Oral History

Beno Helmer describes conditions in the Lodz ghetto

As a young man, Beno used his foreign language skills to land small movie roles. He and his family were deported to the Lodz ghetto, where they struggled daily to find food. In the underground, Beno became an expert at derailing trains. The family was sent to Auschwitz and was separated. All but Beno and one sister, whom he found after the war, died. Beno survived a series of camps and later helped to track war criminals.


Wherever you went, you saw bodies dying. And this becomes part of, you know, [the] first two, three or four, you find them as a shock. But later, you find them...it's...you get quite used to them. It's...it's...it's like part of your nature. I mean, you just see a body and then you disassociate yourself completely from it. It's...it's...it's...it's completely somebody else. It's...it has nothing to do with you. Filth was also tremendous. Filth. It was filthy. It was filthy even in the building where we lived. I mean, in the winter time. I mean, the toilet was...it was...it was ice. It was all ice. And then the feces and the urine all over, was overflowing...overflowing there. And..and sometime, they took you to forced labor. I mean, one incident happened. They..they took us into a home. The German came and they, they lined everybody up. They lined everybody up. And there was...you know this was like in a semi-circle. You were standing in a semi-circle. And there was a lady there with a child. And, uh...[sighs] And he ask, "Whose is this child?" And the woman who was the mother says, she did not admit the child. So he took the child by the legs, and he swung it against the wall. And he killed the child. And I looked at the mother, and it was like somebody else's. It wasn't her child. She completely cut this child off out of her emotions. She cut this child off completely away. And I realized at that time that self-survival is, is the most...more primary in your life. It's more than...than even your own child.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
View Archival Details

This content is available in the following languages

Thank you for supporting our work

We would like to thank Crown Family Philanthropies and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.