Paul Lavender – Panel 16

Paul Lavender

Paul Walter Lavender (born Lewandowski) was born on February 10, 1911 in Kassel, Germany. His parents, Jacob and Lina Lewandowski had three other children: Herbert, Irma, and Paul’s fraternal twin brother, Hans. His sister died when he was five years old, and his father died in 1936. Paul’s mother and his brother, Hans, died in the Holocaust – one in Auschwitz, one in Sobibor. His older brother, Herbert, fled first to Holland, then France, and eventually to Switzerland where he spent the rest of his life with his family.

In 1933, when Paul was 22 years old, he was fired from his job as a glass, china, and housewares buyer for a department store in Koblenz, Germany. Fleeing growing antisemitism in Germany, he fled to Holland. There he became a peddler of coffee and tea, selling groceries door to door from a cart, mostly to other German refugees.

Tap the grey bar and listen to Paul talk about the fate of his mother and brother.

Interviewer: What did you hear about the rise of the Nazis, while you were in Amsterdam?

LAVENDER: That’s a very good question because even there we heard over the radio the speeches of Hitler, day and night, screaming. We saw young boys with armbands with the swastika. In other words, there again, I had the feeling this is not the place. I felt it was much too close to Germany. So I said to my mother and brother, “I want to go to America.” They said, “What for? We’re here, safe here in Holland.” I said, “I don’t feel safe.” Naturally I didn’t know that Germany would invade Holland, but still there was that feeling of not trusting the situation. So I went while my brother and mother stayed, unfortunately.

Read and listen to Paul’s full interview here.

Ruth Egert – Panel 10

Ruth Egert family

Ruth Doctor Egert was born in Vienna, Austria on January 18, 1913. She grew up in a middle-class, observant family there and became a teacher for the city of Vienna in 1933. When the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, she lost her job. The family saw that life was going to be very hard and a job was arranged for Ruth as a maid in England.

Tap the grey bar and listen to Ruth the fate of her parents

EGERT: In March 1938 Hitler came and the very first day there was the announcement made, “All Jewish teachers are not to report to school any more.” It was just dismissed like that. They sent me later on … I think I got two months wages. …

Interviewer: Before the Anschluss was there any hint from your life that something like this was coming other than this vague unease?

EGERT: No. I guess we weren’t smart enough. We couldn’t imagine, you know. How could you imagine things like this? People educated, literary people and romantic and musical that they would go to such barbaric tactics.

EGERT: Well, two years before, I had studied English and I became an English teacher to be allowed to teach in German schools. So I used that when I was teaching people who were going to emigrate. I taught them English. …  And myself, I made an application for England, to immigrate to England and I did get a job to teach in a private house, children.

Interviewer: Now, I am going to push you a bit because there must have been a lot of thinking that went into this, discussing and about what was happening with you that you would take the step.

EGERT: Well, my parents agreed. They knew that young people had to go, but my parents themselves said, “What could happen to them?” My father was 59 then and my mother 55 or so, and they said, “What are they going to do to old people?” At that time it was old, you know. But they wanted us young people out I was very lucky.

Read and listen to Ruth’s full interview here.

Edmund Lang – Panel 9

Edmund Lang was born December 25, 1920, in Perleberg, Germany; he was an only child. His father, who was awarded the Iron Cross after serving in the German army during the First World War, was the owner of the biggest store in their small German town. The Langs were secular Jews, and Ed had no bar mitzvah. He went to a Catholic school where the nuns loved him because he was born on Christmas Day.

But in the 1930s, life turned difficult for his family; his father’s Iron Cross no longer mattered. Hitler came to power, and his parents got him false papers and a fake Aryan identity so Ed could work on a farm.

Tap the grey bar and listen to Edmund talk about his father.

Interviewer:  I want to get the years before ’35 as well. Do you remember first hearing of Hitler?

LANG: Oh, yes. Not only did I hear of him, I saw him. I saw Goebbels, I saw Goering. They came and visited at one time, Perleberg. This parade, I learned how to say Heil Hitler. I raised my arm, etc. I learned all the Nazi songs, etc. I was singing them with the rest of the kids. I didn’t know the difference. Oh, yes. I was very well aware of it, but I never felt any antisemitism, until the year when I was turning 12 years old and I was in the third year of the gymnasium. Until then I never had any problems, and I never felt I was a Jewish pig, or whatever they called me. …

Interviewer: Again, you don’t remember your parents showing any concern after Hitler came to power?

LANG: No. No, they didn’t show it. As a matter of fact, I told you that when I begged them to try and get out of there, my father said, “Ah, we are too old. And besides that, I don’t think they’re going to bother me. I’m a World War I decorated veteran with the Iron Cross.” He wasn’t going to move. I don’t think that he wanted to be exposed to being in a new country, a new environment, a different language — that scared him. I think he was kind of in a rut there. That’s the only way I can explain it, because by that time he knew there was a level of danger, and he was still rather complacent about it.

Read and listen to Edmund’s full interview here.

Diana Golden – Panel 4

Family of Diana Golden

Diana Golden’s large Sephardic family included her father, a merchant who owned a dry goods store, her mother, two sisters, one brother, her grandmother, and an aunt, who was blind. They were part of a Sephardic Jewish community of about 10,000 living in one section of Rhodes. Diana’s older sister and brother lived in Morocco.

In June 1944, the Germans entered Rhodes and in July the Jews were rounded up and deported. Diana’s family was shipped first to a detention camp near Piraeus and then on trucks and in box cars to Auschwitz, where they arrived on August 16, 1944. Diana’s father died in the transport through Yugoslavia. In Auschwitz, Diana’s aunt, mother, and younger brother were separated from her and subsequently murdered.

