DAVID R. KATZ
IN MEMORY OF MY BELOVED PARENTS
Ever since my arrival in the United States at the end of World War II, friends and family members as well, tried to persuade me to write my Holocaust memoirs. Although my memory of those terrible years was still fresh in my mind, at that time, I could not gather the mental strength and courage for that task so soon after the events had taken place. For the past few years, my children have been expressing the desire to learn more about what happened to me and other members of my family they never knew. This yearning became increasingly stronger after they viewed the film “Schindler’s list”.
It is not my intention here to write a diary of events as they occurred. Since more than a half century has elapsed, dates as well as the chronology of events as they happened have become somewhat clouded. However, it is my fervent hope that the events recalled herewith will ensure that what happened during the Holocaust will not be forgotten by future generations when survivors will no longer be alive to bear witness to that tragic event. The story that follows, is that of my survival during the Holocaust, the most brutal period in Western civilization, the annihilation of the Jewish community in Europe.
HOLOCAUST: A Hebrew word (olah) meaning a burnt offering, later adopted by the Greeks as (holo) meaning whole, and (caustos) meaning burned. The term Holocaust is now being used to describe Nazi Germany’s FINAL SOLUTION to the Jewish problem, the systematic murder of Europe’s Jews.
To fully comprehend the vastness of Hitler’s pogroms against the Jews, some background information is necessary.
On 7 November 1938, Herschel Grinszpan whose parents were deported from Germany to Poland, assassinated Ernst Von Roth, Third Secretary of the German Embassy in Paris. This so angered the Germans, that they carefully organized the pogroms against the Jews in Germany. The following night, Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass), over 1000 Synagogues were burned down, and thousands of Jewish owned stores were looted and vandalized.
To add insult to injury, on 12 December 1938, a one billion mark fine was levied against German Jews for the destruction of property during Kristallnacht.
For all intents and purposes, Kristallnacht signaled the beginning of the Holocaust.
What follows, is a narrative of my survival during the Holocaust, portrayed as accurately as my memory allows.
I was born in Leipzig, Germany on February 12,1930, to Abraham and Regina Wolkowitz (nee Jedlitzki). Leipzig at that time was the musical capital of Europe, the home to famous composers such as Bach, Mendelssohn, Schuman, Wagner, Teleman and numerous others during at least part of their creative lives. This musical climate was well suited to my parents’ lifestyle since both were professional musicians; who graduated from the Leipzig Conservatory of Music, my mother a concert pianist and teacher, and my father a well-rounded musician, who was proficient on several instruments. He was also a conductor, arranger and composer. Other members of my family who were also musicians were my Uncle Jack, who was a clarinetist and saxophonist in a band aboard ocean liners. Also, My paternal grandfather Maximilian Wolkov, a concert violinist, his brother Sam, a violinist who during his lifetime was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera orchestras. My father’s sister Helen, who was a concert violinist, and two brothers who both taught music at the St. Petersburg conservatory in Russia.
My parents started my musical education when I was about four years old, my mother on piano, and my father on the violin. My musical education continued until 1938, when it was interrupted for reasons, which will soon become apparent. From the time I was four or five years old, I enjoyed hearing stories about famous composers whose music had a perpetual presence in our home. I can still remember that my bedtime stories consisted of a biography of Beethoven, which my mother read to me every evening.
Large hotels in Europe as well as in the United States had in those days large orchestras that performed in the dining room every night for dancing after dinner. As far back as I can remember, my father was the conductor of the orchestra at the Palast Hotel in Leipzig. I recall that, as a seven year old boy, wearing a black velvet suit with short pants, frilly white shirt, knee high white socks with tassels hanging from their tops, and carrying a baton that was almost as long as I was tall, my father introduced me to the dinner patrons, and let me conduct that fine orchestra. Of course, my father was not standing far behind me, and I am certain that the orchestra paid much more attention to his beat rather than mine.
From the time of my birth we lived in a large apartment with my maternal grandparents at 49 Nordstrasse in Leipzig. Leipzig was a vibrant city in the Province of Saxony, and besides its reputation as the musical capital of Europe, it was also world famous for its annual Mustermesse, or industrial fair. People from all over the world came to Leipzig every year to see what new marvels they would be able to partake of for their businesses. Every year, a gentleman from Holland, a Herr De Hond, stayed with us for about two weeks during the industrial fair. He later repaid the favor, when in 1937, we were his guests in his home at The Hague, while we were waiting to immigrate to America. I still remember that one of his promotional items, was a small notebook covered in black silk, with a small sterling silver dog on the front cover. De Hond in Dutch means the dog. My mother so treasured that little notebook that she carried it with her wherever she went, even while we were in the various camps.
As far back as I can remember, music was a constant companion in our home. My parents both gave private lessons, and at least once a week, musician friends would join my parents in the performance of chamber music. Since those events always took place after my bedtime, I would quietly sneak out of my bed and open the door, so that I could better hear those beautiful sounds. Those musical soirees were the highlight of my youth, and encouraged me to pursue music, not as a career, but as one of my greatest joys in the world. Whoever it was that said “music soothes the savage beast” was certainly correct.
In 1933, Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, and with that event began the persecution of Jews in that country. Germany was in the throes of a serious depression, with unemployment at an all time high. Hitler, who was still infuriated at the strict sanctions imposed on Germany at the Versailles Treaty after their defeat in World War I, convinced the German populace that the Jews were at the root of all their problems. From that time on, life for the Jews became progressively worse. Jews found it difficult if not impossible to find jobs, and were increasingly becoming targets of racial slurs as well as physical attacks. Jewish children were no longer allowed to go to school with the other German children, so I attended the Karlebach Schule,(school) . Rabbi Karlebach was from the city of Hamburg, and he established the schools, which bore his name, throughout Germany. This was the only way that Jewish children in Germany were able to get an education.
With the Nuremberg Declaration in 1935, all civil rights were taken away from the Jews in Germany. German Jews had their citizenship revoked, and were considered second class citizens. Also, anti-Semitism became state policy in Germany. Jews were no longer allowed to hold jobs in businesses owned by Aryans. Doctors were no longer allowed to practice medicine in the hospitals nor were they allowed to treat non-Jews in their private practice. It was also strictly forbidden for Jews to make use of parks and other recreation facilities in Germany. It was all right for Jews to walk on the sidewalks as long as there were no Aryans in sight.
It seems ironic that Hitler displayed such vitriolic hate against German Jews who were proud citizens who courageously fought on the side of Germany during World War l. A large number of Jews were decorated by the Kaiser for their war exploits. In addition, German Jews largely contributed to Germany’s success in all fields, including the arts and literature, medicine, banking, commerce and education. However, that did not matter to the Nazis. A Jew was a Jew, and he did not have the right to live.
