Furst Brothers BRATIA FÜRST
The Story of Mom and Dad
After mom was separated from us, she was taken directly in a transport from Birkenau through Bergen-Belsen to a small concentration camp near the town of Lippstadt in central Germany. Although it was not an extermination camp – actually, it was a labor camp – there, too roll calls were called for, food was poor and conditions in general were grueling. The work to be done was sewing uniforms and military equipment for German troops. Jewish women worked side by side with employees who came into the camp from the outside. Those workers supplied two very important factors: information on the political and military scenes, and some food that was smuggled into the camp. Mom shared her bunk with Vali (who later became Mrs. Frank). They became good friends and their mutual support kept their morale as high as it was possible, and helped them survive.
Vali was a married woman, but her husband never returned from the camps. After the war, thanks to mom’s matchmaking, she married Lapeš Frank, dad’s cousin.
Mom suffered in that camp until the war ended. Because of its location, the camp was one of the last ones to be liberated. Right upon the Allies’ entry into the camp, two American soldiers came over to mom and said to her: “You have a son in Buchenwald!” Prior to the occupation of Lippstadt, those GI’s apparently served in the unit that liberated Buchenwald. Incidentally, they might have seen me (Naftali) there, and carried my face in their memory until they met mom. From that moment, mom believed that her son was alive, and new hopes filled her heart. And so it was!
We heard of mom being alive over the radio, in a program that broadcasted the names of survivors. After her liberation, she came to Bratislava. There we met again.
After we were separated from each other, dad stayed for a while in Birkenau. Two weeks later he was transported to the Dachau concentration camp, where he worked in the carpentry shop, under horrible conditions. Quite many of our acquaintances, who were also sent to Dachau have not survived. Dad’s survival was a real miracle, particularly taking into account the partial paralysis, which hit him in the past.
When the frontline came near Dachau, the inmates of the camp were evacuated by trucks or by foot. Dad was among those who marched; actually, he was liberated while walking into Garmisch Partenkirchen, a beautiful German town in southerm Bavaria.
A few days later, he and his friends lit a campfire in order to warm up. Suddenly the flames hit some leftover ammunition. A shrapnel wounded dad’s head, near his eye. He lost a lot of blood. Later he told us that in those moments he thought of the worst.
We all were lucky to have found out that the only mark that wound left was a scar.
Dad returned to Bratislava being in a relatively good physical condition.
Already on her way home, mom saw dad’s name in a list of liberated survivors. Only by the time they were both in Bratislava, they heard about our survival. Mom repeatedly told us that throughout the entire horrible period in the camp, all her thoughts and longings were directed at us. Her only hope was to see us again, and she had no other demands.
Indeed, as long as she lived, she accepted everything modestly and with no demands. For instance, it took us quite a long time to convince her to replace the television set in her home. She always felt satisfied with what she had.
Again in Bratislava
The house we lived in before the war was in ruins. It was impossible to live in it. There were no doors, no windows, no electricity. Our parents rented an apartment on 25 Kozia Street in Bratislava. We slowly began to recover from our wounds. During the first days, we ate our meals in the Jewish community kitchen, but soon afterwards we have set up our new home.
By the fall of 1945, a few months after the war ended, we already knew that in our broader family the only survivors were uncle Andor and his family – all together four souls – aunt Lili with her daughter Eva, uncle Arpad, and the four of us. No other members of our family survived the atrocities. Nonetheless, we obsessively kept trying to find out what was the fate of our dear ones who did not come back. As time went by, we learned that those who were deported in 1942 were all murdered. That was the fate of aunt Lido and her son Hanzi, and of uncle Laci, his wife Stela and daughter Marika. They were all sent directly to extermination camps – some to Majdanek, others to Treblinka. Among the deportees of 1944, the entire Rosenzweig family – three brothers and their wives – were all murdered in Auschwitz. Before the war, they owned a stationery business in the town of Predmier. Mr. Link, their partner in business, perished with them. The Germans did not deport the father of the Rosenzweigs, an old and sick man; he died close to the end of the war.
We never heard of the fate of Rudi, mom’s brother, and of Mr. Weiner, our aunt Lili’s husband. We do know that grandma on our mom’s side was taken directly to a death camp. Aunt Anička passed away in the beginning of 1944 in Piešťany.
Right after we set up our new home, we returned to school. In order to be admitted, we had to be examined. Naftali declared the he was not going to take the examination, as he was sure that he wouldn’t pass it, because of his long absence from school. Yet he was persuaded to go to the test, assuring him that the school authorities would seriously consider all he went through. Lastly, we were both accepted to school.
At the same time we also became members of youth movements. While Naftali joined “Hashomer Hatzair”, Shmuel was member of “Maccabi Hatzair”. At a ceratin point Naftali said to Shmuel: “Listen, there is no reason for you to go to Maccabi, because the ping-pong table in the club of Hashomer Hatzair is much better!” And so we both found ourselves in Hashomer Hatzair.
Shortly after our return, part of our property has also been given back to us. The lumber warehouse continued its operation during the war under the management of the “Aryzator” who took it over from dad. Dad approached him and demanded the return of his business. The Aryan refused, arguing that he got it into his hands legally. In the course of their conversation, dad pointed to his rear pocket and said: “If you don’t leave the business, you will soon find out what will happen.” The other guy has not waited long to find out that dad did not have a pistol in his pocket. He ran away as swift as an arrow, and dad took back his business. Some time later, the two men reconciled their relationship.
Dad’s business became prosperous, thanks to the rapid development in the country. He found a Jewish partner for his business. The profit allowed us to move to a nice, spacious house in the outskirts of town, and later hire a housemaid and a cook. At that time, the house in Petržalka, where we were born and lived in until 1938, was renovated, but our parents did not want to return to it.
On December 18, 1945, our parents held a modest Bar-Mitzva celebration for Naftali. Among the presents he received were leather sheets for his shoe-soles. He was very impressed with that present, and he kept it in his memory, only to buy, many decades thereafter an in another country, a similar gift for his grandson. It became a symbol, a bridge between past and present.
Later in December, Naftali took part in the winter camp of Hashomer Hatzair in the Súľov Mountains. On that spot, the future Kibbutz Lehavot Chaviva was proclaimed.
Shmuel did not go to that winter camp, because he was still hospitalized for his arthritis.
Because we were of different age, we went to different classes in school. That factor, together with Shmuel’s health problems, brought us to separate tracks in our day-by-day life. However, we had something very significant in common: it was clear that the youth movement, aimed at immigration to Eretz-Israel was for us more important than school.