Survivor STORY

Murray Lynn, originally Moshe Leicht, was born in 1930 in Bilke, Hungary, later part of the U.S.S.R. and now located in Ukraine. Murray was the oldest of four children of a middle class family. His father, Abraham, owned a clothing store and a farm, where the children often worked after school.

In 1942, when Murray was twelve years old, the Hungarian secret police burst into their house and arrested his father. Murray found out later that his father and the other Jewish leaders arrested that night were taken on into the mountains and ordered to dig their own mass grave, into which they were shot.

Two years later, in April, 1944, the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian equivalent of the Gestapo, surrounded all the Jewish homes in Bilke. After a short time in a ghetto, Murray and his family were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where his mother and three brothers were immediately taken to be murdered in the gas chamber. Murray was forced to work twelve-hour days in construction sites.

As the Allied forces approached, the prisoners were evacuated from Auschwitz and forced on a death march that lasted for many weeks. Well over half of those who left Auschwitz with Murray perished along the way.

Murray was liberated by American forces in April, 1945. He was fifteen years old at the time and in a semi-comatose condition. He was taken to a hospital, where he spent three weeks recovering. Rather than go to a displaced person's camp, Murray went back home to Bilke, hoping in vain to find family. He then joined up with a group of other young, orphaned survivors, with whom he went to England and then to Dublin, Ireland.

In 1948, Murray left Europe for New York, then came south to Atlanta, where he married and started his career. He recently retired from his position as an executive in the corporate sector.

Murray writes that he speaks to groups of students here in The Museum for two reasons: "Hopefully this story...will make you more mindful of the evils of intolerance...You and your generation will carry and promote the torch of freedom and democracy in the years to come." Secondly, he speaks in order "to validate, as a Holocaust survivor, the enormity of the barbaric carnage against the Jews during the Second World War. Incredibly, there is a well-organized fringe group of fascist and Nazi sympathizers in a number of countries committed to distorting and altering the well-documented truth and trivializing-even denying-the fact of the Holocaust."

Separation from Family

There are other traumatic experiences in my childhood that I will always remember, that it was deeply etched in my psyche, is that after my father was taken away, my mom was a Hungarian beauty queen. She was a stunning woman, tall, stately looking. One evening, one of security policemen came in and forced himself on her. This is when I was roughly twelve, twelve and a half years old. And he wouldn't leave. He insisted to go to bed with my mom. And my mom fought him, and she screamed and she cried. I got up and the policeman, the security policeman told me, the security policeman told me if I didn't leave he would shoot me dead. I had to leave, my mom told me to leave. When I went back to bed and woke up he was gone. But I still, I can still see the trauma in my mother's eyes, the pain, the grief, the anguish. It's an experience I will never forget. This was one, next to my father being taken away; this was one of the most traumatic experiences. I have difficulties coping with this so many years later. What they did to Mom. She was a, such a wonderful, wonderful human being, a wonderful wife and a mother, and for her to be desanctified that way, to be raped by an enemy of the Jews, by a person who was so hateful of Jews and the manner it was done. This was a traumatic experience that I will carry to the grave with me.

American Dream

Well, I was a, I was a very determined sort of a guy. I knew what I wanted in life. I wanted to rebuild my life. My entire motives were to come to a place where I'm only limited by my ambitions and not, and not, and nothing else, where opportunities are provided, equal opportunities are provided to everyone. And I had goals to rebuild my life. My life was shattered. I had no money. I had no relatives, I was the only, well, I had some relative in New York, when I came to New York, an aunt and uncle. I had, the only thing that I had going for me as a youngster is that I knew I wanted to make something out of my life. I wanted to succeed, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. But I knew also that in order to succeed I had to get a decent education, so my determination to get an education and make something out of my life. I knew that unless I can overcome my lack of education, which was a barrier. The only barriers in life that we have, and I've maintained this much of my business career, the only barriers we have in our lives are our minds and ambitions and nothing else. And to some extent education, or lack of it, can be a barrier. But I decided that this is something I can control. There are certain things I couldn't control - I couldn't control Hitler, I couldn't control my destiny, in, under, in Auschwitz. But I could control the rest of my destiny. And I took full charge of my destiny.

Judaism and Jewishness

Having seen the immense depth of suffering, the abyss of human suffering, it left me literally faithless. I said earlier that my god was desanctified in Auschwitz when my parents died, when I saw the staggering amount of suffering, the humiliation, the degradation and I saw religious people, who were devoutly religious, pleading for mercy and their voices went unheeded. And I said to myself, this man above us is either a very cruel person or an impotent person. In either case, I don't want any part of Him for the rest of my life. So He became, in my eyes, God became desanctified. But that is not to say that I have shed myself of my heritage. No, we're very Jewish, we belong to a temple. But I have had a very difficult time becoming a serious Jew in terms, as defined by religion.

Talking About the Holocaust

I have not spoken about my past for 50 years. It's only in the last four or five years that I've opened. My family knows very little about my past, because it was too painful, too difficult, and I was really concerned about talking about it. I was afraid it might open too many wounds. But as I got older, I mellowed. I said, "The curtain is slowly coming down on us. This is our last act in our life's drama and the curtain is slowly coming down. If we don't tell the story, to authenticize the horrors, who will?" Much of it has been already said, but the more we say, the more we share, the more secure future generations will be. So I have mellowed my views on this to a large extent, but it's still difficult. I still don't want to confront the past. You know, when you talk about what happened you're confronting the past and none of us likes to confront ugly things in life, whether they're personal in nature or failures, whatever. And so when you're dealing with the past you're confronting a part of your life that you want to forget. It's very, very difficult.

Murray Lynn