Even after the beginning of the Nazi regime, Jewish religious life continued to be practiced in our home. My parents made sure that I received a proper Jewish education, and we attended services regularly at the Leipzig synagogue, which was an absolutely magnificent structure. Shabbat(the Sabbath) was always celebrated in our home. My grandmother or my mother would light the candles, after which my grandfather chanted the Kiddush (sanctification of the Sabbath). Shabbat dinner would usually start with cold boiled carp, which my father really loved. Chicken soup and roast chicken followed that. On special occasions, roast goose was substituted for the chicken.
My aunt Golda and Uncle Leo, lived one block away from us at 41 Nordstrasse. From the time of my birth, my life was fully intertwined with theirs and their children, my cousins Marichen (Mary),Wolfgang (Billy),Hella (Helen), and Regina (Renee) David was born later, in the United States. Wolfgang and I would go to school together, and not a day would go by that we would not be accosted by German youths who insulted us with racial slurs and would throw sticks or stones at us.
Starting in 1936, life for the Jews became more and more unbearable, and my parents started proceedings to enable us to immigrate to the United States. In 1937, we traveled to The Hague, Holland, with just a few belongings and my father’s favorite violin. The Germans did not allow the Jews to remove anything of value from the country, so we were lucky to get at least one of his precious instruments out. While waiting in The Hague for our final emigration papers, my mother became homesick for her parents, and so, we left Holland and returned to Leipzig. That decision turned out to be the gravest mistake of our lives. After our return from Holland, the Nazis would no longer permit my father to return to his post at the Palast Hotel. Thus, he had to find another way to earn some sort of livelihood, and he had to resort to working as a shoe repairman Here was this very fine musician with his delicate hands, coming home every night with bloodied fingers that prevented him from playing his beloved instruments.
The pogroms against the Jews in Germany began the evening of November 9, 1938. That evening, known as Kristallnacht (night of broken glass), began when roving gangs of Nazis, instigated by Hitler’s propaganda machinery, smashed the storefronts of Jewish merchants and looted their stores. At the same time, hundreds of synagogues in Germany were set ablaze and burned down. While Jews in Germany were trying to make their way back to the safety of their homes, they were brutally beaten and dragged through the streets. Nazi Storm Troopers, as well as S.S. Guards, invaded Jewish homes and brutalized the women and children. That night alone, several hundred Jews were killed throughout Germany, and in the ensuing few days, thousands more were sent to concentration camps. Concentration camps were established in Germany shortly after Hitler took power, and were originally used to confine political prisoners or anyone who openly opposed the Nazi regime. The first concentration camp was Dachau, shortly followed by Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. During the Holocaust, those camps became the mass killing factories of Europe, where millions of people were tortured and eventually gassed to death.
The morning after the Kristallnacht massacre, two Gestapo agents (secret police) accompanied by SS guards (elite military) with drawn guns pounded on our door. Since my grandparents held Polish passports, they were given one hour to each pack one suitcase, and were then taken to the railroad station and deported to Poland. My grandparents moved to Germany around the time of the First World War, and retained their Polish citizenship. My parents were also born in Lodz, Poland, but had given up their Polish citizenship, and as a result held stateless passports. We knew that it would only be a matter of days or perhaps even hours, before the Gestapo would return for my parents and me, so we had to find a place for us to hide until such time as we could find a way out of the country.
It was strictly forbidden for Germans to protect Jews, and anyone found to be harboring Jews, was immediately sent to a concentration camp, and ultimately their death. That same fate also awaited Catholic priests who dared speak out against the inhumane treatment of Jews. German school children were indoctrinated by the Nazis to report on the daily activities of their parents, and to eavesdrop on their conversations for any signs of opposition to the Nazi regime. It became a common occurrence for children to turn their own parents in to the Gestapo and have them arrested. As a result, it was just about impossible to find a safe haven anywhere in the country. My father had a good friend, a musician and a Christian, who risked his own life and that of his family, and gave us refuge in his home until we were able to flee from Germany.
In December 1938, my father was able to be smuggled out of Germany, and he made his way to Brussels, Belgium. In lieu of a suitcase containing some bare necessities, my father managed to smuggle his favorite violin out of Germany. My mother and I followed in February 1939, making our way to the city of Aachen on the border by train. Then, it took whatever money we had left in the world to pay a smuggler who led us into Belgium through fields and forests so as not to be detected by the German border guards. Finally, we were reunited with my father in Brussels and to safety at last. Little did we know then what the future held for us.
My aunt and uncle and their children had taken refuge in the Polish embassy in Leipzig, and through a circuitous route that took them to Switzerland, Italy and England, were able to come to the United States before the war engulfed all of Europe. Our family relationship being such a close one, they refused to leave Germany until such time that they were certain that my parents and I were safely out of harms way.
We left Germany leaving all our worldly belongings behind, but our life in Brussels was a happy one. We lived in a small two-room apartment at 102 Rue des Plantes, and my father was able to find jobs here and there playing the piano or violin, so that we were able to sustain our lives reasonably well. I went to a public school on the Rue Lynee near our home, and learned to speak French and Flemish, both of which I mastered fluently within a very short time.
It looked as though we would be able to put our lives back together again when, on May 10,1940, we were brusquely awakened by the sound of wailing sirens and of aerial warfare above our heads. Germany had attacked Belgium, Holland and France, and we knew that it would only be a matter of days before that small country of Belgium would fall. Once again, we packed our meager belongings and fled from the rapidly advancing German army, this time to France. None of us had any passports, so we had to get into France illegally. My father crossed into France first, and was immediately arrested and sent to a labor camp. By the time my mother and I left Brussels, the Germans had breached the Maginot Line (the French defenses against invasion) and had started the invasion of France. My mother and I left Brussels by train, and the trip to France turned into a nightmare. The entire trip was stop-and-go between German bombings and shellings, and exchanges of small arms and artillery fire between the French and German armies. We wandered around the northern part of France for days, being shuffled from track to track, and from one direction to another in order to avoid combat areas. I still remember pulling out of the Dieppe train station just as German bombs were falling on it. We finally arrived in a small town that still seemed relatively peaceful. After we were ordered off the train, the French police immediately arrested us.
