Salonika (Greece), Auschwitz-Birkenau
Katan was born in 1920 in Salonika, Greece, to a Sephardic Orthodox family. Salonika was home to a large Jewish community and Katan’s father earned a living as a bricklayer. Katan and one brother are the sole survivors of an extended family consisting of approximately 25 members.
When Katan was 21 years old and a soldier in the Greek army, the Germans marched into his homeland. The Jewish soldiers “threw down their guns” and returned to their homes, awaiting their fate. Katan told how in 1942, the Jewish citizens were told they were to be “resettled” in Poland and that the Germans would build homes for them, provide jobs, and that “it would be a good life.” Although Katan had the opportunity to escape and hide out in the mountains, he chose to remain with his family to help them. He was required to do skilled labor (building canals and working in munitions factories) because he was strong and had written “mechanic” down on his information sheet.
When Katan worked in a munitions factory building bombs, he would sabotage the machinery he was working on, causing shutdowns and delays in production while repairs were being made. Just before the end of the war when the Russians were advancing, Katan was working in a munitions factory. The Germans decided to crate the machinery and transport it back to Germany. His job was to build the crates, put the machines in the crates, and seal them up. While other workers stood guard, Katan packaged the machines and then damaged them with a hammer before sealing the crates.
When working at a munitions factory near Auschwitz, Katan had accessibility to dynamite. He and other men hid sticks of dynamite in their shirts, then passed it to women, who snuck the dynamite into Birkenau. The dynamite was then passed to other prisoners who worked in the crematorium, who used it blow up the crematorium. Katan and other men at the munitions factory armed themselves with hammers in order to resist being captured, but they were never confronted by the Germans.
Katan was also the subject of medical experimentation during his years of imprisonment. He once unknowingly volunteered for a castration experiment which would have given him extra rations. A non-Jewish Pole signaled to him not to go and Katan feigned injury and was therefore not taken. After liberation, Katan suddenly became paralyzed from the waist down and experienced great pain. Surgery was performed and revealed that in a prior experiment two bones had been implanted in his hip and had caused a serious infection. The bones were removed and he recovered.
When Katan was liberated by the Russians, he asked for a rifle so he could fight the Germans but was refused. While recovering at a displaced persons camp he met his future wife. When they decided to get married, they were refused official permission, as she was scheduled to return to Hungary and he was not allowed out of the camp. He escaped, crawled under 36 box cars, and hid out in her train. Katan was eventually discovered but he bribed army officers to enable him to stay with his fiancee.
Date: August 18, 1981
Format: Audio recording
Date: March 2, 1986
Interviewer: Esther Weine
Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Format: Video recording