schön" ("beautiful"). I could not understand, with his scary, glassy eyes staring at me.

Shortly before his occupation of Sudetenland we moved to the Czech town of Německý Brod, which means "German Ford". The name was changed after the war to Havlíčkův Brod, honoring a local personage. My father obtained another job there as manager at a textile factory and retained that position for a while despite the occupation by Hitler soon of all of Bohemia and Moravia, proclaiming it a "Protectorate". Roughly the same territory is now the Czech Republic.

While my father kept his job, he could send the rest of the family to unoccupied Hungary, because he was a Hungarian citizen which hence was the case for the whole family. Arranging for this trip was not at all a simple matter. Not only were Jews then unable to leave a country under Nazi rule if they were citizens of it, but even if not its citizens they had to get special permission. What this entailed for all of us was going to Prague and apply at a Nazi headquarters. The attitude of the officials was a precursor of things to come.

They let us stand with a long row of applicants in a hallway for I believe hours. My mother was very delicate and took it especially hard. Then we stepped into a large interrogating room, with my father summoned before a desk with a military official behind it. For all I know it may have been Eichmann. He ordered my father to stand at a distance of 3 meters (close to 10 feet) from the desk. With Nazis communicating by shouting, this was no inconvenience to them. This incident implanted in me, at about age 13, a persistent dread, which lasted years after. On a lighter note, while in Prague, a grown friend took me to an exhibit of children's book illustrations by a known artist, the friend knowing I liked to draw. Ironically, the exhibit was at a publishing house at which I after the war was so successful in doing work for a youth magazine.

As it turned out regarding our move to Hungary, my family might have met a better fate had we stayed in Bohemia. Czech Jews were transported to a ghetto in Terezín, a northern town, which became a "model" concentration camp, visited by foreign "inspectors". Not that many of its inhabitants did not also die, especially ones transported in turn to eastern Europe, but the magnitude of the abuse did not compare to others.

My father was said to move his family to Hungary in order to enable his philandering, and indeed he became associated with another woman, with whom he eventually himself moved to Hungary, where he obtained another managerial job near Budapest. He did not, of course, live with us, and the rest of us settled down in the town of Gyöngyös, where he had a sister, as mentioned also on the photography page.

Speaking of photography, I want to insert two other photographs, which pertain to our life in Czechoslovakia, and to my mother's family in relation to the times.

3 September 2004. I thought I'd insert this ID photo of myself taken 2 days ago, a day before my 78th and a half birthday. As seen, I didn't change much since my baby picture above it.


25 February 2005. I decided to add here this lovely picture of my mother as I last knew her. It is somewhat enlarged from an ID photograph, and I removed some blemishes incurred on the print through time. It is otherwise intact, except that I colored it by computer for enhancement and harmony with the surrounding. I also used this picture in my book as dedication.

The first picture was taken in the mid-1930's on a summer vacation at my mother's family in Slovakia. From left to right are myself, mother, my cousin Maria, her father and mother's brother, and my brother Hansi (pronounced Hunzi, as in husky).

The second picture shows Maria at about the same time. She could sing, and is pictured (scanned in the color of the print) in a female lead of an operetta produced there. She was a blonde beauty, and half gentile. As a consequence she passed as gentile under the Nazis, and was along with me the only survivor of my family on mother's side, if I exclude her mother, who was gentile. That family included beside those pictured two of mother's sisters and their families, including another, male, cousin of mine. Anyone who knows of the fortune that befell Slovakian Jews, knows it was of the most awful kind, at a time when the extermination process began.

At the war's end Maria and her mother moved to Bratislava, where she started her own family. She saw me off before in Prague when I emigrated to the U.S. Both of them died since, Maria about a dozen years ago as a grandmother. (To be continued)

26 December 2003

After our moving, except for my father, to Hungary in 1940, our living conditions were not as good as previously. In America it may not be well known that such as running hot water was not common anywhere in Europe then, but like others, we used to have a water heater attached to a bathtub, so that one could take a hot bath once in a while. We also used to have a flush toilet, not infrequent there.

In the Hungarian dwelling we moved into we had neither of these. We only had a sink with cold running water, and use of an outhouse. Nevertheless we managed to live fairly peacefully for about 4 years. My father hardly sent us any money, but my brother and I became apprenticed, he to a watchmaker and I to a mentioned photographer. Being diligent, we both received a small salary (obviously, neither of us continued formal schooling). Mother was also the best housekeeper and cook we could wish for.

