Ruska Kajna (Slovakia)
Mr. Eugene Weiss was born in Ruska Kajna, Slovakia in 1927. He lived there until 1942. He spoke both Yiddish and Slovak. He lived on a farm with his parents, Jonah and Esther (Hertz) Weiss. His father also owned a lumber business that often, took him out of town while Mr. Weiss’s mother operated the farm.
Mr. Weiss had ten siblings: Harry, Theodore (Ted), Miriam, Joseph, Regina, Morris, Fred, Leah and Emile (note: he left one out). He was one of the middle children. Joseph, Morris, Leah and Emile grew up with him.
There were thirty-nine homes in the village and they were the only Jewish family.
Mr. Weiss’s paternal grandfather, Meyer, lived with them but died before the war broke out. Although Mr. Weiss and his siblings attended public schools, their father hired a tutor to teach them Hebrew and Yiddish.
They kept a religious home; shomer Shabbat, kosher food and there was a synagogue in their house that was attended by Jewish families from surrounding villages. Their Shabbos meal was Mr. Weiss’s favorite, with homemade challah and pastry. His mother had help in the house and they were very comfortable.
The Weiss family was deported in 1942 by the local police. They received orders telling them to get out and only take one bag per person. At this time, they were wearing yellow armbands and heard calls of “dirty Jew” by some of their neighbors.
They all took some clothing and were loaded into a railroad car and shipped to the Poprad Transit Camp in Czechoslovakia where they remained from April until June of 1942. They were separated by the SS, sixteen loaded on another train, which included Joseph, Morris and Leah. Harry was married and living elsewhere at the time of deportation. He approached a priest and asked to be converted to Catholicism. He then attended church and got conversion papers for himself, his parents and the younger siblings. This move released them from the camp, but they were picked up again shortly thereafter. The oldest children were sent to Auschwitz.
There were beatings in the detention camp and Mr. Weiss’s father was badly beaten because he spoke to his son Harry through the fence. When the priest brought the conversion papers, they walked out of the camp, settling in Harry’s town, Radvan. Their original house was occupied. Mr. Weiss’s father worked at his lumber business where Mr. Weiss was a messenger. There was no longer any education.
People began to warn them to go as the fighting drew closer. The Slovaks helped by hiding them when the police came. Eventually they were all loaded in a railroad car that stopped in Vienna. Some people thought it was Switzerland and jumped out. Many were captured. Before the Weiss family left, Mr. Weiss’s parents put a jar containing jewelry and US dollars in the ground. After the war, Mr. Weiss used a pick to find the jar.
Their next stop was a village in the mountains. Everyone was in one room. The nearby neighbors helped them, all ten families, to go to the hills and build a big cabin. The Gentile owner of a lumber business donated lumber from prime trees and they all built a cabin, which took a few weeks. Ovens kept them warm and the Gentiles brought up food for them. Once they heard that the Germans were coming up the mountain so they all raced out and hid in the forest, staying all night in the freezing cold.
Mr. Weiss’s brother Ted, was the first to leave for the United States. Joseph, Leah and Moshe died in Auschwitz.
Mr. Weiss had a rifle and acted as a guard for the Partisans. Miriam became ill and was left with a Gentile family. She eventually had a heart attack and died, leaving a baby daughter. The Gentile woman sent a message to the family, saying she died and asking about her burial. Fred went down the mountain, picked up Miriam’s body and brought it up to the woods.
Miriam died near the end of the war and her father built a sled and took her to a Jewish Cemetery. Miriam’s baby daughter was raised by her grandparents.
The family felt secure during the war. They listened to the news on their radio and heard shooting down below. Mr. Weiss was eighteen when the war ended and had been in the mountains for five months. They all settled in Humenne after the war, living in a rented house until the Russians liberated them. His parents went to the United States in 1949, where his father worked in lumber and made a great living.
The rest of the family followed to America one year later. Leo and Emile went to Israel. Ted sent papers and they left for Vienna, then Salzburg, arriving in November of 1950. They waited for a ship in Paris for one month. The crossing took about two weeks and made Eugene sick. Ted met them when they landed in New York.
Mr. Weiss’s first job was at Greenfield Noodles in Detroit, where Ted lived. They had a flat on Gladstone and Linwood and went to night school at Central High School. It took Mr. Weiss six months to learn English. He worked in a factory at night and then worked for the Hudson Car Company. He met friends at the Davison Jewish Community Center and registered for the draft. He met his wife, Ellen Brenner at The Center and married in 1957, six months after meeting her.
Mr. Weiss survived because he wanted to live. He said he was like a “rabbit in the woods”. He became a citizen in 1955 and has nightmares about the Holocaust. He went back to visit in the 1990’s, with thirty-three family members, taking his wife, but not his children. Mr. Weiss has children and grandchildren.
Date: July 26, 2012
Interviewer: Donna R. Sklar