Posted in Manuscript Projects on March 9, 2015
Story of Mendel Good – By: Noah Draper
Born: Mendel Aftergut, March 26, 1925, Nowy Sacz Poland
Could you describe life before the war?
I had parents, two brothers, little sister. I had a very happy family. My father was the youngest of 7 children. Our family was large and very close. I was born in a place called Nowy-Sacz (in Poland), it was a very religious, mostly Jewish city. Today, in Israel there is a city called Sanz named after my hometown. We had everything we needed, theatres, gardens, stores, Synagogues. It was a very Jewish life. Nowy-Sacz was very close to the Czechoslovakian border and it had been occupied for 2 years by the Germans, so it didn’t take long for the Germans to come to my town (1939). When they found Jewish people they gave them restrictions, like they couldn’t go to school.
Could you describe life during the war?
I was 14 at the beginning of the war. Our neighbourhood had heard many stories about some of the Germans acting out on their hatred towards Jews, but they were hard to believe. The war broke out in Poland on September 1, 1939. A few days later, the Germans entered Nowy-Sacz and gave restrictions to all of its Jewish residents. I was hiding in the basement with my entire family and the Germans found me. My father worked with my aunt and uncle (their business was taken away), so it became difficult to make money. We couldn’t go on the street after 7 PM. We couldn’t walk on the sidewalk. We had to wear identifying armbands. When we saw a German approaching we had to step aside. We couldn’t attend Polish schools. My father was going to be sent to work at a forced labour camp, but I made a big deal because I didn’t want him to have to do that, so I went instead of him. I also felt it was necessary to follow the Ten and Commandments and honour your mother and father.
I worked there for two or three weeks and then I was sent to Roznow. It wasn’t far from Nowy-Sacz and we work along a river. One night I escaped from where all of us workers were sleeping and ran into the forest. I kept walking through the forest until I saw a house with two lit Havdalah candles. I knocked on the door and my milkman’s wife answered. We were family friends. The milkman and his wife gave me Shabbat dinner and I hid somewhere in their house where they kept all of their animals. The next day I left his house and two days later I arrived home. When my mother answered the door I could hardly recognize her. Her once brown hear had become almost all white. She had shrunken and the shirt that she was wearing was much too big on her. My family was very happy to see me.
After escaping from Roznow, my father got me a job as an apprentice for a tailor. In 1940, my father was arrested for trying to get my family food from the city. It was a terrible time for my family and we were starving. My little brother Avrum and I resorted to doing illegal jobs at night, to get goods, food, and money. Eventually my father returned from jail, but shortly after was arrested again. Before he left again, he gave us his final testament. A few weeks later we received a message that our father was asking for us to sit Shiva and mourn for him.
Soon after, we were brought into the Nowy-Sacz ghetto. We had to give up are home. Jews were not allowed out on certain days and one day I was caught being out when I wasn’t allowed. Myself, along with various others, was sent to jail. The governor of this jail was named Johann. We would usually be woken up by Johann at 3 or 4 in the morning. One night we were forced by Johann and lined up against a stone wall. Johann had a machine gun in his hand and executed, one after another, and we dropped. I fell just like everyone else, however the bullet hit my earmuff, so I wasn’t dead. Myself and all the dead bodies were loaded onto a truck and buried in a cemetery. The man that was burying me was a Jewish man who I knew. I knew that there were no Germans around, so I signaled to him that I was alive and he stopped burying me. I spent the night at the cemetery and the next morning I returned to my family in the ghetto. The next few months in the ghetto were terrible, filled with cruelty and starvation. One day we were lined up, people were separated. My older brother Shmuel and I were forced to go one way and my younger brother, sister and mother went another way. I never heard from any of them again, the three of them were murdered in Belzec. Shmuel was sent somewhere else, and I was sent by train to Muszyna.
In Muszyna we worked with lumber for a German company called Hoak Weker. The German company subsidized our food so we did not starve. One day when I was working I cut myself a little piece of steel about an inch and a half long. I wrapped it in some cement paper at night and hit it on me at all times. When I held that sharp little piece of steel I said to myself, “Adolf, Adolf, you are not going to get me. I’ll do everything to survive, but you are not going to get me.” Later I was sent back to Nowy-Sacz where I saw Johann. Johann was hitting everyone but when I stuck my head through the gate he did not touch me. He recognized me and called me by my family name. Later on Johann called me out and told me I would be taken to Tarnow to be reunited with my brother Shmuel. While still in jail, Johann told me that my cousin Manja was imprisoned in the same jail. He took me to a cell to see her. Because she was a good looking girl she was used to fulfill the sexual desires of Nazi men and she was pregnant. Manja and I were so happy to see each other. I was told later on that Manja ended up in Auschwitz like so many other pregnant Jewish women and girls who, when they became too big and were no longer “useful”, were murdered there by the Nazis. The next morning I was put on a train.
