Eyes of the Holocaust (2000) - full transcript

Steven Spielberg and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation present interviews with survivors of the Nazi death camps in Hungary. Their tragic testimonies are illustrated through newsreels from the era and archival photos.

"Eyes of the Holocaust."


"From the Greek, holokauston:

"Burning or totally burnt sacrifice.

"Literally: What is destroyed by fire.

"What is destroyed by fire."

We saw so many things.

We lived through so many things.

This German precision...

ensured that no living witnesses
would survive.

We knew everything
about the nearby crematoria.

The things that happened when we arrived...

the process of selection and so on...

We thought that the Germans
couldn"t allow people to escape.

People who saw all of this,
who knew all about this...

would later tell others.

We even considered...

never telling anyone about it...

if we ever got out.

For no one could believe...

that such a thing could have existed,
that such a thing could have happened.


"Woven bread
used on Saturdays and feast days.

"On ordinary Saturdays, it is long-shaped.

"On autumn feast days...

"it is woven in a circle."

I liked Passover...

because we would get the Passover plate
from the attic...

which was much prettier
than the other bowls...

as it was only used for one week a year.

My mother did a big spring-cleaning.

She made a small pellet from yeast.

She put it in the stove...

to show that the house was clean.

Our furniture was very simple.

There was an armchair and a chair...

which we put together with pillows...

to make a hesebet for my father.

On Fridays we took the sholet
to a nearby baker...

and we children picked it up
at noon on Saturday.

On Saturdays
the family was always together.

On Friday evenings, too,
when my father returned from synagogue.

My mother lay a snow-white tablecloth
on the table.

The candles were burning...

and there were
the two pieces of bread, or challah.

I still remember...

the challah blessing...

even in Hebrew:

Baruch ata Adonay Eloheynu melech...

haolam hamotzi lechem min haaretz.

We always said it this quickly...

so we could eat the crust of the challah...

which always tasted good.


"In common parlance...

"measures taken against the Jews.

"It means opposition to Jews."

"Numerus clausus:

"Discriminative anti-Semitic policy.

"It means limited number."

There was once a pogrom
during which the rabbi was arrested.

The rabbi was told...

that he and his family
would be freed, not killed...

if he stood on one leg and told them
the essence of the Jewish faith.

The rabbi stood on one leg and said,
"Love your neighbor as yourself"...

and put down his leg.

"That"s the essence of the Jewish faith, "
said our teacher.

"Do you love your neighbor as yourself?"
He asked me.

"Teacher," I said, "l"ll try,
but l"m not sure it will work."

He stroked my head. "To God,"
he replied, "you will be a good Jew."

"God is interested in whether
you keep the Commandment.

"Whether you believe in him or not
is up to you.

"That doesn"t really matter to him. "

"Jew: A race of Semitic origin...

"that dispersed all over the world
from ancient Palestine. "

In the classroom,
the children passed around...

a piece of paper with the words:

"Erger, Berger, S?sberger,
every Jew"s a bugger.

"Get the hell out of our country."

"September 1, 1939.

"Germany invades Poland.

"The Second World War breaks out.

"Germany invades France...

"Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg."

"June 22, 1941.

"Germany invades the Soviet Union.

"Hungary joins the declaration of war...

"thus entering World War II."

"December 11, 1941.

"Germany and Italy...

"declare war on the United States."

"February 2, 1943.

"The Sixth German Army
surrenders at Stalingrad. "

"March 19, 1944.

"German troops,
having lost on the Eastern Front...

"enter Hungary."

We sat down to have lunch.
The restaurant was full.

The radio was on. We didn"t know
why they were just playing music.

I will never forget
the moment when the radio announced...

that the German troops
had arrived in Budapest.

All I remember is...

how everyone dropped their cutlery at once.

There was a huge clang,
followed by total silence in the restaurant.

My father was always listening to the radio...

and knew much more than we did.

He always reassured us
that this would soon be over.

I was shocked to hear
from my uncle, a doctor...

that while my father
pretended to be so optimistic...

he had in fact gone to my uncle
two days after the Germans arrived...

to ask for poison...

so the three of us wouldn"t have to endure
the horror that awaited us.

"Jewish laws:

"From 1938 onwards...

"the exclusion of Jews...

"in Hungary intensified."

They passed hundreds of laws.

Jews were not allowed to look out
of windows overlooking the street.

They couldn"t look out
of their own apartments.

Jews couldn"t walk on the promenade
or the pavement...

only the road.

Jews couldn"t go to caf?s,
bakeries, cinemas, or theatres.

Jews could only go to the market
to buy food after 10:00 a.m.

