Auschwitz survivor tells his tale (JERUSALEM POST) By SHIRA TEGER 01/27/05)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
Marvin Mayer, formerly Schmidmayer, does not want the Holocaust
Like many survivors, he fears that in 20 – 30 years when he is gone,
the Holocaust will be relegated to history books.
So for years, Mayer has been speaking in high schools around the New
York area and has accompanied groups to Poland on The March of the
Living, telling his personal tale of the horrors of the Holocaust.
On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Mayer
told his story to The Jerusalem Post.
Marvin Mayer was just a teen in 1944 when the Nazis invaded his town
of Bistritz, in Romania. The family fled their home in Dumitra in
1940 after pogroms destroyed their windows and tore down their
doors. So the anti-Semitism of the Nazis was not a new reality they
had to face.
However, the trials the family suffered were entirely new. After a
brief stint in a ghetto, the family was shipped off to Auschwitz-
Mayer´s mother was 46 when she was killed that first night in
Birkenau, most likely because she wanted to attend to an ailing
neighbor that was taken with them.
Mayer spent about seven months in Auschwitz with his father,
marching daily to work in a furniture factory right outside of the
camp, where the prisoners made beautiful bedroom sets for SS
officers. An orchestra accompanied the group as they left.
In January, before the Russians liberated the camp, Mayer and his
father were taken out on a death march. They trudged by night
through the knee-deep snow for four or five days, resting in forests
during the daytime and subsisting off of nearly nothing.
Twenty thousand people died on that march; people were shot every
few seconds. Mayer is still shocked by the sheer numbers, calling
the murder of 20,000 people in four nights "mind boggling." He
attributes his survival to his father: "If not for my father, I
would not be here."
While other people would lie down in the snow to sleep, Mayer and
his father would sleep hugging each other back-to-back. His father
informed him that if they were to lie down in the snow, they would
catch pneumonia and die.
On the fifth night, the remaining prisoners arrived at Gros Rosen.
They were there for about two weeks, and according to Mayer, "it was
just a horror." They were given only coffee for nourishment, and the
ground was more like muddy clay than anything else.
There, too, Mayer says his father saved him. They were all crammed
into barracks with no room to lie down, but the Mayers got a spot by
the window. That way, they could climb out to go to the bathroom and
then climb back in.
From Gros Rosen, Mayer and his father were transported by open
cattle car to Buchenwald. At the train station in Buchenwald, the
prisoners remained in the cattle cars while the guards stood a small
distance from them.
Mayer heard loud noises. "I looked up and saw a bunch of planes.
They looked like silver birds." The planes began to swoop down and
bomb the station. They did not strike the cattle cars, though. One
of the bombs ripped open a wagon filled with cabbages. After days of
starvation, Mayer wanted to jump down and eat some cabbage. His
father held him back, though, telling him that cabbage on such an
empty stomach would tear him apart. In fact, many of those who ate
the cabbage died a short while later.
Mayer was in Buchenwald for a few days. By the time he arrived, his
pants were torn at the knees. His father tied rags around him to
keep him from freezing, and when one of the prisoners died in the
barracks, Mayer´s father traded his ration of one slice of bread and
a slab of fat to for the dead man´s clothing. "Even there, he bought
me a pair of pants."
A few days after the purchase, there was a selection in the camp.
Mayer was told to go to the left, his father to the right. That
night, they were in separate barracks. Mayer cried to the Jewish
guard of his barrack, begging for a chance to go say goodbye to his
father. The next morning, the guard managed to get Mayer a pass to
go to his father´s barrack.
In Mayer´s family, they had a custom that the father would bless the
children every Yom Kippur. With his pass, Mayer went to his
father. "He put his hands on my head. He blessed me," Mayer told The
Jerusalem Post, trying to hold back his tears. "He said we´d see
each other back at home."
That was the last time Mayer saw his father.
The next camp he was sent to was Bisingen, where he remained for two
or three weeks, working in a mine trying to make oil from hot shale
When the order came to evacuate the camp, Mayer had a choice to go
by train to Daut Mergen, or to leave on foot. At the advice of
some "older guys," Mayer went by foot. All those who had boarded the
train were killed by machine gun strafing.
When the marchers reached a meadow, the German soldiers jumped into
a truck, fleeing. Mayer could hear the shooting of the French army,
not far away.
After that, Mayer spent time in a French displaced persons camp, and
then in an American one. In the US camp, Mayer registered to go to
America. He arrived in the US in 1947 and met Arlene, an opera
singer who later became his wife.
His brother and sister, who also survived the war, live in Florida
and Los Angeles, respectively.
After serving in the US Army training new recruits on guns for the
Korean War, Mayer married Arlene and began his "43 year honeymoon."
The Mayers lived in New York, where Marvin taught woodworking in
high schools. They have four children, three of whom live in the US,
and one of whom lives in Modi´in, in Israel.
Arlene passed away in February 1996, and Marvin recently purchased
an apartment in Modi´in. When he moves into it at the end of April,
he will commence lecturing about the Holocaust in area high schools.
(© 1995-2004, The Jerusalem Post 01/27/05)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY