Oral History

Thomas Buergenthal describes the liberation of the Sachsenhausen camp

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.


This camp was to be liquidated, and people were lined up to march out of the camp. We, we really couldn't walk, and the people in the hospital ward were left behind, and we assumed that, uh, they would come in and shoot everybody in our beds. And it was extremely, I remember the day when people lined up, and then it became extremely quiet, and you couldn't hear anything, you only....And we waited, basically on the assumption that any minute now they would, they would come in. Nothing happened. And of all the people in that, uh, barracks, I probably could move better. By then I had a crutch and I could move on, on one leg. And finally, I went out to look, because all this silence. And the machine gun on the gate of the, overlooking the, the sort of plaza in the, in the camp was empty, for the first time. And the Germans had left. You, by then, you could hear already the rumbling of artillery in, in the background. And there wasn't a soul to be seen. Nothing happened for a while, except, you know, we, we realized that maybe we were, we were going to live. The shooting came closer. Eventually, uh, the gates swung open, and, uh, Russian troops came in. And they began ringing the, the camp bell to say that we were free.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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