By the time Paul Molnar was 14 he had survived the Holocaust. It would be two more years before he survived World War II.
In September 1939, when the German army marched into Poland, starting the Second World War, he was a 10-year-old Jewish boy living with his parents and 7-year-old brother in a suburb of Budapest, Hungary.
Initially Hungary, a country of 10 million in those days, sided with Germany in the war because it had little choice. The Germans had 80 million people and a far larger and stronger army. It wasn’t until the spring of 1944 that German forces invaded his country and began controlling his life.
“On March 14, 1944, my dad, my little brother and I went to see a soccer game,” the 74-year-old Siesta Key man said. “While we were at the game, we heard all this commotion outside. The Germans had marched in with their tanks, armored vehicles and soldiers and took over our country.
“Immediately, they kicked out the existing government, put their own government in power and started issuing anti-Jewish laws. Things for Jews in Hungary became a lot harder in a hurry,” he said. “They drafted all the Jewish men in the country, between the ages of 18 and 48, into a labor force. My father was 44 at the time and he was drafted.”
Molnar and his family didn’t know the primary reason the Germans invaded Hungary was to exterminate the Jews. It was the last country in Western Europe with a substantial Jewish population. The Germans had killed most of the rest of the Jews in Europe by then.
For the Jews of Budapest, things went from bad to worse. The Germans began by making the them wear yellow “Stars of David” on their clothes when they were outside. Their oppressors also passed a law that stopped them from leaving their homes, except between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. This meant that Jewish people couldn’t hold regular jobs and Jewish children weren’t able to attend school.
They were also forbidden to have radios and they couldn’t have any kind of transportation, including bicycles. But that didn’t prevent them from keeping up with the war news through a very active grapevine.
Despite their German tormentors, the Hungarian Jews still received clandestine help from a handful of brave people who would slip them food and clothing on the sly. If those who helped the Jews had been caught they would have been severely punished if not killed.
“We were very naive because we Jews didn’t realize the main focus of the Germans who invaded Hungary was to get rid of us. Toward that end they sent (SS Lt. Col.) Adolf Eichmann to Hungary to kill off the last pocket of Jews,” Molnar explained. “In other countries it had taken the Germans two or three years to deport the Jews. In Hungary they did it in 90 days.
“On the night of July 7, 1944, we heard loud speakers. The speakers told us we had 30 minutes to pack one suitcase per family because we were going to be relocated. ‘If you’re not out of the apartment building in 30 minutes we’ll shoot you,’ the commanding voice told us. My mom threw a few things in a suitcase and we all walked outside — mom, my little brother, my grandmother and me. Hungarian police and German Storm Troopers were waiting for us.”
They were marched to the local railroad station where they waited all night worrying about their fate. By the next morning, 15,000 Jews from Budapest had been rounded up.
“The Germans brought in two trains comprised of 50 cattle cars each. We were packed into these cars like sardines. It was terribly hot and there were only two little windows at the top of each of these cars.
“We all had to stand in place. We couldn’t move. There was no water and no sanitary facilities. For two days and two nights we stood as the train rolled along. Some people lost their minds because they couldn’t deal with it. Some of the older prisoners died while standing there. We were terrified,” Molnar said.
At dawn on the third day they reached their destination. They had no idea where they were or what was going to happen to them.
“They stopped the train and opened the doors. We looked out and saw this long ditch in front of us. Beyond the ditch were these men in striped blue-gray uniforms yelling at us. Behind them were German soldiers with guns and guard dogs.
“The men in the striped uniforms yelled at us to throw our suitcases into the ditch. Later we would be allowed to come back and get them, they said. There was a tremendous amount of confusion. Everyone was screaming at us. We were scared. When we jumped out of the cattle cars they literally chased us down a dirt road to a big clearing full of German officers and soldiers.
“Dr. Josef Mengele (the infamous ‘Doctor of Death’) and his staff were waiting for us in the clearing. I know it today, but I didn’t know who he was then. They directed people down certain paths.
“My mom and I were told to go to the left. My grandmother and my 11-year-old brother were told to take the right path. At that point my mother said to me, ‘You’re the oldest boy in the family. Your grandmother needs me a lot more than you do, so I had better go with them.’ She went.”
Molnar continued on down the left path with his uncle, a cousin and others from his town to a second clearing in which there was nothing but men. They were all told to strip. Their body hair was shaved and they were deloused with a spray. Then they were ordered into a huge shower room.
“We went into the showers as normal human beings. When we came out we went into another room with long tables. Behind each table was a prisoner who gave us striped uniforms like the ones they were wearing. Mostly these new uniforms didn’t fit us.
“We were funny-looking creatures because the uniforms were either too large or too small. We were unrecognizable. If it wasn’t such a scary place we probably would have laughed at each other because we looked so weird,” he recalled and smiled.
