On February 20, 2014 Auschwitz and Buchenwald Survivor Irving Roth had an emotional moment as he met Corporal Kenneth Berthold whose unit liberated Buchenwald Concentration Camp on April 11, 1945 at 3:15 PM. There was not a dry eye in the house of 240+ people in attendance.
“It was a balmy evening in the May of 1944, I was 14 years old, I had been locked up in this cattle car for three days and three nights, with no place to sit, no bathrooms, no windows, all we had was this bucket. I jump off the train and all I see are guards with sub machine guns and dogs yelling at me, Raus! Raus! Get out and form lines.
“In the distance I see flames coming out of chimneys. I’m 14 years old there without my parents. I’m there with my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, cousin, and my brother three years older than I. Suddenly I am separated from grandfather and grandmother, they are marching to the right to those buildings with chimneys and flames. Where are they going what is that place, my brother and I are separated and moving to the left, to another part of the camp. This place is Auschwitz!”
These are the words and stories of 85 year old Czechoslovakian Mr. Irving Roth, a survivor of the Nazi death camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald. On February 20, 2014, the UCF Chapter of CUFI (Christians United For Israel) sponsored Mr. Roth’s talk to a 240+ person packed house at the brand new Hillel building off the UCF campus.
“My grandfather, grandmother, and all the men and women were separated and told to go down these steps to take a shower where there is a big sign that says Bath House. After all, they had not washed or bathed for days in the cattle car, it made sense. They are waiting for water to come out of the shower heads but none of that happens. Whats happening is some material coming through holes in the ceilings that looks like crushed marble.
As this crushed marble descends, the room fills with smoke, they can’t breathe. Minutes go by, my grandmother, aunt, 10 year old cousin, and a thousand women in this room are dead. In another building a thousand men and another thousand women are dead.
I arrived in Auschwitz that night in May of 1944 with 4,000 people. In 24 hours all but 700 were reduced to ashes.
Finally I was converted. I was no longer a person with a name, now I was a number. That number was tattooed on my arm and I became the property of the German government to do with me what they please. How is that possible, what crimes did I commit as a child of 14 years to be here at Auschwitz?
1938 Nazi Germany
“The 1938 charter of Nazi Germany was to expand and control all of Europe. The second piece of this charter was the destruction and elimination of Jews.
In September of 1938 at the Munich Conference, Adolf Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia and start World War II. On September 30, 1938, British and French Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier signed the Munich Pact with Adolf Hitler. The agreement averted the outbreak of war but gave Czechoslovakia away to German conquest while Neville Chamberlain triumphantly declared, “Peace In Our Time”.
Systematic Laws Against Jews
“In the spring of 1939, Hitler took over half of Czechoslovakia, so much for an agreement on a piece of paper. I am a boy of 10 years old and my country suddenly changes. I go to the park to play soccer and there is a big sign that says, Jews and dogs are forbidden to enter the park.
On that afternoon, I decide to go swimming at the beach. As I entered the beach area a policeman is standing there and says I can’t go in. I ask him why not. The policeman tells me that Jews are no longer allowed to go to the beach. I begin to understand that something is going on. Each day, week, and month new laws are passed against Jews.
Before the winter of 1939, my father tells me I need to get you a new coat. I told him I have a sheepskin jacket and don’t need a new one. My father tells me, unfortunately you can’t wear it and we have to take it to the police department because Jews are no longer allowed to own or wear any garment that has fur on or outside of it. I realize I can’t even wear my jacket because of who I am – a Jew.
Next, my Christian nanny of many years was packing because a law was passed that no non Jewish woman was allowed to live in a Jewish household. In the spring of 1940 my girlfriend since the age of six said that her father told her not to be so friendly with a Jew. “We do not want to be known as Jew lovers” and I got dumped because I’m a Jew.
Slowly step by step, separation of Jews and non Jews was taking place. In September of 1940, I’m 11 years old, I was on my way to school and the principle stands in front of the gate and says, “Roth you can’t go in, you are a Jew and we no longer allow Jews in our school.”
The idea that Jews are different penetrated the minds, souls, and hearts of the population. Not only was I thrown out of school but every Jewish school teacher was fired in the entire country. In fact, very soon no Jewish attorney could practice law and Jewish doctors were no longer allowed in hospitals.
Finally, the last piece of economic oppression was that Jews were no longer allowed to own private businesses. My father owned a thriving business selling hundreds of thousands of railroad ties across Europe. When this anti Jewish law was enforced, my father transferred his Jewish owned business, in name only, to a trusted long time Christian friend named Albert. My father payed Albert $1,000 per month for using his name and making Roth Incorporated a legal Christian owned business. No more than 6 months passed before Albert told Mr. Roth he liked how he was running His business. Albert told my father, I’m not going to fire you, but the profits are mine. Its 1941 and this is a betrayal, a betrayal by friends.”
