Bearing Witness – Session 1


When I first met J.C., I was very excited to speak with him and was very interested in knowing what it was that he remembered from the Holocaust.  As I started questioning him about his experience before the Holocaust, he informed me about the history behind some of the countries involved.  J.C. was born in 1928 in the town called Nunkaccs.  This town belonged to several different countries including Czech-Republic and Hungry.  Nunkaccs belonged to the Czech Republic between 1918-1939 and had a large religious Jewish population.  A lot of the people living there observed Shabbat, attended temple every week, and kept kosher.  J.C.’s grandfather even owned a temple in that city.  J.C. came from the family of three boys and one girl, with his sister being the oldest.  He used to live with his parents, his brothers, and sister, as well as his grandmother.

In 1939 Germany took over Nunkaccs, and a part of Karapaya, while the other part was taken by Hungry.  At the time, Hungry and Germany were allies.  The Hungarians were the ones who started controlling Nunkaccs and started restricting the Jewish people.  They were restricted from owning businesses, having professions, buying from certain stores, eating at certain restaurants, etc.  Since Poland was taken over by Germany, many had escaped to Nunkaccs; however, in 1942 the fathers of these families were deported back and a lot of them never to be seen again.  In 1943, J.C.’s middle brother was sent to a working camp because he had just turned 18.  In 1944 the greater problems started taking place because the war that Germany was involved in 1942 was not successful for Germany.  Hungry was secretly talking to Russia and had the Russian army take over Hungry.  When Germany found out of this, they kicked out the Hungarians from Nunkaccs and took over.  They had two kinds of soldiers, gestuppel who were the worst and meanest, and the vermokht who were nicer soldiers.  Since J.C.’s family had a house with a couple of rooms, the soldiers decided to take over their house and live with them.  They did not treat them poorly but J.C.’s father was worried about his daughter living in the same house as these stranger soldiers.  In March of 1944, around Passover, all the Jewish families were ordered to move to the ghetto.  J.C. was only sixteen when he had to move.  At that time, J.C.’s grandmother was 94 years old and she passed away just a couple of days before the deadline of moving to the ghetto.  They had just enough time to bury her before they left.  They were allowed to take things with them as long as they could hold them.  At that time, J.C.’s sister had a six-month-old son.  J.C.’s father told the older brother M.C. to hide at his friend’s one bedroom house and not come with them to the ghetto.  However, J.C.’s mother was not happy about being separated from M.C. and since J.C.’s father had connections, he had M.C. come to the ghetto and they reunited there.  At that time, J.C’s father worked at City Hall and he would hear many rumors of what was going to happen to them.  He had heard that Germans were going to take them to farms to work, as well as many other horrifying rumors.  J.C.’s father was more inclined to keep the most horrifying rumor seriously.


That is where J.C.’s story stopped this session.  I felt very privileged to hear him share his story with me.  I really appreciate hearing these stories from the person who experienced it first hand, hence making it even more real and touching.  It is of great honor of having this amazing group of people come and put their time into having us students speak with them.  Since J.C. reminded me of a family friend, I felt even closer to him.  It was hurtful to look at him and know he has gone through some of the world’s cruelest periods.  When he was sharing his story, at one point he started tearing and that was painful for me to watch.  I felt like I was causing the tears for making him share his story with me.  I felt very well informed about the stories behind the concentrations camps.  J.C. has great memory of the years each event took place.  Although I have yet to hear the worst of the experience he has gone through, I have learned a lot from the glimpse I have from his life.  I am a very visual person, and have visualized every sentence that J.C. has told me.  I could only imagine how painful it must have been to have been restricted from doing everyday life, then having his house invaded by the soldiers, and having lost his grandmother but needing to think about their move to the ghetto. J.C.’s father had connections at the City Hall and had heard about bad things happening to the Jewish people.  Hearing this must have also been frightening to them.  I had never before spoken with a Holocaust survivor and I am looking forward to hearing the rest of J.C.’s story.  I’ve never had to deal with anything like this in my life and hope I never have to experience it.


