Interviewer: Okay. This is Bill Cohen. And I am at the apartment of Marton Fischel. Rabbi Marton Fischel. The date is April 17th, 2018. Rabbi Fischel, tell us, start by telling us a little about when you were born and where were you born.
Fischel: Okay. I was born in 1928 in the town Hungarian they called Marosvásárhely and then was Romanian called Târgu Mureș. Mureș is a river. It goes from East Transylvania to Tisza, Hungary. Then it goes down south to the Danube and goes East to Romania and to the Dead Sea.
Interviewer: So, this was, this was a village? This was a town, but it had two different names?
Fischel: Sure. If it’s Hungary, it was Hungarian name. The town was occupied many years by the Hungary and also by the, then the Romanian occupied. Usually, on the wars Hungary always choose the wrong partner. They lost the war and then they lost Transylvania. It went to Romania. And then when they came again in power, they took it back from Romania. So, when I was born in 1928, it was Romania. And the life was quite easy there. They let the Jews live free. Everything was nice. ‘Til 1938, I finished five classes in the Romanian school. Then in 1938, Hungary occupied the same town. They decided that that whoever went to school want to go to Hungarian school must repeat class, the whole year because it’s completely different language, different grammar, Hungarian that was coming from the Mongols and the Romanian were from Rome. So, we have to repeat the whole class, whole year. ‘Til 1942, we finished the high school. High school unfortunately was during the Hungarian regime. And they had the law only after the high school gets hundred Christians they accept six Jews. No more Jews. Most of the Jews couldn’t go. So, our community who had already a conservative rabbi because originally they were who started up the country, the city, because when Hungary bought, build the city, one of the bylaws was no Jews and gypsies could live in town. The Jews, the gypsies could come in the morning to work. And at night, they have to go back to out of town.
Interviewer: Now, you, you started by saying that for the first few years of your life when you were a child, the Jews were treated well. So, you had a happy early child.
Fischel: Yeah. Because it was Romania.
Interviewer: Because Romania controlled your town.
Fischel: Controlled the town.
Interviewer: So, tell me about those early years. What did you love to do as a child? What were your fond memories when things were good?
Fischel: Normally, I used to like to go to school. At the morning, I went to public school. Afternoon, I went to Jewish school and studied Jewish. And we had usually a very nice home, family home. And everything that the Jews had. They worked six days. The Friday afternoon, Shabbos was very nice. Shabbos, my mother used to bake everything Friday. Challahs, and the food, and cholent. Everything. And the children played very nice except we had some trouble with the non-Jewish students because especially the Hungarians. At that time, usually, the priests were very much anti-Semitic.
Interviewer: Even when things were good…
Interviewer: …in your early childhood,
Interviewer: there was anti-Semitism.
Fschel: Anti-Semitic. I remember very well one of my friend, best friend was a Christian. And we used to play every time with him. One Passover, we came home from schul and he came out from the church. And without saying anything, he came and he gave me one big hit in the stomach.
Interviewer: He gave you a hit in the stomach?
Fischel: Hit in the stomach. I said, “Laios, what happened? Why you did it?” He said, “Because Father Teders said you killed my God.” I said, “Laios, when we usually play around, you always throw me down the first and, the first on the floor. You’re stronger than me. How could I kill your God?”
Interviewer: “How can I kill your God?” you said.
Fischel: Yeah. So, he was quiet. I think we… I finished with this. Two minutes later, he comes. He gives me another hit in the stomach. “Laios, why did you hit me?” “Because you think the priest is liar?” Father told me you killed my God and you think he’s a liar. That’s why he hit me again.
Interviewer: Your friend’s name was what? Laios?
Fischel: Laios. Yeah.
Interviewer: How would you spell that?
Interviewer: But pronounced Laios. And so, were you, did you
Fischel: Usually, this, the Hungarian, the priests, all the churches, they’re very anti-Semitic.
Interviewer: And so, you had been his friend until then. And after he hit you twice, then what happened? Did you stay friends with him or was that…
Fischel: Yeah. Yeah. Because he lived in my house, in our house. We had a four-family house. And they rented one, one apartment. His family rented.
Interviewer: Your family were the landlords.
Interviewer: And his family rented from you.
Interviewer: And here he was hitting you.
Fischel: Yeah. And usually, my mother always every Friday that she baked the cake, he bake, she bakes a special cake, give it to him so he should have something special from the Jews. He appreciated, but then he was against the Jews.
Interviewer: And he was Hungarian.
Fischel: He was Hungarian.
Interviewer: But at that point, you say the Romanians controlled. In your early childhood, the Romanians controlled the things.
Fischel: Yeah. Yeah. But they didn’t control the churches.
Interviewer: Ah. And then later, the Hungarians took…
Fischel: Over and then was in reverse.
Interviewer: Then things were bad.
Fischel: Very bad.
Interviewer: What happened then? Give us some examples of what, what happened when you were older as a child.
Fischel: First of all, they didn’t let us go to the high school. No education. And they were, wherever you turned around, you felt the government is anti-Semitic. Everything was done to suppress the Jews. Not to do. Not to give them. They couldn’t, we couldn’t go to school. We can’t, and during the Hungarian, we didn’t have any food. But the Romanian, the area was growing everything, every food.
Interviewer: The area was growing food.
Fischel: Growing food. A lot of food.
Interviewer: So, there was food available.
Fischel: Available and they used to bring it always. Every Thursday was the marketplace. They used to bring in the food and sell it. Always food. ‘Til the Hungarian come, came in and then they put the police on the roads coming to town. And when the farmers came with the things, they stopped. They took it away. Give them a very little pay for it. And they send the food back out to Germany.
Interviewer: The food that the farmer grew locally wound up in Germany.
Fischel: In Germany.
Interviewer: And so, what did the people of your town do? Where did they get food?
Fischel: Everything was rationed.
Interviewer: Was rationed.
Fischel: Rationed. We didn’t got most thing. My mother usually used to get, take the flour. We could get two pans of flour per week for family. And all we could get three pans of, two and a half pans of bread. My mother was prepared to take the flour because then she could always buy in the black market and continue to bake. Otherwise, if you got the bread and you send to the bakery to bake something, they said you cannot have flour. So, you never bought flour. The Jews found a way how to do it.
Interviewer: Tell me about your mother and father. What, what, what did your father do for a living?
Fischel: My father, the town was a textile, growing, making textile.