This was much too much for Hitler to tolerate. Around 1944 he gained full control over Hungary without occupying it, and Jews were at first herded into ghettos established in their respective towns (the capital, Budapest, remained for some reason a relative haven). 


The preceding sketch is an approximate reconstruction of our moving to the ghetto, my memory extending to some particulars only. We had to wear the yellow Star of David, which mother sewed on our clothing. My brother decided to wear it proudly, and I remember him doing so, having on a blackish overcoat. We were at the time permitted to take with us some possessions and borrowed some sort of pushcart for them. Mother had a pair of winter boots and may have worn them on that what I believe was a March day.

Before this event, we lived in what I think was the northern end of the small town, and if that orientation is right, the ghetto was established below the southern border. Our walk accordingly led us through the length of the town, in a parade for the townspeople to watch.

31 December 2003

About the succeeding year it will be more difficult for me to write, and to some incidents I may only briefly allude. It may be still more difficult to in pictures illustrate some of the scenes, although my experiences may be viewed as not quite as bad as some others I have heard about after the war.

The ghetto consisted of already existing, apparently all one-floor, houses, in which several families were crammed into single would-be apartments. There nonetheless developed a certain camaraderie between people, and I occasionally saw mother smile amid her sadness. But the ghettos were mere way stations.

Able-bodied males were soon recruited for what can at best be called slave-labor. My brother went before me, for whatever reason. Shortly after, it was my turn, and the family was torn apart. I have never seen my mother since.

My group began under Hungarian command, and at the place we were shipped to we underwent a kind of "basic training". We were made to march daily for hours with our rucksacks on our backs, until we couldn't but throw away most of our belongings, placed in the sacks (we were originally allowed to bring a rucksack with belongings). As a result of those marches, or of perhaps the many later ones, a strap caused a wound and infection on my shoulder, to fortunately heal without treatment, but with a today still remaining scar. But this was only little trouble. A fellow-prisoner against whom a commandant had a grudge was made to stand naked outdoors for something like a full day with his rucksack on.

The subsequent events are not easy to place in order for me. On the whole what our unit did for several months was to take part in building German military airfields in Hungary. These airfields were never finished, because of the slowly approaching Allied armies, and therefore we were constantly moved from place to place. We were of course in miserable condition, wearing our old deteriorating clothes and being fed only one meal a day of usually the same somewhat sweetened noodles, a dish when well prepared popular in parts of Europe. Our sleeping accommodations were straw in tightly packed huts, and the chance to wash was almost nonexistent. I can only remember one place with a well nearby, from which we drew enough water to wash up some.

In the light of these conditions I can relate a ridiculous statement made to me by a German military. My family spoke German, not only because we had lived in largely German-speaking Sudetenland, but because my mother's hometown was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. For the same reason she also spoke Hungarian, initially the only language of my father. It was not spoken in Bohemia, and as a young child I only learned German and Czech. Applying the first of these, I cautiously struck up a conversation with that military, who on watching my fellow-captives remarked that his fellow-Germans are so much more hard-working and conscientious. Aside from our condition clearly visible to him (perhaps he thought we were responsible for it, too), I wanted to tell him we are not only enslaved but unknowing of the state of our families. But I thought this response too dangerous and kept my mouth shut. Otherwise he could have concluded I made a grievous accusation and deserved appropriate punishment.

Should some reader suppose mine to be a needless fear of expressing myself, a reminder may be due that free speech is a cherished possession in this country, the United States, and few others. Nazism must have been the worst in this respect, and my family got a taste of it while still protected as foreign nationals in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. My father expressed an understandable criticism of the Nazis to a Czech, and was thereupon reported by the man to the Germans (for some gain maybe) and arrested. Why father was later released I am not sure. It may be because we were the foreign nationals, or because he denied the incident, or because his employers stepped in, declaring him indispensable in his job, a declaration actually made regarding my father at a certain point.

23 January 2007. The preceding text, up to the last date above, belonged to the text beneath the following image, and was written, as seen, almost exactly three years ago. Recently I thought I might add the below image, which has to do with the incident described in the preceding paragraph, and illustrates the absence of freedom of speech under the Nazis when they took over what is now the Czech Republic, when things were not yet so bad for us. The letter in the image refers to my father's arrest in the mentioned Czech town of Německý Brod where we lived (and where the letter was probably written on Prague stationery), and it is addressed to the Hungarian consulate in Prague since my father (and therefore the family) had Hungarian citizenship. I'll try to translate the pictured German letter as best I can:

            The Reich-protector

         in Bohemia and Moravia                                 Prague, dated............................


