Slave Labourer and Camp Survivor
Eugene was born in a small town in Czechoslovakia. In 1944 Eugene and his family were imprisoned in a ghetto before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
After suffering forced labour in various camps Eugene was liberated from Bergen-Belsen and made a new life in Britain.
“Hope is a big word in the English language – sadly it’s not being used by a lot of people. Yes, you must always have hope.”
Eugene was born Jeno Schwartz in Munkacs in 1928. Religion played little part in his upbringing despite his mother Leni coming from an Orthodox Jewish family. His father, who was a master tailor, was not a very religious man. Eugene had a happy childhood with his brother Alexander and 3 sisters Jolan, Paula and Blanka. In 1939 the family became Hungarian citizens when their town was annexed by Hungary.
“I came from quite a comfortable home, never knew what hunger was or to be deprived of anything.”
On 19th March 1944 German forces occupied Hungary, causing life to immediately change for Eugene and his family. Straight away they were forced to wear a yellow star identifying them as Jewish. As Eugene’s family home was within the ghetto boundaries they had to take other families into their home.
On 14th May Eugene was returning home when he saw a German military lorry outside his home with his sisters and father on board. He watched an SS man hit his mother across the face and force her onto the lorry. Eugene was then forced onto the lorry with his family and others from the ghetto.
Those on the lorry were taken to a nearby brickyard where the Jewish population was being gathered. From here Eugene and his family were ordered into a cattle truck with around 110 other people, to be transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Eugene could remember the sound of the train for the rest of his life.
When the train arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau after three days Eugene was separated from his mother and sisters, then also from his father. Eugene was completely shaved and made to shower, then given a striped uniform. He was given the number 55546.
Eugene was in Auschwitz-Birkenau for around 10 days before being transferred for forced labour, first to Buchenwald then to Mittlebau-Dora. Mittlebau-Dora was a concentration camp in the Harz mountains where the Nazis used forced labourers to manufacture V1 and V2 rockets. Eugene’s job was to load trucks with rocks from the tunnels. He would work for 12 to 14 hours at a time with little rest, no sanitation in the tunnels and starvation rations.
Eugene became increasingly weaker and after 5 months caught pneumonia. He was taken to the camp infirmary in Harzungen where his life was saved by a German Luftwaffe doctor.
“That German doctor used to come in every morning and as he came through he used to say “Wo ist mein kleine Jude?” – “Where is my little Jew?”
Eugene stayed in both Ellrich and Harzungen and was sent out daily on forced labour assignments to local businesses. Villagers, mainly women and children, used to spit at them as they went through.
Following advances of the Soviet military allies, Eugene was evacuated by the SS to Bergen-Belsen in March 1945. Eugene described Bergen-Belsen as ‘a hellhole’. In Belsen typhus was ravaging the camp and there was no sanitation. Food was also scarce and Eugene remembers searching the pockets of the dead for crumbs. Eugene was liberated on 15th April 1945 by the arrival of the British Army.
After liberation Eugene discovered that he had lost his whole family except for his elder brother. Eugene was only 17 years old and found himself homeless and stateless. Eugene worked as an interpreter for the British Army where he met his future wife Annie. He described Annie as his saviour. Annie and Eugene married and had 4 children. Eugene moved to England in 1949 where he worked in Marks and Spencer until his retirement. Eugene worked tirelessly to educate young people about the Holocaust and to spread his message of love, tolerance and hope.
Eugene passed away in September 2016 and is sadly missed by all who knew him.
“I think every one of us has a responsibility to do our utmost to remember those events and make sure they never happen again.”
To learn more about Eugene’s story visit The Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre. For more information click here