Arthur Karl Heinz Oertelt

Arthur Karl Heinz Oertelt

Born: January 13, 1921

Berlin, Germany

Heinz, as he was usually called, was born in the German capital to religious Jewish parents. He and his older brother, Kurt, attended both religious and public schools. His father had died when he was very young. His mother, a seamstress, struggled to make ends meet. She and the boys lived in a predominantly Christian neighborhood.

1933-39: It frightened me when Nazi storm troopers sang about Jewish blood dripping from their knives. But we didn't have money to leave Berlin. In late 1939 I was forced, with other Jews, to work for German construction companies. Many of us were professionals and businessmen unused to manual labor. We shoveled dirt and carried rocks by hand. Passersby would grin at us, and teachers brought students to show them what Jews looked like.

1940-44: In March 1943 Mother, Kurt and I were deported to Theresienstadt, where we soon became infested with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. We became obsessed with thoughts of food. Our soup was dished out from a huge barrel by lazy men who didn't bother to stir it, leaving the good food chunks near the bottom. I had to time myself just right. If I was at the front of the line I'd get mostly the watery parts. If I was too far back, I might get nothing at all or watery soup from the top of a newly arrived barrel.

Heinz was eventually liberated near Flossenbürg in April 1945, and emigrated to the United States in 1949. Kurt survived the war, but their mother perished in Auschwitz.