Oral History

Thomas Buergenthal describes a forced-labor camp in Kielce

Thomas's family moved to Zilina in 1938. As the Slovak Hlinka Guard increased its harassment of Jews, the family decided to leave. Thomas and his family ultimately entered Poland, but the German invasion in September 1939 prevented them from leaving for Great Britain. The family ended up in Kielce, where a ghetto was established in April 1941. When the Kielce ghetto was liquidated in August 1942, Thomas and his family avoided the deportations to Treblinka that occurred in the same month. They were sent instead to a forced-labor camp in Kielce. He and his parents were deported to Auschwitz in August 1944. As Soviet troops advanced in January 1945, Thomas and other prisoners were forced on a death march from Auschwitz. He was sent to the Sachsenhausen camp in Germany. After the Soviet liberation of Sachsenhausen in April 1945, Thomas was placed in an orphanage. Relatives located him, and he was reunited with his mother in Goettingen. He moved to the United States in 1951.


We ended up in a factory, uh, where they were making carts for, wooden carts, for their eastern front. Uh, at that point I had a very interesting job and assignment. The, the feeling was that, that to survive there, it was important to have something to do, and, and I wasn't even 10 years old. So I went to the commander, commander of the German, of that camp, and told him, asked him whether he needed an errand boy. And, uh, he looked at me, and he said, "Fine." And so basically, my, my job in that, uh, in that camp consisted of sitting outside his door and doing chores that he needed to have done, like getting his bicycle, or taking something, uh, one place, uh, or another. The, the job had great advantages, because I could hear what was going on, uh, and could report back, and I could also alert people to his coming, because I would be going ahead of him, running, announcing his coming. And so we had the signal that I would signal. He had, he wore a hat with a feather; and if I went like this to people [gestures] they knew that he was coming. And, uh, because if people were seen not working, they would be beaten very badly.


  • 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.