“We were marched to the barracks by other prisoners. Prisoners were in charge inside the camp. Our barracks was a large wooden building with a concrete floor. It held hundreds of prisoners. It was completely empty except for us.
“We sat on the concrete floor all day and waited. Come evening a couple of prisoners came in and told us to go outside to be counted, then we would be fed,” he said. “We where given a metal bowl, cup and spoon. Since we had had nothing to drink for three days, we were allowed to fill our cups several times with water. We were also given a ladle of soup that looked like dish water with garbage in it and smelled worse. We also got a slice of brown bread that appeared to be made of sawdust.
“Even though we were hungry, we didn’t eat. Most of us thought at the time it wasn’t the kind of food a human being should be fed.
“One of the emaciated prisoners from another nearby barrack was staring at me holding my food I didn’t want. He probably weighed 70 or 80 pounds. I gave him the bowl of soup and bread and his face lit up. He didn’t use the spoon. He drank the soup right down and ate the bread in a hurry.
After being cooped up all day in the barrack, Molnar was standing outside looking at his new surroundings. Scores of other prisoners milled around the area, too.
“The most distinguishing feature of the place were the tall chimneys. They were constantly spewing fire, ash and there was this awful smell,” he said he’ll never forget. “I said to this emaciated prisoner who had obviously been there awhile, ‘What’s all the fire and smoke. What are they building here?’
“‘You don’t know?’ he replied.
“‘No,’ I said.
“‘That’s your family going up in smoke,’ he responded.”
Paul Molnar had spent his first day in Auschwitz, Hitler’s most infamous extermination camp.
Auschwitz death camp
The Auschwitz extermination camp was built by the German government in May 1940 at Oswiecim, Poland. It was liberated by Allied forces on Jan. 27, 1945.
It’s estimated between 2.1 million and 2.5 million people were exterminated at Auschwitz. However, this figure could be as high as 4 million.
Zyklon-B poison gas was used to kill hundreds of thousands of prisoners in the camp’s gas chamber. The three crematoria at the camp ran night and day to dispose of the bodies.
At its height, 155,000 prisoners were confined at any one time at Auschwitz and its sub camps.
Paul Molnar survived Auschwitz, he was sent to Buchenwald slave labor camp.
Surviving Auschwitz and Buchenwald at 14 – Paul Molnar escaped the Holocaust, but 17 relatives died
Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Monday, December 13, 2004
Paul Molnar spent only one day at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp in Poland during World War II. The 14-year-old Hungarian boy, his father, Albin, and his younger brother, George, along with his uncle, cousin and a number of other Jews from the Budapest suburb where they lived were then taken by cattle car to Buchenwald, the German concentration camp in Weimar, Germany.
The 74-year-old Siesta Key man doesn’t have the obligatory tattooed prisoner number on his arm that everyone else who survived the death camp has. Because he was only there for a day and was sent elsewhere he didn’t receive a tattoo. They weren’t required at Buchenwald, he explained.
“Buchenwald wasn’t an extermination camp like Auschwitz. It was a concentration camp built in 1937 by the German government to house people the Nazis considered political dissidents or unacceptable like communists, socialists, gays and gypsies,” he said.
“When we got to Buchenwald we were given numbers. I was prisoner 66777. Nobody ever called me by my name. I was just called Prisoner 66777,” Molnar said. “We were temporarily housed in tents outside the main camp that contained about 25,000 prisoners. There were also sub camps at Buchenwald. All together the camp held approximately 90,000 prisoners.”
Molnar and some 2,500 other Hungarian Jews were sent to a factory in Magdeburg, a city of several hundred thousand people in East Germany that was suppose to convert brown coal into gasoline for military use.
“Our routine was that we got up at 4 a.m. We fell outside and were counted to make sure no one had escaped. If anybody died during the night we had to drag the body out of the barrack to be counted.
“Then we ate the same stuff they fed the prisoners at Auschwitz. By then we ate it because if you didn’t eat it, you died.
“At 5 a.m. we marched four miles to a factory and worked until noon. We got off 30 minutes for lunch and continued to work until 6 p.m. We marched back to the barracks and arrived about 7 p.m. We were fed at 8:30 p.m. and then everybody collapsed on the floor because we had no beds. We did this seven days a week.
“The reality was that all the time I was there the factory never produced one ounce of gasoline. All we did was reconstruction after British bombers pulverized the plant on a daily basis.”
The work was terribly difficult for Molnar and all the other prisoners. To make matters worse, by then he realized what had happened to his mother, brother and grandmother after they took the other path at Auschwitz. They were sent to the ovens along with tens of thousands of others.
