Survivors' Stories

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
Elie Wiesel

Janos Forgacs

  • From: Hungary (Gödöllő)
  • Liberated from: Germany (Dachau)
  • Deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from: Hungary (Gödöllő)
  • Current Location: Hungary (Budapest)
  • Year of birth: 1928

Brief Bio

My name is János Forgács, I was born in the village of Gödöllő in nineteen-twenty-eight, I spent four months in each of these Nazi German Concentration and Extermination Camps Auschwitz, Birkenau and Dachau, altogether one year. I was sixteen. My family, my father, my mother, three brothers, my grandmother and other family members and relatives living in Gödöllő and in the neighborhood, altogether thirty-one people, they were all deported. 

On nineteenth of March nineteen-forty-four, the German army marched into Hungary and occupied the country. Gödöllő was not an antisemitic village, at least appeared not to be. However after the German army marched in, the Arrow Cross party full of hatred against Jews started organizing parades in uniform in the main streets with loud manifestations.Beginning of April wearing yellow hexagram became mandatory for the Jews on their clothing.

On June the tenth two gendarmes showed up in our house, presented a written order, which read that in two days we, fit with some food and clothing, had to gather in a family’s courtyard because we had to go to Germany for work. This order was delivered to every Jewish family. 

And in fact, in two days two gendarmes came, we had to leave our house, they locked the door, took the keys and accompanied us to the assembly point. Around noon, when all families were already rounded up, we all got escorted to the train station where we were around some hundred people together with those from several other villages. There we got into passenger-trains and set off to a little town, called Hatvan, where temporary ghetto was set up on the premise of a sugar factory. There, we settled and spent the night under the open sky. Next morning, the gendarmes appeared and escorted all people from the ghetto to the train station of Hatvan where a long cattle-truck was ready and all the official persons charged with the deportation, gendarmes, policemen, clerks, the official representatives of the Hungarian public administration and one German officer were there. 

Stairs went up to the gates of each wagon. And then something happened what frightened us all, at that moment we understood that what was going to happen with all of us was not what we were told but meant other very brutal things. An elderly man was brought there on a stretcher who was paralyzed due to a stroke not long before. The German officer came up to him, was thinking a little bit, took out his pistol and shot the ill man in the head. All this in front of us. This event had a horrifying impact on us and predicted terrible fate awaiting us. 

We were all boarded; around fifty/sixty persons were squeezed in one wagon each with four-five buckets of drinking water and some empty buckets for toilette purposes. After a one-night long journey early morning the train stopped at the railway ramps of the death camps of Birkenau. Then they opened the doors of the wagon, captives in striped uniforms (later we learned, they were the Canada commando) stood by the ramp who called us to get-out quickly.

Then they began to throw all our belongings into a big pile in fron of the wagons. We were told that they would return our belongings in the camp. We did not understand why in the camp and not in a flat we were to live and what flames were shooting out of the chimneys of some buildings which were said to be bread making factories, although they were the crematories. 

There were two pairs of railways on both sides of a circa five-hundred meters long, twenty-thirty meters wide ramp. They ordered the men to line up along the left ramp, and women and children along the right ramp. Then the first selection started. Dr. Mengele came and stood in front of the men’s line, and we, one by one had to pass by, as he was showing us with a stick which directions to take, left or right, where we joined the group already standing there. Me and my father were selected to the group deemed to fit for labor, the other group being the one of persons deemed unfit. We did not see the other group. Women together with children went through the same selection process. 

From us deported – except for my father – I had only female and children relatives. The female relatives were all elder women. It is almost for sure that their destiny was immediate death caused by poison gas whereas their corpses were burnt. 

Our male group was led to a building called “sauna”. Entering the building we had to get undressed, then prisoners came equipped with hair-clippers and all our hair and body-hair was shaved off. In the next room we went through a disinfecting shower, after we received a striped uniform and a hat, so we could only keep our own shoes and glasses. Later we were accompanied to a camp named “E”. This was the concentration camp for the Roma. I was taken away to a so-called barrack for children. Me and my father split, I have never saw him again and never heard about him, he must have died somewhere since he never returned. 

