Stories of Dachau Survivors
According to an article by Janese Heavin, which was published in the Columbia Daily Tribune on May 8, 2007, Mendel Rosenberg is a survivor of the train on which Jews from the Dachau concentration camp were sent on April 26, 1945 to the South Tyrol during the last days of World War II.
Mendel Rosenberg was born in 1929 in Lithuania. In 1940, the Russians took over Lithuania and it became part of the Communist Soviet Union; this was part of the secret agreement signed by the Nazis and the Russians before their joint invasion of Poland in September 1939 which was the start of World War II.
On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Most of the Lithuanians welcomed the Germans as liberators, and a few days before the Germans arrived, those who supported the Nazis started killing the Jews. Lithuanian political prisoners were released from the NKVD prisons by the German invaders and allowed to join in the killing of the Communist Commissars and the Jewish members of the NKVD, which was the equivalent of the German Gestapo.
According to the article by Janese Heavin, Rosenberg recalled a knock on his door on a night in July 1941 that would change his life. "A German soldier and a Lithuanian policeman arrested Rosenberg's father and older brother that night, the beginning of what would become a four-year nightmare. His brother would eventually be returned, his father buried in a mass grave."
Thousands of Lithuanian Jews, including the Rosenberg family, were confined in the Siauliai Ghetto where they worked in factories, manufacturing goods for the Germans. In 1943, Rosenberg was sent to the Stuthoff concentration camp near the city formerly known as Danzig. Rosenberg's mother remained at Stuthoff, but Rosenberg and his brother were transferred to the Dachau concentration camp.
The following quote is from the article in the Columbia Daily Tribune which recounts Rosenberg's description of Dachau, as told to students at Hickman High School in Columbia, MO:
"Men were forced to work in fields outside the camp from sunup to sundown. They lived in cramped barracks, were allowed to bathe once a week and shared tiny rations of soup and bread.
"A lot of people didn't feel like they wanted to continue the struggle for life. They didn't get up in the morning. We would come back and find them dead in the evening," Rosenberg said. "Hunger can do funny things to you. Any animal - a rat, a dog, a cat - anything we could find, we would kill and eat. Needless to say, some things we were eating didn't set very well with the stomach."
Rosenberg became ill but didn't dare go to the hospital, where humans were being used for experiments. "I had one foot in the grave."
He got a lucky break when he volunteered to work inside the concentration camp, giving him a chance to steal kitchen garbage that he could later eat.
Rosenberg's brother encountered a different fate, dying in the field after being beaten.
In anticipation of the liberation of Dachau, 1,759 Jewish prisoners were put on a train on April 26th and sent toward the mountains in the South Tyrol. Three days later, the train stopped and the prisoners learned that the German guards had abandoned them; they had been saved by American troops.
The following quote is from the article in the Columbia Daily Tribune:
"When they saw us in the form we looked like, they started throwing food at us. I caught a can. I didn't have a can opener." Rosenberg busted it open to find meat.
Rosenberg and his mother reunited a year later and in 1947 moved to the United States. Grateful to this nation, he served in the Army in 1950-51, during the Korean War. He went on to marry, have a family and retire from a career in construction. After a 25-year silence about his Holocaust experience, he now speaks to school groups about it.