Fischel: Textile. Make, making, make the textile.
Interviewer: Making the cloth…
Fischel: The, the cloth.
Interviewer: …for clothing.
Fischel: For clothing. And my father’s job was to paint, color the… All the fabric used to be plain without any color. My father used to paint it, color them for the factory, black, green, all kind colors. And his, he, my father spoke very good, nice German. Most of the paint came from Germany.
Interviewer: He spoke good German.
Fischel: Yeah. And the, he worked in the factory with two of other men, gentlemen. The two other gentlemen were non-Jewish and they had to work six days a week from Monday to Saturday night. And they got pay Saturday night. My father brought home the money, give it to my mother. My mother took off right away ten percent, put it aside, and we’ll eat on the rest.
Interviewer: She put away ten percent to save.
Fischel: Yeah. The other two gentlemen on the way back… First, they went to the bar. They had to pay half of the salary that they brought home. Pay for what they drank last week and they got drunk. Used to come home and always would fight with their wife. They have nothing.
Interviewer: They would have a fight with their wives…
Fischel: Their wives.
Interviewer: …because they spent all the money on drinking.
Fischel: On drinking. And one thing interesting, Laois…
Interviewer: Your friend.
Fischel: …my friend, he, he, he noticed Friday night we had such a nice table sitting and singing, eating nice challahs and everything. And he does have nothing in the house.
Interviewer: He didn’t have food in the house?
Fischel: In the house. He told, he, he himself, know in his heart that his father’s fault because when he comes from home always beats up his mother why there is no food, no this. And he just was afraid to say it is my father’s fault, but he knew ‘til the Germans came in.
Interviewer: Oh, the Germans then came in.
Fischel: Came in in 1942.
Interviewer: So, let me make sure I understand. First, the Romanians controlled the area, then the Hungarians controlled the area, and then the Germans came.
Fischel: Yeah. Then the Germans came and they told him, “You know, you’re complaining that your father… You don’t have food, you don’t have nothing. You know why? Who’s fault is it? The Jews’ fault. They stole it from your father. Not your father. Don’t blame your father. Blame the Jews. They stole it.” He was accepting it. He was very happy that the German come said not his father fault. It’s the Jews’ fault. This way, he became a very bad anti-semite.
Interviewer: And Laois told you that. Told you that he believed that the Jews took the food.
Fischel: Yeah. And that’s why when they took us after the ghetto, he stood up stairs on the floor and he clatched. Happy that the Germans taking us out. The gendarme took us out in the house.
Interviewer: Your friend, your friend when you were a child, Laois…
Interviewer: …he watched as you and your family were taken away to the ghetto.
Interviewer: And he applauded.
Interviewer: What did that, how did you react to that? How did you feel?
Fischel: Very badly because when I was, were liberated. I was liberated with my father, then I said to my father I’m not going home. I don’t want go home because when I go home I think I will kill him or he will kill me. I have to sit in prison.
Interviewer: You’re worried that if you saw each other again…
Fischel: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: …one of you would kill the other.
Fischel: Yeah. I went out to Palestine. But before they, they took us out to the ghetto. Germany, the Germans had a big problems. The problem was that Jewish ghettos, Warsaw and all this, after being three years in the ghetto had still strength to rebel. They rebelled against the Germany.
Interviewer: When the Jews were in various ghettos…
Fischel: Ghettos. Ghettos.
Interviewer: …after a while, they began to rebel.
Fischel: Three, after three years, they still had strength to rebel, to rebel against the Germans. So, they were afraid that they bring the Hungarian Jews just not from home, they become still, with a lot of physical strong men. They were afraid that the Jews will make trouble. So, they turned to their scientist to find a solution.
Interviewer: They turned to their scientist.
Interviewer: The Germans did.
Fischel: They came up with a solution with something named B-R-O-M. Brom.
Fischel: Yeah. They said if it, this brom, you give them to drink for five days, the strongest man became a zombie. Wouldn’t care about it. And they try that and it really worked.
Interviewer: They tried that. It worked?
Fischel: It worked.
Interviewer: Did you have to drink this?
Fischel: Drank it for about a week. They keep, when we got to Auschwitz…
Interviewer: Oh, you’re… Now, let’s make sure, I wanna make sure I understand. They took you from your home and they sent you to
Fischel: Auschwitz, yes.
Interviewer: Auschwitz. The main…
Interviewer: …concentration camp. And that was in Poland.
Fischel: And that…
Interviewer: And made you drink this liquid.
Fischel: I have, by the way, written down, have, I wrote it down for my children the first day when we got there. The story had written down. I will give it to you later. So, after they scientist said give them to drink one week, they took us to special camp they put into the water this. After one week that we drink, they call us up for an appell. Appell means counting us. Ten, ten men in a line. About 50-60 lines of people.
Interviewer: They lined you up to be counted.
Fischel: Yeah. To be counted. And suddenly, usually, they let us go away. They kept us there staying. Suddenly, we saw a wagon coming. A wagon usually pulled by two horses, but it’s pulled by two inmates.
Interviewer: Instead of the…
Interviewer: Instead of the cart being pulled by two horses, it was being pulled by two human beings.
Fischel: Two human being. And they, striped clothes. And beside on each side of the wagon, one in the front, one in the back was a ring with some attached to it, some string, and was pulled also by two people. It means the, the wagon was pulled by six people. On top of the wagon was ten dead corpses.
Interviewer: Ten dead bodies were in the cart.
Fischel: In the cart. And they went back and forth. It’s the first time in my life I saw a dead body. And they took it back and forth about ten times and no reaction. We just stayed there. Looked like nothing happened.
Interviewer: They made you watch this cart…
Interviewer: …travel around with the dead bodies.
Fischel: Yeah. Yes. And there was no reaction.
Interviewer: You didn’t react to it?
Fischel: Nothing. And these are Romanian Jews. Romanian Jews, to be, the Romanian Jews, at funeral, they know to scream, to yell, to… Usually, Romanian Jews, at a funeral, they scream, they yell if somebody died …from pain.
Interviewer: Romanian Jews would usually be emotional when somebody died. And you were Romanian.
Interviewer: You were Romanian Jew, but you did not scream.
Fischel: Nothing. We just looked. Nothing.
Interviewer: Because? Why did you react that way?
