Oral History

Thomas Buergenthal describes the difficulties involved in postwar migrations

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. 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.


It wasn't all that, all that easy to leave Poland. You know, I had no papers, or anything else, and my mother was in Germany at the time, in the, in the British zone. So the, uh, American, uh, Joint Distribution Committee [the Joint] basically smuggled me out in December of 1946, from Poland to Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovakia to the American zone, and then the American zone to the British zone in Germany, until I was reunited with my mother. And there was, the Joint operated with the Brihah ["flight"], which had bribed a lot of people on the border. And, uh, that's how I got to Germany in '46. That was really three years after I'd been separated from my mother.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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