Ladislau Grun's testimony.

The ghetto in Regin

In 1940, the first anti-Jewish laws appeared, and I had to go to another school. I went to the Catholic High School, where only a few Jewish children were admitted. The rest had to go to Targu Mures. Initially everything else went on as normal, but soon things began to go wrong. In 1941 my father lost the right to work, and travelling restrictions were imposed on Jewish people. The first shock came when I had to have a medical at a doctor's office. There was a sign on the doctor's door that read: "The doctor does not treat dogs or Jews". It was a long time before I could get the treatment that I needed.

In August 1943 I was at a swimming pool with some other Jewish youngsters. The fascist kids rounded us up and threw us out, because they said that Jews were no longer allowed to swim in the same pool as Aryans. Jews were then forbidden to shop in the market place. It became difficult to find food. That was how it started.

On the 4th of May 1944, immediately after the Germans entered Transylvania, all the Jews in Reghin were ordered to make their way with their luggage to an assembly point. At that time, I was just 14 and a half, my sister was 17, my mother 45 and my father 53. The Germans took us all to a brick factory which they transformed into a ghetto.

The train

In the ghetto we ate just what we managed to bring with us. We were given very little else. Those who were supposed to have been wealthy were beaten in an attempt to get them to say where they had hidden their money and jewellery. Neither my mother, nor my father escaped this treatment. My mother was tied up and beaten. Because of the pain and fear that she suffered, my mother's hair turned completely white. She suddenly looked very old and this change in her appearance was later to prove fatal. Her feet were so swollen that within two days she could no longer wear her shoes. We stayed in the ghetto for 4 weeks, guarded by police. Then we were taken to the railway station, where all our papers were taken away. We were herded onto a goods train, 80 people in just one goods wagon. It was quite terrible. The windows were so small and we were so tightly squashed. This confined space was all that we had. It was where we ate any meagre supplies that we had managed to bring with us. It also had to act as our toilet. Four people died in our wagon in the course of the journey, because they simply couldn't withstand the appalling conditions. The train we were on had 20 wagons and we found out later that altogether some 4000 Jews were deported from our area in several trainloads. On the 7th July, after a journey that had lasted four days, we arrived in Auschwitz. We had no idea where we were. When we left, we were told that we are going to a work camp, where those who were strong enough would work to support the children and the elderly. Earlier, we had heard about Jewish people being deported from Poland and Transylvania, but we had not believed that it was true.

The meeting with Mengele

Some of the prisoners from the camp came to meet the train - they were Jews from other countries - and they told us to leave our luggage on the train. The dead were thrown to he ground and left lying near the train. The "prisoners" whispered to us that, when we were asked, we should be sure to say that we were healthy. At the time, we did not know why, but later we found out that this was because any sick people were sent directly to the gas chambers. The same "prisoners" took any children from their mother's arms and gave them to their grandparents. A mother with her child in her arms would automatically share the fate of her infant and be sent straight to the gas chamber. My father and I were separated from my mother and my sister. We did not even have the opportunity to say good-bye to them. I never saw my mother again. I remember that she was wearing some kind of overshoes, since those were the only things that she could get on her ruined feet. Because she was sick, and because her hair had turned so white, she looked older than she really was and she became one of the first victims.

The men were left standing in line, waiting to be seen by the doctor. When it was my turn, in front of me I saw a very elegant officer: Mengele. He asked me how old I was and, before I had a chance to answer, my father answered for me. He said that I was 17 and a trained vine grower. Mengele said that I could move on and this is how I escaped the gas chamber. If I had answered truthfully that I was only 14, I would have been classified as "a child" rather than as a young man who was fit to work, and I would have been sent to the gas chamber.

The guards forced us to undress; they shaved our hair, disinfected us and issued us with prison uniforms. We were accommodated in stables. These stables were called "blocks". There were 900 people in just one "block" and conditions were so cramped that we had to sleep in each other's arms. During the night you couldn't even get out to go to the toilet, there was simply no room to move. The "managers" of the "blocks" were German gypsies and they were prisoners too. They were given sticks with which to beat us. They could do what they wanted to us. The guards did not care if prisoners died from a beating.

The smell of burned flesh

We were woken at 5 in the morning. First we had to form a queue to go to the toilet. The toilets were sixty holes in the ground. We were only allowed to go to the toilet in groups of sixty. Once we got there, we were not allowed to stay more than 2 minutes. Then we were kept outside. This was how we ere gradually dehumanised. For lunch we had to form a "German column" - groups of 5. The food was brought in a cart dragged by people rather than horses. 5 people got a washbowl to eat from and there was no spoon. For 3 days I couldn't eat because the food was so bad and I had such dirty hands. They didn't care if we didn't eat and we had no idea then that one day we would consider the dirty potatoes and dry crusts a delicacy. On the fourth day, I ate.

I knew nothing about my mother or my sister. Men and women couldn't see each other. Some knew some "ways of communication" but these were hard to establish. If you were caught, you were shot. Everywhere, there was the smell of burning flesh. The gypsies told us that it was the smell of our relatives burning. We still couldn't believe that something like that could be true.

The psychologists from Auschwitz

The torture that we endured was not just physical. It was mental as well. Once, we were given postcards with beautiful landscape pictures. We were made to write to our relatives, assuring them that we were healthy and well, and that we were in a nice camp. My father wrote to the Niculescu family in Reghin, who when we left, were at the station waving and crying.

After 3 weeks, we were processed into work groups. The doctors, who hoped to get into the infirmary, were actually given the hardest jobs. My father was smart, and he took me with him to the front when the guards called for untrained workers to step forward. In our group, there was just one other under-age boy. He was about 15. The following day we were put on another train. It was June.

Prisoner number 72045

We travelled for some 24 hours, 40 Jews in a wagon, each guarded by two SS soldiers, until we reached the camp called Kaufering III, Dachau. Here, there were no crematoria, instead prisoners died from starvation, typhus and diarrhoea.

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