Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Abraham Pasternak - August 13, 1984

Talking about Experience

Did you talk to other people about it?

Uh, no, somehow in the beginning when we came over to this country, they uh, like my uncle used to introduce me this is Abe Pasternak, my nephew who just came over from Europe, he was in a concentration camp. And that was left. And all of a sudden, we started... My first sentence in English, really English, was this, "If you laugh, everybody laughs with you and if you cry, you cry by yourself." It never occurred to me why would anyone tell me that, that story. And it was not one individual who told me this, many of them said it. I guess uh, I went to Los Angeles, I stayed there for four weeks, but that was uh, that was not my lifestyle. I was not used to it, maybe nothing was appealing to me. Uh, I was uh, I didn't know what I really wanted. The only thing I do remember, I wanted to go in the corner and cry. Cry myself out pretty good but I wasn't able to do it either. But I managed and I uh, I was in uh, drafted, I got here in '47, 1947, and I was drafted in 1948. I went into the army late '48, I was drafted for twenty-one months. I went into the army late '48. My first basic training was in Breckenridge, Kentucky. Somehow, I found a uh, as they say, a home in the army. Then they found out that I uh, I was in a concentration camp, they turned me over to a psychologist. And he asked me about my experiences, but he didn't, he couldn't speak uh, I didn't speak English well at the time and he didn't speak Yiddish. So there was a, a frustration uh, between, uh... It was frustrated, frustration, frustrating for him and it was frustrating, I mean, for, for me. And he picked out that much that I was a yeshiva bucher, so I was assigned and they really needed somebody who should be able to daven and conduct services, so they made me an acting Chaplain. And they took me to school and I started to pick up the language and would you believe it, in addition to my activities as an acting Chaplain, I was the TIP man, I was Troop Information Program. I had a hard time, I mean, to read that bulletin which I was supposed to talk to them about it. But having been familiar, familiar with a little bit of European history and geography and a little bit of the area, so I was able to make out and mostly at that particular time, you know, it was the Wall, the wall that the East Germans were building, so this is where I was assigned to talk about. And I managed.

When you were made Chaplain, after going through what you went through, did you at any time um, lose faith?

No. I was very religious in the uh, in concentration camp. In fact, while I was in Buchenwald, we had access to some paper and pencil and, you know, Jews always stick together, we wrote down the, the prayers. And I remember many Hungarians, people who were not religious at home, said to me, "Please say some prayer with me." We did. We always used to daven. After we got out of the concentration camp, that's when we started to question. While we were there, we didn't. Anybody who got a hold of a Siddur and there was, because there was a group of people from Czestochowa came and they were able to bring some tefillin and oh, to put on tefillin. They used to surround you, you know, put on to something uh, my God, that was uh, like having a loaf of bread, eating a loaf of bread.

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