Tap the grey bar and listen to Diana describe the loss of her father and grandmother enroute to Auschwitz.

Interviewer: Did you go straight to Auschwitz?

GOLDEN: No, it took a full month until we reached Auschwitz. We stayed about eight or nine days on the boat, and we reached Piraeus, which is the main port near Athens in Greece. We disembarked from there and walked for about three miles. They took us to a detention camp, and we stayed there for two days. Then we were brought back again, not to the port but to a railroad. We were put in cattle wagons, boxcars, and it was written there in French and in Italian that it could carry 40 horses, and we were in our boxcar 77. There were others with 100 persons inside. There was just a little window in that boxcar, and it was right in the heat of summer. So we were rounded up, and we had to walk very fast. They were hitting right and left indiscriminately and saying, “Quick! Quick!” and it was very, very hot at that time. It took us about 15 days, I believe, to arrive in Auschwitz. We went through Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and we arrived at Auschwitz finally on August 16th.

Interviewer: And you had very cruel treatment during the whole trip?

GOLDEN: It was a horror. Many died. My father died. He was not together with me; he was in the next car. My grandmother died.We were all full of lice. We did not have water. During the day, the train would stop a couple of times. We were all sent out with big sticks, “Hurry, hurry, hurry,” and we had to do the personal means in the middle of the fields. Men, women, and children, like animals. Many people were sick. Many had dysentery because the water that they gave us came from a barrel. There was a barrel of water in each boxcar, and the barrel contained olives before. They were not washed properly, so the water was rancid. It tasted terrible and it smelled terrible, but that was the only water we had to drink. One man in each boxcar took care of distributing the water. As smelly and horrible as it was, we were very thirsty. We did not get any food. We had some food with us, a piece of bread, a piece of … but by the fifth day many people were dying already because they just didn’t have anything. As a matter of fact, before we went in the boxcar, they gave each of us a little piece of bread about the size of a hamburger bun, and that was all the food. Then, about four or five days later, they gave us again another little bun, and some raisins, and that was all. And we had a cup of water during the day; that was all we could have, that rancid water.

Read and listen to Diana’s full interview here.

Les Aigner – Panel 3

Les Aigner family lost

Leslie “Les” Aigner, one of three children, was born Ladislav Aigner in 1929 in Nové Zámky, Czechoslovakia. In the early 1940s his family moved to Csepel, Hungary on the outskirts of Budapest in the hope of escaping oppressive Nazi discrimination against Jews. But in 1943, the Nazis forced Les’s father into a slave labor camp and his sixteen-year-old sister was taken to a factory to do forced labor.

Then in 1944, 15-year-old Les, his mother, and his eight-year-old sister were forced into the Budapest Ghetto. From there they were taken to Auschwitz, where his mother and sister were sent directly to the gas chambers. Les spent five months in Auschwitz in late 1944 before being shipped to Landsberg, Germany, a sub camp of Dachau, where he was forced to perform hard labor

Tap the grey bar and listen to Les talk about the last time he saw his mother and sister.

Interviewer: So, I’d like you to describe for me in as much detail, your deportation to Auschwitz.

AIGNER: As I said, we were put into – 75-80 people – to a cattle car, and I described already how we were transported. Arriving to Auschwitz, it was first part of July. I don’t know probably close to ninth or tenth of July, I don’t know the exact date. We were ordered out of the cattle cars and there were these kapos, which some were in the striped suit already, and they were ordering us and separating the older people, woman and children to a group, and the man in one group. I was put into the mans’ group. And we had to line up front of the Dr. Mengele – the chief medical officer in Auschwitz. And he was selecting us right or left and whoever went to the right went to the gas chamber right away. That’s where I saw my mother and my little sister for the last time. My mother turned away and didn’t want to see me going. My little sister waved for me.

Read and listen to Les’ full interview here.

Ella Weisz Ostroff – Panel 18

Ella Ostroff was born in Sátoraljaújhely, Hungary on June 4, 1932 to Henry and Helen Weiss. She had three older sisters (Magda, Lily, and Olga) and one brother. Ella lost both her parents and her brother in the Holocaust; her father was deported early on to a labor camp where he died, and her mother and brother were sent to the gas chambers immediately after entering Auschwitz.

Tap on the grey bars and listen Ella describe the last time she saw her mother and brother.

When we arrived to Auschwitz; “Arbeit Macht Frei” is the big slogan on the entry way to Auschwitz. The train stopped and they opened the doors to the cattle cars and there was a band playing music. There were a lot of men with striped uniforms and some German military men. All we heard was “geh raus, geh raus, geh raus.” We got out and some of these men wearing the uniforms were walking by us and said, “Nobody is sick. Nobody is younger than 16 and nobody is older than 21, which was ridiculous.” We were coming out, the commotion was phenomenal, screaming, “Leave everything behind. You have your names on it, it will find you. We’ll make sure that your luggage (or whatever we had) will be transported to the place wherever you will be.” Anyway, we got out and we were walking.

My two sisters, myself, my mother and my younger brother, we started walking together. I was holding on to my mother’s hand, and I wanted to go with her so much because I saw ahead of me that we were being separated. We were getting to the front. My mother said, “No, you go with your sisters. Your brother needs me more.” I said, “I got to go with you.” She said, “No.” She really gave me life twice, because we never saw her again, or my brother. And here I am. Excuse me [crying]. Anyway, my sister and I went to the left. They always say whoever went to the right lived and whoever went to the left died. But it was my left I went to, not the right, or to the right of Mengele, where he was pointing. But I always say I went to the left and my mother went to the right.

Read and listen to Ella’s full interview here.