The Representative of the Attendant Office


         No. D.R.3 No.5           

         [I am omitting the two

         small and minor lines]


      - 1 duplicate -


          The Reich-protector in Bohemia and Moravia - the Representative of the Attendant Office - has the honor to inform the Royal Hungarian General Consulate with reference to the note of 29 August 1939 -6069/1939- that the Hungarian citizen Eugene V j e c s n e r was duly arrested, because he openly expressed himself antagonistically and insultingly about the German Reich and its Leadership.

          Inasmuch as a final judgment over Vjeczner has not yet been reached, further information remains withheld.

     Prague, dated 8 December 1939.


[Rubberstamp with the swastika and text: The Reich-protector in Bohemia and Moravia]


To the

Royal Hungarian General Consulate


in Prague.


There may be many incidents to write about concerning my captive period in Hungary, with a group numbering a few dozen. If I remember correctly, while the building of airfields was conducted by Germans, we were, except when at work, under the immediate control of Hungarians. We often tried to keep up the good spirits, as by singing during marches marching songs like "Horty Miklós katonája vagyok...", meaning "I am a soldier of Miklós Horty...", the Hungarian head of state at the time. The guards did not object. But they used us for other purposes beside the work. Once some local Hungarians organized a rabbit hunt and we were used for running after the rabbits when they were shot. In one instance I had to pick up a rabbit that was still alive, and the shooter told me to kill it by suspending it at its hind legs and hitting the back of its neck—the usual method, I assume. I didn't try hard enough, and the shooter kept hitting the back of my neck instead. In fear I finally hit the rabbit hard enough. In fairness to the hunters, they let us have some of the booty to eat.

A factor that most likely contributed much to my survival was my experience in drawing portraits since childhood, as mentioned on a COMMERCIAL ART page here. In most any new place we arrived at I tried soon to tell people in charge that I can draw portraits of them or from pictures of their family members. I was often given a chance, and as a result I both, was freed from some of the hard labor, and received some compensation in food.

2 January 2004


As I also mentioned on that page, I was given colored pencils with which I could draw colored portraits from black&white photographs, if not from real models. The preceding picture shows one of those situations but for a little mishap (I used color here also since not finding the situation as ominous as many others, for which I use black only). The German soldier pictured was in charge of our work unit, but he also let me do the drawings. He looked like a blonde George Sanders, without the polish. He was inculcated with Nazi propaganda although rather benign in action. When he caught me asleep as shown, he raised his voice and rolled his eyes at me but didn't do anything to me.

In that career of drawing I was fortunate like a barber among us, who was permitted to with some permanence be the group's barber and not do the other work. They got used to me as the "artist", and it became, depending on location, a more or less "steady job", the Germans, as well as Hungarians, coming to me with pictures of their families, or asking me that they pose for their portrait.

With the barber I also shared in some experience. Once, when winter came, a kind Hungarian woman offered both of us to do our work in her house. In addition, she gave us meals—at least in my case, since the barber was located elsewhere. This respite didn't last very long. An anti-Semitic Hungarian saw the two of us walk across the courtyard of that house and yelled out: "What are these Jews doing here?" We were at once returned to our unit, and the barber was luckier than I—because of his usefulness, he resumed his profession, while I was put to work on the airfield.

Another memory with him I can't locate in time or place. At one point we were all marched from Hungary to Austria, and it is probably the last of these which concerns the recollection. For some reason, there was a short period when as marchers some of us were completely disconnected from others, walking at times individually without anyone else in sight. We did not dare then to escape, because we were surrounded everywhere by enemy territory, and we still naively believed that if we just obey, no lasting harm will come to us. And I remember walking once with the barber and being asked by an itinerant man to help push a wagon of his. As we did so, a Nazi officer appeared and also yelled at us, "Jüdische Schweinehunde!" (literally "Jewish swinedogs!"). My reaction was to run ahead as fast as possible so he couldn't catch me. The barber was too old to run, but when I was later sitting on a roadside, he emerged on the road and told me the itinerant somehow explained to the Nazi that we were needed for the job.

