Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Bernard & Emery Klein - May 23, 1984


A couple of questions about the movie, about the town. Do you remember ever experiencing any anti-Semitism in Humenné before the war?

E: Before the war? B: Until 1939, until the Slovakia became autonomous, separated from the rest of the Czechoslovakia and immediately joined the Axis, okay, in other words, the Nazi rule uh, outwardly there was very little anti-Semitism that we would be aware of. Here and there, you could hear a remark, but it was not really...

E: Special. B: ...a vicious kind...

E: No. B: It's just a, more or less an expression.

E: As children, we certainly did not experience any anti-Semitism. We were going to public school with non-Jewish kids; we had friends who were non-Jewish kids. I would say, and I'm sure you would confirm, that we as children had never, never run into any anti-Semitism before the war. B: No, that's what I was saying.

E: Whereas it became quite obvious when, in 1939. B: It started rapidly with the Slovakia breaking away.

E: Breaking autonomous.

Tell me how you began to experience it. What were some of the first things you remember changing in your lives in 1939?

E: Well, first of all, uh... B: Well, when the first restrictions came out, we, of course, had curfews, which started with curfews. We had restrictions as to places to go to. For instance, as you happen to see on the movie, the center of town, later on, was developed into a kind of a promenade and uh, people would go out there to walk. There were benches to sit down and relax. And soon after 1939, a sign was put up uh, "Jews, Gypsies and Dogs Not Allowed."

E: There was a loud speaker in middle of town on which we heard various different announcements. There was, almost became as time went on, a daily occurrence with the various different restrictions against the Jews. We, for example, had a curfew. No Jews could go out the moment it uh, it got dark. As a matter of fact uh, our neighbors to visit us, the only way we were able to do this, we kind of made an opening in our backyard fence so they could come over in the evening and spend a social evening. But we would never dare to go out in the street. Especially we were living on a main street, which was very much patrolled. This was in the early days and then it became uh, more, worse and worse uh... B: Well, it became the yellow band...

E: The yellow band. B: Yellow star.

E: Yellow star, and then... B: And then it came, the, the Jews were not allowed to own any businesses and they had to have an Aryan take over.

What happened to your father's business then?

E: We had uh, some of our employees were with us for many, many years. My dad originally had asked his oldest employee, who was with him at that time probably 25 or more years, to became the official Aryan, but still my dad retaining, our dad retaining the ownership, which worked only for a very, very short few months because then uh, he or his family advised him that why do you need Klein to be the owner? And one day he just came and told my father that he's worried that with this type of arrangement that he would really, he wants to really be the owner and that's it. And my father can work for him but it's, that's the arrangement. And that's what happened because, obviously, our dad had no choice about it. So, this way, the store was no longer ours. When it came to the brick manufacturing factory, that automatically was taken away because it happened to be a bigger business. The state, they took it over and appointed some Aryan, a non-Jewish manager and that was it. The farms, as we mentioned to you before, there was a decree where all Jewish farms were taken away by the state, a state law... B: They were nationalized.

E: They were nationalized. And because they needed people to run these various different Jewish farms and businesses and so on, in the case of farms they appointed so-called advisors, the Jews who owned most of the land were appointed to be the advisors. Now... B: Soon then they started gathering people, started transporting people to the concentration camps. And it started in Humenné in 1941 with the single girls. Then followed by single boys and then in early 1942, they started taking all those families who were economically not important for the city or the state and when these certain businesses including certain farms that were organized. They did not have enough capable uh, people to run it, so they retained the Jews as economically important and that was the exemption for such Jewish families to stay on. That's how we managed it, I already mentioned, to stay on till 1944, other than be taken away in 1942 when the bulk of the Jewish population of Slovakia was transported to concentration camps.

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