By then, Germany had made big advances into northern France, including Paris, and the French president, Marechal Philipe Petain, the hero of the Battle of Verdun during World War I, capitulated. Hitler agreed to leave the southern half of France in French hands while the Germans occupied the north, an agreement on which he later reneged when he occupied the entire country. After the surrender of the French forces, Petain established a provisional French government in the city of Vichy in southern France with Pierre Laval as his Prime Minister. but that government proved to only be a puppet regime, doing Hitler’s bidding by delivering the Jews in France to the Nazis. In 1940, the Vichy Regime issued an edict against the Jews, called Le statut des Juifs, which consisted of a series of measures to be taken against the Jews. The Vichy milice (militia) was especially brutal in their treatment of the Jews in France, even prior to Germany’s orders to that effect. Also, many Catholic priests throughout the occupied territories of Europe risked their lives to protect Jews. The Catholic Church in France however was very anti-Semitic. This had the effect of easing the Vichy Government’s efforts to protect the country from the Jews. (whatever protection could they have needed?)
My mother and I were being held in a farm compound surrounded by a tall stone wall topped with embedded broken glass shards. Our sleeping facilities consisted of a bale of hay in the horse stables, and many a night I awoke screaming with huge rats climbing all over my body. My mother by that time was quite ill, mostly from fear of what the future held for us. Also, we had no idea as to the whereabouts of my father, who was put in a labor camp somewhere in France. We later found out that ha was in Gurs, a terrible camp in the Pyrinees, in southern France, About two weeks after our arrest, we were taken by train to the city of Mende, to be delivered to the concentration camp Rieucros . Our first sight of the camp was most traumatic. Row upon row of wooden barracks surrounded by barbed wire fences, with armed guards patrolling the perimeter. Rieucros was a camp for women and children. Inside the barracks were rows of wooden bunks, two high, and we slept packed like sardines, with only a straw mattress and a rough horse blanket for bedding. Those same wooden bunks are where we spent most of the daytime also, since there was no other place to sit. The sanitary facilities were located in a wooden barrack in the center of the camp, and consisted of the latrine, with trenches along one wall, over which were some long wooden planks with a round hole about every two feet or so, with a small partition between them. Along the other wall were about two dozen showerheads, but only cold water. With several thousand people in the camp, the lines of people waiting to use these facilities were very long at times. When going to the showers, my mother would blindfold me so as not to embarrass the women using the facilities. Breakfast consisted of a piece of dark, hard bread and some coffee made from several types of roasted roots. For lunch and dinner, we were given a bowl of soup, which was nothing more than some hot water with some cabbage leaves and pieces of rutabaga floating in it. With that kind of food on a daily basis, dysentery ran rampant throughout the camp, and about the only medication available to us were some huge carbon pills. Due to the unsanitary conditions in the camp, my mother and I were constantly sick. Rainy weather created a particularly difficult situation in the camp. Since there were no paved roads all areas became fields of mud, and very often the mud would be so thick, that when walking, we would discover that our wooden shoes remained stuck in the muck. In spite of all the hardships we had to endure, our spirits were kept high by the continuous rumors being spread throughout the camp that peace was imminent, and that we were soon to be released. How wrong those rumors proved to be. While we were incarcerated in Rieucros, the children old enough to attend school, were allowed to do so in the city of Mende. About once a week, my mother would give me a few franks so that I could bring back a loaf of bread, which I would hide under my coat to bring it into the camp. This same tactic was also used by some of the other children, until the guards at the gate discovered our ruse. After that, we were no longer allowed out of the camp to attend school.
Although living conditions in the camp were miserable at best, the women in the camp did their utmost to provide for the children, and to assuage their fears. Among the internees were musicians and writers, and as a means of preventing boredom, my mother wrote the music for a parody of camp life. The performance made a big hit, and brought some laughter into our morose life. The text was in German, and to this day I still remember one of the songs. The children were also encouraged to provide some entertainment. One particular event still comes to mind. In the section of bunks right next to the one my mother and I occupied, there was a girl about my age, with her mother and her aunt. Her mother was a very nice and easy-going person. Her aunt however, was a mean spirited woman who did nothing but scold that little girl for the slightest infraction. That girl however was forever singing some tunes, and she had a nice voice. Anyway, our mothers decided that some of the children in our barrack should put on a musical performance. We both learned our songs, and the day of the performance finally arrived. I don’t remember if the play was based on “Snow White” or “Cinderella”, but she was the beautiful young girl, and I was to be the handsome prince who would sweep her off her feet. While she was singing her song, “Un jour mon prince viendra” (One day my prince will come), she got so nervous that she wet herself, and went in tears into her mother’s arms. As for me, I was extremely shy at that age, and I remained standing in “the wings” (behind a row of bunks) without ever uttering a word or singing a single note. I guess that musical fiasco was the demise of any ambition for the musical theater I might have harbored at the time.
By that time, my uncle and aunt and their children were settled in Buffalo, and with the help of some friends and relatives who were American citizens, they sent us the affidavits necessary for us to immigrate to the United States. Once again it seemed as though all hope was not lost.
The United States government had strict immigration laws at that time and allowed only a certain number of immigrants to enter the country every month. So, while waiting for our number to come up, we were shipped to the city of Marseille as that would be our embarkation port for the United States. While in Marseille, my mother and I were housed at the Hotel Bompart, which had been converted into a refugee center. My father had at that time been transferred from the Gurs labor camp to another camp, Saint Cyprien. Conditions at the Hotel Bompart soon became so crowded, that we were forced to sleep in the hallways, packed like sardines. Since the southern part of France was still in French hands, my parents were able to send me away to a children’s home in Saint Raphael, on the Riviera, and then to a Boys’ Home run by a Rabbi Hersenhorn just outside of Marseille. It was there that I learned to read and write Hebrew, as the entire day was spent on Hebrew and theological study. After two or three months, I returned to rejoin my mother. Due to the extremely crowded conditions at the Hotel Bompart, the authorities decided to move us to a camp at Les Milles near the city of Aix en Provence, where we were finally reunited with my father. Conditions there were not much better than in the previous camp. Les Milles was located in an abandoned brick factory that had been requisitioned by the Vichy government for the assembly of foreigners. The humidity was atrocious, and we were constantly sick. The first two floors of the factory were covered with straw and transformed into a dormitory that was vermin infested. Toilet facilities were very limited, and the only source of potable water, was a single faucet outside the front gate. Only one shower was available, and it consisted of a long pipe with a hole every two feet or so, so that several persons would be able to “shower” at one time. We were however well treated by the camp commander as well as by the guards. After all, we were about to leave for America, or at least so we thought. Among the prisoners at Les Milles, were large numbers of intellectuals, mostly from Germany and Austria. There was also a sizable art colony of sorts, and as a means of escaping the constant boredom, there were always musical or theatrical performances at the camp. Also, some graphic artists established a studio of sorts, and quite a few paintings and drawings emanated from that studio. To this day, even though the camp reverted to its original status as a brick factory, some of the murals painted on exterior walls still remain as a vivid reminder of its tragic past.
