Milberger, Moniek

Milberger, Moniek

Lodz (Poland), Auschwitz, Ahlem, Bergen Belsen

Mr. Milberger lived in Poland with his parents and younger brother, Motek.  His mother died two weeks before the war began and all the remainder of his family was killed.

The war began on September 1st in Lodz, his hometown. In early 1940, the Jews were forced into a ghetto and remained there until 1944, when they were shipped to Auschwitz, where they stayed for five weeks before going to Ahlem.

Before the war, his father was a bookbinder and his mother helped in the business.  Moniek’s grandparents lived in a small town nearby.  His paternal grandparents lived about one hundred miles away and were bakers.

His aunt, his mother’s sister, Hester, also lived in Lodz and Moniek often played with his cousins.

His father was modern Orthodox, observing the Sabbath and going to services.  He wore a long black satin coat and wore tsitsit.

Because of the war, Moniek’s Bar Mitzvah celebration was cancelled although there was a service.

He went to public school where both Yiddish and Polish were spoken.  He was laughed at in gym because he wore tsitsit.

There were 300,000 Jews in Lodz and because the Milbergers lived on a main street, they witnessed all the political demonstrations.  Everyone talked about current events and joked about Hitler.

Because Moniek’s mother was ill, she was taken to the hospital, perhaps from pregnancy complications, and died at home shortly thereafter.

His father was concerned when they had to wear armbands, mostly because it prevented his mobility and made his job more difficult.  Once the war began, school stopped, they moved to the ghetto and had to share living space.  The ghetto was closed in with barbed wire and guarded by the SS.  There was no resistance during this time.

On many an occasions, he was sent outside the Ghetto without his armband, to run errands.  He said that the Jews feared the Polish much more than the Germans.

The Jews shopped for bread and staples at distribution centers and because his father was in charge of a plant that made some of these items, they were a bit more privileged than others. The center courtyard of the ghetto had mountains of clothing and shoes.

Although conditions in the ghetto were bad, there was currency as well as some religious activity.  The winters were very cold and there wasn’t any coal for heat.  The cooking for everyone took place in the center of the ghetto on one existing stove and the toilets were only centrally located.

He mentioned that his father remarried in 1941.
They had no idea that people were being sent to Auschwitz, but people avoided being rounded up by hiding in tunnels under the ghetto.  Moniek was in the last group to be shipped out of the ghetto.  He was fourteen years old.

They were packed into cattle cars, where many died.  They all dressed in layers of clothes, as many as possible, as they thought they were going to work camps.  The trip took several days and the cars had no water, food or sanitation.  He was with his family.

They arrived in Auschwitz in the afternoon, and were told to drop all belongings.  The Jews were trying to bribe the SS with hidden jewelry.  Next came the selections, with Moniek still with his father and brother.  They were sent to a room along with thousands of other men and boys and told to undress.
This “room” was across from the crematorium and they heard screams of “dirty Jew” coming from the guards.

They were showered and shaven and then issued one striped uniform with one pair of sox.  His shoes were taken away and he was issued a pair of wooden ones.

They were then marched through the rain to Birkenau, given rations and barracks.  His food consisted of one slice of bread which was stolen during the night.  His brother was sent to another barrack, which made his father very depressed.  They thought it was the end of the world, spending all day standing in lines.

Beatings were given randomly, as were selections.  Both he and his father were taken on trains and shipped to Germany.  Here, the barracks were buildings formerly used for horses, 300-400 men in each, mostly sleeping on the floor.  There were neither blankets nor showers.

Sickness, dysentery, lice and malnutrition ran through the barracks with no medical attention.

They worked in factories, dusting machines and sweeping the floors, marching back and forth from barracks to factories.  He was beaten on his back with a nightstick because his mop became caught in one machine.

Their nourishment was a slice of bread and watery brown soup.

In Ahlem, the prisoners were excavating in order to build rockets underground.  The camp held about one thousand people, but only one hundred survived.  The conditions were severe and Moniek’s father became ill and died.  There were some Jewish doctors, but no medicine or supplies.  The dead were taken to the Hannover Crematorium.  The Germans put ashes into separate caskets and, after the war, his father’s were turned over to him.

When the Americans began arriving, there was constant bombing during the night so the Germans gave the prisoners the option of staying or leaving.  Moniek signed up to stay, afraid that he wouldn’t know where to go if he left.  When the Germans left, they locked up the camp.  Eventually, the prisoners all marched to Bergen Belsen, many dying along the way.  The Germans set fire to the camp, trying to destroy all the evidence.

When the war ended, Moniek was sixteen.  He yearned to see his brother, but was with some of his cousins.  They went to Marabrook and then on to the United States. in 1946, first going to St. Paul, Minnesota.  He lived with a family of fifteen. The father, Barney Garber was an attorney and the mother, Adeline, became his tutor and mentor.  He finished high school after three years and then went to the University of Minnesota, becoming a CPA.

He worked as a dishwasher for the American army.  He was later drafted and sent to Germany.  Because he had a medical problem, he avoided Korea.

From Minnesota, he came to visit his cousins in Michigan, the Dorfmans, and eventually moved here.  He became a citizen in 1952.

He is married and has three children.

Interview information:

Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Date: 12/3/1991
Length: 2 hours, 29 minutes
Format: Video recording