Villager Gene Klein’s tale of survival enthralled a packed meeting of the John Bartram chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution Friday morning at Eisenhower Recreation Center.
Klein was 16 when his family was uprooted from his hometown in 1944 in Hungary. He explained how his family was ordered to stand outside of their home with only a small suitcase. They were then marched to a local brick factory were they were held under armed guard. Later that night, a Hungarian soldier held a gun on his family and stole all their valuables. It was the start of a year-long nightmare which would only end with the arrival of the Russian Army.
Klein’s family and several other Jewish families were forced into crowded cattle cars. After three days and nights jammed into the train cars without food or water, the family arrived at a large concentration camp which he later found out was Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp.
He then explained how he was standing in a line with his father when an SS officer told him to go to the left and ordered his father to the right. His mother and two sisters were in another line. He was then placed in a barracks where he met a Polish prisoner who answered his question of where his father went by taking him outside of the barracks and pointing to a smokestack which was belching sparks and smoke. “That is where your father went, up the smokestack,” he told the teenager.
Klein’s study of German in school saved his life when he was selected to help a German civilian survey the area around the camp. That German, at great personal risk, smuggled food to Klein, which gave him the strength to survive. He kept himself alive by repeating two things to himself every day – that his mother and sisters were still alive and that his staying alive would defeat the SS.
He was later sent to another slave labor camp where he was held until the camp was liberated by the Russians. As he made his way back to his hometown, he learned that his mother and sisters also had survived the death camps. He moved to the United States in 1947 where he had relatives and later served in the Army in an intelligence unit, as he speaks several languages.
As horrible as his experiences were, Klein remains a positive upbeat person with a great sense of humor. He said that he is able to put his experiences aside and enjoy life. Failing to do so would mean that the Nazis won, something Klein said he would never allow.
Klein and his family’s tale of survival is detailed in a book written by his daughter, Jill Klein. Gene Klein has spoken to groups all around the world on the subject of the Holocaust and resilience in the face of evil.