Oral History

Emanuel (Manny) Mandel describes the "Kasztner train" journey to Bergen-Belsen

Emanuel's father was a cantor who became, soon after Emanuel was born, one of the chief cantors in Budapest. Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944. Systematic deportations of Jews from Hungary to the Auschwitz camp in occupied Poland began in May 1944. Emanuel and his mother were part of the train, organized by Zionist activist Rezso Kasztner, of over 1,600 Hungarian Jews who were to be sent to neutral countries as part of an exchange program. The train arrived at the Bergen-Belsen camp, where the passengers were held before they were sent on to Switzerland. After the end of the war, Emanuel and his mother moved to Palestine. They were reunited with Emanuel's father, and later moved to the United States.


I know that, uh, when we left, we were told that we could pack certain basic essential belongings, you know, maybe a backpack and a suitcase, or something like that. We were not, I mean, you certainly didn't take furniture and cutlery with you. The adults, you know, those other people, I mean, I was not one of them, must have in some way had a notion if they are going to be on the road for some time you need to pack. What was packed I don't know. Obviously they packed something, but I do know this. My mother packed three things. This is very unusual to do this. She had with her a liter bottle of honey, a liter bottle of fat, like chicken fat, and a, I don't know, a five- or six-pound, several kilo, piece of some kind of bacon-like substance. Now, bacon in my house didn't happen. A strictly kosher home, with my father's background, my mother's background. But somehow, by some dispensation, or by some foresight, they thought that's nu...that nutritious, let's take it. We can always not use it. I don't know how they justified it. But there's a sense of survival that says you take what you need. And we ate, I'm sure we ate. We had no malnutrition problems in the four or five days. Nobody died. I recall, for example, we stopped two or three days out. As I remember it was a cool pleasant evening, the doors of the cars were open and we kind of camped on the ground. There were little, not pop tents, but we slept outside on blankets and things. It was perfectly okay. And there was some kind of cooking going on. But you ask me where the food came from, I don't know.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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