Mandel, Morris John

Mandel, Morris John

Mukacheve (Ukraine), Auschwitz, Birkenau, Mauthausen, Melk, Ebensee Death marches: Auschwitz to Mauthausen (partial), Melk to Ebensee

Mandel was born in 1927 in Mudacevo, then part of Czechoslovakia, now part of the Ukraine. He was the oldest of six children, five boys and one girl, of an Orthodox Jewish family. His father was a wood turner and had a successful business. He attended a school for Jewish children; instruction was in the Czech language. His hometown of about 32,000 inhabitants was approximately 50 percent Jewish. Much of the anti-Semitism he encountered came from ethnic Germans who called themselves Schwaben.

In 1938 a part of Slovakia, including his hometown, was ceded to Hungary, which maintained its own government but was allied to Germany during World War II. Jews who were not Hungarian citizens were deported to Poland, but since his father was able to obtain Hungarian citizenship, the Mandel family was able to stay in their home. Prior to obtaining citizenship, they went into hiding for three to four months to avoid being picked up. At age fourteen, Mandel finished his schooling and started to apprentice as a dental technician.

Early in 1944 Hungary made a peace overture to Britain and tried to change sides in the war. In response Germany occupied the country and immediately enacted anti-Jewish policies. The Jews in Mudacevo, including the Mandels, were enclosed in a ghetto and gradually shipped to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Via a three-day trip in May 1944. During the selection process, Mandel and the two brothers next to him in age, were at first directed into the line where his mother, his sister, and the two youngest brothers were, which was destined for the gas chamber. An inmate of Birkenau, who was a member of the Sonderkommando, the unit that took bodies from the gas chambers to the crematoriums and who knew where each line was going, directed the brothers to the other line, where his father was. That line was selected for labor camps. His father then told the youngest son to take the remaining food he had to his mother and sister in the other line, not knowing that it would eventually lead to the gas chamber. The boy never came back.

Mandel spent approximately eight months at the labor camp in Auschwitz, working in the railroad depot unloading bricks and sorting out steel rods. In January 1945, as the Russian army was approaching Auschwitz, he and other inmates were taken on a three-day-long march to a railroad station and from there were shipped to Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria. Following a short stay there, they were shipped to a labor camp near Melk, Austria. He remained at Melk for about four months, working in a coal mine. In April 1945 he and other inmates were taken on a forced march lasting three to four days to Ebensee, Austria. The death rate was very high at Melk and Ebensee and during the forced march. On his eighteenth birthday, the Ebensee camp was were liberated by the U. S. Army. Many inmates died shortly thereafter from overeating at a field kitchen set up by the army. Mandel was too weak to get to the kitchen, and too ill to eat, and believes that this probably saved his life. He attributes his overall survival primarily to luck but also to being young and healthy.

Following liberation, Mandel went to Budapest, where he found out that both his father and one brother had survived. He then went back to his hometown, but after three days he told his father that he could not stay there. He went via Prague to a DP camp near Munich and from there he came to the United States in 1946. He subsequently joined the U. S. Army and served in the Korean conflict during 1951.

Only Mandel, his father, one brother, and four cousins survived the Holocaust from a family of about eighty to ninety people. His brother currently lives in Michigan and lectures on the Holocaust.

Interview Information:
Date: March 19, 1993
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 1 hour 40 minutes
Format: Video recording