Fischel: I didn’t feel about it. Nothing. Then suddenly, this afternoon, that afternoon, the kapos and the block assistant told us, start telling us that all the Jews who were sent to the left are not alive anymore. Means my mother and little brother and sister are not alive anymore. They were sent to the gas chambers and they were…you see the flames. They were burned over there.
Interviewer: They told you that…
Fischel: Me, my father, all the people there.
Interviewer: …they were dead. That members of your family were already dead.
Interviewer: They told you.
Fischel: And no reaction.
Interviewer: You didn’t cry?
Fischel: Nothing. Next day morning, they, they transferred us from this camp to another camp. In that camp, we came back…there is this sign, Arbeit Macht Frei, before you go in on the gate stating that work, work makes you free.
Interviewer: Work makes you free.
Interviewer: That’s what it said in German.
Fischel: Yeah. And we came in there. Next day morning, we stay in line. They start giving us numbers. My father was very much experienced how to survive. By the way, I survive for two reasons. One, God watched on me. I shouldn’t be in the wrong time in the wrong place. Second thing is my father was with me. My father in the first world war served the Romanian army as sergeant, but he was not sitting in the office usually, but Jewish people doing, sitting in the office. He, he was out in the front. Two years in the front fighting in the front and then he experienced how to work survive in different condition.
Interviewer: And he was with you in the camp?
Fischel: In the camp. And he was the one that helped me with lot of things. For example, he told me one thing. You should know, when I ask you something to do, do me one favor. Don’t ask me why. Do it first of all. And then if I have time, I’ll explain you why. Sometimes in this situation if you, if we wait, it may be too late to answer you why. Do it.
Interviewer: So, he, he survived with you, but you say that your mother and other members of your family had already died.
Fischel: Died. Went to the left side.
Interviewer: They went to… The German said some of you go to the left, some of you go to the right. And your mother went to the left.
Fischel: My mother, younger brother, and sister went to the left. My oldest sister went to the right and then when I came with my father we also went to the right.
Interviewer: And you say that you think you survived because your father helped you and he knew how to survive…
Fischel: How to survive.
Interviewer: …these terrible conditions. What was the first reason again why you think you survived?
Fischel: That God helped me. I shouldn’t be in the wrong time in the wrong place.
Interviewer: God made sure you were not in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Fischel: Yeah. Because that could be…
Interviewer: You think God, God saved you.
Fischel: Yeah. Yeah. Because if I was just at the wrong place, for example, and then he came, when we came there, he told me one thing. “We stay ten people in line. Don’t stay, not number one, not number ten. You stay number five. I’d be number six.”
Interviewer: Your father told you stay in the middle.
Fischel: In the middle because until they came to us, we could try to escape and…
Interviewer: Oh. Oh. He said that you might be able to escape…
Interviewer …when you’re in the middle of the line.
Fischel: Of the line.
Interviewer: Did you try to escape?
Fischel: No. No. We didn’t. But really, then… there was a, a Polish… also he was also a…he was also prisoner. A Polish prisoner. He was non-Jewish. He had the red triangle. Means he was a communist. He registered us and give us the numbers.
Interviewer:He gave you your number.
Fischel: Yeah. He came to me. He asked me what’s my name. I told him Marton Fischel. He asked when were you born. 1928. February 15, `28. And I spoke very nice German. He was surprised. He said, “How come you speak such nice German?” I told him “At home in the school, they taught us the Kultursprache, Kulturesprache. The, the school, the Jewish school, they took German language. And why that happened? Because my father was that time… the school board.
Interviewer: Your father was on the school board.
Fischel: School board. And they came…they taught us Hungarian, Hebrew, and all other objects. And they decided we must have also Kultursprache. Kultursprache, language of culture. People…
Interviewer: That’s what that word means?
Interviewer: Language of culture.
Interviewer: German was considered a language of culture.
Fischel: Some people suggested we should learn French, Spanish, English. My father said, “No way. Be more… understand what is going on. In ten years,” he said, “Germany will occupy Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. Three-fourth the world, the language— official language will be German. We should teach the kids be ready for that time.”
Interviewer: Your father predicted… He, he thought he can see the future and the future he saw…
Interviewer: …was that Germany would take over all these other countries.
Fischel: Three quarters of the world and the future… and the official language will be German. Only language we shall teach them German.
Interviewer: So, that’s why you learned German so well.
Fischel: That’s why the whole school picked up… We learn German…as a Kultursrprache, and he really talked nice. He knows how to talk and to write German.
Interviewer: So, you were saying that this communist prisoner…
Interviewer: …he was the one who gave you your number and he saw and heard how well you spoke German.
Interviewer: So, what would then…
Fischel: He asked me… He told me suddenly “You tall, you tall, you’re very tall. I’m registering you that you’re born 1926, not `28.”
Interviewer: He was going to register you as being two years older.
Interviewer: And why, why was that? Why was that important?
Fischel: I didn’t understand why.
Fischel: I turned around to my father. I said to my father “What does he say?” He said, “Oh, father and son cannot be together.” He said I’m registered, he told my father “He should know he’s born 1926. He should forget born in `28. And then after they call him and ask when he was born, he should say he’s born `26 and…”
Interviewer: Was that supposed to help you in some way?
Fischel: I didn’t know.
Interviewer: You don’t know. And you said you told everyone you were born in 1926.
Fischel: Yeah. And then I didn’t tell nobody. I didn’t even think that something makes a big different. But my father said, “You listen to him. He’s a good man. I trust him. Even he was a prisoner, a Russian guy, a Polish guy, I trust him. You should remember from now on, if they ask you what day you, what year you’re born, you say `26.” So, we went, dispersed. Usually, in the morning when they coming, the German officer used to come with the, they used to, with the horse riders had, had cane with the thing.
Interviewer: They had a cane.
Fischel: And they used to beat up on the Jews right and left. And and the kapos used to go…
Interviewer: Kapos. When you say kapos, that’s K-A-P-O-S?
Interviewer: And who were the kapos? The guards?
Fischel: Kapos, no, they are also prisoners, but already three-four years there.
Interviewer: Oh. The kapos are the Jewish and other prisoners who have been there for a while.
Fischel: Usually, they’re not Jewish. Usually are Christians.
Interviewer: Oh. Okay.
Fischel: And they used to come with their hoses. And the hose filled with wires. They used to beat us up every morning just for no reason. That’s why especially…Those who were in the front and the back was beaten up. This time, my father said, “You know, that’s why you sit.. stay in the middle.
