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MOSHE BEN-OZER (GRUDSKI)

I was born in a small town in Lithuania called Smilišok, on August 1, 1931. As a child the name Haim was added to my name. At home I was called Haim-Meishke.

My family came to Kovno in 1933. We lived in the Slobodka neighborhood, where I attended a Hebrew school called Potashnik.

The Russians took over Lithuania in 1940, and anti-Semitism increased. In June 1941 the Russians were forced to withdraw from Lithuania because of the German invasion.

In July 1941 the Germans decided to concentrate the Jews in a ghetto. Slobodka was determined as the location of the ghetto, and so we remained living in our house. When we entered the ghetto our family numbered nine souls: my mother Rachel, my father Ozer, I and my six sisters: Sheine, Beile, Chyene, Masha, Hesse and Fruma.

Conditions in the ghetto were harsh and extremely frightening. In the big Aktion [roundup] carried out by the Germans on October 28, 1941, my sisters Sheine and Fruma were taken to be killed in the Ninth Fort. We remained seven. Before the ghetto was evacuated, my sister Chyene hid in a bunker. The bunker was discovered by the Germans, and everyone in it was murdered. My mother, of blessed memory, was murdered in Stutthof camp in 1944. My father Ozer and my sisters Beile, Masha and Hesse survived – despite the hard life in the ghetto.

When I reached Bar-Mitzvah age (13), my parents decided that I would learn the weekly portion and the Haphtarah. They saw to it that I had a Bar-Mitzvah with the remnants of the family and a few friends.

When the ghetto was evacuated on July 8, 1944, I came to Landsberg camp in Germany with my father. After a week the Germans decided to evacuate the children and youths who had come to Landsberg labor camp, and I was forced to part from my father. They gathered 131 boys together and we were sent to Dachau camp. After a ten-day stay there, the Germans decided to send us to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. We reached Birkenau at midnight on July 31, 1944. I received the number B-2809 on my left arm.

 

Two selections took place while we were there, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 1944, and 89 boys from our group were sent to extermination.

On January 18, 1945, the Germans decided to evacuate Auschwitz and Birkenau on foot and in trains. I personally reached Buchenwald camp in Germany (near Weimar) riding in an open railway car for cattle. It was 20 degrees below zero Centigrade outside, and we had no food or drink. Half of the prisoners died on the journey, and we were forced to continue traveling with the dead bodies until we reached Buchenwald camp.

Since we had not received any food during the trip, when we stopped I asked the German guards for permission to leave the car and take some snow to eat and wash my face, and sometimes they gave me permission.

In Buchenwald camp there was a children's building, Block 66, and I was sent there. The Block Aeltester [headman] was of Czech origin, and the Kapo of the building was a Jew from Poland called Gustav. We were treated terribly. We were occasionally taken to work in the Weimar Forest – evacuating rubble after the bombings by the American army planes.

I was liberated by the American army on April 11, 1945. It was, of course, a big day for me and everyone in the camp.

After the war, the American army placed the children and youths together in a special building which had previously belonged to the German army. We received special treatment and proper food. Because I missed them and wanted to know who in my family was still alive and had survived the war, I decided to travel to Kovno (Lithuania) and search for relatives. I traveled to Poland from Germany, and reached Bialystok without any means of payment. I was frequently forced to beg for food and a place to sleep. From Bialystok I intended to go on to Kovno. However, in Bialystok I met a Lithuanian Jew called Birger, and he informed me that no one in my family had yet arrived in Kovno. He advised me not to go there. I decided to return to the cities of Warsaw and Lodz, and to be accepted to one of the kibbutzim there, and at the same time to try and gather information about relatives who had survived. In the meantime I learned that my father had survived and was in the vicinity of Munich (Germany). At first I was in a kibbutz in Lodz, and then I was sent to a kibbutz in Krakow.

From Krakow we traveled to Czechoslovakia, and in the city of Karlovy Vary – we crossed the Czech-German border at midnight without being discovered. I managed to get to Munich and meet my father, Later on we learned that my sisters Beile, Masha and Hesse were alive and had reached Kovno.

From December 1945 to June 1948 I attended the ORT school in Fernwald and Feldafing DP camps. I left Germany for Marseille (France) in order to immigrate to Israel. We sailed on the ship Altalena, and reached Israel on June 20, 1948.

When I reached Israel I wanted to enlist in the IDF in order to contribute to Israel's security. I enlisted in the IDF on July 13, 1948, even though I was not yet 17, and I continued to serve in the army for 29 years straight – until May 1977. I had various positions, and was discharged with the rank of major. I did most of my military service as a weapons man in the Armored Corps. I was very happy to have the opportunity to make my contribution to the country. I also had the privilege to march in the IDF's first parade, which took place in Tel Aviv. I was particularly happy, because I had been liberated from the concentration camps in Germany just three years previously.

On June 25, 1953 I married Tova, and we had two children: Rachel and Arie. We have six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. From June 1977 until August 2003, I was employed as a manger in a private company.

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