Ayalon (Herschenfis), Eliezer

Ayalon (Herschenfis), Eliezer

This oral history video interview is available at the USC Shoah Foundation website through the generosity of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation

Radom (Poland), Pliczim, Plaszow, Mauthausen, Melk, Ebensee

Ayalon was born Lejzor Herschenfis in 1928 in Radom, Poland, the youngest of 4 children. His father worked in the leather business. Coming from an Orthodox Jewish family, Ayalon attended both Jewish and public schools. Even though Radom had a large Jewish community, about 17 percent of the population, he still encountered a notable amount of anti-Semitism.

In September 1939 the German army occupied Radom. A few months later, a ghetto was created. Ayalon and his family had to live together with another family in a very small apartment. The availability of food was sparse. People were striving to be taken on work assignments outside of the ghetto since that provided the opportunity to obtain food which could then be smuggled into the ghetto and shared with family members. Although only twelve years-old, Ayalon managed to work for a German army depot where he was involved in sorting out clothing and uniforms. His diligent work earned him a “worker’s pass” with a photograph, a very important document since it allowed passage in and out of the ghetto. Soon the Radom ghetto was liquidated and its residents were sent to extermination camps without knowing their destiny. Only those who were used as forced labor stayed in a newly created camp next to the army depot. Ayalon very vividly describes the parting from his family, the last time he saw most of them.

Later, Ayalon was transferred to Poland to the Pliczim labor camp and subsequently to the Plaszow concentration camp where he worked as a shoemaker. He describes the living conditions in both camps as horrible, especially hygiene and sanitary conditions. He also describes the selection process which was held periodically to segregate those unfit for work in order to exterminate them.

As the Russian army was approaching, Ayalon was shipped first to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria and from there to the labor camp in Melk. There he worked in the excavation of mines to provide underground facilities for factories. Because of his youth and lack of strength, he and other young inmates were forced to supply drill bits to those who were drilling. Ayalon broke his leg during work and attributes his recovery to an Austrian doctor. While he was in the infirmary, his best friend was killed in one of the many mine explosions and cave-ins.

Ayalon describes the death march from Melk to the labor camp Ebensee in April 1945 where tunnel and cave digging operations took place. He recalls that, just before liberation by the American army, the camp commander ordered all inmates to board a train to be taken into one of the tunnels. The inmates were told that this action would protect them from an expected tank battle between the German and the American armies. The inmates refused to do so because they had heard from underground sources that this was a ruse. Ayalon believes that the Nazis intended to blow up this tunnel and kill all prisoners. The refusal to obey that order did not have any consequences for the inmates since the Nazis tried to flee in order to save their own lives.

After liberation and following a short stay in a hospital because of typhus, Ayalon was sent to a displaced persons camp in Salzburg. There he found out that no one in his family survived the Holocaust.

While in Salzburg, Ayalon was picked up by Jewish soldiers from Palestine who served in the British Army (Jewish Brigade) and who smuggled him to Italy. There he was placed into a displaced persons camp for children which was operated by the Jewish Brigade. He was there for six months and learned Hebrew. The Jewish Brigade urged Ayalon to move to Palestine which he eventually did. He was involved in Israel’s War of Independence and in two subsequent wars as a member of the Israeli army. Ayalon stayed in Israel and works there as a tour guide concentrating on “missions” to Israel. He has published a book in 1999, “The Cup of Honey,” which describes his experiences.

Interview Information:
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Date: November 8, 2000
Length: 1 hour 43 minutes
Format: Video recording

To view this oral history video interview, please click here.