Interviewer: Always stay in the middle so you won’t get beat up, but you were beaten up by your fellow prisoners.
Fischel: Yeah. Then suddenly instead of this officers with the sticks came one gentleman, a German, Wehrmacht. He said, “Good morning, sir. Good morning, everyone.” I said to my father “What happened? Why, how come he’s talking so nice?” Usually, they come in. They beating us up. Suddenly, he said, “Good morning, gentlemen.” He said, “Yeah. He represents…” He said, “I represent the Kulturministerium. We brought you here because we are at war with, with the whole world. Our people are fighting on, on the front. We brought you here to help us to work in the back, in the cities.”
Interviewer: He said, he said, “We brought you here to do work.”
Fischel: To do work, help us out in the cities. But he said we are not barbarian. We know the children need education. They have a special camp that the children will work four hours and study four hours. And…but the weekend, you’re gonna meet the kids. The kids with parents meet together. But one thing it is, you know, we’re very tight money. We can’t afford to give it to everybody. We could give the school only for children who born `28 and younger. Please step up. Ask all the children who are born `28 and younger step up and I take them to the camp that they’re gonna work and study. And by the weekend, children meet. I wanted to to step up. My father hold me up and said, “Remember, you were born `26, not `28. Don’t you dare to.” I was so angry my father don’t let me go. Most of my classmates walked out.
Interviewer: So, let me make sure I understand. The, the German official said we’re going to send the younger children to the special camp and they’re gonna get a special school and it’s gonna be really good. And if you had told the truth about how young you were, you would have stepped forward and gone.
Interviewer: But instead…
Fischel: My father…
Interviewer: …your father and the Polish communist said, “No, you should pretend like you’re older.”
Interviewer: Because he knew something. And so, you did not step forward. You did not go to the school…
Interviewer: …in the special camp.
Fischel: And I was so angry. I said to my father, “Why should I stay in this place? Terrible place. Why shouldn’t I go to place where I study half a day? And we’re gonna meet the weekend. Why shouldn’t I go?” My father said, “It makes no difference. I trust my man. Don’t you dare to move. Be quiet.” And I was so angry. They finished, dispersed. We’re going to have lunch. What was lunch? They stayed… they had ten people in line. The first guy… We didn’t have no plates or something. First guy, he got a pot with some porridge.
Fishel: Each one was supposed to take one…one…swallow one.
Interviewer: One swallow…
Fischel: One swallow.
Interviewer: …per person.
Fischel: Per person. And then comes back take another one again. How you know if we took one swallow or two? You see the Adam apple going up and down. You saw it going up and down once, it’s fine. Going up twice means you took two swallows. He’s out for next time.
Interviewer: You could tell by somebody’s Adam’s…
Interviewer: …Adam’s apple how… if they took one swallow or two.
Fischel: And it came to me. I didn’t want eat meat. I didn’t want swallow. No nothing. I said I don’t wanna eat. He didn’t let me go to that camp. I don’t wanna eat.
Interviewer: You were so upset about not going to the special camp with school. You refused to eat.
Fischel: Refused. They send us to the barracks and I was still really crying and I was angry at my father. Suddenly about 2:30 or three o’clock, we look out on the yard. I see that Polish guy. I said to my father “Do me a favor. Come with me. I wanna talk to that guy.” “Okay” said my father. “Okay.” I got up, got up. He found the guy and I said… I greeted him. I tell him “You remember me?” And I said, “I made a big mistake. Instead of going up to the nice camp, I stay here in this miserable place. I could have gone out with my friends. Be half a day school, half a day… any way I could go?” He said, “You don’t wanna go.” What happened? He told my father “All those who went out… you see the flame there? They were gassed. They’re burning up there.”
Interviewer: The Polish communist said if you went, you would have gotten gassed.
Interviewer: And you could see the flames?
Fischel: Yeah. Sure. There, there… sure. You see the…
Interviewer: You could…
Interviewer: You could see the flames where the children were gassed.
Fischel: Gassed and burned. And…
Interviewer: Then you realized you had been saved from that.
Fischel: Then I realized I was… Then he said to my father “I have two more advice for you. Today is Monday. Wednesday, they come in with a beautiful wagon with beautiful sandwiches. Salami sandwiches. White bread with some [0:36:16][inaudible] and they’re gonna suggest you whoever wants to get, take a special job, then he’s gonna get everyday a sandwich like this. You should come out.” He told my father “Don’t you move. Don’t you go out. Refuse. Don’t…take nothing.” And instead of this, he said, “End of the weekend on Friday, they come in to take 700 Jews to send them out to a different camp. When they come in to take people, take your son. Don’t even breathe. Push yourself and get out from here. Don’t stay here anymore.”
Interviewer: Wait. The Polish communist said when they come to take people, you should go or you should not?
Fischel: You should go fast.
Interviewer: You should go.
Fischel: Friday yes.
Interviewer: Go Friday.
Fischel: So, really Wednesday, they came with a big bag with the sandwiches and I felt I don’t like to eat sandwich. My father said, “Don’t you dare to move. He said you don’t go out.” And we didn’t go out and this went by. And by the end, we knew that all those people who went out, they give them a special job. The job was they give them a plier. A plier. A plier that they took out the bodies from the gas chamber. Before they burn them, they had to open the mouth and pull out the golden teeth and they put the golden teeth in the bag for the German. Give the…
Interviewer: The job that they got was to take a plier and pull out the gold teeth from the dead bodies of the people who had been burned in the gas chambers…
Interviewer: …or the ovens.
Fischel: Before they burn. At the gas chambers before they burned, pull out the teeth.
Interviewer: So, that was a terrible job.
Fischel: Most of the people did not survive. Who refused to work were shot on the plot, on the place. Lucky we didn’t go. And then Friday came and we pushed out and we went out. And the story for where we got is different. The German war machine in 1941-`42, they developed the V-1, V-2 bombs. At that time, we call it pilotless plane.
Interviewer: Pilotless plane.
Fischel: Yeah. Today, it’s the… it’s called the big… you said it… missile.
Interviewer: A missile.
Fischel: A missile that goes 400 miles. They, at that time was called pilotless plane. They went.. and land then land and then exploded and they made it very noisy. After they developed that, they got another job, the German…the first… next job was to develop the first German jet airplane Messerschmitt. So, they get out, got a call to Europe, all over the world, Europe. They need 10,000 strong men. They know Jewish people cannot build. They’re not strong enough.
