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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                WATLER BEER

INTERVIEWER:           STAN LEFCO

LOCATION:                 ATLANTA, GA

DATES:                        MARCH 5, 1987

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Walter Beer was born into a successful Jewish family in a small town in Czechoslovakia called Vitkovice. His extended family all lived in the area, and he lived with his mother, father, brother, and grandmother in a multiple dwelling apartment owned by the family. His father was an educated businessman and accountant and his mother was a homemaker. His family was fairly secular but Zionist. He and his brother both had bar mitzvahs and their grandmother made sure certain holidays and customs were observed.

Walter left his school in the larger town of Ostrava and trained to become an electrician. He was a part of Maccabi Hatzair, a Zionist youth and athletics organization. Once the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia, Walter’s brother was not permitted to finish school, his father lost his job, the family’s company house was taken away, and Walter was made to do forced labor. His brother left for England, but the rest of the family remained in Czechoslovakia.

Walter was sent away to labor on a strip of land between the Rivers Bug and San in Poland. He was briefly transported back home, during which time his mother passed away due to illness. In 1941, his entire remaining family was shipped to the ghetto-camp of Theresienstadt. His grandmother passed away shortly after arrival. Despite the harsh conditions of the ghetto, there was a vibrant Jewish cultural life. The ghetto was internally self-governed by Jewish prisoners. The prisoners were forced to make German uniforms, mine industrial materials, and plant and tend gardens. Walter describes the great suffering of the elderly, very young children, and pregnant women.

In 1944, Walter volunteered to go to Auschwitz so as not to leave his father. They were transported by cattle train. After passing selection and surviving four horrible days in the death camp, Walter and his father were sent to different industrial labor camps. Walter was made to work in a munition factory in Taucha, where his skills as an electrician kept him fairly protected. His father was sent to Bergen-Belsen, where, as Walter later learned, he died about a month before liberation. As the Allied troops approached, the prisoners were taken on a death march. Walter escaped with a friend, and the pair was given food and shelter by Russian soldiers.

They eventually made their way back to Ostrava, where Walter recovered the family’s valuables and reunited with his brother. In 1946, he came to the United States and was later joined by his brother. Walter eventually married and had two daughters, whom he describes as interested in his experience in the Holocaust and proud of their Jewish heritage.

Scope of Interview

Walter begins his interview by describing the large and close family of his childhood. He explains the various professions in his family and gives some background on his father. He discusses the Jewish customs and traditions his family participated in and details his education and social life.

He explains the first effects of the Nazi invasion on his family and being sent to do forced labor. He was eventually sent to the ghetto-camp Theresienstadt, where he spent the majority of the war. He describes the conditions and daily life of the ghetto, as well as the work he was forced to do for the German war effort. He later went voluntarily to Auschwitz to stay with his father and describes in detail the harrowing conditions there. After four days, he was transported to a labor camp where he was made to work in a munition factory. He survived a death march and was liberated by the Russian Army.

Walter narrates his struggles to return to health after liberation, his return home, and learning of his father’s death. He reunited with his brother and eventually immigrated to the United States. He discusses his life in the United States, his thoughts on Israel, and the persistence of anti-Semitism both in the U.S. and abroad.

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