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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:             GENE SCHOENFELD

INTERVIEWER:        UNKNOWN

LOCATION:              ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                       FEBRUARY 28, 1996

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY:

Gene Schoenfeld was born November 8, 1925 in a small town in present-day Ukraine. When World War II began, the Jews of his town and surrounding areas were forced into a ghetto before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Gene and his father were registered in the camp, while his mother and younger brother and sister were sent to the gas chambers.

From Auschwitz-Birkenau, Gene and his father were sent to clean up the rubble left after the uprising in the Warsaw, Poland ghetto. As the Russians advanced, they were sent to Dachau. From Dachau, they were sent to a brutal work camp in southern Germany known as Muhldorf. At the end of the war, Gene and his father hid during the evacuation of the camp and were liberated by American soldiers.

After the war, Gene and his father returned home. Gene left and attended medical school in Prague, Czechoslovakia before fleeing the growing Russian influence and escaping to American-occupied Munich, Germany. Gene worked in various Displaced Persons camps in Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1948. Upon arrival, he was detained at Ellis Island for a month. After receiving permission to study in the United States, he earned his PhD in sociology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Gene became an American citizen and married his wife, with whom he had four daughters. He was a professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia for many years. He continues to speak publically and has published two books about his experiences.

Scope of Interview

Gene introduces his family, the town he grew up in and some of the political changes that occurred in the region prior to World War II. He discusses the gradual influence of antisemitism and how his family was forced into a ghetto after Germans occupied the area. He details the selection and registration process in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Gene explains how he was transferred to the Gesiowka labor camp in Warsaw, Poland and then evacuated to Dachau in Germany. He chronicles his experience at the Muhldorf labor camp at the close of the war. Gene describes returning to Czechloslovakia and then escaping to the American zone in Germany, where he worked at Displaced Persons camps. He recounts his experience traveling to and being briefly detained before starting his new life in the United States. Gene shares his perspective of the lessons to be learned from his experiences.

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