Interviewer: They said that the Jewish people were not known for being strong.
Fischel: Strong enough. That…give me… bring 10,000 non-Jewish people. Especially look for strong people with muscle. Brng them here. In 1942, they opened camp. They built the whole factory underground.
Fischel: You looked on the top, you just see a mountain and one, one place where the plane took off.
Interviewer: But underneath the mountain…
Interviewer: …there was a factory.
Fischel: The…the factory built…they didn’t produce yet. Just build the factory ready to make…
Interviewer: To make the…
Fischel: Jet airplane. In 1943, they found out that whatever happens in the factory, those prisoners could have gotten a package every two months, also a letter where the family was home. They could exchange letters every two months. Send the letter and get a letter.
Interviewer: The workers were treated relatively well.
Fischel: Well because…and when the… how you call it… Red Cross wanted to see the camp, they put off the death camp. You see, they’re getting food, getting things. They work. They’re prisoners, but they’re getting.
Interviewer: They showed that camp…
Fischel: That camp.
Interviewer: …was a factory to the Red Cross to impress the Red Cross.
Fischel: In 1943, they find out whatever it happens in the factory, the British intelligence know what’s going on. Everything. They have everything. What they build. Everything. So, they knew they, they’re in trouble.
Interviewer: The Germans knew they were in trouble.
Fischel: Trouble because the prison… between the prisoners, must be some spies. They sent over… in the letters, they sent everything also there. Then they said we cannot use them in the factory. They cannot use them in the factory.
Interviewer: We cannot use prisoners.
Fischel: Those prisoners because…
Interviewer: Prisoners are spies.
Fischel: Spies. What solution we have, they just brought from Hungary the Jews with all their families. Nobody’s home. Let’s take 700 Jews. Let them work in the factory.
Interviewer: That’s when they decided to have the Jews work in the factory.
Fischel: They come over there. First of all, each one got five postcard. Green postcards. Green-colored postcard. “Hi, my name is Marton Fischel. I live in this address. We are now in Germany helping with the…war effort. Soon as the war will be finished, we’re coming back home.” We’re supposed to mail all the five postcards home.
Interviewer: You were supposed to tell all your friends and relatives that you were okay, you were working in the factory, and you could come home when the war was done.
Fischel: Yeah. And this was mainly to your family in Hungary. We send out the letters and make arrangements in the Hungarian post office. Every postcard that’s not delivered have to be returned. All my…all postcards came back. Nobody was home.
Interviewer: All the postcards you sent came back…
Fischel: Came back.
Fischel: Nobody was home.
Interviewer: And the reason was because they had all died?
Fischel: They’re all put in Auschwitz already. Except about 45 prisoners, the letters didn’t come back. They took them to investigate. They find out they were intermarried. So, some of them was still home. They accepted the letters and they were very angry of intermarriage. They didn’t accept it that Jews should intermarry and they told them they kill all the 45.
Interviewer: They killed all 45 Jewish prisoners…
Interviewer: …who were working in the airplane.
Fischel: No. No. They didn’t let them work.
Interviewer: They killed them.
Fischel: And they killed them because they had family home.
Interviewer: They were going to work for the factory.
Fischel: The factory. Yeah.
Interviewer: But once they found out that their relatives had intermarried…
Interviewer: …with non-Jews, they killed those prisoners.
Interviewer: But you were not killed. You were there working in the factory?
Fischel: Yeah. In the factory.
Interviewer: What was that like?
Fischel: I wasn’t…really wasn’t…wasn’t in danger that the engineers… We work with German engineers. The German engineers worked, and we helped them in this, but hold back that. Let’s say a German engineer brings us an extra suit. I take off my clothes. The stripe clothes. Put on the engineer suit.
Interviewer: You took off your prisoner’s uniform.
Fischel: I could have done it.
Interviewer: You could have done it.
Fischel: Could have done it. So, this was a problem for the Germans. How could they…700 people worked. How could they make sure that nobody exchanges clothes and runs away with the thing? They found a solution…for the Jews. First, they cut off two inches of hair around here, that only hair on two sides.
Interviewer: They cut off a two-inch swath of your hair in the middle of your scalp.
Fischel: And left the two sides.
Interviewer: And you still had hair on the sides.
Fischel: At the sides. After six weeks, they cut the two sides and the middle was left. And when we went in and out of the factory, everybody was to take off his hat so they knew who’s Jewish, who’s not Jewish.
Interviewer: They could tell by your unusual haircut if you were Jewish…
Interviewer: …so that way you couldn’t escape. You couldn’t change clothes with a German engineer and pretend you’re a German engineer.
Interviewer: Very interesting. So, first, they cut the hair in the middle of your head…
Fischel: And then this stays.
Interviewer: …and then they cut it on the side.
Fischel: The side of it stays.
Interviewer: So, sometimes you had hair on the middle of your head…
Interviewer: …and sometimes you had it on the sides.
Fischel: Yeah. And that way we worked all the way ‘til the end of the war.
Interviewer: You were a teenager at this time.
Fischel: I was 16 years old.
Interviewer: Sixteen. So, what kind of work did you do in the factory?
Fischel: In the factory? Make sure no dust. My job was make sure I dusted everything over and I handed over things…things that he needed something. I hold it to him or dust over the…
Interviewer: You helped the engineers…
Interviewer: …by handing them tools or…
Fischel: No. No. The things. For example, he had a piece of metal, had to work on it. I had to hold it. I hold it for him. I had to make sure nothing is— First, when I came in the morning, I wiped everything up with this— I had a piece of rag. I wiped off, make sure no dust. Nothing’s over there. Everything was dust free.
Interviewer: What was the name of this factory or this camp?
Fischel: Allach Dachau. Dachau. Dachau.
Fischel: Yeah. And this was between Dachau and Munich. They call it Allach Dachau.
Interviewer: That was the name. Is that different from then Dachau—
Fischel: Yeah. Yes.
Interviewer: Oh, but it had the word “Dachau” in it.
Fischel: In it. That’s right.
Interviewer: And this was a camp, or it was a factory, or it was both combined?
Fischel: It was a camp and a factory combined. And you saw when…for example, the airplane that came, they never bombed the factory. Usually, everyday, the day the British came and at night the American planes came to bomb Munich. When they came, you saw by the front of the factory they’re going up higher. They come down low to Munich. They bomb the Munich because behind the factory was also 12 cannons, anti-air cannons, that would shoot on the planes.
