I am a statistical miracle: a Jew from Poland who made it out of the war alive. For years, I kept the story to myself, eating away at me inside. The first time I spoke of it was 51 years later when I was interviewed for the Shoah Foundation. But I never told the full story1–and I left out the most important part.
At 13 years old, I went from being the baby of a privileged family into Hell. It is a miracle that I’m here today to tell my story–the story of being imprisoned in the concentration camps during World War II, and how Moses was with me the entire time…
The Bullets Missed Me
Loaded with the remaining Flossenbürg inmates (those who were still healthy enough to travel), the train slowly pulled away from the concentration camp that had been my unfortunate residence for close to a year. In the mild April air, the cattle-train boxcars had their huge sliding doors wide open. Three German guards sat at the entrance to each, their legs dangling over; their ever-present machine guns held close. I sat on the floor of the car, right in the middle, surrounded by my friends.
We had traveled only about 10 miles down the track, when seemingly out of nowhere, three fighter planes dove into view and pelleted the train with hundreds of bullets. The planes came at us from every direction. We hadn’t heard them coming because of the noise from the moving train. I recognized the white star emblem on the underside of the wings that represented the American Air Force. The army that we all hoped would save us one day, was here now, killing us. From the sky, the American pilots could see only the German soldiers lining the doorway entrances along the boxcars. The pilots must have thought they were bombing a German supply train. They didn’t realize that the Nazis they saw on the outside were guarding innocent prisoners inside the train.
The exposed German guards were killed first, but the bullets tore right through the wooden slats of the boxcars and also killed many prisoners. I heard the high-pitched zing of metal-on-metal as bullets ricocheted off the train’s steel wheels. All of the guards in the car I was in were dead. All of my friends that had been sitting around me were dead. A voice in my head told me to run. In an instant, I burst out from the train, ducking close to the ground and ran under the bullets flying overhead.
I ran a short distance away and lay flat on my belly, watching the horrific events unfolding before me. Smoke bellowed from the locomotive engine where it had exploded into a ball of fire. The engine had been targeted first, stopping the train in its tracks. Almost immediately, the planes came back for a second pass. They dove in at close range and strafed the train again. I could hear the bullets firing and people being hit. Body parts were flying all over the place, and there were many, many killed. Most of the people did not have time to react and were still on the train during that second pass.
Finally, the planes left for good. Maybe the pilots were satisfied that they had taken out the motor, disabling the train, or maybe they realized that some of the people they saw running from the train wore prison stripes. In any case, they never came back.
Once I was sure the planes were gone, I got up from the ground and walked towards the train. Nobody had tried to escape because everything had happened so fast. Besides, there was no place to run to. Though many German guards had been killed, the ones who were left summoned us back and immediately surrounded us.
I stood watching as all of those wounded and dead people were carried out from the train and laid out next to it on the ground; prisoners and soldiers, together. I saw dead bodies missing heads and limbs. I saw people still alive, missing hands, missing legs. They were screaming and crying–it was awful.
The German guards said they were going to call a doctor, but of course, they never did. The guards later told me that those who were injured and couldn’t walk were shot dead where they lay. Out of the many thousands of prisoners who had been loaded on the train at Flossenbürg, fewer than 1,000 remained. The guards told us, “We can’t go by train anymore, so we will have to walk to the next camp.”
And so we walked.
Miracle 6: The bullets hit just about everything, but missed me.
Inside the boxcar, I had friends to each side of me–they were killed. I had a friend in back of me–he was killed. The three guards sitting in front of me–they were killed. I was in the middle–I came out without a scratch.
The miracle of my survival can only be explained by the protection and guidance of Moses. And it was Moses who shouted in my ear, “Run!” and saved me from the second round of bullets.