Fischer, John

Fischer, John

Budapest (Hungary), Mauthausen, Gunskirchen, Fertorakos

Fischer was born in 1924 and his family had lived in Budapest, Hungary, for three generations. Although they were well integrated into the larger community, anti-Semitism was common. He was an only child but had a large, extended family of 30 to 40 relatives. Only he and his mother survived the Holocaust. His mother survived by hiding.

Fischer was eighteen years old when Budapest was occupied by Germany in 1944. Although millions of Jews across Europe had been murdered before the Germans came to Hungary, Fischer’s community only heard rumors of the existence of concentration camps. Fischer mentions that he urged his father to leave, but his father felt that nothing could happen to 800,000 Jews.

In 1944 Fischer was called to work in a labor battalion. After several months his group was put on a cattle car and taken to the border, where the prisoners dug trenches to trap and stop the approaching Russian tanks. The prisoners lived in a barn, sleeping in the hayloft. Although they were fed only once a day, most survived. Fischer contacted small pox and was nursed by the wife of an SS officer.

As the Russians continued to advance, Fischer and the prisoners were taken by cattle car to Mauthausen. The barracks were jammed, so the prisoners slept on the cold February ground. Fischer notes that the Wehrmacht guards were not punitive to prisoners who did their work, and since his group arrived in fair health, most of the prisoners survived the camp.

With the approach of the American troops, the prisoners were marched for several days to a camp at Gunskirchen. Fischer estimates that half of the prisoners died on this death march. When they arrived at the camp, the prisoners were shoved into one big room where they could only stand because of the overcrowding. They were given poisoned coffee, and many died. On May 5, the guards disappeared and the camp was soon afterward liberated by the Americans.

Fischer eventually made his way to Italy, where he worked for the Joint Distribution Committee for five years. He met his wife there and they married after they emigrated to the United States. Fischer worked as a tool and die maker for an anti-Semitic company for twenty-five years. He says he hid his Jewish identity because he knew it would jeopardize his position there.

Interview Information:
Date: April 16, 1986
Interviewer: Esther Weine
Format: Video recording