Interviewer: So, the factory never got bombed by the British or the Americans because the Germans had anti-aircraft guns to protect it.
Fischel: Or, they wanted to know what’s going on there. The…the factories… The British wanted to know what the Germans could do.
Interviewer: So, they… so, they wanted the factory to stay.
Fischel: To stay. They didn’t never try to bomb. In the beginning, they put some shiny papers dropping over the factory so they don’t bomb the factory.
Interviewer: The British could have bombed the factory, but they wanted to allow it to stay…
Interviewer: …because that way…
Fischel :The scientists have between them something.
Interviewer: The scientists…the British scientists felt sympathy with the German scientists?
Fischel: They want to know what they find out.
Interviewer: Ah. Oh. Okay. They wanted the inventions of the Germans to survive so they could study them later.
Interviewer: Is that what you’re saying? Huh. So, what was it like? Were you…sometimes when we hear about prisoners in the concentration camps, we hear about them starving and being sick. Were you…but you had a special job. How were you treated when you had this special job?
Fischel: We got a little more food, but still we got for example…for at evening, when we came back, we got one slice of bread. The bread was with saw dust in it.
Interviewer: With what in it?
Fischel: Saw dust.
Interviewer: Saw dust.
Interviewer: On purpose. They made the bread with saw dust.
Fischel: And the…and the doctor…our doctor…the Jew…the prisoner doctor said, “Take it and eat it slowly. Don’t swallow the bread. Chew each slice… each slice…each bite chew ten times. This will produce more saliva and it will help to clean the teeth.” Because for the whole years we didn’t have no toothbrush, no toothpaste, no nothing. He said, “By eating this saw dust in the bread, this will clean the teeth a little bit.”
Interviewer: Who told…who gave you that advice?
Fischel: The doctors. Our own doctors.
Interviewer: Your own doctors.
Interviewer: The Jewish doctors in the camp.
Fischel: They said, “Chew it at least ten times. That will help you to produce saliva and help you also with cleaning the teeth a little bit. And when you finish to eat, you lay down straight. Don’t lay down like a baby fetal [0:51:49][Inaudible] If you lay down on your back, it will take more time for the stomach to digest the food and that’s why lay down that way.”
Interviewer: Lay down flat so your stomach can digest the saw dust.
Fischel: Yeah. And take more time to…and this was after…first of all, we were there for July. By January, they start bringing prisoners coming down from other camps, where they have to retreat. Germans had to retreat. They brought prisoners. We got in our camp much more prisoners were already sick and there…there was really people who were hungry. And usually, when… The first ten months was very nice. We had two-three people died in the week. Usually, the procedure was when somebody died, you take him to the next to the gate and the truck used to come the next day, pick them up, and took ‘em to Dachau.
Interviewer: Who would pick them up?
Fischel: A truck.
Interviewer: A truck would pick up the dead body the next day.
Interviewer: Take it Dachau.
Interviewer: The real camp. The real…
Fischel: The real camp because they have the crematorium. But when they start bringing the people from all over the country, this was like the last place the…where the Germans kept their own thing…they retreated all over. This was the last batch. They brought a lot of prisoners from all over the country. Then we had much more people start dying. Maybe 10-15 people a day.
Interviewer: instead of two or three a day. Ten or 15 people a day. And this was because the Germans were in retreat.
Fischel: In retreat.
Interviewer: This is 1943?
Fischel: No. `44.
Fischel: `44. Yeah.
Fischel: In March and April. And what we used to do, do the same procedure. Put the dead people in front of the gate. The last three weeks before the war ended, everyday we took out 10-12 people. After three weeks, there were about 30 dead people there. The truck didn’t come to pick them up because they were running away.
Interviewer: The truck didn’t come to pick up the dead bodies because those soldiers were retreating.
Fischel: Yeah. Retreating.
Interviewer: So, the bodies just piled up.
Fischel: Piled up on that side. See the pictures of the death camps. You see the dead people in front of the gate piled up. And what happened, if somebody died, usually you took off the clothes. Everybody has only one set of clothes. You take out…you put out just naked people. Dead people. That’s why when the Americans came in, obviously, whole pile of dead naked people in front of the gate because they didn’t come to pick them up.
Interviewer: So, this was 1944. The bodies were piling up. The Germans were in retreat and then what happened…to you? What do you remember?
Fischel: Then like this. My father decided to go back to our town because he said, “I have there the house. Maybe have a…could sell it to make some money.”
Interviewer: Wait a minute. Your father said he wanted to go back…
Fischel: To Romania.
Interviewer: …to Romania. Now, wait a minute. You were still a prisoner in the factory.
Fischel: No. This is when we’re…when we’re liberated.
Interviewer: Oh. Well, talk to us about how that happened. Tell us about your liberation. When was that and what do you remember?
Fischel: Passover. Two weeks before Passover, one of my best friends died.
Interviewer: In the camp.
Fischel: In the camp. Usually be the very… the skin was…very, very skin and bone.
Interviewer: He was skin and bones.
Fischel: The skin wasn’t smooth. Suddenly, the guy…the friend…my friend died. I called my father. Look, daddy. Look at this guy. He’s happy. See, his face got smooth. His skin got smooth. And he was happy. He was like smiling.
Interviewer: He looked happier in death.
Fischel: Happy dead than…I asked my father, no reason we should live, I would like to give up the whole thing. I asked him to give me permission please to go touch the fence and I finish the…
Interviewer: You asked your father for permission to touch the electrified fence…
Interviewer: …so you could die.
Interviewer: You were ready to die?
Fischel: Yeah. Because this was…then my father told me “You know, Passover comes next week and you remember you used to come home and say always we should not be afraid. God will save us. Every generation, somebody wants to destroy us and God will save us.”
Interviewer: That’s the Passover story.
Fischel: Yes. I said, “Thank you very much. I don’t want it. If he wants to save me, that my next generation they can’t be in camp. I bet he don’t save me…and I’ll be saved.”
Interviewer: You don’t wanna be saved.
