Peter P.

A Survivor of Auschwitz
Victoria Holocaust Symposium '97

Peter P. was born on February 1, 1927 in Vienna, Austria. He had one sister a little older than him. His parents divorced when he was three years old and Peter was raised by his mother. They were poverty-stricken and life was very difficult. They lived in rental apartments and moved often. The home wasn't religious and Peter considered himself Viennese. Peter had some non-Jewish friends, and felt that he could handle the anti-Semitism which he experienced.

In April 1938 the Germans came into Vienna and life changed over night. Some Jews were beaten up. Peter saw their sidelocks being cut off and felt frightened. Suddenly his kind teachers were now Nazis and his best friend was told he couldn't play with him. Although Peter still attended school, all Jewish children had to sit at the back of the class and were called "Moses" or "Sarah". They were told that Jews used Christian blood to make matzah (unleavened bread). Peter's father had Czechoslovakian citizenship so Peter and his mother and sister were allowed to move to Czechoslovakia.

In Czechoslovakia it was suggested that Peter and his sister attend a German school. In May 1939 the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia. Peter's mother obtained a position as an au pair in England and was told that it would be easier to send for the children later. Peter and his sister went to live with their grandparents in Brussels. Passage was arranged for them to travel by boat to England on May 17, 1940. The Germans invaded on May 10, 1940 and the children were trapped.

Peter and his sister continued to attend school but they were isolated from the other children. They refused to wear the Yellow Star, and as they were now illegals, began to live on the streets. Peter got a job as a sculptor' s assistant. The sculptor didn't know that Peter was Jewish. One day he was picked up by two men who took him to Gestapo headquarters. He learned later that his sister had gone to a convent the next day where she hid for the rest of the war.

From Gestapo headquarters Peter was taken to Auschwitz. There were ninety people in each cattle car on the train. A few died in each car before they even reached Auschwitz. There was one man with them who had been on a earlier transport and had escaped and knew what was awaiting them. As they arrived in Auschwitz it was either dawn or dusk. There were soldiers lined up, dogs barking and a selection process. Three hundred men, including Peter, were sent to one side. The rest were sent to the gas chamber. As they marched through the camp, people told Peter that the smoke from the chimneys was from burning bodies, but Peter didn't believe them.

The first night he was put in a barrack with three hundred men. They were all stripped naked, inspected and sent for delousing. They had to run two kilometres in the ice cold weather, shower and then run back. They were tattooed issued clothing and then held in quarantine for two weeks.

The entire experience at Auschwitz was one of dehumanization. The guards tried to reduce the prisoners to an animal state. The camp doctor would decide who was ill and who would be gassed. Peter had hepatitis and tuberculosis and had no medication.

During this time, Peter was sent to the Warsaw ghetto for one year. While there, he worked at pulling the bricks out of the buildings that were still standing. He could hear people who were still in hiding.

As the Russians advanced, a forced march west started. It was a five day march during which many were killed. Peter's head was cracked open by a soldier's rifle and he passed out. They arrived at Dachau. Peter was then sent to Upper Bavaria where he worked on a human chain supplying cement to mixers. In the spring of 1945 they were put on a train to Austria. The train stopped at Munich and then at a spa town. There, the Guards heard the war had ended and disappeared. Then the German People's Army started shooting and the guards reappeared.

Finally, the Americans arrived. The commander was a Jewish lieutenant from New York. He made the local population file past the piles of dead bodies.

Later, Peter found his sister in Brussels. They both went to Scotland to join their mother. Peter spent fourteen years in Glasgow. Although he could have attended school, he preferred to remain free and took up mountain climbing and started to work in the clothing industry. Peter felt like he had died during the war and this was a second chance at life.

In later years, Peter spoke in general about the war, but rarely told people details. For years he couldn't stand to hear German. After the war his sister and her husband, and then his mother, moved to Canada. In 1959 Peter joined them. Peter moved to Vancouver in 1966.

He believes that Canada is precious, but that we must not be smug. We must be on guard against prejudice of any kinds.


Offered by the

Victoria Holocaust Remembrance and Education Society