Afterwards a law was passed...

that only those "of pure blood"
were allowed to compete in sports.

To be honest, I didn"t know what
"of pure blood" meant.

L"d only ever heard this said about dogs.

"Yellow star:

"Distinguishing mark worn by Jews
on their clothing. "

When it was decreed that the star
had to be worn at all times...

my father asked where we should pin it
during the summer.

They shouted, "To your skin!"



"forced removal to alien places."

We were getting ready for Shabbat.

The challah was all prepared.

Some of it was already in the oven.

Suddenly, totally unexpectedly...

a big group of gendarmes broke in.

Very rudely they told us
to quickly pack our things.

They hardly gave us a minute or two...

to pack a few little things...

the most important items.

They were harsh, unfriendly.

But as the other people in the village
watched us leave...

I didn"t see sorrow in their faces...

rather curiosity, mocking.

They looked at us with a satisfied smile...

as if we were animals.

It was a terrible feeling.
We took our bags and got on the truck.

That"s where Golgotha began.

We had to leave for the ghetto.

We had a dog, Muri.

The poor thing ran and ran after us
until he was totally exhausted.

Maybe he was the only living thing
that sympathized with our plight.

"On May 15, 1944...

"the mass deportation...

"of Hungarian Jews began."

"July 9, 1944.

"The mass deportation of rural Jews...

"to concentration camps is complete."


"The Jewish population...

"was squeezed into isolated districts."

It was a big house.

We were terribly cramped.
We had the two babies with us.

I don"t know how many of us there were
in that room.

Next door there were even more.

There was a girl...

with chicken pox or a rash.

She was crying so much, the poor thing.

Just like the two little ones.

"Grandma! Stroke me!" she repeated,
because her skin itched.

The whole thing was terrible.

I met many good...

decent, caring people.

Next door lived three old maids.

We had only just gotten to know them.

Every morning they visited us
on the way to work...

to ask us what they could buy for us...

what they could do for us.

They came to get the richer families.

We would hear...

a neighbor being taken away...

and brought back hours later,
almost beaten to death.

Some of them died afterwards.

They set up the interrogation room...

in the tailor"s shop.

They took the head
of every household there.

In our case, my mother.

They took her there and beat her.

They lined us up...

and marched us across the city
to the brickworks.

It was pouring rain.

We took with us the little bags...

which we were allowed to bring.

Lots of people were on the street
or looking out of windows.

It must have been quite an attraction.

What I remember most...

was the loud laughter.

We thought this was the end, but no.

It was just the beginning.

It was raining into the brickworks.

We sat or lay in puddles for three days.

We couldn"t wait to leave.

Of course, we didn"t know
where we were leaving for and how.

It became an adage in our family.

At some depressing moment
I said to my mother:

"If I were rich, I would take off my cap
and bid farewell to Hungary."

"Where would you go, Son?"
My mother laughed.

"Germany," I said.

I made it.


"People are crowded into cattle trains...

"and transported...

"to concentration camps...

"and death camps."

A few days later this freight train arrived...

and we could get on it. I was delighted.

We could leave! Fantastic!

They were cattle trains.

One of my most terrible memories...

a sound I can still hear today,
was of that door being locked.

When, at the age of 13,
I knew they had locked us in.

"The mass deportations took place...

"with active cooperation...

"of the Hungarian authorities.

"437,000 people were deported...

"most of them to Auschwitz."

There were old people, pregnant women.

All I could hear was,
"Water, water. Doctor, doctor!"

It rattled within me...

like the rattle of the train.

I was in a daze from hunger,
from tiredness, from the heat.

I don"t even know
how many days we traveled for.

Little Gyuri wanted to sleep.
He asked for his teddy bear.

He was only nine. "The bear, the bear!"
It was in his rucksack.

The jam jar in his rucksack broke.

His bear was swimming in jam.

I couldn"t even give him his bear.

My last picture of that poor boy...

was of him asking for his bear.

My poor mother looked out
and saw the green fields...

the blossoming trees and flowers.

It was the 1st or 2nd of June.

She started crying and couldn"t stop.

What are they doing to her two children,
her pride and joy...

when there are people out in the fields,
free, working?

A little boy was there with his parents.

I started chatting with him.

He was 6 or 7 years old.

His first year of school was over.

I said, "So now you"II be starting
the second year."

"L"m not going to be in any year," he replied.

Mariann Adler:
Lived 11 years, 4 months, 5 days.

?va B?rdos:
Lived 8 years, 11 months, 12 days.

Judithka Deutch: 0 years, 6 months.

Gy?rgy Bartos: 12 years, 2 months.