While waiting at Les Milles, disaster struck once again. December 7, 1941, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This event erased all our hopes of ever being able to get out of Europe.
With the United States at war with Japan, and its entry into the war with Germany, on 11 December 1941, we were shipped to another camp, Rivesaltes, on the Mediterranean, near the Spanish border. The situation there was even worse than the other camps, with the arrival of warmer weather. Sanitary facilities were totally lacking, and flies as well as mosquitoes spread diseases such as malaria and typhus throughout the camp. The lack of proper medications made this problem even worse. We were constantly sick with one disease after another. We were at Rivesaltes only a very short time, as the Nazi regime had begun to implement the “final solution” to the Jewish problem.
Within days, the camp authorities ordered all of us to pack up whatever meager belongings we still had, and to await transportation to “The East”. Everyone was under the impression that we would be resettled in a labor camp until the end of the war. I was then twelve years old, and the O.S.E. (Oevre de secours aux enfants) a children welfare society, managed to convince the Vichy government to remove the children from the camp in order to prevent their deportation. The O.S.E. was very instrumental in France during the war years, by establishing orphanages throughout the country for the sole purpose of trying to save as many Jewish children’s lives as possible. They also organized groups of children who they led across the border into Switzerland. Failing that, the O.S.E. was able to provide hundreds of children with false papers and house them with Christian families for the duration of the war. The last mental picture that I have of my parents, was their tearful eyes as we said our good-byes. I firmly believe that they had a premonition of the horrors that awaited them, and that this would be our final farewell. At this point, nothing was known about the death camps and the systematic mass murders being perpetrated against millions of people in those camps. Not only were Jews marked for extermination, but also political prisoners, gypsies, the mentally retarded, and Russian prisoners of war.
After I and the other children in the camp were rescued by the O.S.E., we were taken to an orphanage called Chateau Montintin, near the city of Limoges in southwestern France. Before being separated from my parents, my father, with tears in his eyes handed me his precious violin, which he miraculously held on to through several camps. I carried that violin with me until I arrived at the orphanage at Montintin. There, it was taken from me for “safe-keeping”. I never saw that instrument again. Although life at the orphanage was strictly regimented, we were well taken care of. The food was satisfactory, and we were getting some medical attention. Also, we were getting some sort of education from an instructor. The administrators at Montintin did their best to keep us occupied throughout the day so as to take our minds off the terrible ordeal we had undergone in the camps, as well as the separation from our parents.
The Chateau Montintin had been unoccupied for some time when the O.S.E. turned it into an orphanage, and like most structures in the area, had it’s fill of rats. During the day, the boys would venture into the nearby woods to collect chestnuts, which were plentiful in the area. We would then bring huge bagfulls of chestnuts back to our dormitory
After we had eaten enough of them, usually resulting in terrible diarrhea, we stored the remaining ones under our beds, which only served to attract more rats In order to prevent the rats from climbing unto our beds, we put the legs of our beds into large tin cans filled with water. When the rats tried to climb up the tubular metal legs of our beds, they would fall into the water and drown. Sometimes we hastened their demise by applying grease to the legs of the beds.
As a few of the boys including me were nearing age thirteen, a Rabbi was brought in from Limoges to prepare us for our Bar Mitzvah.(The coming of age of Jewish boys). It seems ironic that, in spite of all the hardships we had endured, we never abandoned our Jewish heritage. Of course, the absence of my parents was uppermost in my mind, and not a day went by that I did not cry myself to sleep.
The Bar Mitzvah ceremony was held in a makeshift sanctuary at the orphanage of Montintin, with six of us boys as the celebrants.
Sometime, around the middle of 1943, the orphanage director was notified by the mayor of the nearby town, of an impending raid against boys aged sixteen or over. Since I was already quite tall, and had no papers verifying my age, I did no take a chance in remaining at the orphanage. The next morning, as I heard trucks approaching, one of my friends and I jumped out of a second floor window in order to make our escape. Just then, a truck hauling garbage passed by, and we jumped on the back of that truck to make our get-away.
Here I was, thirteen years old, alone and without a penny, scared to death in unfamiliar territory, not being able to trust anyone lest they be German collaborators. I remember my parents and other adults in the camps saying that if only they could get to Switzerland, a neutral country, we would be safe. So, I made my way all across France, walking, and sometimes catching a short ride on the back of a farmer’s hay wagon, traveling mostly at night for fear of being seen by German soldiers or their French henchmen. After I had wandered all the way across France to the Alps and the Swiss border, which took me a good five months, I found it impossible to get into Switzerland. The German army had machine gun nests set up at every mountain pass. After numerous attempts during the next few days, nearly frozen to death, and near starvation, I gave up any hope of getting to my destination.
My trek across France in order to cross into Switzerland is now but a blur. It is as though it was all a dream, the memory of which evaporated upon awakening. So many towns and villages whose names I have long ago forgotten. One event however is still vivid in my mind. It happened in a small town near the city of Clermond Ferrant. Near the Town Square, I noticed a young boy about my age, leaning against a stone wall, playing some French folk tunes beautifully on a recorder-like instrument. I was immediately drawn to him, and for the next two or three days we were inseparable. All of a sudden he disappeared from view. I was just about to move on, when I again noticed him leaning against that same stone wall, still clutching that instrument in his hands, but now it would be silent forever. Both of his hands were heavily bandaged. The day earlier, he had found a detonator or some other explosive device, and while examining it, the device exploded, severing several of his fingers. It was with great chagrin that I left my newfound friend and that town behind me.
