Born: February 18, 1911
Erich was one of five children born to observant Jewish parents. They lived in Vsetin, a town in Czechoslovakia's Moravia region that straddled the border with Slovakia. Some 70 Jewish families lived in the town of 12,500 persons. There, Erich's family owned a grocery store and operated a sawmill. Erich attended a trade school where he became an expert in lumber and forestry.
1933-39: The Germans kept Erich's family's sawmill operating after they occupied their region in March 1939. Since Erich had a permit to work in the forests, he helped Czech soldiers flee Moravia through the woods into unoccupied Slovakia. Once, when a group of escapees was seized, the Gestapo arrested him. At their prison in Brno-Spielberg Erich was tortured: he was forced to hold up buckets of water while they burned his chest with cigarettes.
1940-44: Then Erich was sent to Nazi camps--Dachau in 1940, Hamburger-Neuengamme in 1941, and Auschwitz in 1942. In Auschwitz he was in a maintenance squad fixing wheel bearings, locks, pipes--anything metal. They were even made to repair leaky pipes in the crematorium. One day, while fixing a broken wagon, Erich watched as prisoners dug up thousands of corpses buried in mass graves--gassing victims. The decayed bodies were moved on small wagons to a pile some distance away and doused with gasoline. The pyre of bodies was torched.
Erich later escaped with his 11-year-old son from a transport to Mauthausen. He returned to Czechoslovakia and was a witness in the trial of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess.