Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Paul Molnar - July 24, 2002

Arrival at Birkenau

What did it smell like?

Uh, it was hazy and there was a lot of smoke and there was a lot of fire. They had these tall, tall chimneys of which fire was coming out and this was early in the morning and uh. It's just uh, smoke. It was uh, you know, I smelled the smoke, I could smell that it was you know, they were burning something. But I, you know, I had no idea, I mean I-nothing. So they started marching us down on this narrow road and we got to a clearing. At this clearing they had uh, numerous German officers and uh, they were directing us and they had roads leading to the right and to the left uh, from this clearing, this. And they told people go to the left and go to the right, go to the left, go to the right. Uh, my mother and I-we were told to go to the left. And my grandmother and little brother was eleven, were told to go to the right. Well, at this point my mother said to me uh, "Paul," uh, "you're the oldest and you're, look after yourself better than your grandma and your little brother, so I better go with them and we'll get together later in the day and we'll meet again." And I said "Okay, I gave her a hug." And my grandma and my little brother and my mother, they went to the right. Uh, she also told me, you go with your uncle Sam, who was my father's oldest brother and my cousin Otto who was uh, uh, same age as I was. We went to school from kindergarten on, we were always very good friends. I should just tell you about my uncle Sam. My uncle Sam was, was a highly decorated soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army in the First World War. He was one of the few Jewish officers. He was a war hero, uh. I have a photograph of him and he's, he's in the Kaiser's palace in Vienna where he's going to be decorated sometimes during the Sec...First World War. And when originally when they started passing Jewish laws prior to 1944, he was exempt from all the Jewish laws.


Because he was privileged because he was a war hero and you know, he was a Hungarian patriot. But after March 19, none of that mattered. The Germans came in, that was the end of that. So anyhow, I went with my uncle and my cousin and we marched on this long road and we got to another clearing. And we were told uh, "Now you'll be given a shower." So we all had to get up, we all-they told us, take your clothes off but keep your shoes. So we got all undressed and we were shaved from head to toe. And uh, right there on the outside and we were chased into the shower. And we ran into the shower, which was huge, maybe held five hundred to a thousand people, I don't know how many. And they turned on the water for a few minutes and then they shut off the cold water and then they, they had these big, big doors. They opened at the other side of me and they said, "Now you all go outside." So we went outside. And they had some long bench, long tables there and there were prisoners behind the tables. And they started handing out clothes to us and we each got the same thing they were wearing. We got a cap, we got a jacket, and we got a pair of pants, which we, which we tied with a string. And uh, some of us who were tall got pants and maybe they were too short or jackets and vice-versa, there were short people who got jackets and shirts and pants that were way too long because nobody measured us. And we were shaved and our head was shaved, we looked-so what happened to us was, we went to the shower and we looked like human beings and when we came through the shower and we came out we looked at each other and except that we weren't in the mood for laugh we looked comical. Because we didn't look like we went in. We didn't look like people anymore. We just looked like these funny looking creatures I saw at the train. And again they told us keep on marching and uh, we kept on going. And we got to this area which was all fenced in with wire fence and uh, big, big towers with uh, guards or up in the towers with machine guns, they were all over every corner. And we were marching to this place. And we. This was a big, big uh, place with I don't know how many barracks. Hundreds of barracks, I don't, I- you know, I have no-I didn't know it. So we saw families there. There were all these families. Were men and women with their children that we first saw. Well, we realized they were gypsies because of the way they dressed. And some of them spoke Hungarian. And they started talking to us and they said-now they couldn't talk to us because we had guys, but they yelled at-they said, "Welcome to hell." And off we went, and we went to the other part of this camp and we got to a barrack and they said everybody go inside, we went inside. There were a couple skylights on the roof, but otherwise it was all dark. It was concrete floor. And they told us sit. Maybe there were two to three hundred in this one barrack and we sat, we sat there, we didn't have any watches. We didn't have anything, they took everything away from us. The only thing we had was the clothes we were wearing, so we didn't know what time it was. We waited there a long, long time. Nobody talked to us. Nobody ever came in.

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