I next found myself in the city of Lyon. Shortly after arriving there, while walking down a narrow side street, I noticed a shabbily dressed man walking in front of me. Every once in a while he shot furtive glances at me to see if I was still following him. When he went into the basement of an old apartment building, I followed him in, and was surprised to see about twenty foreign speaking men and women hiding in that damp basement that had become their home. When the man I followed into that basement realized that I was from Germany, and I informed him that I came from Leipzig, he inquired if I knew a family by the name of Last. When I told him that they were my uncle and aunt, he took me to them. The Last family lived in the apartment adjoining that of my uncle and aunt in Leipzig, with their three sons and a daughter, and since we were so very close, I called them by that familiar name. In Lyon, all six of them lived in a tiny apartment, and they were deathly afraid to speak to me, fearful that we would be overheard by the German soldiers patrolling the streets. The Gestapo in Lyon was under the command of a S.S Lieutenant (later Colonel) named Klaus Barbie. He was nicknamed the butcher of Lyon, because of the hundreds if not thousands of Jews and resistance members whose blood was on his hands. Ironically, after the war, he was hired by the U.S. Military, and he worked for U.S. Military Intelligence in the American occupied zone of Germany. He later fled to Bolivia, and when his war crimes were discovered, he was returned to France to stand trial. He was convicted of war crimes in the city of Lyon in 1987 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison in 1991. Also in Lyon, I met a Jewish woman who after a few furtive words, and upon hearing from me about my musical family, informed me that she had a cousin in Paris who was a well-known composer. She said that her cousin’s name was Yvonne Aaron-Cohen, and she gave me her Paris address. I remembered her name and address, and upon arriving in Paris after the end of the war, one of the first things I did was to contact Madame Aaron-Cohen. Lyon being a large city with a large German military presence, proved to be very unsafe, and thus I went further south to the city of Grenoble.
Grenoble, also being a large city, had a large German garrison, and because of my fear of being caught, I felt no safer there than in Lyons.While in Grenoble for approximately two weeks, I was housed in a dormitory of the ” Jeunesse de France” a French youth organization, with about twenty other boys quite a bit older then I was. I remember very well early one morning being thrown out of bed by a tremendous explosion very near to us. As we later found out, it was a German military headquarters that was blown up by the French resistance. Shortly after the explosion, the French police rounded us up, and we were forced to sift through the rubble to search for bodies and survivors. A few days later, I befriended a member of the resistance who told me about a village in the nearby mountains, where the Catholic priest was very sympathetic to the resistance movement as well as to the plight of the Jews. Thus, I made my way to the village of Villard de Lans.
My first step was to see Monsieur le Cure (Monsignor). He immediately sent his housekeeper to get me some fresh clothes and shoes. I had worn the same dirty clothes for several months, and my shoes were held together with rags and string. That evening, I had the first real meal in years. I also had comfortable sleeping quarters in the priest’s residence, and slept in a real bed. For the first time in years, I felt safe. I was also able to listen to some great music again, as that priest also loved the classics, and had quite a large record library.
The Germans did not have a large number of soldiers stationed in the village, but every few days, a large column of soldiers armed with mobile artillery pieces would invade the village to flush out any members of the resistance, as well as any Jews who might be hiding there. At such times, the priest would hide me behind a wall in the attic, or I would mingle with the parishioners during church services. One day, I told the priest that, being Jewish I was not allowed to kneel during prayer, so he told me to just lean forward in order to give the appearance that I was kneeling. Also, one thing that the priest told me will forever remain in my memory. ” The Nazis have taken away your parents, most of your family, and all your possessions, but the one thing they will never be able to take away from you is your Jewish heritage”. After a while, the Germans became suspicious of the priest’s clandestine activities, and he could no longer risk hiding me, He knew an elderly farmer in the village, who needed help on his farm. Thus, I worked for that farmer in exchange for room and board. Monsieur and Madame Pouteil-Noble were elderly farmers who never had children. Therefore, they treated me very well. I had a comfortable bed to sleep in, and I was well fed. Every once in a while we would kill one of our rabbits, and also eggs were plentiful. This new lifestyle was quite an innovation for me. Here I was a young man who was raised in a very culture conscious environment, shoveling manure, tending the cows and pigs, and working the fields. Quite a different lifestyle then I was accustomed to.
While working on the farm, I befriended the leader of one of the resistance groups in the area, and from that time on, I became a member of the resistance, although I continued to work on the farm. Being with the resistance afforded me a good opportunity for some sort of protection whenever the German troops came to the village for one of their searches. I changed my name to Daniel Dupont, and was able to obtain forged documents bearing that name. I also became the youngest member of the group. Barely fourteen years old, I became their courier, and it was my duty to relay messages between the various groups of resistance fighters in that area. Two-way radios could not be used, as the Germans could easily spot their position. It was on one such mission, that all of a sudden, I found myself surrounded by about a dozen German soldiers shouting “Hande hoch”(hands up) and motioning for me to raise my hands. They spoke no French, and I could not admit to being able to speak fluent German, since that surely would have given away my identity. However, since I understood every word they were saying, I realized that they were going to take me to Gestapo Headquarters for questioning. That would have meant unspeakable torture and finally death, as they certainly would have discovered that I was a Jew. Prior to World War II circumcision was not practiced in Europe except as a religious rite among the Jews. Thus, it was a favorite method for the Germans to identify any males they arrested or searched as a Jew. The Germans routinely made men drop their pants, even in the middle of a crowded street, in order to discover if they were circumcised or not. As they were marching me back to the village at gunpoint, we were fired upon by some of the resistance fighters and during the ensuing confusion, I was able to escape, and make my way hastily back to the farm. After that, every time the Germans came to the village, I would go into the woods to rejoin the members of the French resistance, since that seemed to be the safest hiding place. Since we could not light any fires, as they could easily have been detected by the German patrols, our meals consisted of raw horsemeat, and raw eggs, which we punctured with a nail at both ends, and then sucked out of their shell,
It was while I was working at the farm, that the priest put me in touch with a family by the name of Deutsch. They were originally from Germany, and lived in an apartment in Villard de Lans with their daughter who I judged to be about twenty years old at the time. When the war ended, they moved to Paris, and I renewed my relationship with them when the O.S.E. transferred me to the orphanage at Montmorency, near there. It was the Deutschs who provided me with new clothes and also some financial assistance that enabled me to buy some necessities and also for fare for my weekly trips from Montmorency to Paris. They truly became my guardian angel at a time in my life when I had a lot of heartaches to overcome. They, and my soon to come trip to America, gave my morale the boost that it needed after all I had gone through the past six years.
A few months later, the end of the war was in sight. The Allied forces had landed in Normandie, and the Free French Forces under General De Gaule and the American Army invaded southern France from North Africa. During all those years, I was unable to contact my uncle and aunt in Buffalo, but I still remembered their address. When I met an American Army chaplain in Villard de Lans, I asked him to please get in touch with them. He wrote them a nice letter, advising them that he had located me, and that I was safe and sound after much suffering.
