Eugene’s story of survival keeps alive memory of the Holocaust

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THE daughter of a Holocaust survivor will tell his remarkable story of survival at a service in Hull today to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Lilian Black, daughter of Eugene Black, 83, will speak in an event at the Guildhall from 7pm.

It will be the first time Ms Black, who chairs the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association, has stood in for her father, who was invited to attend but is recovering from illness.

The audience will hear about a man of courage who has experienced the extremes of loss and hope, who survived unspeakable brutality and the permanent threat of death, but lived to to bear witness to one of the darkest periods in human history.

He was born Jeno Schwartz in Munkacs, Czechoslovakia, in 1928, and enjoyed a happy family life with his parents, three sisters and brother.

The area where they lived had been given back to Hungary in 1938 and on March 19, 1944, German forces occupied Hungary and all its Jews were immediately ordered to wear the Star of David.

Ten days later the Jews were moved into ghettos, and as the family home was already within a ghetto area they took others in.

On May 14, as Eugene was coming home from school, he saw a German military lorry outside the house with two of his sisters and father on board. He saw an SS man hit his mother across the face and push her onto the lorry before he was forced to join them alongside others.

They were taken away and herded onto railway cattle trucks and transported to Auschwitz Birkenau, where the family was split up.

After being completely shaved and showered Eugene was given a number, 55546, and a striped uniform, beginning a life of servitude that would nearly kill him.

Selected for slave labour, the teenager was sent to the Little Camp at Buchenwald and then to Dora Mittelbau in the Harz mountains, where slave labourers worked underground manufacturing V1 and V2 rockets.

Without rest and on starvation rations, Eugene worked shifts of up to 14 hours loading trucks with rocks. He became increasingly weak, caught pneumonia after five months and was put in the camp “hospital”, where an elderly German doctor saved his life.

Every morning when he came to see him, the doctor would say “Wo ist mein kleiner Jude?” - where is my little Jew?

In March 1945, with the Allies advancing, he was put on a train and sent all over Germany on a seven-day journey with no food and water, the train stopping at intervals for the removal of the dead.

The train eventually halted five miles from Bergen Belsen and the survivors were marched into camp, with any stragglers being shot along the way. Of the 3,000 people who had begun the journey, only 500 walked through the gates. With no food, no work and no bed, Eugene lay on the floor of his hut and tried to hang on.

Ms Black, 60, said: “He just lay there among the dead and the dying trying to find a crumb from somewhere. They ate grass and just tried to survive.”

On April 15, salvation arrived when a British Army jeep drove through the gates as the SS guards stood to attention.

But of the 30,000 prisoners who were liberated, half their number would die in the coming days, many because their stomachs were unable to digest the rich food given to them.

Weighing just five stones, Eugene was a shadow of the 12-stone boy rounded up by the Germans. But he was free.

Ms Black said: “He was liberated and that was when he wept. He never cried until after liberation because he realised he was free, but he was stateless, starving and he was an orphan. He’d lost his family and his country and he was just 17 years old.

“But he’s a strong old bird, my father. He’s an amazing man.”

As he recovered, Eugene was given a job by the British as an interpreter and met his future wife, Annie Halliday, from Bedlington, Northumberland, while working in Germany. They married and moved to England, raising four children. Eugene, who lives in Leeds, began to talk about his experiences 15 years ago, but still cannot explain his survival.

Ms Black said: “He says he’s got absolutely no idea, but I think he attributes it to the fact he was young and very fit – he was football-mad – and he came from a good family and was well-nourished. And he learned very quickly to be in the middle and stay away from the edges after being whacked on the head.

“He just took life one day at a time.”