Kisvarda (Hungary), Zalaegerszeg ghetto, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mauthausen, Schwechat
Kuhn was born in Kisvarda, Hungary, in 1931, the youngest child in a family of seven children. The Kuhn family was a modern orthodox family living in the small town of Zalalovo, Hungary, near Nagykanizsa. Kuhn’s father worked in a distillery. Since licenses were no longer given to the Jews, his father lost his job. Consequently, the Kuhn family moved from city to city, job to job, for the next few years. Kuhn and one of his sisters lived with their grandparents during two of these years in order to get a Jewish education, which was not available where his father was working.
In 1939 his father and oldest brother were taken into the labor battalions for six months. His mother was left alone with six children and no income. Kuhn’s father later returned while his older brother was sent to Russia where he survived the coming years of the war.
In May 1944 Germany occupied Hungary. According to Kuhn even at this late date the Jews had only heard rumors of “resettlement” because they were living in an isolated community cut off from world news. A ghetto was formed at Zalaegerszeg, and about 5,000 Jews were taken to an open quarry and kept there for seven days until they were herded onto cattle cars for “resettlement.” It was spring 1944 and they had still never heard of Auschwitz, even as they traveled toward that destination.
On disembarkation platform at Auschwitz, Kuhn and his father were separated from the rest of the family, none of whom survived. Kuhn was only 14 years old and his father about 52 but they were selected for work because the Germans needed laborers. They spent four months in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Kuhn gives a graphic description of a Rosh Hashana service held in Auschwitz, complete with a smuggled prayer book and the blowing of the Shofar. The service was interrupted, however, when they were forced to line up for a transport leaving for Mauthausen. He recalls that 10 days later he and his father fasted on Yom Kippur.
In Mauthausen, he and his father were given numbers. Kuhn was prisoner 103597. Their job was to carry heavy boulders up 170 steps. The food consisted of meager rations, they slept on bare floors, and survived indiscriminate beatings with rubber hoses. They labored at Mauthausen for three months.
In November 1944 Kuhn and his father were taken to Schwechat, near Vienna, but to separate camps. Kuhn feels that at this point his father had given up and no longer had the will to live. Kuhn went to work at a factory where jet airplanes were being built. The planes were Hitler’s last weapon against the Allies and the prisoners had to work long shifts, sometimes up to 24 hours. The plant was eventually attacked and leveled. Only the barracks remained standing.
On April 1 the Germans forced the prisoners on a death march out of Schwechat. They marched eight days back to Mauthausen. Of the 3,000 who began the trek, only 300 survived. They were fed only once in eight days, but stole rotten potatoes from farmers’ fields. Kuhn states they he would not have survived if he had not been “practically carried” by two older men for the last 2 to 3 days. They told him of his father’s death to perhaps encourage him to continue struggling for his own life. When they arrived at Mauthausen, the crematorium was shut down, and the bodies stacked up. The next four weeks were a blur for Kuhn, who lay stricken with dysentery and typhus until liberated by the U.S. Army.
One year later Kuhn came to the United States on a special transport of 300 adolescents all under 18 years of age. A family opened their home to him. He discovered that his older brother had survived in Russia and had returned to Hungary. Twenty-five years later, they were finally re-united. No other member of Kuhn’s family survived.
Kuhn voices his concern over the failure of western countries to intervene on the part of Jews during the Holocaust.
Date: June 11, 1986
Interviewer: Esther Weine
Length: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Format: Video recording