Volove (Czechoslovakia), Sekeritze, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dora
Adler was born in 1930 in Ruthenia, south of the Carpathian Mountains. He, his three siblings and his parents moved to Volove, Czechoslovakia, ten years after Adler’s birth. He characterizes Volove as a mostly Orthodox community with eminent anti-semitism. He attended both a Jewish school and a Russian public school, where he was victimized by name calling and stone throwing. As a consequence of such anti-semitism, the Jews kept to themselves.
In 1939 the Hungarians invaded and annexed Volove. They began to impose restrictions upon the Jews by enacting laws forbidding Jews from owning stores and exempting tenants of Jewish landlords from paying rent. Hungarian also became a mandatory school subject. Even so, Adler notes, that anti-semitism in Hungary paled in comparison to how the Jews were mistreated in places like Poland until 1944. Consequently, an underground route stretching from Poland to Hungary developed. The Jews fleeing from Poland to Hungary told horrific stories of being forced to dig their own graves. Adler was unable to grasp the acceleration of events because he was too young. He was not privy to discussions concerning the worsening situation and his elders did not speak of the rampant anti-semitism in his company.
Adler recalls that in 1939 Jews were mobilized and became part of the Czech army. As Adler reached his twelfth birthday his father was taken away and conscripted into the Russian army. In 1942 Adler’s father was released from the army and told stories of how hospitals were being burned down. At this point Adler went to study for two years. He returned in 1944 to chaos. The Germans had invaded and within a week the Hungarians had begun to round up the Jews. They were forced to relinquish all valuables and were subjected to body searches. Then they were deported to Sekeritze where they were forced to live in cramped conditions.
In April 1944 Adler was again deported, this time to Auschwitz. He describes how he was forced to run to the train station and how many people started praying, sure that they were soon to die. The trip from Sekeritze to Auschwitz took two to three days by train. Each cattle care was given one pail of water. Upon arrival the Jews were informed that anyone found with gold or valuables would immediately be shot. Two lines were formed, and, unbeknownst to Adler at the time, the line that formed on the left (of which his mother and sister were a part) was composed of those “unfit for work” who were led to their deaths.
Adler managed to convince Dr. Mengele that he was actually 16 instead of 14 while his father passed himself off as age 38 instead of 44. As Adler and his father had been selected for work, they progressed to the next stage which consisted of having their heads shaved and a shower that was alternatively scalding hot and freezing cold. After having been registered and assigned to barracks, they attempted to rest. Because the spaces between the planks in the bunks were so wide, Adler remembers that he and his father wedged a blanket between the planks to avoid being cut by the sharp edges.
Adler describes the overwhelming role played by food and hunger. In Auschwitz-Birkenau one bowl of soup was divided among five people in which each person under the scrutiny of the others was allowed three meager gulps. Agonizing hunger led to the development of elaborate theories about when one should eat his insufficient portion of bread. Should one eat it all at once to ensure that the remaining half would not be stolen from him? Or should one save half for later in an attempt to subdue one’s pangs of hunger? The crust of the bread was the most valuable part, even if its actual size was smaller, because it could be kept better–one did not lose valuable crumbs from both sides. The precision of cutting bread involved filing down the end of a spoon. The cutter was then carefully observed to ensure that he did not cut a larger piece for himself.
Adler also describes the emotional numbing he experienced in the camps. Day after day encounters of gruesome sights consisting of hangings, shootings, and corpses resulted in the atrophy of pity. He remembers one incident in Dora-Nordhausen in which the entire camp was forced to witness the group hanging of thirty to forty people. As he tells his story he expresses disbelief. “How did it happen?”
Adler also tells of the Nazi strategy used to dehumanize the Jews. The kapos, inmate overseers who were prisoners themselves, often displayed great brutality. Adler saw one kapo beat a prisoner to death with a shovel because he had taken a second bowl of soup.
From Dora-Nordhausen he was shipped to Bergen-Belsen where he remained until liberation. He spent a great deal of time traveling through chaotic Europe in search of those of his family who might have survived. He found no one, though, and eventually came to the United States. Still grappling with his experiences, he is most disturbed by those who contend that the Holocaust never occurred.
Date: September 16, 1982
Interviewer: Sidney Bolkosky
Format: Audio recording
Date: March 8, 1985
Interviewer: Sidney Bolkosky
Length: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Format: Video recording
Date: July 13, 1989
Format: Video recording