Klein, Bernard and Emery
Humenné (Slovakia), Male Dvorany, Nitra, Sered, Birkenau, Gleiwitz 4, Blechhammer, Israel, Rome, Montreal, Detroit
This is a joint interview with brothers Bernard and Emery Klein. Bernard and Emery were born in Eastern Slovakia in a small city named Humenné. Bernard and Emery had only one other sibling, a sister, and she was only ten when taken to Birkenau. Their father was still an economically important businessman by the time the war started in 1939. Because their father was such an important asset to the community, the family stayed in Humenné until 1944. In 1944, the family was transferred to Male Dvorany in Western Slovakia. In September, the family (along with Bernard and Emery) was taken to a jail in Nitra.
One day, all of the men at Nitra were put in a truck and took out to the forest to dig a large hole. Emery was convinced it was the last hour of his life. Fortunately, for whatever reason, they were all spared and taken back to the jail. There was another instance where Bernard, to earn extra rations, volunteered to work on a special assignment and when he came back from working he realized that his family (mother, father, aunt, brother, sister) had been taken. Bernard then went to Sered, only to be told that he had missed his family only by a couple of days and that they were being taken to Poland. In September 1944, Bernard ended up at Birkenau where he met with his father and brother. Sadly, his mother, sister, and aunt didn’t survive. Despite this, Bernard and Emery call meeting up with each other after being separated a “miracle.”
Emery recalls that he and his father were selected for work camp because they were advised ahead of time to say they were locksmiths. So, Emery and his father went to Gleiwitz 4, where they repaired railroad cars that came back from the front damaged. When Bernard arrived in Birkenau he was only fifteen. He was advised to say he was nineteen and was a farmer. Bernard then was able to go to the kitchen to work because his father had convinced the Lagerfuhrer to let Bernard work there. After some time, Bernard also went to Gleiwitz 4.
They stayed at Geliwitz 4 until the beginning of February 1945, because the Russians were approaching. So, the Germans abandoned the camp and made the Jews march to Germany. A majority of the Jews were killed on the march because they couldn’t keep up. At one point, the marching stopped and they all stayed in a camp called Blechhammer for a couple of nights. This is the point where the Germans left the Jews. So, the Jews had decided to march towards their respective homes. Bernard and Emery were in a group of eleven (including their father and two cousins) that were marching towards Humenné. At night, they stopped in towns to rest, sleeping in abandoned German homes. Many of the homes were abandoned by Germans who were worried about the Russians invading, so in many instances the food and stoves were still warm. Bernard and Emery recall one instance where they stayed in a house and in the middle of the night, a fire broke out. They had to run for their lives.
In Poland, they came across a Czechoslovakian army truck that took them home to Humenné. On February 8th, 1945 Bernard and Emery (along with their father) returned to Humenné. They were some of the first, if not the first, to return home after everything that had happened. They moved back into their old home where the servants were very happy to see them. Because he was a practical man, their father began trading; meanwhile, Bernard and Emery were still hopeful their mother would return home. Bernard and Emery joined a Zionist organization and were the so-called leaders of the movement in their town.
In February 1949, Bernard went to Israel. In June, the rest of the family joined him. They farmed for a living, but it was extremely hard on their father, so they decided to leave for the United States. Bernard and Emery thought it would only be temporary though. They went from Israel to Rome, where they could get a Canadian visa. Unfortunately, they had to wait seven months in Rome for a visa. Once they obtained it, they went to Montreal. After a while in Montreal, Bernard married a woman named Agnes, who was also from Humenné; they had known each other since she was born. The following year, their father moved to Detroit and gave his sons an ultimatum, either you come to me or I’ll come back to you. In November of 1956, Bernard and his wife came to Detroit. Emery followed three months later.
Date: May 23, 1984
Interviewer: Sidney Bolkosky
Length: 2 hours 12 minutes
Format: Video recording