Kiralyhelmec (Czechoslovakia), Auschwitz, Warsaw ghetto, Muhldorf (near Dachau)
Ehrmann was born in 1926 and lived with his parents, three sisters and two brothers in southern Czechoslovakia in a town called Kiralyhelmec which had a total population of 3,000 people. The Jewish community counted about 200 families before World War II. Ehrmann was brought up in an Orthodox home and religious services played a very important role in the family’s life. He attended public school and, before 1938, he did not experience any anti-Semitism in his hometown. Ehrmann’s father, a veteran of World War I, owned a small hotel, a restaurant, and a tavern and acted as a wine wholesaler.
In October 1938, Hungary annexed south Slovakia, including Kiralyhelmec. The Hungarian army marched in followed by the Hungarian “Gendarmerie,” which was equivalent to the SS. The Hungarian gendarmes beat Jews, stole their valuables, and burned down some of their homes. Ehrmann and his family had heard of the deportation of Jews in adjoining countries, but they refused to believe that the same thing could happen to them. In 1940 Ehrmann’s cousin, a Czech Jew, was able to escape from the Majdanek concentration camp and informed them about the cruelties happening there. But Ehrmann’s father still did not believe in the crimes of the Nazis.
In 1940 the anti-Jewish laws started to affect the everyday life of the Jewish population and led to persecution and discrimination. Ehrmann was not allowed to attend the “Gymnasium” (secondary school) anymore and was forced to work in a quarry. Jews did not receive any food rations and had to obtain food on the black market. This was dangerous since black marketeers were severely punished. Ehrmann’s father was not allowed to run his business anymore and had to sell it to a non-Jew.
In 1944 the SS and the Hungarian Gendarmerie established ghettos all over Hungary. Jews tried to hide valuables in their houses, hoping that they would be able to return and retrieve them. In the spring of 1944, Ehrmann and his family were picked up by gendarmes. All Jews of their town were gathered in the synagogue where they had to stay for two days. Then they were shipped in cattlecars to the ghetto of the closest bigger city. Every Jewish male had to shave his beard.
After a few days, they were told that they would be transferred to southern Hungary to work on farms. But their real destination was the Auschwitz concentration camp. After riding three days in cattlecars under terrible conditions, Ehrmann and his family arrived in Auschwitz. Ehrmann states that the first things he noticed were the chimneys of the crematorium and the smell of burning flesh. All new Jewish arrivals had to line up and Dr. Mengele, the physician of the camp, made selections. Ehrmann’s parents, his elder sister, and his little niece were selected for the line that led to the gas chambers. Ehrmann himself, his brother, and his two younger sisters were considered to be able-bodied. On the way to the barracks they saw a burning stack of suitcases and heard the crying of babies who were locked in those cases.
After three days in Auschwitz, Ehrmann and his brother were shipped to the Warsaw ghetto where they had to gather building material. They were forced to stay there from May to August, 1944. Ehrmann states that the conditions for him in the Warsaw ghetto were tolerable compared to the concentration camp. In August 1944 the Russian army approached Warsaw and the SS evacuated the ghetto, taking the inmates on a march that lasted four days.
Then they were transported by train to the Dachau concentration camp and than to the Muhldorf labor camp. There the prisoners had to work in an underground aircraft factory. The ones who worked at the so-called “Zement-Kommando” had to carry sacks filled with cement all day and no one survived longer than two weeks. Ehrmann worked as an electrician, his brother in the camp’s kitchen. Weak inmates were executed and replaced by Jews from other camps. In April 1945 Ehrmann fell ill with typhus. His brother provided him with additional food and aspirin and Ehrmann was able to recover. At the end of April, 1945, the U.S. Army liberated the camp. Ehrmann immigrated to Canada. Ehrmann himself, his younger brother, and two sisters survived the Holocaust.
Date: May 13, 1983
Interviewer: Sidney Bolkosky
Length: 2 hours 45 minutes
Format: Video recording