Ernest Singer speaks emotionally about the people who saved him from what would have been his fate had the Nazi horrors succeeded. The clarity of his story is amazing to all who can bear to hear it.
Ernest Singer was born in Kosice, Slovakia to an established family. The family business was the milling of flour for the entire area. Not only the town, but the military depended on the output of production. As well flour was exported. Ernest Singer was born on July 9, 1930 to Michaly (who survived for a long period of time in the camps) and Nelly Singer. His mother and sister did not survive after arrival at Auschwitz. His brother, Alex came through the terrible years with him and now lives in Toronto. The family lived a good life. As Jews, they considered themselves “conservative” rather than orthodox.
In 1939 Kosice became part of Hungary. The military had come into their area in 1938. Life, to a certain extent, continued because the government had a need for the business to be carried on. In 1943 however, restrictions began to be placed on the Jews and in April, 1944 the Nazis began to wreak havoc on the Jews. In June, the family was loaded onto the last transport out and then forced to live in a ghetto. Rather than living in apartments, they stayed in a huge factory. The trip and life had been difficult but they were all together. Mr. Singer’s father had warehouses which held food and other necessities and he was allowed out every day to manage distribution.
On June 14, 1944 the family was unloaded beside the train tracks a t Auschwitz. He stood in line with his father and brother. In the tumult communication was bad. He went from one line to the other. His mother pushed him toward his father. He never saw his mother and sister again. His father spoke many languages and understood when the Poles were giving commands. Mengele was “selecting” that day and he followed his father. A Pole understood that he was a child just after his Bar Mitzvah and told him to stand between his father and his brother so that the Nazis would not recognize his youth. He was ignored in the selection and passed through.
They were at Auschwitz for two weeks. Enclosed in barracks, he wore a “striped uniform”, but was not tattooed.
After five days of darkness with no food, they were blind and starved. Again they were lined up to go to trains. Germans, with dogs were all around and he was taken out of line with five children. He was told to march and walked through three doors. A Polish Jewish Kapo spoke to them, asked questions and told them to make themselves busy. He and a friend were given a pail and broom. They were told to march out and not look back. They did. He saw his father again and there was a “count”. It was found that two people were missing. Just at that moment military trains was passing through and in the confusion all were told to move onto the trains – the missing people forgotten. They were herded onto the trains and taken to “Walkenberg”, a mine under a mountain for heavy work. Greek Jews were also held there. One man recognized that he was a child and told him to stand with him the next day. This man protected him. He was strong and helped him in the mine until hey there were forced onto a “death march”, which –
February, 1945. He, his father and brother saw the reality of their situation as they walked together. He credits his father with keeping them going, day and night through the worst cold.
During the march, Ernest Singer drank bad water and had bloody bowel movements. The effect of the mine dust and bombings had left them all in a weakened condition. There was a Jewish kapo who helped his father and him during this time. On the march they arrived in an open field on one side and a coal train on the other track. They crawled into empty trains and arrived at “Ebense” camp. Unfortunately, his left leg was infected and frozen. People were dumped out, but he could barely stand up and no one was allowed to help him or they would all have been shot. At two wheeler came by and somehow, he got on. He realized he was still alive. He reunited with his father and brother. That night was very bad but somehow he lived through another “selection”. He couldn’t walk. A kapo came in and he was taken to Barrack number 13. Again, more questions came at him. Where was he from? His answer “Singer from Kassa” brought comments and he was told that would be helped. The kapo lanced his leg -not once but three times under very, very secret conditions. The man cared for him even telling him what to do if he was hallucinating.
Selections had been made every thirty days and Mr. Singer credits a kapo for saving his life by “trading numbers”.
On May 6, 1945 Mr. Singer was liberated by the Americans from Ebense. Sadly, his father had died at his side in April.
Ernest Singer went home when he was fifteen and was treated in an American hospital for more than four weeks. He had been delivered to the Slovakian border but needed to walk in. He was helped by survivors. His brother was in a hospital in Budapest which had been converted from a Jewish school. Peter Reich saw them in the garden and took them out. He had recognized them from a picture. They recuperated in another hospital for the next two and a half months. Again, they returned to Kosice. Non-Jews had moved into the family home. He went to school. There were 900 children and he was the only one his age there. He badly wanted an education. People pointed at him. They couldn’t understand how he had survived.
Communism was starting to gain strength and it was soon realized that the family business was going to be “nationalized”. Another oppressive regime. Philosophically, Mr. Singer had belonged to the Zionist group, Hashomair Hatzair, but his brother believed in the Herut Party. Menachem Begin had a very strong influence on many of the young and many were leaving for Israel. He and his brother left for Paris instead. They had heard that people that went to Israel had been shot. Not wanting to relive the turbulence of war he went to Venezuela instead.
Life in Venezuela was good. He found himself in the textile and embroidery business which flourished. He traveled the world and married his wife Helen (originally from Kitchener, Ontario). Their two children, Miguel and Nelly were born in Venezuela but they summered in Canada. His Canadian connections grew and in 1956 he began building in Don Mills, Ontario. By 1961 Fidel Castro had consolidated all his power in Cuba and the threat of a totalitarian regime near Venezuela was intimidating. They moved permanently to Canada.
Mr. Singer counts at least forty-two members of his family that perished in the Holocaust. Primary in his thinking today is the State of Israel, its army and Jewish education. He has dedicated a one million dollar plaque at Yad Vashem. He also counts what he feels is his greatest accomplishment: the growth of his family and the privilege of working in business with his children and grandchildren.
Ernest Singer retells the horrors and the humanity of those who helped him to survive the Nazis with great clarity. It is a very emotional story – with a lesson. He looks forward to being counted as one who is vigilant for future generations.
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