Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Samuel Offen - December 27, 1981


Okay, so you went back to, to Mauthausen. It was near the end of the war, right?

Well, that was, that was near the end of wa...it was, it must have been March already. Or maybe it was even April. The Germans were obviously beginning to be a little bit in disarray or something. They took us back to the main camp of Mauthausen. And again, a lot of deportation and executions started there. A lot of my friends were taken out, outside of camp, in the forest and executed. And again you could hear the artillery closer and closer. And we knew that liberation was at hand. But how do we survive? What can we do to just last a few more weeks, just maybe even a few more days. We just didn't know. We just--we had no knowledge of eve...we had no newspapers or anything or to know what was going on. We knew nothing about it. But we could tell the Germans were a little bit in disarray. They were not as well organized as they were before. They were running around. And we didn't know what they were doing. We just did, absolutely did not know. One morning in May, I'll never forget it, 5th of May 1945. We get up one morning and we look out of the barrack and we see no guards. Now we didn't know what's, what's happening. If the guards were uh, concentrating in barrack, they were coming to get us to execute us or whatever. But it was quiet. There were no guns, there was nothing. We didn't know what was happening. And that whole day, there was no food, there was no s...there was nothing then. You know, we didn't know what to think of it. Towards evening, I think--the camp was on the hill, towards evening we see a few tanks approaching the camp. And we didn't know who it was or what it was. Then as--coming closer and closer and closer. And we just start seeing like a star on a camp or some such thing. And we still didn't know it was a Russian--we knew it wasn't German or any, because there was no swastika on it, on the tank. We knew it was the Russians or the Americans. Eventually, as they were getting closer and closer we recognized that they were American tanks coming to liberate us. Well, it has been oh, thirty-seven years since that happened. I cannot exactly recall my feelings that I had, but the exhilaration that went on, the shouts, the cries. A...absolutely indescribable. And I wish I could recall it more vividly than I do right now, but time has elapsed and I just can't be as, you know, as jubilant as I was at that time. But--and that day that, on May 5th, 1945, it's like, I had told my wife, told my children, told everybody, like I was reborn. A new day started in my life. I was just--in fact, that's when I was born practically, you could say. That's when I started a new life. Of course, many problems started in. Finding out the sad news about our families, about our sicknesses if we're going to live through it, because we were just walking skeletons.

What did you weigh in there?

Uh, I don't know. But as you've seen in pictures shown all over, with the hollowed cheeks and skeletons, that's what I looked like. I don't know, what could it have been? Sixty, seventy pounds? That's all. My brother Nat was even in worse shape than I was. That's another story. He was, suffered from--I was sick, but I wasn't as sick as he was. He had dysentery, plus, a, a certain of other thing, a liver or something, something with his liver. And doctors gave him up. They say, "He's not going to survive because he's too far gone." Uh, miraculously, through all kinds of things, he survived. You see, what happened was after we were liberated for about, for a few weeks, the American Army was so good to us that they were too good to us. They gave us almost anything they had. Now remember, after...We started eating rich food. Uncontrollably! Uncontrollably-- totally. People used to gorge themselves. Many of my friends had died of dysentery after the war, after the liberation. They just--their eyes were larger than their stomachs. They just couldn't contain themselves. They had to eat and eat and eat. My brother was in such a stage. But I don't know what happened somehow--we did not eat that food. For some reason we could see that this was going to be the end of us if we didn't stop eating. My brother was very sick. He could hardly walk. I started walking--we were free already, but we're still living in the same concentration, but we're free, we could anything we wanted, but we couldn't do much. Where could you go? There were no trains, no transportation out, no clothing. And the American Army wasn't around us that much. They could--they helped us, whatever they could and they were just wonderful. But they were not organized themselves, they were still in a state of war, they were still chasing the Germans. The war was not over yet. I used to go to the Austrian villages and beg for food, a piece of bread, a piece of butter, an egg or something. And I used to bring the food to my brother and he would eat a little. And, and me too, a little of regular food a little more and more and more. And this is the way that somehow we survived. We got cured, we didn't--now, a few weeks later, an American Army hospital in a, uh, eh, set up their tents and they took us into the hospital and then they started with, introduce feeding re...regular medical, medical uh, procedures. And that is how we're able to survive. But the--for these first few weeks until the American uh, uh, uh, field hospital came in, many, many of my friends died for no reason. For no reason other than they started gorging themselves with all these rich foods.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn