My father, Chaskel Tydor, was among the Jewish prisoners liberated in the Nazi camp of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. Born to a chassidic family in Bochnia, Poland in 1903, the year Orville Wright first successfully flew an aircraft at Kitty Hawk, he had grown up in Germany where his family had fled at the outbreak of the First World War, marrying and raising a family.
In September 1939 he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Buchenwald, from there to Auschwitz, and finally back to Buchenwald where he worked as a slave laborer for the Germans until being liberated by the American army. After the liberation, he helped found Kibbutz Buchenwald, the first pioneering kibbutz established among the survivors in liberated Germany, and brought them to Palestine in September 1945.
Before that, however, my father assisted in organizing an operation that was to have a long lasting impact on hundreds of young survivors – their transfer from Buchenwald to France and Switzerland.
When Buchenwald was liberated, the American troops found approximately 1,000 Jewish children hidden in the camp. Chaskel, along with a small group of survivors, had been helping to care for them after liberation.
Turning to two American chaplains who had reached the camp with the liberating forces, Rabbis Robert Marcus and Herschel Schacter, he and a few other older survivors urged that the children be removed from the camp as soon as possible so that they could begin to recover in more normal surroundings.
Rabbis Marcus and Schacter contacted the Geneva office of the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants), a European Jewish relief organization, and arranged for groups of children to be moved to Switzerland and France. The group going to France accompanied by Rabbi Marcus left without great bureaucratic difficulty; among its members was the sixteen-year-old Elie Wiesel who had lost his father in Buchenwald shortly before the liberation.
When it came to the Swiss group the situation became somewhat more complicated. Sometime in May, representatives of the Swiss Red Cross arrived in Buchenwald and announced they would be taking 500 youngsters up to the age of sixteen for a temporary period in order to be schooled or educated for a profession.
Chaskel knew they did not have that many Jewish children to be sent from Buchenwald and therefore planned to include as many older teenagers as possible and even a few slight-looking men in their early twenties who needed urgent medical care. The Swiss, however, had planned for every eventuality.
Chaskel recalled wryly: “Just as the Swiss were not particularly hospitable to Jewish refugees during the war, now they decided to use all of their Swiss precision and love of order and regulations in order to make it difficult for the young survivors to find refuge there after the war.”
The Swiss representatives decided upon a selection process to ensure that no survivors over sixteen would be included in the group. All children were to undergo a medical exam by a French Red Cross doctor and a Swiss Red Cross nurse. After they would be approved as being under sixteen and in decent health (“And how exactly could anyone be in decent health in Buchenwald in May 1945?” my father heatedly asked), each child would receive a card signed by the doctor and assigned a number.
Only children with signed cards and numbers would be allowed to board the train to Switzerland. If there would not be enough Jewish children, the Swiss nurse stated, she would compensate for the missing numbers with Ukrainian children from a nearby camp.
My father recalled how he and Rabbi Schacter found a solution to the problem. “In a very courageous way a number of these registry cards ‘disappeared’ from the Red Cross office courtesy of the good offices of Rabbi Schacter’s driver and myself after the Rabbi had made sure to find the key to the office. I knew what the cards looked like and found some in the room. Rabbi Schacter had obtained a red pen because the doctor had signed the cards with a red pen, and I practiced his signature until I had it perfect.
“All night long we sat in the office and made out Red Cross cards which I signed with the doctor’s name until we filled the quota of 500. We put in names of young men far beyond sixteen and even those over twenty who looked youngish and we decided to take a chance. It was a good night’s work.”