Following the German surrender, I went to Paris, that most glorious of cities. Although I was housed in an orphanage, the Villa Helvetia in Montmorency, a suburb of Paris, I spent most of my time there. I contacted Madame Aaron, and she totally took me under her wing. I took piano and composition lessons from Madame Aaron-Cohen, and practically lived in her home. The year was 1945, I was fifteen years old, and had seen and suffered enough to last a hundred lifetimes. I lived through five years of barbaric cruelty, bombings, strafing and starvation, but now, things were beginning to turn around for me. One story from the orphanage at Montmorency that I will never forget occurred shortly after I arrived there. I had written a letter to my aunt and uncle in Buffalo in order to let them know my whereabouts. About two or three weeks later, I was overjoyed to receive a package from them. Among other snack items in the box, there was a large box of corn flakes. As I did not speak English at that time, I was unable to read the instructions on the box, so I enlisted the help of the orphanage staff, but to no avail. Their English was no better than mine. However, you cannot imagine the sight of about 120 boys digging into that box not knowing what corn flakes were or how they were meant to be eaten or if they were meant to be eaten at all.
Early one afternoon at the orphanage, I was summoned to the front door because I had a visitor. I absolutely had no idea as to who could be visiting me, and to my great surprise, I was greeted by a captain in the American Army who introduced himself as Irving Green. It turns out that he was acquainted with my Uncle Leo in Buffalo, and my uncle asked him to get in touch with me. From that day on, my life changed totally, as America now seemed to be more of a reality. Captain Green took me to the American Embassy, and he was very instrumental in getting my visa in order. After that first meeting, he picked me up at least once a week to take me to the Officers’ Club in Paris for dinner and a variety show. I still remember drinking my first Coca-Cola ever at that club.
After my arrival in Paris, I contacted the International Red Cross and some other refugee organizations in order to find the whereabouts of my parents. Although the Jewish community in Europe had been decimated by the Nazis and their henchmen, surviving Jews roamed throughout the continent searching for family members who might have survived, and also for some vestige of their past. While awaiting news concerning the fate or whereabouts of my parents, all kind of thoughts ran through my mind. How would I react if I were lucky enough to be reunited with my parents? How much would they have changed? How much have I changed since we were so tragically separated just three years before? My cruel experiences during those three years have turned me into an adult at age fifteen. I was no longer the little boy they entrusted to the O.S.E. with the hope of saving my life. After a few weeks however, the International Red Cross notified me that my parents were transported to Auschwitz, Poland, in 1942, and that they were murdered in the gas chambers there I was also notified that my grandparents were murdered in the Warsaw ghetto. Now, as I look back, I realize how really young my parents were at the time of their murder; my father 45, and my mother barely 33.
I was finally able to contact my family in Buffalo, and they put the wheels in motion to enable me to immigrate to the United States. Waiting for what seemed an eternity, I was finally able to leave Europe.
I arrived in the United States on the SS Desirade, a converted freighter, on 16 April 1946, to join the wonderful uncle and aunt who raised me as one of their own ever since, and the brothers and sisters I never had.
Shortly after my arrival in the United States, I registered at Bennett High School in Buffalo, New York. My family absolutely refused to speak to me in German, so that I would be forced to learn English quickly. The assistant principal at Bennett, a man by the name of Abraham Axelrod spoke Yiddish, and I asked him how long it would take me to graduate. His response was that it took American students four years, so that it would take me at least as long, whereupon I told him that I would not be there that long. To make a long story short, I was only one of two students to ever graduate in two years. The other student was a girl from Poland.
After graduating from high school, I moved to New York City, where my Uncle Max was a fur salesman. He got me a job as a furrier apprentice at the firm of Weiss & Meyer with a salary of $21.00 per week. I lived in a rooming house on 98th Street in Manhattan. Breakfast was usually at a stand-up counter at Nedicks; 25 cents for orange juice, a donut, and coffee. During the summer, I walked home quite often (to save money on subway fares), and on the way home, I would stop in Central Park and listen to the Goldman Band concerts. Many a hot summer night I slept in the Park, as my room was unbearably hot. In those days, New York City was a much safer city, and people had no qualms about sleeping in the park.
During that period, my Uncle Leo in Buffalo started his own concession business, and he needed help. Since he literally started on a shoestring, he could not afford to hire help, so that we all had to pitch in to save money. For a number of years, I drove our big truck, making deliveries to theaters throughout New York and Pennsylvania. Eventually, I became vice president of Wavco, Inc. and president of Sweet and Juicy, Inc. a Coca-Cola distributorship.
In 1951, during the war with North Korea, I received my draft notice. A good friend of mine, a pianist, Ellen Goldstein, gave a going-away party for me. At that party, was a beautiful young girl of twenty, an art student, who was also an honored guest, since she and her family were leaving for Paris to join her father who was already there, working for the U.S. State Department. For both MaryAnne and I, it was love at first sight. For the next few days, we could not see enough of each other. Our most memorable night that week, was a night out at the Town Casino. MaryAnne introduced me to her mother, and after I kissed her mother’s hand, I could do no wrong.
On June 14, 1951, after being inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. I was transferred to Camp Chaffee Arkansas for training in the field artillery. Since I was good in mathematics, I was trained as a fire control specialist, whose duty it was to direct the artillery fire so that the shells would hit their target.
After our four-month long training period, we received our orders to report to Fort Ord, California after a two-week furlough at home. From there, our destination was Korea. I immediately wrote MaryAnne to give her the bad news, but the following morning, six of us were notified that we would go to Europe instead of Korea. Instead of Fort Ord, I was ordered to report to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for shipment to Germany. Since my military records had already been forwarded to Fort Ord, I had to wait at Camp Kilmer until my records caught up with me. We left New York harbor the beginning of December, on the Leroy Eltinge, and arrived in Bremerhaven ten days later. From there we were taken to an old castle (Sonthofen) in the Bavarian Alps to await our final assignments. I was assigned to the Intelligence Service, but since I had an aunt (my Aunt Mary) still living in Poland, behind the Iron Curtain, I was considered a security risk, so that I was given the next best job. I was sent to Frankfurt, to the 209th Railway Security Battalion, and it was my duty to patrol military passenger trains throughout Germany. As luck would have it, we also guarded the military mail car on the daily trains to Paris. Since I spoke French fluently, I made the Paris trip at least once or more every week for the next one and a half years. The train left Frankfurt in the evening, and arrived in Paris around six in the morning. We were picked up at the train station by the American military and taken to the PX in a Paris suburb. After a hearty breakfast, I would call MaryAnne, and sometime she would come to visit me, or I would take the Metro (subway) to her home in Arcueil. We were thus able to spend an entire day together at least once or twice a week.
My tour of duty in Germany was not very easy for me. Here I found myself surrounded by the same people who had committed all those atrocities during the Holocaust just a few years prior. The people who brought misery into so many lives, the people who killed my parents, grandparents, other family members, six million Jews in all. Since I spoke German fluently, I had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of German citizens concerning the Holocaust. Just as if they had rehearsed their reply, not a single one of them admitted complicity in the atrocities. As with one voice, they all stated that they ” loved the Jews”.
