Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

John Mandel - May 26, 1981

Arrival at Birkenau

When the doors to the train opened, what do you recall of the sights and sounds that confronted you?

Well, the first thing we saw there were some German troopers with uh, dogs uh, German shepherds on leashes. And there were some prisoners in their prison garb, striped uniform. And they, they were cracking whips and telling us in German "Macht schnell," which means move, let's get on with it. And uh, we got off the train um, of course uh, there were some people that couldn't get off the train. And then they started separating us.

[interruption in interview]

Then they began to separate us. At once uh, as we found out later, the ones that they deemed uh, uh, strong enough for labor went on one side. If I recall we went uh, we went on the left side of the track. And the other people, the uh, older people, the mothers for the young children and the young children and the sick, they all went on the right side. To give you an idea how ignorant we were of the fact as to what's going on, we found--we, we still had some food left. My father had uh, secured a little food and we still had some food left. And we found that my mother and my uh, two youngest brothers and uh, my si...my sister was the youngest were separated from us without any food. And so uh, uh, we had no idea how long we're going to be separated. So my father um, uh, uh, my young...uh, the--I am--I was the oldest of the family. And uh, my brother David who lives in Grand Rapids he was the second. And then uh, the third brother, his name would have been Sander, he was a third, he happened to be right next to my father and so my father took some--a part of the food out of this little uh, knapsack that he had and he told him to take that over to mom and come right back. Of course, once you got over on the other side there was no way to come back. Uh, this is how ignorant we were of the fact as to what was going on. And as, as a matter of fact, all these years uh, after we came to this country, my father left uh, lived with this horrible um, thing on his mind that he sent one of his children to his death. Of course he sent him over there to take some food to some of my brothers and sister and mom, and of course he couldn't come back, so. And it, it was--he, he lived with a terrible burden. Uh, he came, when we come over to this country uh, he married a, a very wonderful lady and uh, she would tell us that many times at night he would, he would wake up uh, calling my brother's name. Uh, he would just wake up in a cold sweat dreaming about that. That's just with him always.

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