Bill G.

Experiences In Hungry during WWII
Victoria Holocaust Symposium '97

Bill G. was born in Satu Mare, Rumania on August 9, 1930. He had a sister born in 1924, and a brother born in 1927. His family lived on the outskirts of town in a middle class neighbourhood with both Jewish and gentile neighbours. They had their own house and his father worked as a tinsmith.

Bill's father had been born in Satu Mare. His mother was born in a village about 10 miles away. His mother was raised in an orthodox family with eleven children. His family attended synagogue once a month and on holidays. Satu Mare was a very religious town and by its standards his family was not considered very orthodox. He attended public school and went to cheder twice a week until 1940, when the restrictions on religious education were implemented.

Anti-Semitism was the predominant way of life in Satu Mare. Despite this, many Jews in 1939 thought Hitler's propaganda was exaggeration. Even when escaping refugees from Poland and the Ukraine began to arrive, Satu Mare Jews did not feel insecure. Bill's father had been decorated by the Hungarians in World War I and he felt secure in his position. Once the Hungarians took over their area of Rumania in 1940 conditions worsened.

As a child, Bill's most immediate worries concerned boys who beat him up on the streets. He was small, but he had a reputation as someone who sooner or later would get even. His uncle encouraged him to fight back. He believes now that his uncle was trying to prepare him for what was ahead.

After the German takeover in 1940, anti-Jewish laws were enacted. Civil liberties were eroded and Jews had no protection whatsoever. Once the Germans arrived in Satu Mare, all Jews had to register and wear the Yellow Star of David. The G.'s were still together as a family, except for Bill's brother who was sent to Budapest for safety.

One day in 1944 a cart pulled by two horses stopped at their house. They were told to take what they could and prepare to leave. They knew they were being taken to the ghetto. As they followed the cart some of the neighbours looked the other way, others pretended not to see them and still others laughed.

In the ghetto two families would share one room. After a week of close proximity to one another and no food, they were happy to hear that they were going to be taken to a farm. They were told to take no food, little clothing and all their valuables and jewelry. They were stuffed into cattle Fars and locked inside.

There were two Hungarian guards in each car. They threatened to shoot the Jews if they didn't hand over their jewelry. After two days the train stopped at a town called Kassa. At Kassa they were turned over to the Germans. They continued on to Birkenau and were separated into male and female groups. Bill's father told him to stand straight and say that he was seventeen years old and a good worker. They remained together and were shaven, deloused and showered. After that, another "selection" separated Bill from his father, who was taken to a labour camp.

Now Bill was alone. He began to cry for his mother and two rough looking prisoners came up to him. They told him he was young and strong and they urged him to do everything in his power to survive. Bill was in Birkenau for about two months. Then he was selected to go to Meldorf in central Germany to work in an underground airplane repair station.

They worked very hard under terrible conditions. He instructed the others on how to get rid of lice and tried to give them moral support. The food they received was scarcely enough to sustain an inactive person. Bill's job was to carry heavy cement bags from one platform to another. As he was so small and worked so hard, the Germans used him as an example and he would often get lighter duties.

He never became ill in the camp and usually managed to stay in good physical shape. However, when he did become weakened from the work he would sneak into the kitchen. He knew the names of the officers in charge of the various areas and said that they had sent him.

Once he approached the head of the camp who was a German political prisoner and very brutal. He said, "Big Chief, I am small and weak and can't do all this work. I'd gladly do it if only they would give me enough to eat." The man's mouth dropped open and he said, "You goddamn Jew, come with me." He took Bill to the kitchen and told the cooks to give him food or they would be beaten to death.

Meldorf was a main railway junction and it was often bombed. Once a train full of sugar was hit. They were told to shovel the sugar back into the bags. Bill smuggled sugar into the camp and used it to trade for other things.

At the end of the war the prisoners were told to pack up and were put on a train. Bill was with two men who were Berliners. The German officer in charge of their train was also from Berlin. They were being taken to an extermination point. The prisoners guaranteed the German officer safety if he would save the people on the train. As they neared their destination, the officer told the locomotive driver not to stop. Instead, they stopped at other stations searching for the Americans. At one town the officer learned that the war was over. Everyone ran away from the train. Bill went to a farm horse to ask for some bread. A Waffen SS officer found him and forced him to run towards the train station while he held a pistol to Bill's head.

When they arrived at the station Bill was placed in a locked train. The next day the American planes bombed the train. The lock on the car was blown open and Bill was able to escape and hide. American troops found him and took to the hospital.

After the war the Red Cross published lists of names of survivors and Bill was able to find his father. In August 1945, they returned to Satu Mare. His brother had survived in Bucharest and his sister had survived the camps. His mother died in the gas chambers.

In March 1945 the Palestinian Brigade smuggled the family from Austria into American-occupied Germany. There Bill heard about the special children's' transport sponsored by Canadian Jewish Congress and he registered for it.

Bill went to Montreal. Later his brother and father came to Canada as well. In 1962 he married, and he and his wife have lived in both Canada and Israel. In 1975 they settled in British Columbia with their children.

HOLOCAUST EDUCATION SYMPOSIUM

Offered by the

Victoria Holocaust Remembrance and Education Society