MaryAnne and I were deeply in love, and in 1952 I asked her to marry me, and she agreed. That day, I had butterflies in my stomach all day, since I had to ask my future father-in-law for his daughter’s hand in marriage. That task turned out to be easier than I thought, since her parents both liked me very much. I was due to return to the States to be discharged in May 1953, so we decided to get married in Paris so that MaryAnne’s parents would be able to attend the wedding. On the 7th of February, the mayor of Arcueil first married us, and that same evening we had our religious ceremony at the Union Liberale Israelite. MaryAnne’s sister Liz was the maid of honor, my cousin (later brother) Billy was my best man. Also in attendance were MaryAnne’s parents, her brother David, and my great uncle Fabian and aunt, my cousin Sally, his wife Fella and their son Claude, as well as my music teacher, Madame Aaron and her husband. After the ceremony we had a beautiful dinner at a restaurant near the Paris opera, which was recommended to my father-in-law by Art Buchwald , the renowned newspaper columnist. The next morning we took the train to Rome, Italy, were we spent seven glorious days touring the city and the numerous art galleries. We also visited Saint Peters Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, where we were in awe at Michelangelo’s ceiling depicting the Creation. We also toured the other Basilicas, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, and numerous other historical sites. From Rome, we went to Florence, where we spent several days touring the various Art Galleries such as the Uffizi Galleries, saw the original statue of David by Michelangelo, sculptures by Benvenuto Cellini, etc…Our last day in Italy, we spent in Pisa, where we visited the Baptistry with the famous Giotto bell tower, and of course the Leaning Tower.
After a busy and hectic but terrific honeymoon, it was time for me to return to duty. We took the train back to Paris where I left my new bride with her parents. I of course got to see her regularly on my trips to Paris. In April of that year, about a month before I was to come back to the States, MaryAnne came to Frankfurt, were I put her up at the Columbia Hotel for fifty cents a day. I left Germany the middle of May on the General Darby, and was discharged from the Army at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey on 21 May 1953. My bride came home to me on the Queen Elizabeth in July of the same year.
In the meantime, the family theater and concession business had grown considerably, and I took over as the warehouse manager and buyer. In 1954, MaryAnne and I moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, where I opened a branch office and warehouse, servicing theaters in the Wheeling and southeastern area of Ohio. MaryAnne was expecting at that time, and in March 1955, we became the proud parents of our firstborn, a son who we named Avery, after my father Abraham. That same year, we moved back to Buffalo and within a short period of just seven years, our other three children, Regina, Samuel, and Sarah were born.
The concession business continued to grow, with the addition of Drive-in theaters, which became popular in the early 50’s. Later on, we also operated all the food operations at Fantasy Island, an amusement park in Grand Island N.Y. When the real estate values of the drive-ins became too high, and the owners developed the land they occupied into shopping centers, we again diversified, and operated snack bars in discount stores throughout several states in the northeast, as well as in Canada. After a few years however, competition from the nearby fast food chains proved to be too much and we gradually pulled out of all of them. After several attempts in the restaurant business that also proved to be unprofitable, mostly because of competition from the chain operators, I decided to leave the business, and applied for a position with the Federal Government. In July of 1986, I took over as the Officers’ Club manager at Picatinny Arsenal, in Dover, New Jersey. As part of my job, I managed the Club, golf course, swimming club, as well as several snack bars. After about two months, during which I was involved with the construction of a new club building, I broke my foot on the job, and while my foot was healing, I was assigned temporary duty at the clinic, since that would not require much time standing on my feet.
While I was at the clinic, my appropriated position at the club was done away with. and therefore, the Government had to provide me with another position in the same grade. I thus became a program and budget analyst, and within two months, worked myself up to a senior position in that field.
In September 1994, I decided to retire by age 65, as the cold climate in the north made my life as a diabetic very difficult, and in December 1994, we moved to our beautiful new home, in Chesapeake, Virginia.
As to my musical life, I never became proficient enough on any instrument to consider a musical career. However, I continued to study music throughout my life. I have a decent voice, a thorough knowledge of music, and am a good sight-reader. For about twenty years in Buffalo, I sang first with the Choral Arts Society, and then with the Buffalo Schola Cantorum, the choir of the Buffalo Philharmonic. I was also music chairman of that choir, and was responsible for the first Buffalo area performances of the Missa di Gloria by Puccini, as well as the Mass in D by John Knowles Payne.I derived the greatest pleasure having the privilege to perform under the direction of great conductors, such as Michael Tilson Thomas, Semyon Bychkov, Julius Rudel, Peter Peret, and Sir Neville Marriner, as well as numerous guest conductors. For several years. I was also choir director at Temple Beth El in Buffalo. While a member of the Buffalo Schola Cantorum, I served on a committee to select an American composer for a commissioned choral work for the choir. The chosen composer was Dominick Argento, whose Te Deum was given its world premiere by the choir with the Buffalo Philharmonic.
MaryAnne, earned her bachelor in art degree from Daemen College and her master’s in art education Summa Cum Laude from the State University of New York. She became a very fine artist, and won numerous awards as well as having several one-woman shows. As for myself, I have always enjoyed photography and have become quite knowledgeable in it. Thus, since my retirement, I keep myself busy taking photographs, mostly of landscapes and close-ups of flowers.
As I now look back on my life, the Holocaust, the horror of the camps, and mostly the death of my beloved parents, I realize why my life as well as that of the other survivors was spared. How else could the story of the Holocaust be saved for future generations, and how else would future generations learn about man’s inhumanity against man? My survival is even more of a miracle when you consider that over 11,000 French Jewish children, and several thousand more who sought refuge in France, were transported to Auschwitz. Of those, only very few were lucky enough to have survived the Holocaust.
I will never forget the words of that Catholic priest in that little Alpine Village, that the one thing the Nazis will never be able to take away from me is my Jewish heritage. I will forever live up to that heritage with great pride.
Unfortunately, my beloved parents were taken from me during my formative years. However, during those few short years that I was honored to have them nurture me, their influence on my life has made a lasting impression on me, and has made me the person I am today. By their deeds and example, they instilled in me the desire to emulate the high ethical and moral standards by which they themselves lived.
I am also most grateful to the aunt and uncle who brought me to this great land. They also brought me into their family and into their lives, and gave me the brothers and sisters I never had. Since they always considered me as one of their own, MaryAnne and I had our name legally changed to Katz shortly after our marriage.