P?ter Feldm?r:
Lived 0 years, 0 months, 12 days.







As it was a branch line
that led to Auschwitz...

we felt as if we were going backwards.

At that same moment...

many people said the same thing:

"Regent Horthy cares about us after all!
He"s bringing us back!"

About an hour later...

the train slowed...

and we arrived at the place
we never imagined existed.

When they opened the train doors...

or rather, flung them open...

there were hordes of SS officers.

They screamed:

"Out! Out! Damned Jews!"

It was a total reign of terror.

They tore people off the train.

The moment we arrived I perceived a smell...

that never went away.

I had never smelled it before...

or only at pig slaughter.

I told my mother and grandmother...

that this was the smell of burning meat.

"That"s impossible!" they said.

It was like an overturned ants" nest.

Everyone was scrambling,
not knowing where to go.

They started to shout.

They separated the men from the women.

That"s when I saw my father
for the last time.

My mother held my sister"s hand...

and my hand on the other side.

Then we reached Dr. Mengele.

"Can you work?" he asked. I said, "Yes."

They didn"t want my sister.
She was short, with her two ponytails.

She went with my mother.
They held hands and waved.

"L"II see you later," I shouted.

I never saw them again.

Children under 12 went straight
to the gas chambers with their mothers.

Among the children, only twins remained.

There was this girl there.

They separated her mother
to the left-hand side.

The poor woman started screaming:

"My daughter! My daughter! My daughter!

"I won"t leave my daughter here!"

And Mengele...

Mengele, laughing, told her:

"Take your daughter with you, too."

When we arrived, he sent my mother
to the left-hand side.

I didn"t want to leave my mother"s side.

I wanted to run after her.

A German soldier threatened me
with a rubber truncheon.

My poor mother was so worried
l"d be beaten, she gestured to me:

"Go, go! We"II meet later!"

It"s that gesture...

that I still see before my eyes.

I stayed behind.

That was the last time I saw my mother.


"For the purpose
of burning human corpses...

"crematoria were built...

"in the death camps."

Everyone told stories
about what home was like...

the children"s room, the toys, the dolls.

And, most important,
what they cooked, what they ate.

We were always waiting for meals.
Food was our main topic.

There was a latrine...

next to which...

were piles of corpses.

I don"t know how many.

That"s where we played.

Looking back,
I was completely unaffected by it...

playing among corpses.

I don"t think
we were afraid of death by then.

We lived in the children"s block.

Next door was the block
where women were gathered after selection.

They were taken
to the gas chambers the next day.

We heard those terrible shouts
and screams every day.

The children got used to it.

They became lethargic, apathetic.

The bodies of those who died
were collected.

They threw the bodies into wheelbarrows.

We saw all this as children.

The event I remember very clearly...

lasted for about 10 days.

They didn"t notice...

that one young woman was pregnant.

She gave birth in the barracks.

There was this platform...

that ran down the center of the block.

It was made of stone.

I don"t know why it was there,
but it was there.

It divided...

the two sleeping quarters on each side.

They put the baby on that platform...

and didn"t let the mother go near.

She couldn"t breast-feed.

Not that she would have had milk anyway.

To begin with, the baby cried very loudly.

It became less and less loud...

but it kept crying for a very long time.

That"s what we listened to.

On Friday night
this lady was singing beautifully.

She had been a singer
at the Kolozsv?r Opera.

She sang beautifully.

Her name was Lola.

She was in that room...

from where they took people
before they were killed.

I couldn"t understand why she was there.

Later I understood why.

She was holding
a little dead baby in her arms.

She talked and sang to that dead baby
as she went around the room.

As I looked at her holding the dead baby...

I realized that she had gone mad.

I will never forget that as long as I live.


"The line-up held...

"in concentration camps.

"It was held at the Appelplatz."

Very early in the morning, at 3:00 or 4:00...

they made us stand in line
in the freezing wind and snow.

We had to stand absolutely still...

and they would count us.

If someone collapsed...

it was forbidden to touch them,
to help them.

The SS women walked among us...

with dogs and whips.

If anyone moved or spoke...

they immediately used the whip.

The Germans counted the dead, too.
The numbers had to add up.

The whole idea was to stamp out...

any remnants of human dignity.

That grin on their faces as they hurt us...

was indescribable.

There was no space...

for solidarity or camaraderie.

To eat, to breathe...

everyone had to trample on everyone else.

This very situation...

this pile of human meat,
one on top of another...

You couldn"t even move.

People became like vermin.

We left very early in the morning.
It was pitch-black.

I can still hear the voice...

of the German SS woman in my head:

"Left, left, left, and left."

