Plazuwka (Poland), Rszesow, Huta, Pustkov, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Theresienstadt
Mr. Rohtbart was born in 1926 in Plazuwka, Poland, about five miles from Kolbuszowa. His original name was Michlowitz.
His parents were Menashe and Malka. He was the firstborn followed by Ida and Tony (two sisters).
His paternal grandmother lived with them.
There were only three Jewish families and they were his relatives. These families hired a cantor/teacher for the holidays. When they went to the shteibel to pray, rocks were thrown at them along the way.
Markus left home to study religion but in 1935, a law forced young Jews to go to public school. He was three years behind when he started.
His parents owned a cattle farm and rented cows for milk. They had a good relationship with the Gentile community and a Shabbos “goy” always came for cake on Friday evening. At that time, the President of Poland was a friend of the Jews.
Jokes began about Hitler in 1936 and 1937 such as “Hitler, what are you going to shoot with. . .your pencils?”
In 1939 Markus heard about the war on a neighbor’s radio. His introduction to manhood was when a bomb dropped as he was taking cake to the Yeshiva. He was then thirteen. His family talked about leaving but had nowhere to go. They received a notice to go the Ghetto “Rszesow.”
His father and his sister Ida registered with him to work there, but his mother and other sister ran away. His father was there for six months, chopping trees.
There was a quota imposed by the head of the camp. They were about ten miles from home, but Markus snuck out to go home and get more food. He did this by paying off the guards.
Markus watched his cousin being killed by “Imrush,” a murderer. He was twelve years old and was shot for no reason at all, and Markus had to dispose of the body.
He was then transferred to Huta, where he stayed for three months, chopping trees. It was there that the Polish underground opened the gates and said “you’re free.”
He ran away and stayed with Christians who fed him and kept him as he was afraid to go outside. When he felt better, he went back to Huta and held services in secret.
Then on to Pustkov where killing was rapid. He worked with the murdered prisoners’ clothes, packing them to be sent to Germany. Pustkov was like a resort which had entertainment.
Next he went to Birkenau with his friend Leo who always watched over him. When he saw his teacher shot and killed, he stopped praying. He said “I was very disciplined ... those that weren’t, died.” He was tattooed with the number A18202 and sent to the showers. Markus worked in the tool shop, bartering shirts for food.
He became ill with typhoid and went to the hospital where Jews were being killed, witnessing babies being thrown in the air and shot by the Germans. He said “Everything was a game.”
When Mengele arrived at the hospital, no one could speak and although his temperature was high, he left, avoiding the Angel of Death but returned one week later.
In Auschwitz he worked in the tool and dye shop making screws. Then in 1944, the camp was being liquidated and he was marched through the cold and snow to Mauthausen wearing only striped pajamas and shoes that he took off a corpse.
Markus had dysentery and no food for seven days. Six hundred out of many thousands were still alive and he and his friend Leo were still together although Leo’s father had died. Next they walked to Theresienstadt which took seven days. The Germans begged farmers along the way for food. Everyone existed by eating frogs and, if possible, finding potatoes that they baked over open fires. If you couldn’t walk, you were shot. When they reached the camp, there were only about three hundred left.
On May 8th, Theresienstadt was liberated. They had been there for about three weeks. When the Russians entered the camp, most of the prisoners were dying. The Russians announced “freedom” and allowed those who were left to loot and ravage all the nearby homes and officers’ quarters.
Markus and his cousin took suitcases of German money, played poker for millions and then burned the remainder of the money which was then worthless.
The Russians gave them free tickets for food, lodging and transportation. They took the train to Meerz (?) and a woman on the train told Markus that his family had survived and that his mother was pregnant.
He left Poland through the mountains, taking his new baby brother Meyer, Tony and his mother. His uncle from Ann Arbor, Michigan co-signed for them. They arrived by train in Detroit, going through New York City. He was then twenty-three. His first house was near Dexter and Wanger and he worked for the Chicago Packing Company.
Markus married and has three children, many grandchildren. He founded Cattleman’s Inc.
Interviewer: Donna R. Sklar
Format: Video Recording