I was very happy to be reunited with my brother Shmuel in the Tarnow ghetto, we were both surprised to see the other alive. Shmuel got me a job. It was in Tarnow that I became aware of the tragedy of my lost family. Some of us in Tarnow were sent to Plaszow, the rest were sent to Auschwitz.
Plaszow was a slave labour camp built on a Jewish cemetery. The tombstones were used to make streets that led to the German quarters in the camp. I think that I was in Plaszow for about six months or a year. When I left Plaszow, I was separated from my brother. I never saw him again and don’t know what happened to him. I was transferred in a cattle train.
The freight train took us from Plaszow to Auschwitz where we waited on board for two days while the Nazis decided what to do with us. We had nothing to eat or drink on the train. We then went on to Mauthausen, Austria. It was said to be the worst camp at that time. While we were at Mauthausen our food rations went up for a few days though, because the International Red Cross came for an inspection then they went back down again. I ended up in the hospital with tuberculosis. Two days later I was rounded up along with some others and taken to the gas chamber by camp guards. I had decided at the beginning of the war when I war when I was parted from my family that I would do everything possible to prevent the Nazis from destroying me physically. I still carried the little piece of steel wrapped in cement paper that I had taken. I had sharpened it once and a while on pieces of stone. This was risky because we were regularly searched and if the blade had been found I would have been immediately killed. I was the fifth or sixth person away from the gas chamber door when I decided to use the blade to take my own life. I had already made that promise that I would not let Adolf get me. I would rather kill myself than allow the Germans to murder me. At that moment, standing in line for the gas chamber, knowing that I would certainly die at the hands of the Germans, I cut my own throat, just under my chin (with the blade). However, I had cut my throat rather than cutting my veins as I had planned. Blood started spraying everywhere. The guard on duty must have been inexperienced and did not know what to do with all the commotion I had created. He picked me up by the arm and threw me away from the line. Soon after I was transferred by freight train to the nearby Melk, another concentration camp in Austria.
At Melk I managed to find a job, volunteering to scrub the floors and work in the kitchen. After every shift I was rewarded with a pot of hot food, which I shared with all the prisoners in my room.
Later on, I was transferred out of Melk in a freight barge. We had no food, water, air, or light. We were in there for days, and we started to behave like animals.
When we got off the barge we were forced to walk for four days in the mountains with almost not food. It was hot and sunny and we were extremely thirsty. When we were allowed to rest, if we had strength, we would chew on grass.
Only a few people were still alive from the march when we arrived in Ebensee, another camp in the mountains of Austria. There were dead bodies everywhere. It was at Ebensee I lost my will to live and felt all was lost. I gave myself three weeks to live. There was no fight left in me. Then one morning we realized that the guard towers were empty, and they remained that way for about a day-and-a-half. Commandant Otto Reimer, the head of the camp, announced loudly through his horn that he was going to save us from the Americans and ordered us into the mines. We heard the sound of heavy bombing and were told that the Americans were approaching. One prisoner yelled to Otto “No we are not going!”, and we all yelled the same thing after him. We had nothing to lose. No, we were not going to suffocate in the mines. We were not going. When the Americans’ tank arrived some prisoners died on the spot from the shock and happiness of liberation.
People were continuously dying of exhaustion, hunger and disease. The rest of us were almost dead. Some people died by overeating. One of the American soldiers gave me a mezuzah and said “My mother gave these to me when I went into the army.” This was very meaningful and I kept it with for a long time and gave it to my oldest daughter for safekeeping.
Could you describe life after the war?
I spent three years in hospitals in Austria with Tuberculosis and Typhus. Later on a commission came from Canada looking for trades people (tailors, shoemakers, electricians). When I called the Canadian council they looked at my papers and asked when I had learned tailoring. They asked if I could stitch a suit out of sand I said “yes”, they said “how?” I said “If you can cut the material for me first” (which is impossible because you can’t cut sand). The man said we need people like you in Canada (with a sense of humour). I arrived in Halifax and then took a train to Ottawa, where I started a tailoring business and met my wife Valerie. Valerie is also a survivor who was born in Hungary and liberated from Bergen-Belsen. We started a family have three children and then moved to Toronto years after, to be closer to most of my children and 8 grandchildren (including Noah Draper).
According to Wikipedia:
Nowy Sacz had a regional Jewish community numbered about 25,000 before the World War II, and nearly a third of the town’s population had been Jewish; ninety percent of them died or did not return. A ghetto of around 20,000 people was established near the castle, and its inhabitants were murdered at Belzec extermination camp over three days in August 1942. Across the river in the Jewish Cemetery, 300-500 people were executed for their part in sheltering Jews.