My sitting on the roadside had to do, I believe, with another encounter of mine with the German military. While walking alone, I saw a group of them camped on the roadside having chow. Because I spoke German, I thought they may not be suspicious if I walk up to them and ask for some food. Looking very shabby, I could have seemed a nondescript casualty of war. They did in fact display sympathy and gave me a dish of potato salad. I sat down to eat it closer to the road.

Now that I have been fed again, it may be time to pause.

8 January 2004

Before being marched into Austria, we had of course undergone numerous events that may be worth to describe, and I will try to recall some. Our work assignments occurred only in Hungary; thereafter we were on a walk westward, preceding the nearing Soviet front. It was probably at our last place of work that the following downturn occurred.

Some leaders among us thought that we had somehow a chance to escape if on a night we walked toward a nearby railroad station and took a train toward the east, probably Budapest. It seemed implausible, but many felt that the guys proposing this are smart and know what they are talking about. So everybody went along.

We started the night walk, and at one stage a German military vehicle, evidently associated with our work project, came from the opposite direction. The commander immediately noticed us and yelled at us that we stop. He had rifles shot into the air, if I remember. Nobody was shot at that time; however, we were ordered that night to at an area shed our outer clothing and other personal belongings and leave them there. Then we were marched back to our abode. The next day we were enabled to return to that area, and found that much of what we left there was taken by local inhabitants.

In my case I know I lost my overcoat. A kindly group leader among us (we always had leaders chosen from our midst) somewhere obtained another coat for me. It didn't fit me, it was too small, but it had to do from then on.

We witnessed other expressions of good will, and instead of more horrifying events, I prefer putting those in pictures, as below.


This drawing attempts to recreate a time when we were about to cross the border between Hungary and Austria. Hungarian peasant-women stepped out of their houses when they saw us being marched by, and they wept. We probably looked somewhat like the homeless seen these days in cities, except that we were thin from starvation. And, especially, we were hordes driven to unknown destinations by persecutors.

It may seem strange, but when changes are gradual, one does not seem to notice them much, and to ourselves we did not look as unusual as we did to these women, and the same holds true of the worst conditions we came to be in, conditions that shocked the world when discovered. In any event, our state in this picture was far from the degradation yet to happen.

Just before crossing the border to Austria we were subjected to another abuse. Hungary was then run by its own Nazi party, known as "Nyilasok", translatable as "Arrowers", after their Arrow Cross symbol, their counterpart of the swastika. They were uniformed thugs, who near the border had us in small numbers at a time enter a two-story house, to in a second-story room take away all our remaining possessions but our clothes. In the process they mishandled us. I have the memory of a father of about 60 and his son, the father being beat up and his glasses broken, and the son crying out for his father. Afterward the father had to make do using his broken glasses as well as he could. In the middle of the stairs between the second and first floor stood one of the thugs, who kicked each of us in the rear as we went back down.

This wasn't the end of it. After our being herded into a courtyard for further instructions, three of their men angrily marched toward us, announcing that someone among us buried a few "pengõ"s (monetary bills like dollars) in front of the house visited. They demanded that the culprit confess, or all of us will be punished. After a period of silence a boy of about 14 among us (yes, our group included children that age) told on another boy of about that age that he saw him bury the money. (None of us held this against the first mentioned boy, he having been frightened and thinking the other boy should admit the act.) The three men thereupon took the second boy behind closed doors and beat up on him. Fortunately he came out with only black and blue patches, and even courageously smiled. Murders were not yet witnessed by us then.

Following these incidents began our walk through Austria, indicated earlier when describing my walk with the barber and alone.

15 January 2004

In Austria our guards were Germans or Austrians, in place of Hungarians. The next drawing is to depict another expression of sympathy along the way. Once when at a standstill on the road, an urbane Austrian woman came up to our group-leader and inquired about ourselves. The uniformed guard walked up to her, telling her not to speak to us, that we are Jews. The woman's utterance is one I always remember. She said, "Aber das sind doch Menschen" ("But they are after all human"), and burst into tears.


The sequence of events is not easy for me to recollect. I can't remember that we were in any way fed during those marches, except one time when a truck appeared and they were to hand us out some cabbage. But the cabbage had rotted, and everybody had to spit it out at once. I do remember that we picked certain tall grasses that were edible, and that I looked for snails that had no shells and, I think, climbed out of their hiding places in wet weather. I quickly chewed them up and swallowed them.

It may be wondered why, since we were useless by then, we were not exterminated, in accordance with Nazi policy. It seems the reason is that they had special killing squads, not everywhere present, and they picked the locations to be out of the view of the public.

