February, 1945 – It would have been the perfect time for 13-year-old Ivor Perl’s bar mitzvah but instead the barely in his teens lad stood under the cold snow hungry and desperate in one sorry Nazi concentration camp. Such was the start of the story of the now 81-year-old Holocaust survivor.
Rather than enjoying the Jewish coming of age ritual celebration, Ivor was staring through the fence surrounding Allach, the camp he was in and where he was put to work for months with only threadbare prison clothes protecting him from the cold bite of the bitter weather and one slice of bread everyday for sustenance.
“The camp was in the middle of the forest, and a fence ran through the trees. I was praying to God “help me, if you let me get out of this place, I shall not ask anything else of you in my life”,” the 81-year-old Holocaust survivor recalls of his desperation in those times.
However, his liberation did not come quickly; American soldiers were yet to sweep through Germany and were still yet to discover the horrifying truth of the Nazi camps which held Ivor and million others like him.
So he weathered through the bitter winter months in desperation, cold and a typhus infection.
Those times were doubly hard for the Holocaust survivor – he was only 13 years old but he pretended to be older to avoid being killed and by doing so, he had to keep up with his act by doing the works intended for adults.
A Hungarian, he was taken from his country along with other Hungarian Jews when Nazi forces occupied his country as a punishment for trying to side with the Allies.
He, along with his mother and eight siblings. were first sent to the bloodiest Nazi camps in Germany – Auschwitz – where the women and children were separated from the men and killed. Ivor, who was no more than a boy that time, was spared when his mother ordered him to join the adults.
Unfortunately, his savior and seven of his siblings were killed.
“Of course at the start, I ran over to my mother’s side, with the children and the women,” he recalled.
“I told her: “I want to come with you, mum.” She said: “No, don’t come here”.”
He pleaded but had to gave in to his mother’s orders and joined his brother on the other line. But he almost was sent back by the ill-famed doctor of Auschwitz camp, Dr. Josef Mengele.
“I could see a German officer with white gloves who we heard later on was Dr Mengele. He was pointing left and right. And as he came to me, he suddenly stopped and said “how old are you?”. Luckily I was big for my age and passed for 16, the age I was told to tell the guards,” he said.
“I’ve often, even now after all these years, I can remember his eyes as he was thinking to himself which side he should put me to. He must have thought that if I’m lying I won’t be strong enough so it doesn’t matter.”
Ivor, with his older brother, was later transferred to Allach in the winter months and endured his bitterest times there. It was there where the Holocaust survivor’s strength was tested to the extreme.
The camp’s average meal consisted of a slice of bread, a cup of hot water and once in a while, a dab of margarine. The prisoners had their signature black-and-white stripped clothing and a thin overcoat made of cotton to give them bare protection from the cold as they worked.
Ivor was made to work in grueling jobs, like digging underground bases for military equipment using only the most rudimentary tools, along with hundreds of other Allach camp residents.
The camp’s order was kept with a mixture of force and fear – guards, upon realizing that some prisoners hid in caves to get off from work, would throw grenades after them like it was nothing.
Every morning, there was the dreaded prisoner registry where everyone was faced with the dilemma of which group of laborers to choose. Some were given easy tasks while there were also the most difficult tasks that could drive weak prisoners to their deaths.
A day came when Ivor made a different choice from his brother and while the latter worked in a farm and was able to enjoy decent meals, he grew so undernourished and became very ill that his older brother was not able to recognize him when they next saw each other.
His illness, a typhus infection, went worse that he was finally referred to the concentration camp hospital.
“The hospital block was laughable. Twice a day – in the morning a camp doctor would come along, you would uncover yourself, he’d see how much flesh you had on you, whether you were able to work,” he recollected.
“Those who were not considered workable were pointed towards, and those people had to be taken away to be killed. All of us would push our stomach out to pretend we were more healthy than we were.”
Eventually, he was able to sneak out from it with the help of his brother but that did not alleviate his sickened condition.
Outside the camp was a different matter, however, as hope of liberation began to spring up from the gradual noise brought about by the Allied forces’ war planes hovering over the air.
But these noises were not a sign of hope to those inside the camp.
“They said the worse the Germans treated us the more we were losing the war,” Ivor said.
Very much true that, the worst really came for the residents of the Allach Nazi camp. After enduring weeks of growing restlessness inside its walls, the prisoners were told they would have to go on a march to a larger camp, a journey that would last for days. Ivor and his brother were given only one loaf of bread to sustain them throughout the march and were even warned that if they finished it sooner, nothing else would be given.
The journey was grueling, the pace to which they were made to march so uncompromising some prisoners died on their feet. The situation became too much for Ivor and his brother that both of them snapped somewhere in their march.
“We were walking along in the mud and suddenly my brother and I accused each other of taking bigger bites than we should have done. We started fighting and wrestling in the mud.”
“And as we were fighting in the mud suddenly I could see a pair of army boots and the butt of a gun on the floor,” he remembered.
They thought brutal punishment would come next for them but then…
“Then suddenly we heard this soldier talking to us in Hungarian. He said, ‘Don’t fight, because you’ll soon be liberated and then afterwards you’ll be sorry you fought each other’.”
“That was about the only kindness that I experienced in my camp life.”
Their relocation in Dachau was the start of their better things to come – they were soon liberated by the American forces there.
After WWII ended, Holocaust survivor Ivor Perl was granted a visa for the UK and spent his new life working in the fashion retail and getting married. He had four children and currently has now six grand-kids to spend good times with.
Ivor shared his story for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Visit their website: www.hmd.org.uk