That"s how we went to work,
marching in precise tempo.

Only once did we see a concentration camp.

That was tragic.

There were children speaking Czech...

or some Slavic language.

I don"t know why...

but a German was beating one child
with a club.

It was tragic.

If I had to walk past there...

I closed my eyes
and put my hands on my ears.

Those of us from religious families...

underwent a terrible crisis.

We prayed every morning and night...

to a merciful God.

God could not have seen...

what happened to the children...

to our parents, to the old, to women...

but especially, to the children.

It seems...

God was not there in Auschwitz.


"October 15, 1944.

"Regent Horthy announced...

"on the radio...

"that Hungary was no longer in the war."

Mikl?s Horthy"s announcement...

was on the radio.

I remember the sentence:

"Now everyone knows
that Germany has lost this war."

That he...

the leader of Hungary"s
right-wing, racist government...

or rather, the head of the state...

should say this...

made it clear that it was all over.

That it was really over.

This lasted until 3:00 p.m.,
when the radio went silent...

as it would go silent
many more times in my life.

The silence was followed by music,
then contradictory information:

"Sz?lasi has assumed power.

"The Hungarian Arrow Cross Party
has assumed power."

They took us into a pretty large room...

in the Arrow Cross headquarters.

In the center of the room...

was a table, a machine gun, and a stool.

Jews were lined up facing the wall.

A woman entered with a basket of food
for the Arrow Cross man.

She must have been his wife.

I was only a small kid,
and I had been standing there for hours.

I didn"t really understand things.
I was hungry.

Over my shoulder I saw him eating.

I could smell the stew.

His wife said to him:

"Give some to the kid!"

"No, he"s a Jew," he said.
"But he"s just a kid!" she said.

"From little worms
do big maggots grow," he replied.

On the 24th, the day before Christmas...

some Arrow Cross men came...

and said they were taking us away to work.

They took a number of children...

down R?k?czi Street and through the city.

I cannot say they felt sorry for us.

They took about 100 children.

They took us to a shelter
in Munk?csy Mih?ly Street.

A few days later...

some nuns brought
a further six or seven children...

to us.

All but one of them died...

because they were too weak to survive.

We were so full of grief.

Even though
they weren"t our own children...

they were still children, innocent children...

who had to die in such a horrific way.

There was a little boy...

who lay dying for a whole afternoon.

He called me "Mommy."

It was horrible.

Arrow Cross men entered the house
and announced...

that they would take Jews, floor by floor...

to the Danube to be shot.

We were taken
by just six Arrow Cross men...

although there were a lot of us.

There were at least 80 or 90 of us
on that floor.

My mother explained to me...

that when we stood next to the Danube
and she heard the shot...

she would jump behind me
and I should jump into the river.

I didn"t really understand.

But it never came to this.

Suddenly a truck stopped behind us.

We weren"t allowed to look back.
We didn"t know who it was.

It was Wallenberg...

with his auxiliary police squadron.

I later learned they were mostly Jews...

wearing Arrow Cross armbands.

They disarmed the real Arrow Cross men...

and gave direct orders
to take us to the ghetto.

They put us on the truck,
and instead of going to the ghetto...

they took us to Pann?nia Street...

and told us to hide wherever we could.

On January 13...

the Russians came.

They didn"t understand...

who these children were
who threw themselves into their arms.

I cannot think back without being moved.

That was a really great moment.

A true liberation.

"The Budapest ghetto was liberated...

"on January 18, 1945."

"Hungary was liberated...

"on April 4, 1945."

Sadly, my twin sister
didn"t come back from Auschwitz.

She became ill.

We were freed by the Russians.

They didn"t give her much medicine...

but they did make a film of her.

My mother was also ill.

She weighed 35 kilos. I weighed 20.

She lay in bed. So did I.

One morning my mother came to my room
from her and Ruthika"s room...

and she said,
"Judith, your little sister Ruthika is dead."

"May 9, 1945.

"World War II comes to an end in Europe."

The Holocaust cannot be explained.
It cannot be understood.

To talk about the Holocaust...

is to speak of the incomprehensible.

It was not a historical event.
The Holocaust stands outside of history.

A perfectly irrational event.

If I recount my memories...

I am not telling you about the Holocaust.

I am a survivor.

My memories include...

my experiences since surviving it.

Only those who died
could really tell us about the Holocaust...

but they cannot tell us
because they are dead.

P?ter Feldm?r:
Lived 0 years, 0 months, 12 days.

Zsuzsa Grosz:
Lived 9 years, 10 months, 1 day.

P?ter Kartlesz: Lived 11 years...