Oral History

Thomas Buergenthal describes being reprieved from a massacre of children while he was in 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.


They had us lined up, uh, on the field. Uh, the German, the commander of the, of the camp, was standing in the middle making the decision who was going to live and who was going to die. And, uh, they pulled, tried to pull me out, and, uh, my mother and father more or less pulled the other direction. And finally, they, uh, my mother, my father and I deci...went up to the German commander, and I said, in, in German, that I, to let me live, because I could work. And--in, in German--and I, I think, uh, what, what I saw happen in camps a number of times was that they were somehow shocked to find that somebody who looked very much like their own children, who spoke the same language the way their own children would speak, was there. They had, I think they believed a lot of their own propaganda. And he looked at me and said in German, "Well, let's see," and let me go. The whole thing may have lasted two seconds. And that's how I stayed.




  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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