Survivor Speaks to Teenagers

Compiled by Brian Mohr, Joanna Novick,
Stephanie Rounds, and Vanessa Schwarz
Cold Spring Harbor High School
New York, United States

Holocaust survivor Irving Roth was born in a city of 7,000 citizens, 2,000 of which were Jewish. In the 1930's, in the democratic nation of Czechoslovakia, life for a young boy was spectacular. Like many other young boys his age, Irving Roth had a passion for the game of soccer. He would participate in games played by the young boys of the village.

[ Holocaust Survivor, Irving Roth ]
Irving Roth

All this was to change, when at the age of ten Mr. Roth began to realize he was "different". The Slovak government passed laws restricting the simple, enjoyable freedoms of the Jews. There were soon segregated sections for Jews in public places; curfews were established, and all their valuables were taken. Mr. Roth explained to our class that this was the first step towards the violations against Jews.

The second step was soon to follow -- economic oppression. The hardships began when all Jews were fired from the positions in government professions. The Aryans soon took over all Jewish businesses. In order to prevent the loss of his company, Irving Roth's father relied upon a non-Jewish friend to take over his business. However, three months later, Irving's father was betrayed, and the company fell completely under the control of his once-trusted friend.

Society had been brainwashed into believing that Jews were different and inferior. The Nazis' propaganda campaign had been successful. The third step, dehumanization, was underway. In the summer of 1942 (Mr. Roth recalls it being a Friday night, the night of Shabbat), all Jews were given ten minutes to gather only the belongings that they could carry upon their backs for the purpose of relocation. Of the 2,000 Jews, 1,800 were evacuated that night. The synagogue, into which Jews were forced by guards, hardly allowed any room for the mass of people. After thirty-six hours, all the victims were sent to Poland where they were placed in concentration camps; very few survived.

By 1944, Germany was losing the war; a new Fascist government was put into effect. By March of that year, all remaining Jews were relocated into ghettos. Within a few weeks, groups of ninety to one hundred people were crammed into a single boxcar headed for an unknown destination. The journey lasted three to four days with little water, room, or food. When the car rolled to a stop at Auschwitz, they were instructed "Men to the left, Women to the right." Their luggage was discarded and they were forced to march in line. Those, who were considered to be useless as laborers, were marched directly to the gas chambers only because they had been born a Jew.

Irving Roth and his brother were sent to work on a farm. A good day was considered working from 3am to 8pm. This rigorous schedule was performed six days a week. A terrible day happened on days when the selections occurred. Prisoners would return from the fields, and everyone was forced to undress and the "selection" process began. If a guard determined that one was unfit to work, he was immediately sent to the gas chamber and exterminated.

In December 1944, the Russian army was one hundred miles from Auschwitz. All the Jews in the camp were assembled and then sent on a four day death march. If one walked through the cold and snow at a slow pace, he was immediately shot. They soon arrived at Buchenwald in Germany. In February 1945, Irving Roth and his brother were separated. His brother was taken to Bergen-Belsen and killed. The liberation armies were once again near the camps, and in April of that year another death march began. Mr.Roth was one of the Jews who hid successfully from the guards and avoided the march. On April 11th, two American soldiers liberated the camp. The first common thought among the survivors was a feeling of gratification and joy, but they soon realized that there were few recognizable faces left.

After two or three days of searching the camp, Irving Roth finally discovered the familiar face of a friend. The two returned to their hometown in Czechoslovakia with the hope of reuniting with their families. When they arrived in their village, Mr. Roth was excited to learn that a family by the name of Roth was living in the village. He returned to his childhood home to discover that his parents had survived. In fact, they had never been sent to a concentration camp. Mr. Roth's father was in a coma and was sent to a hospital where a non-Jewish nurse tended to him. By the time of his recovery, the Jews of Budapest had been evacuated. However, the nurse had been brave enough to hide the couple in her home. There was little food because the nurse could not purchase a suitable amount without causing suspicion. Irving Roth's parents survived because of the courage and the generosity of the nurse, Mrs. Farkash.

Before leaving our class, Mr. Roth, who currently is the Director of the Holocaust Resource Center of Temple Judea of Manhasset, New York, left us with the following messages:

  1. We should emulate Mrs. Farkash, who was willing to help others in time of need. If someone has a problem, do something about it. The Holocaust started because of prejudice and hatred and continued because few people or nations were willing to help.
  2. Irving Roth also encouraged us to share his story and others' about the Holocaust with as many people as possible. Fifty years from now there will be no survivors to share an eyewitness testimony of the atrocity.

Irving Roth's visit to our classroom was a very valuable experience. He shared with us a firsthand detailed account of the Nazis' persecution of the Jews. Our class was most impressed with his enthusiasm in sharing his feelings, not just the facts, and about his experiences as a young boy, our age, growing up in that period of hatred.

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