Slave Labourer and Camp Survivor
“I think every one of us has a responsibility to do our utmost to remember those events and make sure they never happen again”.
Eugene was born Jeno Schwartz in Munkacs, Czechoslovakia in 1928. He had a happy family life with three sisters and a brother. His mother came from an Orthodox Jewish family but his father, who was a master tailor, did not. Religion played little part in Eugene’s upbringing.
In 1939 the part of Czechoslovakia where Eugene’s family lived was annexed by Hungary. Eugene and his family were now Hungarians. On 19th March 1944 German forces occupied Hungary completely. Immediately all Hungarian Jews were ordered to wear the Star of David and within ten days the Jewish population was moved into ghettos. Eugene’s house was within a ghetto area, so his family took other people into their home.
On May 14th Eugene was returning home from school. He saw a German military lorry outside the family home with his two sisters and father on board. He saw an SS man hit his mother across the face and push her on to the lorry. Eugene wasn’t allowed into the house; he was forced onto the lorry with the rest of his family and other Jewish people from the ghetto.
The lorry was driven to a nearby brickyard, where the Jewish population was being forcibly gathered together. Eugene and his family were ordered into railway cattle trucks and from there transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The SS guards swiftly separated Eugene from his mother and sisters, then also from his father. After being completely shaved and then showered, he was given his number, 55546, and a striped uniform.
Eugene remained at Auschwitz-Birkenau for around ten days before being selected for forced labour. He was sent by train to the Buchenwald and then on to Mittelbau-Dora, a concentration camp in the Harz mountains, where the Nazis used forced labourers to manufacture V1 and V2 rockets underground. Eugene’s job here was to load small trucks with rocks dug out from the tunnels for 12 to 14 hours at a time, without rest and on starvation rations. He became increasingly weak and after five months caught pneumonia. A German Luftwaffe doctor saved his life. In mid March 1945, Eugene was sent to Bergen Belsen, which he describes as “a hellhole. People were lying all over the place”. Typhus was rife and sanitation non-existent. On 15th April Eugene was liberated on the arrival of the British Army.
After the euphoria of liberation had worn off Eugene discovered that he had lost his entire family, except for one older brother who had been an officer in the Czech army. He was homeless and stateless, and still only 17 years old. For a while, Eugene worked as an interpreter for the British army in Sennelager. It was there he met his future wife Annie. He described Annie as his saviour. Marrying Annie, and the arrival of their four children, gave Eugene back his future.
Eugene moved to England in 1949 and started work with Marks and Spencer as a warehouse man. He stayed with the company all his working life, retiring as a manager.
After he retired Eugene worked tirelessly to educate young people about the Holocaust and to spread his message of love, tolerance and hope. He passed away in September 2016. He is sadly missed.