Urisor (Romania), Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Gusen-II, Gunskirchen
Harry Weinstein, named Ernst Weinstein at birth, was born in Urisor, a small town in the Transylvania area of Romania. Subsequently his family and he moved to DEJ, a much larger town a few miles away near the major city CLUJ. Both towns had sizeable Jewish communities, especially DEJ which was well known for Jewish culture and its learning institutes. DEJ had several synagogues, the main one in a very impressive building a picture of which was shown during the interview. Weinstein’s father, Mordechai Leib, owned and operated several meat markets. His mother, Rosalina, took care of the house and of Weinstein’s four sisters. They lived on a farm, which they owned and they had the usual farm animals. Weinstein attended both Jewish and public schools and encountered considerable anti-Semitism in the public schools, as well as in general. The Transylvania area was politically under Romanian jurisdiction. However, since it was part of Hungary, i.e., the Austro-Hungarian Empire, prior to WWI, it still contained many ethnic Hungarians. Anti-Semitism was not state-sponsored at that time.
In August 1940 the area in Transylvania where the Weinsteins lived was ceded to Hungary due to pressure on the Romanian government by Germany. The population, including the Jews, initially welcomed the changes. However, the Jewish population quickly found out that Hungary, in cooperation with Germany, had established anti-Jewish laws. Jewish men, including Weinstein’s father and other relatives, were conscripted into a labor force which, upon Hungary’s entry into the war, was assigned to the Hungarian army fighting alongside German troops against Russia. The animals on the Weinstein farm were confiscated and life in general became very difficult. Weinstein’s father was eventually released from the labor camp.
In April 1944, after Germany invaded and took over control of Hungary, Weinstein and his family were rounded up with the other Jews in DEJ and surrounding towns and placed in a detention area in DEJ. This facility had no housing and for about two weeks they lived and slept outdoors on the ground. In May 1944, they were transported in cattle cars to Auschwitz. The cars had one bucket for sanitary needs and no other facilities. No food was given to anyone. Many died during the transport of several days. In Auschwitz, during the selection process, Weinstein was separated from his immediate family. He never saw his parents or four sisters again. They went to the gas chambers and crematoriums.
At Auschwitz Weinstein, then almost 14 years old, was housed in a children’s barrack. He recalls the bad smell which permeated the camp. He was told the odor came from the nearby chimneys of the crematorium where his parents and sisters were taken. After about two weeks at Auschwitz he was shipped to the Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz, Austria. There at a stone quarry, he and others were required to carry large blocks of stone from one spot to another. There was no purpose for this other than the entertainment of the guards and to weaken the participants since other inmates were required to carry the stones back to the original location. About two weeks later, he was transferred to Gusen II, a labor sub-camp of Mauthausen a few miles away, where construction of underground facilities for an aircraft factory was underway.
At Gusen II, he was housed in what he calls the worst barrack, Block 8, with a very offensive and destructive Capo, i.e. the inmate barrack leader, who in this case was of Spanish origin. He was in a work unit making concrete and his job was to tamp the wet concrete to remove air bubbles from it. No protective clothing was issued to him. He suffered burns on his legs from the concrete, a condition from which he still suffers to this day. On one occasion Mr. Weinstein inadvertently fell asleep while on his work assignment and was not on the train returning his work unit to the labor camp. When his absence was noted, his entire work unit was required to stand outdoors on roll-call until he was found. Since it was winter, the exposure killed some and caused injury to others. Dogs located Weinstein and as a punishment, he was lashed with 25 blows causing severe injury to him. He was carried to the barrack by two men and with the help of one of his cousins, survived the injuries and returned to his work unit in a few days. Two cousins and an uncle were with him since Auschwitz. Conditions at Gusen II were described as very basic with little food and poor hygienic provisions.
In the middle of April, 1945, Weinstein was returned to Mauthausen for a few days living in a tent and was then taken on a death march to the Gunskirchen labor camp. The death march, which could have been made in one day, took several days during which no food whatsoever was provided. Those who could not keep up, men and women, were shot as were those who were caught eating grass or other items found in the fields. Others just died.
At Gunskirchen there were no facilities, no beds and no food, for the new arrivals and many people died. Fortunately, in less than a week, the camp was liberated by the United States Army on May 4, 1945. The American soldiers were very generous to the camp inmates with food and other items. On the advice of his cousin Avrum, he abstained from overeating which killed many since their body systems couldn’t handle a lot of food after years of near starvation.
Because Weinstein had typhus he was taken to a hospital at Horsching airbase and from there to a displaced persons (DP) camp at Wels and from there to a DP camp in Bad Gastein where he worked for UNRRA as a driver. He returned to his home town of DEJ briefly in 1945 and found that an uncle and two cousins had survived the Holocaust and he managed to take them to Austria. Out of a family which Weinstein estimates as well over 100, there were about 10 survivors.
In 1948, Weinstein immigrated to Canada, first to Montreal, later living with a family in Ottawa. He worked in the meat business, married in 1957, and had a daughter, Roslyn, in 1962. He now has two grandchildren.
He continues to have guilt feelings about his survival and about the incidence where his falling asleep at Gusen II caused harm to some and death to others. Besides having been young and healthy when he was first picked-up, and being lucky, he believes the reasons for his survival cannot be explained.
Some photographs which were not available at the time of the interview will later be added to the videotape at the end.
Interview and Synopsis by: Hans Weinmann
Date of Interview: February 25, 2002
Length of Interview: 1 hour 56 minutes
Format: Video recording