The travails were of course numerous in those marches. Our human waste—not that there was much of it—we had to dispose of somewhere on the roadside. This was not entirely new to us—in our former workplaces there were largely no latrines. What was new was our sleeping likewise on the roadside, in our clothes of course. I remember an instance when there was heavy rain during the night, and we, ordered up as usual to start the march early in the morning, were soaked throughout. During the marches I developed the practice of walking with my eyes half closed, and shutting everything out of my mind as if asleep.

22 January 2004

It seems that at some point I noticed that some of the faces around me were unfamiliar. Anyway, I remember that at a certain time when I looked about me I was surprised that we were part of an immensely long line numbering in the hundreds. In the picture below I can be construed as the figure toward front and center with its back seen and wearing knickerbockers (long trousers were seldom worn by boys through their teens in those times and places). The land is apparently snow-covered, but in likelihood it was not, although this probably happened in late winter. The location must have been southern Austria, where the climate is not too cold except for the Alps on which more later, and as I mentioned, there was rain and we picked grasses around that time. I show in this picture no guards, uniformed or not (they were often civilians taken from the local population), not meaning there weren't any. It is just that my mental picture of the scene does not include them, so I left them out.


The people in the growing line came, I think, from different parts of Hungary, and I met in fact people I knew from the same town, Gyöngyös, from which I started, who were shipped first to a different location than I was. We subsequently experienced new atrocities. An early scene that comes to mind occurred when we passed a large group of the German military situated on the roadside again. An old man from among us with a rucksack, whom I didn't know, was evidently told by a commander to help push a heavy truck up an inclined ground. What I myself saw was the old man, who was not allowed to take off his rucksack, pushing the truck by himself and, of course, getting nowhere at all. The commander picked up a big shovel and began hitting the man, knocking him understandably to the ground. He continued hitting him, and, to no surprise under Nazi rule, none of the other military did anything about it. Whether the victim was killed by the action I don't know.

We saw varied sceneries during this march, not only the flat landscape of the above picture, and perhaps it is interesting that we came to be led right through the city of Graz, with its residents obviously astonished by this procession. At that time two more humane incidents occurred that stick in my mind, and I will try to make drawings of them next time.

28 January 2004

The two drawings are done and inserted below. The left one depicts about the time we first reached Graz in its outskirts. We were noticed by women in the side-windows of a building, and they fetched some food and were throwing it for us toward a clearing at the side of the building. The person running to catch a piece of the food can be taken to be me, as is probably assumed. The drawing on the right is of a scene inside the city. One of us, seen at far right, wandered onto the sidewalk, and a dressed-up man near him contemptuously gestured to him to get off the sidewalk. A streetcar was passing by, its girl-conductor noticing the incident and calling out at the man: "Du könntest einer sein" ("You could be one of them").

"Du" is in German a familiarity-denoting version of "you", with the polite version, "Sie", used to address an adult stranger. The girl, who likely was an "Ersatz" (substitute) for the men Hitler sent to war to die for him, was thus quite daring. The man or someone else might have reported her to the authorities, with bad consequences for her. I am glad in any event to be able to relate these two further occasions of courageous sympathy amidst the worst of human evils.


It should be understood that I cannot remember such details as the girl-conductor's uniform, and accordingly I have to use my imagination to put these back together as best I can. Another element in these pictures I am not sure of is the visibility of the Alps in the distance. I put them there since we were heading toward them, for an episode I can count among the worst I experienced.

We were crossing the Alps on the way toward a further destination, and an early part of the march I remember is that I was among those of us walking uphill and who began to hear what I later learned to be gunshots (I was naive in this respect—gunshots needn't be very loud and therefore I didn't find the sounds scary) from the other side of the hill. The surprise came after we reached the top and began to march downward.

We started seeing corpses around us, and realized they were of our men. The shooting had stopped by then, and our walking became bizarre. We were ordered to stand still for periods, then to move ahead two or three feet, then to stand still again, and probably at times had to move backward as well. I will describe more of the scene, but I may mention that during this time I found standing next to me a friend from the same Hungarian hometown. I asked him what he thought about this, and he was totally despondent, saying that this is the end of all of us. For some strange reason, maybe in childishness, I was instead always optimistic in those times, although what I saw gave me little reason to be.

