Oral History

Kurt Klein describes a group of death march survivors in a Czechoslovak village

As Nazi anti-Jewish policy intensified, Kurt's family decided to leave Germany. Kurt left for the United States in 1937, but his parents were unable to leave before the outbreak of World War II. Kurt's parents were eventually deported to Auschwitz, in German-occupied Poland. In 1942, Kurt joined the United States Army and was trained in military intelligence. In Europe, he interrogated prisoners of war. In May 1945, he took part in the surrender of a village in Czechoslovakia and returned the next day to assist over 100 Jewish women who had been abandoned there during a death march. Kurt's future wife, Gerda, was one of the women in this group.

Transcript

And I learned from the military government unit that they had heard of a group of, uh, Polish and Hungarian Jewish women who had been dumped by their SS guards in a, in a vacant factory building. And, uh, who, uh, had been, uh, liberated, uh, by, by our troops. So I, we knew, we knew, of course, that we had to do something for them, even though we couldn't do anything that day anymore, and in the morning we set out, uh, greatly reinforced, to, to take care of the matter. And I had heard where that factory building was, and I remember approaching it, uh, and getting out of, uh, the jeep and walking across a courtyard where I saw some skeletal figures, uh, uh, trying to, to get some water from a hand pump. But over on the other side, uh, leaning, uh, next to the, against the wall next to the entrance of the building I saw a girl standing, and, and I decided to go, walk up to her. And I asked her in German and in English whether she spoke either language, and she answered me in, in German. And, uh, I, uh, I asked about her companions and she, she said, uh, "Come let me show you." And we went inside the factory. Uh, it was an indescribable scene. There were women scattered over the floor on scraps of straw, some, some of them quite obviously with the mark of death on their faces. Uh, their, they, they, all of them looked just horrible, and of course we could see they were emaciated and, and ill. And something that I have never been able to forget, was an extraordinary thing that happened. The girl who was my guide made sort of a sweeping gesture over this scene of devastation, and said the following words: "Noble be man, merciful and good." And I could hardly believe that she was able to summon a poem by the German poet Goethe, which was called--is called--"The Divine," at such a moment. And there was nothing that she could have said that would have underscored the grim irony of the situation better than, than what she did. And it was a totally shattering experience for me.


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  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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