April 2008 * – As you or your friends celebrate Passover this April 19th, I hope you will remember another April 19th. This one was in 1943 and it was also the first night of Passover.
On that night, a 14-year old boy and his parents were loaded onto a cattle car that headed for Auschwitz. This is the story of that night.
The boy was born in Vienna, Austria, to middle-class Jewish parents; his mother was also born in Vienna and his father in Poland. They led an uneventful life until Hitler came to power. Following Kristallnacht in 1938, they fled to Antwerp, Belgium, and eventually settled in Brussels. In February 1943, the family was denounced. The boy and his parents were arrested and sent to Malines, a deportation camp in Belgium where the Nazis would collect Jews until they had enough for a transport to Auschwitz. For two months they waited; they were barely fed and the boy’s father was severely beaten up by a German guard in front of the boy for a minor infraction.
On the night of April 19, 1943, the family was part of Convoy XX – 1,631 Jews being shipped by cattle car to Auschwitz. They were numbers 722, 723, and 724 on the Nazis’ inventory of this shipment. A Nazi officer gave the boy’s father a white flag and a whistle, and told him that he was in charge of the particular car in which they were being loaded. He was told that if anyone tried to escape he was to alert the Nazis; if he did not the family would be killed. The father decided that the family would have to jump from the train because he would not turn in his fellow Jews.
In events that are stranger than life, on the train were some Dutch acrobats, who with the use of an old man’s cane, managed to open the latched window of the train. As the train barreled toward the German border, the family prepared to jump. The man pushed his wife from the train, and the boy watched as his mother appeared to roll toward the train’s wheels.
The boy was next. He did not want to be pushed, so he jumped on his own and scrambled up the track’s embankment. As he stood up at the top of the embankment, he felt a needle-like pain in his upper chest. He saw blood and realized he has been shot. Putting a handkerchief on the wound, he went searching for his parents, amidst the dead bodies of others who had been shot jumping from the train. Continue reading