One, earlier mentioned, notion of mine, that no lasting harm will come to us, went out the window. When I saw the victims around me, I thought they may have had similar hopes of eventually getting back home. And the victimization was terrible. The uniformed commandant allegedly decided to shoot down tall people, those who stood out in the crowd. All of the victimizers were not uniformed. They were, again, men taken from nearby villages and handed a gun. They had to follow orders, and what is characteristic of people performing such actions is their glassy eyes, mentioned before on this page in connection with a picture of Hitler. I counted the number of people killed, perhaps to tell about it later as in the present case, and I counted 90. But occurring were not merely swift executions.

I saw one of the civilian guards with the butt of his rifle broken, evidently by the act of killing someone by blows inflicted. I saw a dead man standing and leaning against a railing on the outer side of the mountain-road, with the man's innards hanging out. Some of us went insane at this stage. I remember one man sitting under the railing on the mountainside, eating what must have been remnants of food he still had in his rucksack, while muttering incoherent words and, I think, smiling.

At one point a military truck going uphill was passing us, and even its driver was astounded by the carnage, shaking his head. Recently, there was a news-report that a body of a prehistoric man was found in the Austrian Alps. I couldn't but wonder whether it was not the body of one of our people.

After a period of time on that mountain-road, we were finally marched downhill to a large level ground in an inhabited area. On that ground we were let to sleep overnight. In the morning our march was resumed, with the destination, as it turned out, Mauthausen, one of the earliest infamous concentration camps. The event was for me nonetheless a comparatively cheery one, because of whom I met there.

5 February 2004

We arrived at Mauthausen, if I remember, at night, and when allowed to lie down and sleep, I was on an inclined hillside, which I had to be satisfied with for that purpose. The slope may not have been 45°, but it was enough to prevent me from lying down perpendicular to it, which would make me roll down. So I had to position myself in line with that slope and had to push with my soles against the lower ground while sleeping, because gravity was still pulling me downhill.

Somehow I made it into the morning, and when up, a nice surprise awaited me. First I met a friend from the same Hungarian hometown, and he asked me if I knew that my father and brother were in the camp. I didn't know, of course, and he led me to them. They were situated inside a huge tent, containing a multitude of inmates. The below sketch depicts our meeting.

My heart sank when I saw how thin my brother had become, although I couldn't really expect anything better. He is the one on the right—just to make it clear—with raven-black hair like my mother. It was always me who was the skinny one in the family, my brother having developed athletically, as seen on another page. My father is pictured in the middle, and he managed to look elegant (not my cup of tea) even in those conditions, with his loss of weight not as noticeable because of his large facial bones. He, too, had liked athletics, especially skiing. He is shown folding a blanket in the morning—blankets and other belongings were still possessed by some of the people, unlike in the case of my original group, deprived of our belongings at the Hungarian border.


As it happens, we all left Mauthausen on that same day, at least I don't recall having remained another day. Somehow I was able to stay together with my father and brother—there was a great deal of disorganization, nobody kept a record of us as individuals. Regardless, we were marched toward a sub-camp, named Gunskirchen.

During this march I tried again, like others, to pick edible grasses on the roadside (I was the strongest then in my family), but this time we were forbidden to do so. Those of us who could did it nevertheless, when seemingly unobserved by the guards. Starvation was not a choice. The guards were few and dispersed, but on one occasion I handed some of that grass to my father and a guard spotted him eating it and kept hitting him on his back till he dropped the grass. The previously described atrocities did not happen on this march. A small incident also in my memory was that my father, who as noted used to have managerial jobs in textile factories, had in his rucksack (he still had one) some unused socks, and we tried to exchange with a guard a pair of the socks for some food. He did give us for them a piece of bread, about the size of one slice, which we had to divide among the three of us.

I don't know how long it took for us to get to Gunskirchen, it may have been a few days. This camp was the last one before liberation, by the U.S. Army. I don't know, again, how much time we spent in it, it may have been 2 or 3 weeks. At my young age then, and especially because of the state we were in, I hardly felt like counting the days, although others may have done so. There was no such thing as a calendar or any reference to time other than day and night. But these were the least of the inconveniences. The conditions were not only the worst we had undergone during the captivity, but evidently the worst recorded in history where living conditions are concerned, short of any direct acts of brutality.

It may be best to leave for next time a more detailed description of those conditions, and of finally the end of them, if not to the salvation of many of the lives.

16 February 2004

As time progressed in our marches and otherwise, we obviously became more and more emaciated because of starvation. By the time we got to Gunskirchen or during our stay there, we accordingly became the virtual skeletons widely since known and seen in many photographs and film-documentaries, as when the victims were viewed by then general Ike Eisenhower.

