Velke Kapusany (Slovak Republic), Auschwitz, Blechhammer, Jaworzno
Martin Shlanger was born in Velke Kapusany in Slovak Republic in 1925. His home town had a population of about 5,000, with about 500 Jews. His father was an upper middle class farmer. His family was not very religious, he describes them as assimilated. Shlanger belonged to a leftist Zionist organization, and backed the Czechoslovakian democratic government. He hated the Western allies for selling out Czechoslovakia at the Munich Pact. The underlying anti-Semitism now became out in the open, since the new fascist government back it. To escape the anti-Semitism, he moved to Budapest with one of his sisters in 1942, and got a job in a factory. That was the last time he saw his parents.
Peace existed in Budapest until March 1944, when the Germans came. Shlanger and his sister got false papers. Thus, they never had to wear a yellow star, or were restricted in travel. One night, the Hungarian police raided his building, and checked papers. After the police checked his papers, they ordered him to pull his pants down. Once they saw that he had been circumcised, they sent him to a temporary camp, and afterwards to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
During the transport, there were 80 people in each box car. There was no food, no water, and no facilities. Shlanger recalls great relief when the doors finally opened at Birkenau. The prisoners were separated. They saw the chimneys, and the open pits, but didn’t know what they were. It was not until a few days later, when they asked what happened to those who went to the other side during the selection that they understood. Shlanger describes how unbelievable it was. How in Budapest, they had heard of the atrocities the Germans were committing, but that it seemed so unreal that he never believed it, until then. He said that you could get used to all the killing, as long as it wasn’t you. He stayed in Birkenau for a week. He remembers lots of counting and beatings. He was then transferred to the Auschwitz , then to Jaworzno, a satellite camp.
In the summers at Jaworzno, they would work 13-14 hours a day. He worked in the coal mines as a railroad switchman, until he had an eye injury, when he was transferred to working in construction, building a power plant. At both jobs, he worked with civilians, who would bring him extra food. There was no running water, and the well water tasted horrible. In either November or December of 1944, Shlanger received an awful beating. It was very cold and raining, so he had wrapped a blanket around himself underneath his clothes. The guards noticed that he was bigger, so they searched him, and when they found the blanket, beat him soundly. Shlanger received an injury to his kidney, which eventually led to stricture, a brain hemorrhage, and partial paralysis in 1962.
Shlanger often describes the extreme hunger that everyone felt, and how that was everyone’s primary goal, to get food. When they talked at night, it was about the good food they had at home. How when he was freed, all he wanted was enough food in his stomach. Food was always on his mind. He explains how the soup that they gave them was made out of horse beets. Shlanger calls them horse beets, because that type of beet was used as animal feed, not designed for human consumption.
Shlanger never thought of escape, because of the extremely low probability of success. He knows of no resistance at Jaworzno. When the Russians were approaching, he was sent on a death march. The dead were piled on wagons that the living had to pull until the wagons were too full, and then they stopped to bury them. Sometimes, those buried were still partially alive. He remembers this clearly, and he still dreams of it. They received food once, from the Red Cross. All that they could do was march through the deep snow, and eventually run, as the bombs from the Russians fell, for three days until they reached Blechhammer.
Blechhammer was abandoned. People stole into the food warehouse to get food. He heard the noise of the people and the Germans machine gunning them down. He ran to get food anyways, and ended up with three loaves of bread, which he ate by himself. There were no real friendships in the camp. Everyone was for himself, especially when it came to food. Two days later, the Germans abandoned the camp, and four days after that, he met two Russian soldiers who gave him bread and wine. The next day Shlanger started on his 450 mile trek back home.
Shlanger traveled in a mixture of walking, and riding on open Russian trucks. It was his natural instinct to go home, although Shlanger never expected to find any family. He met up with a Czech-Slovak brigade of the Russian army. It turned out that his brother, who had previously moved to Russia , was a sergeant in that brigade. His brother told him that his parents were dead, but he didn’t know anything about their sisters. They later found out that both sisters survived, one in Budapest , the other hiding in the mountains. In his hometown, Shlanger stayed with some Jewish boys who had hid during the war. He was the first to return from a camp.
Shlanger moved to the US in 1949. He visited Germany in 1970 for a law suit against the German government. In 1963, he was granted 80% disability, but in 1969, it was reduced to 50%. Shlanger was very surprised by how nice and helpful the Germans were; especially since after the war he hated all Germans. One German doctor even thought he should get 100% disability. He eventually won his appeal.
Shlanger believes he survived because of his strong will, resourcefulness, but mainly because of luck. He warns the future generations not to allow themselves to be indoctrinated by hate towards their fellow man.
Date: 1983/03/04, 1994/11/06
Length: 1 hour 2 minutes & 32 minutes
Format: Video recording