This oral history video interview is available at the USC Shoah Foundation website through the generosity of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation
Kaszony (Czechoslovakia), Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Zeitz
Mr. Weiss was born in Kaszony, Czechoslovakia, in 1924.
There were about three thousand people in his village, but only ninety Jewish families.
He was the only child of Avram Yizchok and Chana Herskovics Weiss. His maternal grandparents were Esther and Mechel who lived with them in one house separated, but with a common kitchen. Esther was blind, very old and very religious
His aunt was Malven and uncle was Moishe.
His paternal grandfather died in WWI, but his grandmother Feiga was alive when the war began and lived about sixty kilometers away in a town called Uzhorod.
Mr. Weiss survived three concentration camps: Auschwitz, Buchenwald (twice), and Zeitz
Life was good for the Jews until 1939 when Hungary became an ally of Germany. His father, a tailor, didn’t have enough work, so he supplemented his income by working in the vineyards nearby.
Michael went to public school in the morning and the Yeshiva in the afternoon where they spoke both Yiddish and Hebrew. He also spoke both Hungarian and Czech. There were two synagogues in town and, on Friday night, there were no worries because the Sabbath was “magical.” Michael was a religious Jew and never wavered from his religious beliefs. During summer vacations, he also worked in the vineyards.
Some people heard about Hitler on the radio as early as 1933.
When the war began in 1939, the Jews first welcomed the Hungarians and older citizens put on their Hungarian uniforms from 1914 but laws against them began immediately. Professional licenses were taken away (first doctors, lawyers, etc.) and then craftsmen like tailors.
The yeshiva was closed, windows were broken and the synagogues were burned.
In 1939, food coupons began. The Jews obeyed all the laws and offered no resistance at all. Their one doctor, Dr. Slomovich, committed suicide. From 1918-1938 there were no atrocities against the Jews. School continued until 1939. Then the yeshivas were closed.
Because Michael wanted to become an apprentice, he went to Budapest where tailors still had their licenses. He sent his earnings home to his family. The JOINT (UJA) had a kitchen and helped the needy.
When the Germans came to Budapest in March of ’43, they rounded up the Jews. He went home because it was Passover. When he arrived, a drummer went through their neighborhood, telling all the Jews to pack their belongings and immediately go to the schoolyard with only one suitcase per person. Michael took his Shabbos suit and his tefillin which he got at his Bar Mitzvah.
In the school yard, the manager, who was a reverend, checked them in and then sent them to a brick factory in Beregszasz, a nearby town where they established a ghetto.
Michael was taken into a synagogue were he sorted the clothes that had been left in the homes of the displaced Jews. He sorted them according to size. His parents were given kitchen duty and work in the brick factory
Railway tracks came directly through the building where they worked and they boarded the cattlecars, not knowing where they were going next. Michael still took his suit and tefillin. They rode for three days and nights to Auschwitz, locked in cattlecars with nothing to eat or drink. There were about seventy people per car. He was frightened to see that his parents were crying.*** He had never seen them cry before!
They arrived at Auschwitz the second day of Shavuos.
“There was no one to ask for help…. Although they did ask G-d.”
He later learned that his mother and grandparents were sent to the gas chambers.
He was given wooden shoes, no underwear, no blankets and only striped pajamas to wear.
There were five transports from the Bereg ghetto. He smelled an unusual smell and was told that he smelled burning people. Some people received tattoos in May of 1944. Michael was there for ten days and then shipped to Buchenwald without a tattoo.
He was given a tin plate and spoon and one loaf of bread to be divided among five people. There was coffee for breakfast and watery soup for dinner. He still believed that he’d be okay and hoped his family was as well.
He lived through beating after beating and then was sent to Zeitz. Because the Germans knew they were losing, they speeded up the killing process and killed 600 thousand Hungarian Jews in a very short period.
Michael found his father in Buchenwald. His Kos Rebbe had been sent to the gas chamber. He and his father shared a loaf of bread and a small amount of marmalade. He was not ready to die and was there for about one week. There were about fifty thousand prisoners of all kinds, including Slavs. The head of his lager in Zeitz was a German prisoner. They had no names, but numbers: his was 57490.
Michael’s job there was to carry propane gas tanks. The Germans were supposedly making gasoline out of coal dust. There were constant beatings. Those who tried to escape were beaten and/or killed. They were sick, dirty and lice infested. He felt obligated to his parents to live.
He was sent to Zeitz where there were four thousand people. One thousand were sent to Buchenwald. His father (age 48) was so sick he was sent to the hospital in December of 1944 and was never seen again. At this point, Michael was sick was well, but avoided the hospital. In March of 1945, he went to Buchenwald (his recollection and of the camp order is confused). By then, he was suffering from starvation and was beaten constantly by the Germans.
He was then sent on a death march and would not have survived had the Americans not liberated them. He saw the US soldiers crying, seeing the living and dead “corpses.” ***
“Led by a liberator, a Jewish Chaplain from the Third Army, we all said for the first time “Kaddish.” For our parents, for our families, for the six million innocent kedoshim … for the one and a half million children. That picture is in front of me. I dream (of that scene), I have nightmares, I can see it, I can hear it. For the rest of my life. “ (Orally: It haunts me.)
Michael then weighed about eighty pounds!
He was sent to the hospital in Bucharest. He was twenty years old and because his father told him “take care of your mother,” he went to find her, but was told she perished. The UJA in Bucharest gave the survivors money to live. He next traveled to Austria, trying to get to Israel. However, he stayed in Austria for two and a half years, working in a kitchen and marrying Lily Berkowich. His wife’s aunt sent them papers to come to the United States. He had two cousins from his family who survived: Irene Herskovics, Moshe’s daughter, and Jolan Rosenbaum, Malvin’s daughter.
Because his wife’s aunt and uncle, Etta and Sam Hirsch, sent them papers, he first arrived in Fairmont, West Virginia where he worked as a presser at a cleaners. He was there for over two years before coming to Detroit. His first son Arthur was born in 1950 and a second son, Mark, in 1960.
His wife died in 1978 and he remarried Lily Aaron, also a survivor.
Michael’s grandchildren are all named for his lost family.
Michael said “Can you imagine if the six million Jews would have survived, how many more doctors, scientists and rabbis there would be?”***
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Format: Video recording
To view this oral history video interview, please click here.
“And this is what I am saying: three thousand years ago, G-d sent Moses and his brother Aaron to take the Jewish people out of slavery under Pharaoh. In May 1945, G-d sent the American army to take His children out of the Nazi concentration camps and helped to bring them into the Promised Land, which G-d Himself gave to our forefathers.”