And one characteristic of that camp by the time I was in it was that it was cramped full with skeleton-like inmates, both living ones and corpses, since we were "dropping dead like flies", to use a known expression.

Speaking of cramping, I read an account by a U.S. soldier, who was part of the liberating force, that he was told that for sleep we had to lie down packed like sardines. No, we couldn't lie down at all. We were packed into "barracks"—which had no facilities and earth as the floor—so tightly that we either had to crouch all the time or stand up for relief.

As to food, we were issued to be distributed among a number of people a dried-up loaf of bread a day. All I remember is that one received a small fistful of it, and what puzzles me now is why we weren't let to die without any food at all. Perhaps they wanted us to starve to death slowly, or perhaps the International Red Cross had a minor influence. For some reason there were a few food-packages by the Red Cross that found their way into the camp. Interestingly, one of the packages, which reached a group of us of a few dozen, was at once grasped by a youthful doctor in our midst who had more strength than the others, and the food was consumed by him alone. The same doctor, by the way, was also the only person close-by who could lie down to sleep, by simply kicking his way toward more space. Although we were angry at him, he can be understood, for in these conditions anyone may be out for himself to survive.

Something similar occurred when one day we heard of an arrival of a large barrel of water near the barracks. We somehow still had some pots among us, and I took one to fetch some of the water. The barrel was on top of a wagon, on which was standing an inmate who suggested I hand him the pot and he would fill it for me. Naively I did that, and he walked away with the filled pot. I ran after him, but he was stronger and started hitting my back with some object. I found out that because I was skin-and-bones the blows were much more painful than usual.

There was performed, however, a much kinder act, too. A young fellow among us offered to bring my family some water beside his own. He did so, and the tragic irony was that the next morning we found he had died.

While languishing in the camp, we realized that our clothing was infested with lice. These turned out to carry a fatal disease, known to us as "Fleck Typhus", literally "spotted typhus", and it ultimately visited my family. In the camp, we developed the habit of destroying the lice in the manner of cracking their hard shell by squeezing them between our thumbnails.

Since anyone's death was imminent, some of us were indeed fortunate that the U.S. Army arrived shortly there. We received news at night that the Germans left the camp, fleeing the Americans. We also heard of an abandoned food storage in the camp, and since I still was relatively strongest in the family, I went there, guided by others in darkest night, to see if I can get hold of something. All I could find by then were turnips, and I stuffed as many into my knickers as I could. We ate some of them, of course, but after a while we couldn't stomach more.

A worse thing happened after daybreak. I could mention that many of the inmates had left by then, starting by themselves on their way home in their euphoria, although I don't know how many made it. The rest of us accordingly finally had enough room in the barracks, to literally stretch our legs. And alongside we speedily received some food from the Americans, perhaps too speedily. We received a lot of cans of fatty pork, though cooked, and many of us swallowed much of it immediately. As a result many suffered dysentery and soon died.

Among other events of that time I remember is that we raided nearby villages for food, and we surely must have been forgiven in our state. I recall that I picked up a chicken or part of it, probably dead, and brought it back for cooking soup for the three of us. We also somehow got hold of some of the food from the mentioned Red-Cross packages, which we included in the soup—I remember rice in particular.

Soon the U.S. GI's, our saviors, came to take us to a provisional hospital set up in former German military quarters near the Austrian town of Hörsching. The drawing below depicts us being put on a truck. I must have been somewhat absent-minded, because suddenly I was horrified finding a German soldier taking hold of me, as shown on the far right. It turned out that as a prisoner of war he was ordered by the Americans, represented in the sketch by the helmeted officer and the driver, to lift us up into the truck. Behind me are my father and brother Hansi, and I also show other former inmates, all of us skeleton-like, if not dressed alike. Since many had shed their clothes, there may have been some without any or half-clothed in this group. Some inmates, who came to the camp from various places, had issued by the Nazis striped black&white prisoners' clothes, of which I also drew some in the picture.


Unfortunately, a great many of us were beyond help. I do remember that father talked about business connections he should be able to resume, and that my brother expressed a desire to move to Sweden, for a reason I don't remember. During the trip to the hospital I noticed the blue sky (which always seemed gray under the Nazis) on a sunny day in early May, and it seemed we all could look forward to a bright future.

2 March 2004


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