Fischel: To be saved, me, next generation, should they again go to camp, I don’t want it. Let’s finish it. One connection with God that he wants every generation somebody wants to destroy us and he saved us. Let him now destroy us and not save us. And then my father said, “Listen, do me a favor.” We’re sleeping on the third bed on top. Two people in the bed. We sleeped on the third bed. Told me “Come down.” I came down the floor. He said, “Lay down on the floor and put down your ear to the floor.” And when we put down the ear to the floor, we heard boom, boom, boom. We could hear the fighting. He said, “This fighting is not very far. It may be less 60-70 kilometer from here.”
Interviewer: You could hear…by putting your ear to the ground, you could hear the rumble of fighting, but it was not…
Interviewer: …it was fairly close.
Interviewer: Your father was saying perhaps you will be liberated soon.
Fischel: Liberated and then you decide whatever you want. And really, every night, we went down always listened and it came closer and closer.
Interviewer: You could tell the fighting was getting close.
Fischel: It was closer. ‘Til in May 1st, about…the Americans were on the highway between Dachau-Munich and the cannon behind the camp…this will shoot at the tanks and the tanks shoot back.
Interviewer: You could see the German shooting at the Americans and you could see the Americans shooting at the Germans.
Fischel: Shooting back.
Interviewer: So, you knew that…you knew it was close.
Fischel: It was on our head. After three days, the Germans ran away, the Americans occupied Munich, and the war ended.
Interviewer: This was in May of 1945.
Interviewer: Right after Passover. And what…do you remember when you saw the Americans come into your camp to liberate you? Do you remember where you were, or what you were doing, or what you saw?
Fischel: I…I was…I was numb. I didn’t feel any… I felt I’m happy that I’m liberated. Lucky my father was with me. He didn’t let me…he knew how to feed me. What he did, instead of what other people did, the Americans brought in right away the spam, and meat, and everything. And people eat and got diarrhea from the food and they dies from the food My father said …
Interviewer: Let me make sure I understand. The Americans brought food. But, when the prisoners suddenly started eating this food, they got diarrhea and they died.
Fischel: They died. And my father instead of it, every two hours, he woke me up. He give me two biscuits and a small…one ounce of the condensed milk.
Interviewer: He gave you biscuits.
Fischel: Two biscuits every hour. Two biscuits and one ounce of…of the milk…the condensed milk.
Interviewer: Condensed milk. So, in other words, he just wanted you to eat a little bit.
Fischel: For three weeks, he didn’t let me eat nothing else except the biscuit. And by then, my stomach slowly got better, then he starts giving me other foods too…foods too.
Interviewer: He understood that you needed to gradually…
Fischel: Yeah. Gradually…
Interviewer: …begin eating better.
Fischel: Some people, couldn’t…they didn’t have patience, could not control themselves, ate whatever it was, spam, and then…
Fischel: Yeah. This…this…
Interviewer: So, your father was a wise man who saved you…
Interviewer: …in many different ways.
Fischel: Yeah. Exactly. And then…then the British army was a brigade of Jewish soldiers…the Jewish Brigade, they came. They offered us recruiting us to Palestine if we want to go with them down south to Italy. In a boat, they’re gonna take us to Palestine.
Interviewer: The British Jewish soldiers…
Interviewer: …said you can come with us and we’ll take you to Palestine.
Fischel: Palestine. And this is what they did. They took us down to Italy in Bologna ‘til about January `46. January `46, we went to Genoa. In the boat, we got to Palestine that time. And the British put us in a in a so called prison and not leave, but thank God they give us three meals a day and I was…I saw people demonstrating “free the Jews, don’t hold them not leave” because the British put us in prison.
Interviewer: People were protesting and saying…
Interviewer: let the Jews out of the prison in Palestine.
Fischel: And I said, “No. What do you want from them? Thank God they’re giving me three meals a day. I don’t mind to stay here forever.”
Interviewer: You were happy in the British…
Interviewer: …because you were treated well.
Fischel: Yeah. By then, they let us go out and then we choose where to be and I was send with…it was called Alliat Hadoar. I was half an hour studying and half an hour working in the kibbutz. I was working in Kibbutz Kfar Sot. I was there ‘til…from 1946 to 1950. 1950, Iwent out to serve the Israeli army two years. In the meantime, my father and my sister came out to Israel, and I was living in Tiberias ‘til 1964.
Interviewer: You were living where?
Fischel: Tiberias, Israel. Tiberias.
Interviewer: That’s the name of the…
Fischel: The town.
Interviewer: The town.
Fischel: Next to the Sea of the Galilee and the…
Interviewer: You say your father and your sister came to see you in Pal… in Israel. Where were they? Did they went back to…
Fischel: Went back to Romania.
Interviewer: After the war, they went back…
Fischel: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: …to Romania.
Fischel: Unfortunately, my father couldn’t get in the…four family house that he wanted to sell. He couldn’t get one room for himself. Communist took it away and he couldn’t get nothing out from the house.
Interviewer: Oh, that’s right. You remind us that after the war, Romania, where he went back to, became a communist dictatorship.
Interviewer: So, he went from one dictatorship to another.
Fischel: And then he ended up…he left, came out to Israel, and he lived in Jerusalem, and…but he was very broken because his wife…my mother… younger brother, sister didn’t came back.
Interviewer: Did you say he was a broken man?
Fischel: Yeah. And he said always to me two things I’m…I’m going to die with two things. I have no answer to it. He said, “One question is how come a nation who had Bach and Beethoven go down so low that kill people, women, children, everything? I have no answer for this how could it happen?” Second question, he said, “Take six years to kill six million Jews. Where were the world? Why didn’t the world act?” Unfortunately, I have…He didn’t have an answer. I have an answer. There is no world. Today, you have in Syria more than…almost half million people, woman, children, babies are killed and nobody says nothing. Today, they have so many independent Arab countries, yet Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia…so many…even…nobody says one word. And he continues to kill the people. Killed all people. Not Jewish people. And nobody answers it. There’s no world.
Interviewer: You survived all this physically and mentally. How did you do that? What is your…what…how do you think you survived so well?
Fischel: In camp, I had a problem with my teeth. So, I went…it was a dentist…a non-Jewish dentist in the non-Jewish camp. He did it and then he became my friend. He told me one thing. “You go out from here. Think that everyone…forget about it. You go out like you just born now. A new man. A new world. Forget.” Because he said this is like a very strong poison. “You swallow it. You have two choices. Let it dissipate, or yes, or no or bring it up and you burn again your throat. Don’t…don’t…Forget about it. Don’t think about it. Forget about it. Try a new world. Get married, children, and forget about the past. You live for the future.” And that’s the way I did it. I never…this is…so, this is the first time I’m talking about the concentration camp. I didn’t talk…never talked before because I didn’t want to…not to aggravate me and other people. And that’s the only way I survived, but not talk…ignoring what happened.
