Before the Holocaust: I was the ninth child in a happy and hard working family of 12 children. We were an upper middle class family in a prosperous and compatible Romanian village until the village was annexed by the Germans as a gift to Hungary, who were cruel and antisemitic. We own a farm and my father was in the import-export business. The lives of Jewish families change dramatically under Hungarian rule.
During the Holocaust: The Jewish families, 80 people from my village, (15 of my classmates of which only 2 survived, myself and my friend Israel Orgel) were boarded into train cars, without food or water, and transported for four days to Poland. 35 of my immediate and extended family members were slaughtered the Friday afternoon that we arrived in Auschwitz. I was 16 years old. In Auschwitz, 1,500 young boys shared a small barracks, sleeping on top of each other. Scarlet fever broke out and doctors checked the the boys three times a day. Boys who showed signs of illness were taken immediately to the crematorium for elimination. 650 male children who survived were taken to a Germany Labor Camp where 22,000 prisons were building fighter aircraft in a factory. We were eventually force marched to Dachau Concentration Camp for elimination when we were liberated by the American 5th Army.
After the Holocaust: With only the clothes on my back I was dropped off in Italy, with no formal assistance. I survived due to the kindness of the Italians. Eventually, I was able to board a ship to Palestine with 1,400 other young survivors. While in transit to Poland, my family pledged to each other, if we survived, that we would reunite in Palestine. The British intercepted the ship and we were brutally imprisoned on Cypress for over 2 years. Eventually I was able to go to Palestine and reunite with some of my surviving immediate and extended family members. Six siblings survived. I joined the newly created Israeli Navy’s military police force. After the service, I eventually joined my older brother and his wife who had immigrated to America. In New York City, I met and married my wife, Miriam (Mimi) Basner, born in Palestine, and created a successful custom-made furniture factory in NYC, still in operation today. I have four children, 10 grandchildren and one great granddaughter (who lives in Israel). My wife died of cancer in 1993. For many years after her death I was the companion of our family friend, Berta (Lys) Reeman, an Egyptian Jew living in NYC whose husband had also died. I am getting remarried in June, 2020 to Kathleen Kline Peck, my companion on this trip.
More: 6 siblings survived who were in the camps, 4 siblings perished in Auschwitz (3 younger, 1 older) and my two older brothers survived. They were in forced labor for the Hungarians. One escaped and joined the Russian front and suffered under horrible circumstances of cold and starvation. The other older brother worked on trucks and was mistaken as a German by the Russians and sent to prison with the Germans by the Russians until the identity mistake was realized and he was freed. 8 siblings of the 12 survived.
What does Auschwitz mean to you?
Auschwitz is the place I lost my family and my childhood. I became an orphan there and struggled on a daily basis to survive while watching death all around me and wondering about the fate of my family and my own life.
My message for future generations is…
Future generations should never allow leaders to become dictators. They should be ever vigilant and ready to take action to prevent it. Generations should value FREEDOM and be willing to fight for it. What happened in the Holocaust should never happen to the Jews or any group again. Lessons must be taught and learned, respected and observed.
Who will be accompanying you on this journey?
My fiancee, Kathleen (Kathy) Kline Peck.
My companion and I have been neighbors for 10 years and fell deeply in love after the death of my companion. We are getting married in June, 2020. We believe that the fourth quarter of a football game is the most exciting. Games are lost or won. We are planning on winning in overtime and on making our fourth quarter the best ever!!! It is never too late for true happiness. We are living proof that sad stories can have beautiful happy endings. Please join us in celebrating our true delight and joy.