My gratitude must also be extended to this great country, the United States, for giving me the opportunity to come to its shores, and to make a new life for myself.
Most of all, I am ever so thankful to be blessed with the most wonderful life partner anyone could ever hope for. Through all of life’s aversions, my beloved MaryAnne has stood by my side and has supported me in all my various endeavors. Above all else, she has given me the greatest joy of my life, our four wonderful and devoted children.
In 1996, I was invited to become a member of the Holocaust Commission of the Jewish Federation of Tidewater, and also a member of their Speakers’ Bureau. As such, I have been privileged to speak to schoolchildren as well as to numerous civic and military organizations in the Tidewater Area of Virginia about my Holocaust experiences. As difficult as it is for me to relive my experiences, the respect they have shown me during my speeches, as well as the hundreds of letters I have received from them, have moved me deeply. The opportunity to speak about the Holocaust has increased my awareness as to how important it is to never forget, and to not let it happen again to anyone. Also, the main function of the Holocaust Commission is to teach tolerance. Therefore, I use my experiences during the holocaust as an example as to what happens when indifference, intolerance, lack of respect and hate permeates our society.
And so, I go on speaking. I speak to honor my parents, grandparents, and the six million other Jewish martyrs who perished during the Holocaust. I speak, because they can no longer speak. Their voices were silenced forever in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Herewith are some of the letters I have received from schoolchildren in the Tidewater area.
Dear Mr. Katz,
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for coming in today to talk to us about your experiences at the time of World War II. I think that it takes a lot of strength to discuss that time of your life. This is why I admire you so much. I have always been interested in World War II and the Holocaust, and I was excited to hear that we would have a guest speaker that was a survivor of the Holocaust. I was very impressed, but not surprised, by when you had to walk 550 miles to get to safety. The reason that I wasn’t surprised was because you had to do what you had to do. I was also sorry to hear about your parents. That is a truly awful thing for anyone to have to go through. I know that if I was separated from my parents at that age, I would be so sad and lost because I have always had them to rely on. You were able to go on and leave them behind. This is another reason why I admire you/ I would like to ask you though, how did you get your education? And who took care of you when you made it to freedom?
I don’t want to take up anymore of your time, so I just want to say this. I think that you are a very courageous man, and although you probably wouldn’t have done what you did if you were given the choice, you are still a hero and I just wanted to say thanks.
Dear Mr. Katz,
I want to take this time to thank you for coming to our school to talk to our classes about your experiences during the Holocaust. I never knew how horrible the conditions were then. I always heard stories about it, but could never picture myself going through what you did. I would assume it takes much courage to stand up and make a speech about it. Once again, thank you for coming, and I wish you would speak to other students about your experiences. I’m sure others would enjoy your talk as much as I did.
Dear Mr. Katz,
I would like to thank you for coming in and telling my class about you and your struggled through the Holocaust. I greatly appreciate you taking your time to come and talk to us. I hope that something like this will never happen again. It’s wonderful to know that there is someone trying to reach the youth to educate them for the future. This has been a good experience for me and once again I thank you.
Dear Mr. Katz,
Thank you for taking your time to tell us a little bit about your life and our history. I’m sure it was rather difficult for you to talk about such a devastating part of your life. Your speech was very interesting and entertaining. It took a lot of courage for you to do what you did, and again I would like to thank you.
Dear Mr. Katz,
I am a student at Independence Middle. I am writing to you in order to thank you for coming out to our school and telling us your story. I must imagine that you were a little uncomfortable telling us this story, but I am glad that you took the time to do so. I hope you will continue to inform students so nothing like this will happen again. We appreciate everything you have done.
Dear Mr. Katz,
My name is Courtney. I am a student at Independence Middle School and I would truly like to thank you for your emotional and extremely touching speech. Having ancestry in Poland, I have heard stories, but none as complete and heart-filled as yours. I am aware that it must be hard to remember exact dates and talk about the details as well as you did. For that I thank you. I would also like to thank you for coming and talking to us about a subject that we have just barely touched on. Now, our insight as a whole has grown much further. Thank you.
I would like to start off my letter by showing my gratitude and respect towards your presentation at Nonsemond River High School. I want to say thank you for coming and educating my Honors 9 English class. I did learn a little about the Holocaust from the books I read over the summer. I found out that many people lived through pain, suffering and starvation. These people lost family, friends and associates. People were being treated as though they were animals or slaves. I particularly do not believe that anyone else should be treated differently from a king or queen., especially because of the color of his or her skin, race or religious background. Mr. Katz, you are a remarkably outstanding man, because it takes a bold man to stand in front of a young audience and relive the pain and heartache that you have been through. Once again I want to thank you and I will always remember you for your powerful wisdom and knowledge. May God bless you and the rest of your family.
I would like to take some time to thank you for coming to our school today and telling our class of your experiences. I truly appreciate your visiting us today, even though I know it must have been hard at first to share your memories with others. Everyone should be aware of the history of the Holocaust so that it will never happen again. It definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to hear it from you first-hand. You gave the presentation so well. I am sure others enjoyed it also.
I have read about the Holocaust and World War II. in many books. Your speech really added to my knowledge a lot. I never did imagine I would have the opportunity to meet a survivor. Your experiences have brought reality to truth. Now I will not look at another person based upon his color or anything of that nature., but by who he really is inside. Thank you once again for coming. Your sharing with us is very much appreciated.
Dear Mr. Katz,
Thanks for coming to our school to talk about the Holocaust. It must have been difficult for you to tell all the things that happened to you during that time. But we’re thankful that you are still here. From you, and your story, I have learned not to judge others by what they are, but on who they are inside. God made all people equal, but others don’t think that way. I have learned much more from you than I have read in books. I guess it’s better to hear it first hand, than from someone who just studies the Holocaust. Again, thank you.
With deepest gratitude from a St.Matthews student.
In March 2001, I was invited to speak to the Virginia Children’s Choir after one of their rehearsals for a May 2 performance of a cantata using poems written by children in the Terezin Concentration Camp. I received dozens of cards and letters from the children. The one below is representative of the effect my speech had on them.
Dear Mr. Katz,
I am glad you were able to come speak to us at our rehearsal a few weeks ago. Hearing from someone who lived through the experience has made working on the music even more meaningful. I am sure we will always remember the Holocaust and do our best to prevent it from happening again. We will do our best to honor the lives of the children who wrote the poetry when we perform it next week.
Virginia Children’s Chorus
For the May 2 concert, I had the honor of presenting the Virginia Children’s Chorus and Virginia Symphony to the audience, and the concert program bore the dedication to the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and its survivors, particularly David Katz.