“One day in mid-September 1944 we were assigned to unload a boxcar of cement bags. We had to put the bags on our shoulders, carry them across the road and dump them in a ditch. I dropped a bag of cement and it broke open,” he recalled. “Two German guards ran over to me and started screaming, ‘You saboteur! You saboteur!’ I knew they were going to beat me so I dropped to the ground and covered my head.
“They pulled out their sticks and beat me, but after a while they stopped. I was a little dazed, but I knew I had to get up. If you didn’t get up they would shoot you,” he said. “I stood up thinking I had survived the worst of it, but I hadn’t. They let a guard dog loose on me.
“When they called off the dog he had chewed up my whole right calf. I was badly hurt and bleeding profusely. I was back on the ground and knew the guards were gonna shoot me because that’s what they generally did. For some reason they just walked away.
“I was lucky because my cousin was nearby. He and another boy picked me up and carried me down a little ways and put me in a shady area by a pile of lumber.
“I knew the rule was that if you could not walk back from the construction site to the camp at 6 p.m. you got shot by the Germans. The only time I was really terrified was that afternoon. I knew there was no way I could walk the four miles back to the camp. I felt sorry for myself because I was only 14 and I was about ready to be killed.”
When it was time to return to camp that evening his cousin and his buddy got Molnar up once again. He was able to hobble along on one foot with the two of them holding him up on each side. The trio concealed themselves in the middle of a group of prisoners and snuck him back into the camp without incident.
By this time 800 of the 2,500 Jews who had come to Madgeburg from Buchenwald were very sick, or injured or had lost their minds and couldn’t work. They were placed in a special enclosure on half rations. They lived in the open and slept on the ground. That’s where Molnar ended up.
“After a couple of weeks on half rations and sleeping in the open there was an announcement that this group was going to be sent back to Buchenwald. Approximately 815 of us were to be put on cattle cars once again,” he said. “Because I couldn’t walk very well due to my leg injury I was at the back of the line. When we arrived (at the station) they took the first 800 prisoners and immediately put them in more cattle cars headed for Auschwitz.
“I found out later that those 800 prisoners were gassed at Auschwitz right after they arrived. They couldn’t work and so they were useless to the Germans.”
The last 15 prisoners at the end of the line that included Molnar, were taken back to the main camp at Buchenwald. He was assigned to Barrack 49, one of the two barracks at Buchenwald that contained Jews.
“The camp was being run by prisoners who took their orders from German soldiers outside the camp. The prisoners who ran the camp were very strict but very fair. There were about 20 of us between the ages of 14 and 16 who were considered children,” he said. “They decided the 20 of us would be safer if we remained in the camp and did odd jobs.
“Then something wonderful happened to us. They also decided that the children in the camp should go to school. So three nights a week, from 7 to 9 p.m., teachers came to our barrack and taught us,” Molnar said. “It wasn’t regular school with assignments because we had no books, paper or pencils.
“What our teachers did was encourage us. They told us about the good things in life. Buchenwald, they said, this doesn’t represent the whole world. There are beautiful places with blue sky and green grass.
“These wonderful people couldn’t feed my body, but they certainly fed my soul. They gave us hope,” he said with tears in his eyes. “And I never even knew their names. But I knew if they had been caught teaching us the Germans would have severely punished them.”
By December 1944 Molnar was on the move once more. He and the rest of the teenagers were sent to another slave labor camp at Bergen, Germany, along the Czech border. The prisoners at that camp worked in an underground V-2 rocket factory. Many froze to death that terribly cold winter of 1944-45. He lucked out once again and wound up as kitchen help where it was warm.
During the closing weeks of the war the few prisoners who were still alive were taken on a forced march thought the backwoods of Germany as the Allied armies closed in from all directions. Molnar and a young friend escaped the march one night and found sanctuary in a Czechoslovakian woman’s farmhouse.
“She was very nice to us. She gave us food and clean clothes to wear,” he recalled. “On May 8, 1945 she told us the Germans had surrendered. Two days later Gen. (George) Patton arrived with his 3rd Army, but I didn’t know who he was.”
Molnar and his pal returned to their homes as quickly as possible. When he got back to Bucharest he found his father, Albin, in the house his family was forced to leave two years earlier when the Germans took over. His dad had escaped from the Hungarian forced-labor battalion and survived the war.
His mother, Ida, never returned, nor his little brother, George or his grandmother. They all died in the Holocaust like six million other Jews and millions of non-Jewish prisoners the Nazis deemed expendable.
“My dad told me my uncle died in the concentration camp. And his son, who had saved my life when the guard dog attacked me, died too. After his father perished he just gave up,” Molnar explained.
“Of my 17 relatives who went to the camps with me, I was the only survivor. Why did I survive? I was no hero. I had no special skills. It’s just the way the world is.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2004 and is republished with permission.
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