Vienna (Austria), Romania
Mr. Daniel Kereth was born in Vienna, Austria in 1918. He emphasizes how the Holocaust was totally different from other autocracies of the 20th century. He begins telling his own story by saying that he was lucky and nothing happened to him.
In 1933, with Hitler’s rise to power and the annexation of Vienna, Mr. Kereth heard stories of Nazis forcing Jews to clean pavement with toothbrushes and then urinating on them. He sometimes thought that he dreamt these stories, though he knew that they were real. In fact, he remembered that Vienna was worse than Germany because the people welcomed the annexation.
It began with the boycott of Jewish owned stores. Then Jews were forbidden to use public places, such as apartments, libraries and beaches. Jewish teachers and university professors were discharged. The only interruption came during the Olympics. Hitler tried to show Germany in a positive way to the public. Afterwards it got worse and very difficult to emigrate out of Germany.
As Hitler’s power grew, it became nearly impossible for Jews to leave the country because of all the loopholes involved in applying for visas and passports. Mr. Kereth wrote to the Thai Embassy in Berlin, asking for a visa, and they agreed to allow him into their country. Before he could go, Kristallnacht came in November 1938. He and his father were arrested in the middle of the night. When the police broke into their apartment, Mr. Kereth hid his passport behind his back. The police knew he had something hidden, but allowed him to keep it. This saved his life.
After their arrest, Mr. Kereth and his father were taken to a local district police office where they were escorted down to the basement and forced to carry cinder blocks from one wall to another and back again, then made to do pushups. This lasted for hours. His father was later released, and Mr. Kereth showed his passport to the officers. Having a passport, he had the opportunity to leave the jail as long as he left the country within three days. Mr. Kereth agreed, signed a contract, and went home. He found that his family’s apartment then housed several other Jewish families.
However, Mr. Kereth had more important things to think about; he had to leave the country. He didn’t have the money or resources to go to Thailand like he had planned, so the only way to leave before being rearrested was to go illegally through Hungary. He was able to escape, but it was very dangerous. If he was found, he would be sent back and arrested. Mr. Kereth describes his escape by saying, “I tried to put one country between Hitler and myself.”
Mr. Kereth had planned to swim across the Danube River, but then he saw just how wide and dangerous to cross it was. In the end, some people gave him money and showed him that he could make his way across on a dam. He crossed in the dead of night, and there were several close encounters. When a dog came and started barking, Mr. Kereth gave it the last of his food to silence it so its noise wouldn’t bring someone running. Later, he heard the footsteps of a guard walking along the dam. Mr. Kereth slipped down into the water and held onto the dam while the guard walked by.
After Mr. Kereth had crossed the river, he came to a village which flew the Romanian flag. He went to the railroad station to purchase a ticket to the closest large city, Timisoara, only to find that he had been given false coins. Using the last of his paper money to purchase a ticket, he ended up in a small mountain village where he stayed for several months. He couldn’t stay for long because his German was a different dialect from the locals.
When the Czech Republic was annexed and the Romanian army mobilized, Mr. Kereth went to Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, to disappear. He remembers sitting next to a Romanian soldier on the train who was a Nazi sympathizer. In Bucharest, he joined a Jewish community which housed and fed him and bribed the police to keep his presence a secret. Several months later, a camp for all Jews in Bucharest was created on the shores of the Black Sea. When Poland was later occupied, many Polish Jews fled their country and ended up in that camp. In the winter of 1939, which Mr. Kereth remembers as the coldest ever, he boarded a ship headed for Palestine.
When the war ended, Mr. Kereth tried to find out about his family. He found a cousin who had married a non-Jew during the war. They could have been killed because of their interracial marriage, so they hid in a cellar, where their child was born near the end of the war. They both survived, but Mr. Kereth’s parents did not. They were deported to Russia and died there.
Mr. Kereth believes that all of the people who survived the war were also damaged. About his own memories of the war, Mr. Kereth said, “The human mind is a strange thing. On most days, my memory is blank.” After the war, he decided he no longer wanted to carry a German name. He renamed himself Daniel, after the biblical hero who went into the lion’s den and survived.
Date: May 31, 2007