Interviewer: I see. You’re saying you survived by not looking backward, but by looking forward in your life. And you’re not a…why are you…some people would say you should be bitter. Why are you not bitter do you think?
Fischel: It wouldn’t help. I came to conclusion to be bitter and everyday crying wouldn’t help. Only one thing could help. Forget about it. Don’t…don’t think of it. Think more on the present and the future. Don’t think much about the past. You can’t fix it anyway. It happened. It hurt you. Leave it there. Forget about it. I was able to overcome it.
Interviewer: Do you think it’s important though that at least today people are reminded of what happened? Do you think it’s important that young people learn about the Holocaust in school?
Fischel: It’s important. But you have to also remind them whatever happens now in Syria how the people kill each other, killing young children, without excuse killing a couple hundred thousand people and you see it on the TV, people are gassed, people are killed, and nobody reacts to it. So, no… no reason to be bitter. It’s a fact that we have to live with it.
Interviewer: Just recently, there was a news report about a public opinion survey, and it showed that most Americans do believe that the Holocaust happened, but they are very…most people are ignorant about how many people were killed. Many people don’t even know what Auschwitz was. Does that worry you that people…today’s people have forgotten much of what other people used to know about the Holocaust?
Fischel: I think if you really forget, things will repeat. Things will repeat and then we…and today, things are much more developed. We have H bombs, all the things. I don’t know how…when I’m thinking H bomb that was thrown on Japan, women, children were killed. Not the…those who had to be punished, they escaped. Who were punished? Women, children, and this who stayed home.
Interviewer: Innocent people.
Fischel: Again, not the right people were punished. It’s same thing. Most of the Nazis escaped to Argentina, all this. They escaped. That’s why I didn’t even ask from Germany any money. I didn’t ask money ‘til I didn’t come here. I didn’t ask them. I was strong and able to work. I didn’t ask any money from Germany. I know not the real people who should be paying me are there. They escaped. Those who pay me are not…it’s not their fault.
Interviewer: Are you saying that you did not receive reparations?
Fischel: No. Not ‘til two years ago that I felt that I cannot do it myself. ‘Til then, I said I could work, make a living. I don’t need their help. I do it myself.
Interviewer: Only two years ago did you start to get money…
Fischel: Two years ago.
Interviewer: …from the German government…
Interviewer: …for what you went through.
Interviewer: Huh. Because as you said…
Fischel: I needed help.
Interviewer: …you needed help then. So, you currently get a check.
Interviewer: You get some money.
Fischel: I just hope that the next Holocaust will not be in my life. And about their lives, I cannot worry much about it.
Interviewer: We know that the people who went through the Holocaust, people like you, you’re getting older and older and many of the survivors are dying now.
Interviewer: At some point, there will be no more survivors to tell the story. Does that worry you?
Fischel: No. That’s the normal way to go by. You’re getting older. You dying.
Interviewer: The fact that you are telling your story today for the first time and people will be able to read about your experience, do you think that will help?
Fischel: If the right people believe it is good, but I’m not…I don’t think the right people have the intention to do something wrong if you read it. They’re not interested in reading it.
Interviewer: How hard…how difficult is it for you to think back about the Holocaust?
Fischel: Now that I am close to get to the other side…
Interviewer: Now that you’re close to get to the other side.
Fischel: Side. Sometimes I’m worrying, meeting my younger brother and sister. They will ask me tell me how come you survived, how come we couldn’t survive? And the problem is I have no answer for them. I have no answer. By what happened was because I was two years older, I survived. They did not survive.
Interviewer: Sometimes people say the reason you survived is so that you could tell the story, so there would be someone left to tell the story.
Fischel: That’s maybe excuse for me what happened to the younger brother and sister. Why couldn’t they survive? If I didn’t have…I have…Thank God I’m…I have four children. I have eight…17 grandchildren. And I have 18 great grandchildren, but that’s a…
Fischel: I was…I married it…to have it and they didn’t get married for what? Just because I was three years older? Sometimes I feel guilty why they didn’t survive. I was 15. My younger brother and sister were really innocent children. Went to school. Everything. They definitely didn’t deserve this type of punishment.
Interviewer: How has the Holocaust affected how you, how you believe in God or don’t believe in God?
Fischel: I don’t think he controls everything. Certain things are done without any control. He doesn’t control every movement every…for every…every person. I must say it that way. I wouldn’t be quiet or satisfied telling that he controls everything, he controlled the Germans who did it. No way. If yes, I would be really angry at him. But I think he does not control everything.
Interviewer: So, you still believe in God.
Fischel: Yes. Yes. Generally, yes. I believe, but I’m…sometimes there’s a problem and I think it…when I would like to think that he controls everything and still let everythings happen in Auschwitz, it doesn’t make sense. And the sense is that he punished the babies, children, women, older people, younger people. They definitely didn’t sin. If he had to punish, he should punish those aged 18. Eighteen ‘til 45. After those people, you didn’t punish. It was some of the…it was between those ages survived. And that’s why I say he doesn’t control everything. It is more convenient for me to think that he doesn’t control. It happened. He doesn’t control everything.
Interviewer: Despite your questions about God, you became a rabbi.
Fischel: Yeah. Better than…especially I became a rabbi in the old aged home. I dealed many with people at end of life problems and I was able to deal with it with the residents and also with their families.
Interviewer: You became a rabbi in your older years.
Fischel: I was a rabbi before, but the last 25 years I worked in old age home. And I was easy…easygoing with the patients. I was able tell them people don’t die. People pass away just. People pass away from this world to another world. There’s two worlds. Is passing away from this world to the other world. It doesn’t die. Die mean…to die means to end completely. No. He pass away…That’s why you say he passed away ‘cause he been passed away. Passed away from this world to other world. And maybe there I’ll find out if he…God controls everything. But why does it that he allow to happen what happened in Auschwitz?
Interviewer: With that very important question, let’s end our interview now with Rabbi Marton Fischel on this, the 18th day of April 2018. I’m Bill Cohen doing this interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. Rabbi Fischel, thank you very much.
Fischel: You’re welcome.