Survivor STORY

Miksa Mechlowitz was born in Bilke, Czechoslovakia, a village that was for a time under Hungarian rule and is now found within Ukraine. Miksa can trace his family roots in Bilke back six generations. Miksa was the youngest of the family. Two of his siblings emigrated to the United States in the late 1930s, and one sister moved to Paris. Miksa and his brother were left at home when, in 1943, their mother died suddenly, followed by the death of their father five months later.

In 1944, Miksa and his brother, along with a nephew who was staying with them, were deported to the Berechowa ghetto, and then were sent in a boxcar to Auschwitz. Miksa and his brother were taken a week later to Mauthausen, and then several days later to Melk, a labor camp which was a subcamp of Mauthausen. Miksa's brother died in the camp.

As the Russian Army approached, the prisoners were sent on a barge down the Danube River to Linz, Austria, where they were unloaded and taken to Ebensee, another camp in the Mauthausen system. The camp was liberated by the American armed forces in May 1945, and Miksa started trying to make his way back home. After finding surviving siblings and wandering around from city to city, Miksa eventually found himself in a displaced persons camp in Germany. In 1948, Truman passed a bill allowing 400,000 refugees beyond the number allotted through the quota system to enter the United States, and Miksa was able to emigrate at that time.

A year and a half later, Miksa was drafted into the Army and was sent back to Germany. After his tour of duty was up, Miksa came back to the States and started college at Penn State, where he met his wife, Olivia. After graduation, Miksa saw an advertisement for teaching positions and decided to take a chance, beginning a thirty-five year career teaching mathematics in Abbington, Pennsylvania. Additionally, Miksa was very active and involved as a representative and elected officer in the teachers' union on the local, state, and national levels.

Miksa and Olivia relocated to Atlanta after Miksa's retirement to be near one of their four children and to enjoy the warm weather. During his years in Atlanta, Miksa was a tireless speaker at The Breman Museum about his Holocaust experiences. Miksa died in 2005 at the age of 76.

Liberation

It was a very very sad day because you didn't know what to do from here, you know. You're free. You didn't know who's alive, you didn't know who's survived. And where do you go from here, you know? The war's over and you had no idea where to go. And you're lost, you're nowhere, no man's land. You have no idea where, so, it wasn't that the feeling of really celebration yet, because, first of all, I was really too weak to even celebrate to start with. I didn't feel that great; I was sick. And so, but it was a relief, you know. We got liberated, you know, but it's a long way to go from there, you know, to try to put together pieces, you know.

Life and Survival in Europe

I saw a bakery, and selling bread. My God, it's impossible, you know. I walked in the bakery and asked for a loaf of bread. The lady gave me a loaf of bread and said, "Get out of here." Here my journey starts, on the way home. I took that loaf of bread, I went across the street, and I inhaled it. It didn't take long to finish it off. And then other people were hanging around. They were going to next town. We stopped off at next town and they were setting up - already some Jewish communities, were set up. I don't know exactly, whether HIAS or somebody, where they had a little kitchen there and straw to sleep on, you know. And they gave you a few krone for you, and move you on, you know. So I was going like three, four towns, and collecting some money and food and just followed the crowd, because I didn't talk to anybody. Still didn't talk to anybody, because after my brother died, I didn't want to talk to anybody.

Separation From and Finding Family

So I end up in Budapest one day and I was walking in Budapest to find a place to sleep, you know, looking for those flea, some place to sleep on, and a kitchen, 'cause most of those places had so many fleas anyway, you know. And somebody behind me called me "Uncle." I looked around. One of my sister's children survived. My sister had four children; one of them survived. And he said to me that his father is at home. Remember he was in a labor camp and he has a business in Ushorod, which is the capitol of Ruthenia. And he said somebody owed him some money so he was taking the money back to his father. He said, "We have money now," and we bought some tickets to go back. The problem was we got the tickets all right, but there was no room in the train, the train was so crowded, it was so far in between. So we climbed on the roof, and the train was not going too fast, because the trains were loaded with people all over the place. And in fact, he just told me just recently, last year, "Uncle, do you remember what I did to you?" I said, "What did you do to me?" "We went up top of the train, you were so like a skeleton I took your belt and tied you down on top of the train so you wouldn't fall off."

Anyway, we got to his father's place, his father's place of business. We were knocking on the door and somebody came to the door and he said, "Get out of here!" because both of us looked - he looked better than I did. He had a big German uniform on, he had big boots on, you know. He was much stronger than I was, but I hardly could follow him in, so he was a year younger than I was. And so he slammed door in our face. And he knocked on the door again, he said, and she did the same thing and said, "Get out of here!" The third time, his father comes to the door carrying some cases of soda bottles (it was a seltzer factory). He said "Didn't you hear the lady told you to go away?" He said, "Dad, don't you recognize your own son? And my uncle?" Well, he didn't see him for years because he was in a labor camp and now, you know, all of a sudden you see a kid who's scrungy, and you know, just big eyes coming out from his head. Well, he dropped the soda bottles completely, splattered them all over the place. Took us to house, cleaned us up, we had a long bath, and two weeks later my two sisters showed up at the door. They heard that my older brother survived. Nobody expected me to survive. So, in fact they had to settle with me, you know, because I was the younger brother and I did survive.

Coping

I never start looking back for too long. This happens, go on, I got to go on to the next chapter, because I found that people who didn't do that, who dwelled on it, who hated so much that hatred sort of carried over in their own lives, you know, their own families, and some people got destroyed in the process. I saw people getting destroyed. I was never that way. I got involved, and I got involved in everything I was doing. I didn't do - I made sure everything I was doing is correct. I did not harm anybody. All those years in teaching I was involved fighting for the person who was in trouble. In fact, people used to tell me, they'd say, "Well, he's a lousy teacher. How can you protect him?" No, l, my job is not to cite how lousy, how good he is, you know, my job is to protect his rights. So I was involved in that, and I don't know whether it came because of that or not because of that, but this is the type of life I led.

Miksa (Mike) Mechlowitz