"My father lost everything because he was Jewish" - a West Yorkshire family's Holocaust horror story

Lilian Black looks at a picture of her father, Eugene, who is pictured centre.
Lilian Black looks at a picture of her father, Eugene, who is pictured centre.
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The horrors of Auschwitz have been well documented. But the personal stories remained unspoken for many years. Emma Spencer reports.

Like thousands of other Holocaust survivors, Eugene Black never spoke about the horrors he endured as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War.

There were only glimpses of the horror he suffered. He had nightmares, his stomach was never right and he still had physical scars from being beaten.

But he shielded his family from the truth as he made a new life in Pool-in-Wharfedale in West Yorkshire, with the woman he met and fell in love with at the end of the war in Germany, his four children while pursuing his career as a manager with Marks & Spencer which spanned more than 30 years.

And despite her father’s stoicism, his daughter, Lilian Black, recalls there was always a sense of sadness and something missing at family celebrations.

Ahead of the annual Holocaust Memorial Day which will be held tomorrow, she said: “It did impact on us. We would have family parties but there was never anybody from his side. We did not have grandparents, aunts, uncles anything from him.

“I used to feel so sad and think ‘this is awful’. Mother had all her family there but my father had nobody. There were no family photos and we had no imagination of where they came from, what they were like.

“He had lost all of this simply because he was Jewish. He was 16 when he was arrested. My mother was a marvellous woman and I am sure she had an awful lot to put up with.”

However, it was only 15 years ago that the truth came to light and Mr Black, who was born Jeno Schwartz in Munkacs in Czechoslovakia in 1928, finally disclosed the full horrors of the concentration camp.

On May 14, 1944, he returned home from school to find a German military lorry at the house with his parents and sisters on-board. He was forced onto the truck and they were transported to Auschwitz where he was separated from them all.

It was the last time he saw them.

He survived the selection process and after 10 days moved to the Buchenwald and Dora Mittelbau camp in the Harz mountains, working underground to make V1 and V2 rockets.

Ms Black said: “We knew he had been in the camps, but not the extent of his suffering. He was shaved, had 25 lashes, starved, beaten and even thought about taking his own life because he was so tired.

“He witnessed hangings and in the last week at Bergen Belsen before liberation, they were eating grass and when there was no more grass, they searched through the pockets of dead prisoners for a crumb. He lost everything. His country, his family, his humanity. He tried to keep it away from us.”

In 1996, the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association (HSFA) formed for Yorkshire-based survivors to speak about their experiences and sense of isolation. It is now a charity to preserve the testimony and records of the Holocaust survivors for research, teaching and learning.

Ms Black became the chairperson eight years later and on a research trip to archives in Germany with her father they uncovered devastating news.

She recalls: “They said ‘Mr Black, are you ready to learn the fate of your sisters?’ We just looked at them. His sisters had also survived selection and were sent to a concentration camp in northern Germany where they worked as slave labourers.

“On September 11, 1944 they were killed along with 150 other Hungarian and Jewish women in an RAF bomb raid on an oil refinery. They got a folder out and produced prison record cards and certificates of death. It was shocking, unbelievable. They were working in an oil refinery and he was working in another camp making rockets.”

Following liberation, Mr Black worked for the British Army in Germany as an interpreter where he met his future wife, Annie, whom he said was “his saviour”. He joined her back in England where he re-built his life.

The HSFA and the University of Huddersfield last year unveiled The Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre with the accounts of 16 concentration camp survivors – of which only 10 are still alive. Mr Black died two years ago aged 88.

Ms Black added: “He was inspirational and so courageous to talk about his experiences. That is why I am so proud of Britain, it is the only reason that I am here because the British Army liberated them and looked after my father.”