Bearing Witness – Session 2

This session we got to talk more about the time when they were headed towards the concentration camps.  J.C. and his mother, father, brother, sister and her baby were pushed into the cattle trains and were in it for days until they arrived somewhere.  At this point all of their belongings were taken from them including their shoe laces.  He had to line up with his brother on the right (as told by his father), but his mother, father, sister and the baby on the left.  J.C. was in a barrack with kids his age up to fourteen or fifteen years old.  They were in there the entire day until when it was four p.m. when they were allowed to use the restroom.  On the first day J.C. was there, an old man showed him a chimney with black smoke coming out, and told them that that is the crematorium and that “they burn old people and children in there.” J.C. at this point sneaked back towards a mixed aged barrack, while his brother was shipped off to Poland.  J.C. stayed in that barrack for a couple of weeks.  Every day they would have them line up and they would take the healthiest and strongest men out and one day they were short on men and took J.C. along. 

They took him to Kalfarik which was forty miles from Munich.  This was one of the oldest concentration camps which contained 12 camps.  They were all sent to work every day and each had a different job.  J.C.’s job was to work on the railing of the trains, since the U.S. was bombing the railways and ruining them and J.C. was supposed to fix them.  There were 1,000 other people in this camp but no one from Nunckaccs but other Hungrian neighborhoods.  As time passed J.C. became weaker and sick because of the shortage of food consumed and it became harder for him to keep up with the rest.  A guard noticed and had him sent to the nurse.  J.C. understood the guard’s instructions because he spoke Yiddish which was close to German.  The nurse thought a day or two of rest was not going to help so she sent him to a camp for sick people which contained twenty-five to thirty people.  They all had all kinds of deadly diseases that even if you were feeling better, it was likely that you were going to catch someone else’s disease and die.  After seeing no progress in the sick people, they sent them to Duchau which was a new concentration camp which had a crematorium to have them killed.  After 2 days of arriving there, the Americans came in and liberated them.

The nurses came and sent the people to hospitals.  They took x-rays and he had plorisil which is a lung disease.  This disease is close to tuberculosis and is highly contagious.  After a while being at the sanatorium, he saw an American soldier looking for him.  It was his cousin from Florida.  A couple days later J.C.’s older brother Sam came to also see J.C. at the hospital.  He had been liberated by the Russians and had stayed in Budapist.  He also went back to hometown of Nuncaccs to see if anyone was alive there.  That was how he found out J.C. was alive.

After spending six months in the hospital, they sent him to another hospital for two years for cooperating. Then he was sent to another nursing place for six months and finally got out in 1948.  A year later he left Germany and went to France for six months.  His older brother was able to get a student visa to the U.S. and left for Detroit.  In France, J.C. lived in a youth camp and one day was informed of visas being given for Australia.  He took one along with 10 other boys and it took them six weeks to arrive at Australia.  The visas were paid for by a Jewish Community.  The 11 boys were divided into two different groups at this point, when J.C. was about twenty years old.

            This was very hard for me to hear as talking with J.C. and trying to get more information on the concentration camps and how people felt around that time.  It was apparent to me that everyone was scared and felt unfortunate about being there.  As I heard many people were crying and trying to keep their health at best shape in order to survive.  It was also amazing to hear that J.C. came so close to having lost his life in the holocaust and with the arrival of the American Soldiers, he had been saved.  There is no other reason why they would have transferred him along with many other sick people to a different concentration camp if it wasn’t for wanting to take their lives.  I felt very fortunate for sitting right beside him and grateful for the American Soldiers who saved him. 

            J.C. seemed very sad when it came to talking about his mother who he had missed a lot when he was separated from her.  The closest person to him in his family was his mother and thinking of it being the last time to see her it was very saddening for him.  I could only imagine how painful it must have been to have been treated poorly as far as everything goes, including food and respect, physically and verbally.  This is not the only thing these prisoners had to face, but the thought of having to be away from loved ones.  His little nephew who was just a baby must have been killed too.  Thinking of the fact that it must have been such a joy to have brought a baby to this world and having him taken away from his mother, it must be so painful to even think about.  J.C.’s sister must have tried to treat her baby with the best care possible during her pregnancy and even after the birth.  She must have given her child best food she could and best love and nurture but just because of the religion they had, which she had no control over, she lost her beloved baby.