The same might have happened with the female group chosen for work. A few days later we got to know what happened to the other male group, to the other female group and to the children. They were driven to a gas chamber where before entering the building they had to get undressed, then they entered to the gas chamber and after the door of the chamber was closed. Shower heads hung from the ceiling, however they were not for water. The lights were switched off. Then the crystal form of Zyklon B poison was dropped by the soldiers into the vents. As Zyklon B pellets exposed to contact with air transformed into a killing gas, in ten-fifteen minutes over everyone died after terrible agony. 

When complete silence set in, the light was switched on, the door was opened and the Sondercommando captives aired the room and took the dead bodies out of the gas chamber. Some prisoners shaved the dead bodies, others with pliers, pulled out the teeth filled with gold and other noble metal. Soon after, the bodies were taken to the crematories where they were burned. 

The average diet was so minimal that many of became very thin and weak. And Dr. Mengele made further selections from time to time. I myself went through four of such selections. Usually short and very thin captives were sent to the gas chambers. 

After a four month stay in Birkenau in mid-October nineteen-forty-four several hundreds of us were taken to the Auschwitz Main Camp. We entered the gate and went into a stone building (number 28). 

Soldiers were sitting there. Here we got our number tattoos on the left arms. My number was the B-fourteen thousand five hundred fourteen. This number is still visible today. 

Four months later, on eighteen January nineteen forty-five the Auschwitz concentration camp was practically emptied, since the Soviet Army was of only some kilometers away. In a long line approximately twenty thousand of us were marching – as later turned out – to the direction of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. After a one day and a half long march the tires, succumbed, people not able to walk freely were immediately shot by the German guards. Us, who could keep up, continued the march. 

When we arrived at Gross-Rosen, at the railway station we were packed tightly into open transport wagons while it was snowing. 

One day later we arrived to the Dachau camp. Leaving the frozen bodies behind, we entered the camp and after a disinfecting shower, first time after eight months, we received another striped uniform. There was no selection process at Dachau, here the louse decimated in the barracks. On the bunk-beds in our blankets there were many lice, no matter how much we tried to get rid of them. Some lice spread spotted typhus, a very dangerous disease. Those who were bit by such infected louse a few days later died of high fever and diarrhea.    

At the end of April nineteen forty-five, a group was made of us and packed for rail transport and the train started but we did not know where and for what purpose. A half day later the train stopped near a city called Mittenwald, later by the Isar river and we settled down. Like Budapest the landscape was hilly on one side, and plain on the other side of the river. On the hilly side there were machine-guns were installed, we thought they were there to guard us. In the afternoon an ambulance car arrived, after a few minute chat the officer in charge of our group left by car. In five minutes all the guards left as well. As it turned out, the reason was that the American troops were just of a few kilometers away. Some of us started our way to Mittenwald where the next day, on the first of May, the American forces liberated us.  This is what I call “my second birthday”.

Prior to the Shoah I lived in Gödöllő, finished 4 years of Gymnasium out of 8. My father advised to quit and learn a profession, due to the numerous clauses and other discriminating laws put in force I would have had no chances to get into other school. 1st May 1944 I was graduated as over leather master right before I got deported. After the Shoah I returned to Hungary and restarted my life and got employed in a shoe factory. I finished the remaining 4 years of Gymnasium (required for University) then I got scholarship at the Kiev University, graduated as an Electrical Engineer. Returned from Kiev to Budapest in 1955, married in 1957, my daughter was born in 1963. Worked till 1993 in the same industry since then I am retired.

What does Auschwitz mean to you? 

The place where I lost my family (father, younger brother, mother, relatives)

My message for future generations is…

Make sure Shoah is remembered and will never, ever happen again.

Who will be accompanying you on this journey? 

My daughter who has multiple degrees and is a successful person.