Auschwitz main camp in 1992

The original compound in the town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) was a Polish cavalry base that consisted of brick buildings dating from Austro-Hungarian times. Prior to the invasion of Russia in 1941, Himmler ordered the expansion of the camp to a marshy field in nearby Birkenau (named for the birch trees). The first victims of the death camp were Russian prisoners-of-war. In a warehouse called “Canada” the belongings of the victims were sorted and bundled before being sent off to replenish bombed-out civilians in Germany.

Siggy was “evacuated” from Blizyn labor camp to Birkenau. Dora arrived on a transport from Hungary. The Hungarian transports included Czech and Romanian Jews. The Holocaust was no longer a secret in 1944. The Nazi annihilation of the Jews had been underway for three years, but the Jews in Hungary (and its annexed territories) didn’t know the fate that awaited them.

For the reception of these transports, the Nazis ordered the construction of a railroad spur that led into the Birkenau camp. This facilitated the destruction process. The unloading platform was the “ramp,” and here Dr. Mengele and other German doctors “selected” who would be gassed immediately and who would be worked to death. Dora describes Dr. Mengele in her documentary.

The deportation of Jews from Hungary began on May 15, 1944. Those in the eastern provinces were the first to go. One hundred and forty-seven “death trains” departed fifty-five Nazi ghettos between May 15 and July 9, 1944, carrying 434,351 Jews to the “ramp” at Birkenau. Four transports left daily, each consisting of forty-five wagons; seventy people (or more) were crammed into each wagon (with a bucket for waste and another for water). The trains rolled across Slovakia and over the Carpathian Mountains to Nazi-occupied Poland. The tortured journey took two or three days. The heat was unbearable and many people died on the way. Twelve thousand Jews were being gassed daily at the camp.

Two bike riders at Birkenau in 1992.

This information was available to the outside world. The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans published an article on July 4, 1944, page two, describing Auschwitz in detail. This was the same day, by coincidence, that the U. S. State Department rejected a Jewish request to bomb the railroad lines to Auschwitz.

click The Times-Picayune, July 4, 1944 - 1,715,000 JEWS DIE IN NAZI GASSING, Two-Year Murder Record at Camps Given, (AP) p. 2

Four days later, on July 8, 1944, The-Times Picayune published an editorial about the deportations: “Horror in Hungary.”

click The Times-Picayune, July 8, 1944 - Editorial, Horror in Hungary, p. 4

Protests reached Budapest from around the world. The king of Sweden, the president of the United States, and Pope Pius XII sent letters of protest to Admiral Miklos Horthy, the leader of Hungary and an avowed anti-Semite. Recognizing that the Germans were losing the war and fearing retribution by the Allies, he stopped the deportations on July 9th. The Jews from the provinces were already dead. Two hundred thousand Jews remained in Budapest, and the Germans and their Hungarian collaborators (Arrow Cross) were determined to murder them. But time ran out on the Germans and most of the Jews in Budapest survived the war. For his part, the Swedish “diplomat” Raoul Wallenberg rescued twenty thousand Jews in Budapest, including Dora’s future husband Isaac.

Siggy Boraks, Carron Fillingim (student), and Dora Niederman at summer workshop

Siggy and Dora ended up in New Orleans after the war. Their families socialized for the next sixty years. Both of them spent their last years speaking about their war-time experiences to teachers at the Southern Institute’s workshops and to young people at schools.