I am a survivor of the Holocaust. Of the several concentration camps which I lived through, in one in Germany, I became close to two Slovak boys around my age named Artur and Miki. The three of us shared the same fate right through the end of the infamous twelve-day “Sachsenhausen Hunger March” and were liberated together near the town of Schwerin in northern Germany, on May 2, 1945.
I now live in New York City. In November, 2012, I published my memoir, “MEMORIES OF EVIL,” where I described parting with Artur in Schwerin.
“Schwerin was a beehive of activity: ex-prisoners and American soldiers were swarming about. The Americans directed us to a former German army compound for food and lodging. As we passed the town park we came across some adult ex-prisoners I knew. They busied themselves setting up a campsite and cooking sausages. They invited me and my friends Miki and Artur to stay with them. Artur declined and decided to go on, but to Miki and me an army compound had the odor of a concentration camp about it and so we gladly accepted the invitation.
So, how did Artur and I part? We had been together through so much: in Heinkel, sleeping on the concrete floor, we used our breath and bodies to warm each other; we were together in all the small Jugendliche (juveniles) groups of the camps that followed; we shared our first Red Cross food package; we shared our “bed” on the forest ground of the last night of the Hunger March; and we had recently shared our first meal of freedom – a surfeit of delicious boiled new potatoes.
So, here is the question: what did we say to each other? And here is the answer: nothing. He left, I stayed.
We were not insensitive. We were simply emotionally dead. My entire concentration camp ordeal had felt surreal to me and thus Artur and Miki were equally unreal. Artur and I parted and we never saw each other again.
Fast forward 67 years. In early July, 2012, I received a phone call from a woman speaking with a strong Israeli accent:
“This is Ruthi Paz, I am calling from Israel and my father (she pronounced it fazzer) thinks he knew you a long time ago in Germany.”
“Well, I don’t come from Germany, I come from Slovakia, but I was in Germany in concentration camps during the Second World War.”
“Well, so was my fazzer. His name is Yitzchak Ringwald, but his original name in Slovakia was Artur.”
Yitzchak/Artur gets on the phone line. His language is Hebrew, which I don’t speak, and my language obviously is English, which he does not speak. So, we have an emotional conversation in Slovak, our native language which neither of us had much occasion to use over the past decades. Speaking it is a struggle for both of us. It turns out that it was his grandson who discovered me on the Internet. The grandson also discovered a reference to my 2006 memoir “1000:1 ODDS.” I promise Artur to mail him a copy.
The other problem is that Artur does not use a computer or the Internet. So, I exchange several e-mails with his daughter, Ruthi. We communicate our mutual feelings of excitement over the recent turn of events; she gives me their exact address in Haifa. I airmail Artur a copy of my book. He phones me again some ten days later to thank me for it. He, of course, is unable to read it and his children are attempting to translate it via Google Translator.
There is more to the story.
In our second phone conversation Artur tells me that our mutual friend Miki also lives in Haifa. It takes till September before I receive a phone call from Miki. He had kept is original name; his last name is Brand. Miki and I had stayed together until our repatriation to Prague and he got to meet my mother after I ran into her on a Prague street.
He, too, neither speaks English, nor is he capable of using the Internet. He finally mails me a letter in Slovak, with copies of some old post-War photos of himself, one of me from my home town of Trencin after the War, and a couple of recent photos of me which his grandson discovered on the Internet. We exchange further correspondence by mail, in Slovak. I find this language easier to write than to speak since I can do so with a dictionary next to my computer. My last letter is dated November, by which time my new memoir, “Memories of Evil” has been published; I mail him a copy, trusting his grandson will be able to attempt a translation.