Speech by Professor Tomas Radil, Holocaust survivor, at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the European Parliament. Brussels, January 24, 2018
Dear Mr. Kantor, organizers of the meeting, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you very much for the invitation.
I was born in 1930. In 1938 the place where I am from, which is the Danube River region, became part of Hungary. In 1944, on March 19th, the German military occupied that place. In seven more weeks the deportation started, and all those people are already sitting in the boxcars and travel to Auschwitz-Birkenau; in seven more weeks, altogether 450 thousand people became liquidated in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
I have arrived with my family in a boxcar, and together all of us had to approach the selectors, and my mother and grandmother, who were completely healthy, 63 and 36 years old, wanted to stay together, and approached the selector together, although the order was, everyone by one, one per one, one by one. They remained one by one, they made together, but sent to the crematoria and were dead in one or two hours.
I have approached a selector, all those were medical doctors, and he asked me the question, “Beruf und Alter?” I said, “Locksmith, 16 years old”. Which was naturally not true, because I was a high-school student, 13.5 years old, but I have realized that one has to adapt, otherwise that condition will be killing. That was absolutely clear already at the entrance.
We were sent to a part of the so-called Zigeunerlager in Birkenau. There was a special barrack for youngsters around 15, plus-minus, years old. And I just recall, by the way, the day in July when more than 3000 Roma people were killed in a single night, and no one remained alive. I was walking through the barracks they lived in – no one remained alive.
We were in hard conditions, we were surviving in strange ways. The Germans, the S.S., organized some sort of a special collection of those 15-years-old people, youngsters. Nobody really knows why. And we did not find that out at all, but during the months July, August, September, October, they gradually started to kill those people in subsequent selections. I’ll just tell you something about some of them; there were very many of them.
At one occasion, we are taken, all the group, to the neighbouring football field, where the Sonderkommando used to play sometimes football with the S.S. guards in the crematoriums. The S.S. guy who was in charge of that comes with a board, with a hammer, with nails, and fixes that board to the goal, and we had to run fast, one by one, and the selection criterion was a binary one: either you hit the board, then you are alive, or you do not hit it, then you are dead. That was an improvement of the technology of selecting those who were not worth of surviving. One of my best friends was just not here any more; that group, selected out, disappeared immediately.
A next selection, led by Mengele, the chief doctor in Birkenau. He is sitting, he is bored; there is a group of unqualified kapos who did not run very well the show yet, and he was just performing in such a way, one by one again, and he just moved his index finger, this way – to death, this way – to life. And he was bored, and he was not interested any more; to kill people all the day, that is simply exhausting business. The point was that we were already somehow trained in what is the situation, and we have discovered that forming groups in the camp is basic for surviving. Because fighting or trying just to be alive one by one was impossible. So, we had a group of five people, and we approached him, Mengele, in a completely different way than the others, who were panicked completely, were crossing one group to the other group, the group of the alive ones to the group of the dead ones. In contrary, excuse me, from the dead ones to the alive ones, and so forth, and the kapos are shouting and beating those people, and so forth. And those panicked boys believed that Mengele is having supernatural features, that he can recognize on the faces of those boys whether they have been selected or not. But we realized that that is not true, that he is just following the body language of those people who did run to the other group, to the alive group, behaved differently than those who were just selected to stay alive, just for the case. So, five of us, we are marching, and we changed the tactics, we behaved in the German military way, and just by our movements and all of our behaviour we wanted to show that we are just eager to serve the German Reich. We walked him up, and he showed the right direction, “go this way”, and that’s why I’m here today.
The last selection. The last selection, when it was somehow hurry, and they did not want to run all the selection, so a selector just ran around the group of boys and selected a couple of them, the stronger ones. And all the rest were sent to a barrack, which was locked for two days, and we were just waiting when we were going to be sent to the gas chamber, and we were already on the very march to that gas chamber, when we met an S.S. doctor, a physician, who stopped the group and performed one selection more. Because the work power of those Jews, those dying people, has to be used till the very end of their force. And I was happy enough to be selected and sent on the alive part, because I used again the same technique: showing that I’m eager to stay alive, and I’m eager to serve the Reich. They could not understand that we all are hating the Reich; they wanted we, like them, like everybody in the world, will be very happy with the development of One Thousand Year Reich. So, that’s why, also because of that I’m here today.
That was the end of the group called the Birkenau boys. Only 30 remained alive of the group of over 1000 people. I was sent to a kommando called Kartoffelgrubber, and our task was to unload potatoes, very hard work, then I was fortunate enough to be selected to be sent to the Auschwitz main camp, which was a work camp, with better conditions. And the name of the kommando was Maurerschule. It was again a crazy Nazi idea that those people are going to be trained like brick layers, and building the One Thousand Year Reich as slaves.
I was sick, that’s why I’ve been accepted to the hospital, and the hospital remained there after the S.S. with all the other healthy prisoners were transported and walked towards Germany, towards the rest. And the medical doctors did help me to stay alive, because I had a fake diagnosis of diphtheria, which I didn’t have that disease.
So, I was on guard, being sent by an organization which existed in the camp, so we did not know about that, but that was an anti-fascist organization, talking over the camp direction. It lasted nine, eight days, till the Soviet Army, the Red Army came and saved us. On the day of the 27th, I was asked with another boy, who was a yeshiva student, to watch the gate of the camp, the Arbeit macht frei gate, and in case some German military people appear, we should say that we organized some sort of defence. And I see, I’m looking through the window, and I see a German soldier, exhausted. Snow, he is pulling his rifle in that snow, and hurry, I would say, toward westward, and I’m saying to the yeshiva boy, “If we had a rifle, we could shot that guy”. And he says, “Why should we do that? The war is finished for us. Let him live”. And that reminded me my mummy, and she used to tell me, when I was a little child and I was just stepping up on some insects on the ground, and she said always, “Don’t harm them. Let them go to their mummy”.
I remained there. We were happy that the Red Army people helped us. We were happy, but just for a short time. Happiness lasted maybe hours, days, not more. Because before we had a clear-cut goal: we have to survive. After war, we had no defined goals, we did not know exactly what to do. And we did not know what did happen to our family, what we will find at home, and so forth.
So, I somehow had enough of that camp, so I took my bag and travelled, and walked to Krakow, because there was no train connection yet, and on the way toward Krakow I started to cough and spitting blood. Red blood on the white snow, that was my trip homeward through Poland, Galicia, Slovakia, Hungary, to my shtetl in which we lived before. On the whole way I was the messenger of the horrible news. No one knew before what did really happen to the families of the people who remained alive.
And the Red Army people were very kind to me, I went to the medical doctor, because it was clear I had tuberculosis, and they told me I had, as fast as possible I should hurry home. And they arranged me, and interestingly enough, just by accident, two of those military doctors were Jewish. But the other people would behave in the same way. So, they gave me a special paper, a sort of passport, and they transported me with military trains and fed me, and the trip lasted from Auschwitz to the Danube River region – which is, really one-day train ticket makes, solves the question, – for two months.
I come home as the first one. No one was happy. Some of the people did return, the majority did not return. I did not see any smiling face for very long after all that.And that was my Auschwitz story, and at the end I just would like to emphasise that only 74 years elapsed from that horrible thing. From the historical point of view, that is nothing. So, that is my warning: mass killing, genocide is still a very-very possible solution of some problems. Thank you very much for your attention.