Glaser, Menachem

Glaser, Menachem

Survivor/among liberating Russian troops, Hungarian army labor battalion, Russian prisoner of war camp
Sighet (Romania)

Glaser, born in 1916, grew up in a town called Sighet, which belonged to Austria-Hungary before the end of World War I. In 1918 this area, called Transylvania, became a part of Rumania. About 100 Jewish families lived at this time in Sighet. Glaser was brought up in a religious home and had three brothers and two sisters. His father was a teacher. Glaser attended a public school and, in the afternoon, a Hebrew school. He remembers no anti-Semitism during his childhood. From the age of eleven on, Glaser attended several schools in neighboring villages and lived with different Jewish families. In 1929 his father passed away and his elder brother supported the family financially. At the beginning of World War II, Glaser was working as a teacher.

In the spring of 1942, the Hungarian army occupied Transylvania and started to arrest local politicians. Glaser says, that he knew about the persecution of Jews in Poland at this time. In October, 1942, all male Jews were conscripted into the army and placed in special labor battalions. Glaser was taken with his battalion of 210 Jewish workers to the Russian front. Many laborers in the unit Glaser’s battalion replaced, had died during combat. Glaser immediately realized that surviving this service would be a daily struggle. The Jewish laborers had to build trenches and tank traps and were forced to serve as minelayers for the Hungarian army. Every day, many Jews were killed in combat. They lived in underground bunkers without heating or windows. Glaser notes, however, that the Jewish laborers received enough food and were not confronted with anti-Semitism or humiliation during their service for the Hungarian army.

In July 1943, as the Hungarian troops prepared to retreat, in the face of the Russian Red Army’s superior strength, Glaser and some of his Jewish friends deserted. But the Red Army saw them as the enemy anyway and arrested them. Glaser was taken on a march to a POW camp, together with 8,000 other prisoners of war of different nationalities. Those prisoners who were to weak to walk were shot on the spot by Russian soldiers. Many died during transport. The prisoner of war camp was situated in a large forest, and all the inmates had to live in underground bunkers. After a few months, typhus broke out and only 1,200 prisoners survived. Glaser states that there was no difference in the treatment of Jewish or non-Jewish prisoners. Although the Russian soldiers did not implement any executions, they did refuse to help sick inmates.

This situation changed when the remaining 1,200 prisoners were taken to a camp, situated in the Ural Mountains, which included a hospital. The inmates received medical treatment and most of them recovered. Glaser thinks that this change in the Russian behavior was because the Russian army realized that they could take advantage of the POWs.

In early 1944, Glaser, as well as many other Jewish prisoners, volunteered for service in the Russian army to fight against the Nazis. He was among the Russian troops which liberated Prague, Czechoslovakia. After the war, Glaser left the Red Army and returned to his hometown. He found that out of his family only two brothers survived the Holocaust. Glaser returned to Czechoslovakia where he got married, and in 1948 he volunteered for the Israeli army and moved to Israel. In 1956 he immigrated to the United States.

Interview Information:
Date: July 26, 1994
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Length: 2 hours 20 minutes
Format: Video recording