Elimination Of The Jews – The Final Solution
“In the summer of 1941, Nazi Germany begins the elimination of every Jew in Europe. How do you eliminate people? You have men who volunteer, teach them how to fire a machine gun, send them into a thousand cities gathering the Jews together and machine gun them. These mobile killing squads were called the Einsatztruppen. And thus begins Part A of the Final Solution to the Jewish question. The elimination of every single Jew in Europe. For example, in 1941 these ‘special units’ rounded up 32,000 Jews living in Kiev and murdered them in 48 hours, but that was not good enough.
On January 20, 1942 the Germans communed the Wannsee Conference just outside of Berlin. The conference’s single agenda item was the efficient and inexpensive way to get rid of the 11 Million Jews in Europe. A third of the people in this conference were educated men with PhD’s. These were moral upstanding citizens who love their children and music.
These educated men came to their solution in 90 minutes. Create death camps consisting of nothing more than a rail track to bring in trains, gas chambers, and crematoria – and then they went to lunch.
By the summer of 1942 death camps named Chelmno , Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek were in operation.
“Now my town in Czechoslovakia decides to get rid of its Jews.” In the middle of the night 1800 of the 2000 Jews in my town were marched together into and locked in the Synagogue guarded by men with sub machine guns.
A day and half later they were marched out to the railroad station, shoved into cattle cars and disappeared. We wondered what would happen to us. Three months later a policeman arrests my grandfather and grandmother, we get them out of jail and leave for a country called Hungary. My father and mother were away in Budapest working on a job.
Hungary being a fascist country in the middle of a war, used their Jews for slave labor and worse. They figured they would get rid of their Jews after the war was over.”
By the beginning of 1944 things were looking good as the Americans had liberated Italy and were advancing through Europe. At 14 I am living a relatively good life in my aunts house with minimal supervision waiting for the war to end.
In the spring of 1944, Germany with the Hungarian Nazi Party decide it is time to get rid of the Jews in Hungary. By 1944, most of the Jews were dead except for a large contingent living in Hungary.
In 53 days 453,000 Jewish men, women, and children were rounded up and shoved into cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz. That is how I got to Auschwitz!”
Auschwitz, Dr. Mengele, Buchenwald and Freedom
“What was Auschwitz like for a 14 year old Irving Roth? I was told to stand in line, after many hours a number was tattooed to my arm. Eventually through a number of steps I end up working. I am assigned to work in the fields draining swamps. I had to learn quickly for if you did not learn you did not live.
I was given coffee in the morning, soup in the afternoon, and a piece of bread at night – I was always hungry and tired.
Sometimes they would takes us to the showers, give us a bar of soap, and we would be inspected by a doctor in uniform to see if one should continue to live. He would look at the number on your arm, see if your dragging your feet, hunched over, had some boils, and then he would decide if you were no longer useful. If your number was picked the next day a truck would come and take you to the gas chamber.
For those of you familiar with Auschwitz, I know a particular name I did face once, Dr. Josef Mengele, fortunately for me I was still ok and survived as did my brother.
In the winter of 1945, we marched for 3 days on a death march from Auschwitz to a train station, then loaded on cattle cars to the Buchenwald death camp. 60,000 Jews were crammed into a camp designed for 5,000 people. The food rations were not increased, people lost weight became delirious, I did all I could to survive. Then one day my brother was taken away never to be seen again and I was left all alone.
Each day 10,000 men were taken away on a death march. I could not march, I was only 75 pounds so I hid. One day I was discovered by a dog with 15 other children. We were lined up with Nazi guards on each side of us.
The Americans were close and bombing the city around Buchenwald. We could not march because the bombs do not know if you are a Jew or a German and the Nazi guards did not want to die.
By a miracle, on the tenth of April, the bombs were dropping around Buchenwald and I survived another day. The next morning there was not a single German left in uniform. By 3 pm American soldiers walked into our barracks – the messiah had arrived.
These two young battle hardened soldiers looked at this group of kids weighing 75-80 pounds who were nothing but mere skeletons. These two soldiers who had seen horrible death on the battlefield broke down, they could not comprehend the horror they saw at Buchenwald.
Three months later, I make it back to my village in Czechoslovakia. My mother and father survived, my brother did not.
Irving Roth Meets One Of His Liberators
Gabriel Aviles received a call from an Orlando man who saw a community event listing in the Orlando Sentinel for Irving Roth’s talk. This Orlando man said he was part of the American unit that liberated Buchenwald on April 11, 1945.
Corporal Kenneth Berthold, just 3-4 years older than Irving Roth, was with the 6th Armored Division of the US Third Army. Corporal Berthold brought a photo album to the lecture with pictures he had taken inside the Buchenwald death camp.
EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is courtesy of the Liberator Foundation and is a depiction of the Todah Menorah Memorial. Todah in Hebrew means “thank you.”