Mayer grew up in a rural town that was occupied by Hungary in 1940. After Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944, Mayer and his family were forced into a ghetto. They were then deported to the Auschwitz camp in Poland, where Mayer's parents and brothers perished. Mayer was selected for forced labor, and was later transferred to a satellite camp of Dachau, in Germany. He was liberated from Dachau in 1945. Sponsored by a children's committee, he immigrated to the United States.
I ended up in a, in a building that was mostly kids. Uh more...guys more my age. And that didn't seem right to me for some reason. So I ran away. From there I was trying...you can go...they let you go...you were in a camp compound but you can go to the next building, I mean these were, there were several buildings there. So uh I sort of mixed...I was looking for places where there were more adults. People who are more working...you know, people who were working because we could see some people working. Carrying stones and stuff like that. So that I uh mixed in with some of those. Uh, and I was just going from place to place for, for the better part of those weeks. What...I was trying to find myself someplace where I'd end up with more adults. And uh every time I ended up doing that they had...they were looking for work details and [for] some reason they always threw me out. I was too small and they would uh...in fact at l'appel [roll call] we used to march and be counted. Uh I was standing half of the time on a stone so, just so I'd appear a little taller, or a brick. And uh when we'd march, five people locked arms, you know locked in. Uh, I used to ask the guys to lift me up uh so I wouldn't be that much shorter.