Shwartz (Srebrnagora), Meyer
Lodz (Poland), Birkenau, Lieberose, Sachsenhausen, Brandenburg, Gunskirchen
Mr. Shwartz was born Meyer Srebrnagora in Lodz, a city of three hundred thousand Jews. He was the only child of a large family which included his parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Only one cousin survived.
He lived in the ghetto from 1940-1944. Everyone was sent to Birkenau from there.
His father and his uncles were furriers. Meyer attended a private school and his father wanted him to become a doctor.
Meyer’s father belonged to a shtiebel. They ate cholent after attending shul. Meat, vegetables and water were put in a large pot which was then taken by Meyer and a maid to a bakery to cook. They then picked it up on Saturday to eat on Shabbos after services. They also ate gefilte fish and borscht.
Meyer’s mother worked in a restaurant that was owned by his uncle. Everyone ate there, from judges to working girls.
Meyer’s family spoke Yiddish and they were all Zionists.
His grandfather was the first to come to America, settling for a short while in Patterson, N. J., but went back to Lodz because his grandchildren were there.
Meyer was in a day camp when the war started, his mother coming to fetch him in a horse drawn cart.
The Germans entered Lodz within one month after the war began. The family hid their furs, silver and other valuables in one room.
Meyer’s father employed five people, but his foreman, together with his family, left for Israel in 1938.
In 1940, the Lodz Ghetto was formed and they moved there. There were barbed wires surrounding the Ghetto. Meyer’s family lived in a 4th floor walk-up with his aunts, cousins and grandfather. The Ghetto was the size of half of Oak Park, MI. It housed 200 thousand people, whereas thirty thousand people live in Oak Park. There was no way out!
They all wore a star on their front and back. Meyer said that everyone was submissive.
Everyone worked in factories, working for the Nazis. He and his father worked in a fur factory. They stood in line for hours to get one loaf of bread per week!
At first they went to school for Polish and German history. The Jews didn’t trust their Judenrat, headed by Chaim Rumkovsky. At the beginning, there were even theatres. Selections were made every week, people being told they were being sent to work.
Meyer’s mother was always dieting before the war, very conscious about her beautiful figure, but during the ghetto years, she became a skeleton because of the lack of food.
The black market flourished. Everything was traded. Meyer’s family avoided the selection by moving a great deal within the ghetto. His mother was a “benevolent dictator,” making their food last. His aunt, the restaurant owner, worked in the ghetto food service.
At first, Jewish holidays were conducted in an attic with a cantor. Meyer was not yet a Bar Mitzvah.
On August 25th, which was his birthday, he was sent to Birkenau with his parents. His grandfather had starved to death in the Ghetto.
There was no longer any place to hide: Brain and braun were the first to go to the camps. Watching hangings was enforced. Meyer was fast at stealing food, but never got caught.
There were Jewish spies who said that his father was hiding furs, so he was badly beaten. The Germans also beat his aunt, breaking all her fingers.
People died in the cattle cars. When they arrived, two hundred fifty children were separated from their parents. Meyer doesn’t know what happened to either of his parents: where or when they died, so he made Yom Kippur their Yahrzeit.
All the young boys were tattooed and marched to Auschwitz which was two or three km. away. He was told that his father was sent to work in a coal mine.
As part of the selection, one had to be tall enough to touch an extended board. The shorter boys were never seen again.
His group was given uniforms and wooden shoes, bread and watery soup. Everyone had their own container and spoon. They were taught to lay bricks and were assigned to Barrack #13A. Their bunks had straw mattresses. They showered with cold water every night. Meyer was so cold that he only wet his left arm. They were sprayed with a de-louser, given food on a regular basis and also a loaf of dark bread. There were two hundred fifty of them, some became the leaders.
His best friend in the camp was Gershon Ben Yehuda, who now lives in Israel. He was born in Pabiance and his name was then Gershon Pelta.
They heard stories about Dr. Mengele, the medical experiments and about the bunkers. There was an orchestra in Auschwitz that played John Phillips Sousa marches. When he got to America and first heard these marches on TV, he became ill.
He was beaten with a whip when caught with two salamis in his pants. All of his group survived and were marched to Lieberose. Their average age was fourteen.
Their next stop was Mauthausen. There was no longer work. . .they just survived. They had secret codes between them, just about stealing food. While working with dogs, he stole their biscuits to feed his group of friends. Next stop Sachsenhausen, then Brandenburg, then Gunskirchem.
SURVIVAL WAS THEIR STATE OF MIND. No one was suicidal.
Some of his group were Joseff Heartstark, Larry Wilkofsky, who lives in Massachusetts; Jeff Borstein of Toronto. They often have reunions.
They were liberated by the US Fifth Army. The end of the war was a total surprise, although they heard some bombing.
The day after liberation, he was on the road, marching. He saw black men for the first time. The food they were given made them sick. They arrived at Wels, a former German camp, where they showered (they had not washed in eighteen months) and deloused. They saw women nurses. At that time, he weighed about fifty pounds. They were given new, never-before-worn, German uniforms. They ripped off the swastikas. Later they were given civilian clothes. They ended up in Salzburg, Austria. He searched for his parents, to no avail.
Meyer began staying in DP camps then went to Italy for his health. The Jewish Brigade wanted to take them to Israel. They set up camps all over Italy. He was then taken to Haifa and put in a camp guarded by the British army, making Meyer and his friends infuriated.
He went to a Kibbutz, under the auspices of the Israeli Army. He was there from 1946 until 1950.
Gershon discovered an uncle, John Schwartz, who knew his aunt in New Jersey. Meyer landed in Hoboken in 1951 and then became a citizen in Detroit in 1955.
His wife Betty is from the Bronx. They have two children, David and Rosalinda. When his children saw SHOAH on TV, they began asking questions.
He feels that the Holocaust will happen again, beginning in Germany. He feels very alone during the holidays.
Meyer owned a grocery in Northern Michigan for seventeen years. He then worked for Kramer Food Company in Troy, MI.
Date: July 12, 1991
Length: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Format: Video Recording