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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       ELIEZER SOTTO (1923-   )

INTERVIEWER:                   SARA GHITIS

DATE:                                  SEPTEMBER 16, 2001

LOCATION:                         ATLANTA, GEORGIA

ID#:                                  10677

NUMBER OF PAGES:         19 pages

Transcript (PDF)

HIGHLIGHTS/EXCERPTS:

In Auschwitz-Birkenau, Eli escaped being sent to the gas chambers

“After a week or two, they make another selection from the barracks, and start to select the people.  I noticed when they were selecting people not able to work no more, that when I was in line, they took one in front of me.  What I did is I make one step . . . because the remaining ones got to go to the other side . . . so I make one step.  Then when they stop the line to select, you go this way . . . instead, you go to this way, and go to the barrack and register.  I went to the barrack with the others and register[ed] . . . give the number.”  6, 7

“A miracle.  I survived five times from the gas chamber, so that . . . and also for the Jews that survived, also, that is a miracle . . . because the Germans if their war could have stayed four, five months, there would be no survivors. That’s number one. Number two, if the Germans can win the war, you and me would not be here, so that is another miracle.” 17

BIOGRAPHY

Eliezer Sotto was born in Salonika, Greece on April 27, 1923.  [As of February 2016 he is still alive.] There were nine people in his family: his father, David Sotto, his mother, Victoria Sotto, his two brothers, Charlie and Isaac, and his four sisters, Gracia, Bella, Rachel, and Sarah.  They lived in a Jewish section of town.

In 1940, Italy invaded Greece.  Eliezer’s family had to move out of their house, which was near the railroad station, to the other side of town, because of the Italian air raids.  Later, when the Germans invaded Greece and occupied Salonika in April of 1941, all Jewish males between the ages of 16 and 25 were ordered to go to Liberty Square, where they were tortured under the hot sun for the entire day and humiliated in a number of ways.  Eliezer, who was 15 years old, and his older brother, Charlie, who was 17 years old, were ordered to appear on a street corner with a blanket the next Monday morning from which they were taken, along with 50 other men, for hard labor. Eliezer slipped away at the first opportunity and went back home. Charlie returned home a short time later. About two months after they returned home, Eliezer and Charlie were both arrested for leaving the fields.  The boys were put in jail for about a month, during which time the jailers would daily select two people from the cells and shoot them.

In January 1943 the Germans announced that all Jews would have to move into one of three ghettos and Eliezer’s family had to move.  On April 13, 1943, the family was put on a cargo train along with approximately 2,800 other Greek Jews, and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.  In the selection Eliezer, Charlie and Isaac were separated from the rest of the family.  Eliezer was told he would meet the rest of the family later, but the other prisoners informed him that those who did not go to the barracks went to the gas chambers.  He was given prison clothes, and told that he was going to work for the Germans.  Eliezer was given the number 115303.  Eliezer and Charlie were sent to (Monowitz, or Auschwitz III), while Isaac remained in Birkenau.

After six months in Buna, Eliezer was chosen in a selection to go to the gas chamber at Birkenau. When his group arrived at Birkenau, the gas chamber and crematoria were overwhelmed with Jewish arrivals from Hungary, and Eliezer’s group was returned to work. On a separate occasion, Eliezer avoided another selection by slipping into a line of men selected to work rather than the line for the selection.  Somewhere between August 31 and November 27, 1944 he was transferred to Warsaw, Poland where he worked cleaning out the destroyed Warsaw ghetto. The transport stopped at Auschwitz-Birkenau before going on to Warsaw, and Eliezer was able to see his brother, Isaac.  Isaac was also transferred to Warsaw, and the brothers were reunited for the remainder of the war.  

In late 1944, Eliezer and Isaac were transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Germany. After a couple of weeks, they moved from Dachau to Lager 4. They were then transferred to Lager 7 in Landsberg, Germany. In Landsberg, the commander discovered that Eliezer had learned to be a barber from his father, and he required Eliezer to shave him each day.  From Landsberg, they went to Leitmeritz (Litomĕřice), Czechoslovakia. After five or six months, they were put on a cargo train to be evacuated from Leitmeritz. The train was forced to stop repeatedly due to bombings, and, at one stop, the brothers saw people with the Red Cross, who were trying to get the Germans to allow them to take sick people off the train. They decided to jump off the train. Once they were taken by the Red Cross to the barracks, the Germans came in, and stepped on their stomachs to check if they were really sick. They were cleared to go with the Red Cross because they did not make any noise when the Germans stepped on them.

The brothers were taken by the Red Cross to a Catholic hospital called Bulovka in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In the hospital, they were given food, and medical care, and they started to gain some weight. When the area was liberated from the Germans, they started to look for a way to go home to Greece.  Initially, they got on a train without knowing where it was going. They did not have any money for a train ticket, but were allowed to board the train after showing the numbers that were tattooed on their arms in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Eliezer was briefly separated from Isaac at a train stop when Eliezer got off the train with another man to go to a store, and the train left without him. He learned he was in Ukraine, went to the train station, and boarded another train to Budapest, Hungary, where he reunited with Isaac, and where they stayed for a short time. It took the brothers about two months on trains to get to Salonika.

In Salonika, Eliezer opened a fruit stand, and met his future wife, Lucy Levy. Like Eliezer, Lucy had lost most of her family, other than one brother, in the Holocaust. Eliezer and Lucy wanted to go to Israel, but it was too difficult to get there at the time, so they decided to go to the United States. Initially, they were given visas to go to Los Angeles, California, but when they arrived in New York City, they requested to go to Atlanta, Georgia instead.

Lucy and Eliezer started a new life in America.  Drawing on the skills he had learned from his father, Eliezer became a barber, and eventually owned his own barber shop.  Lucy and Eliezer had three children, Rachel, Vicki, and David. They belonged to Or VeShalom, a Sephardic synagogue in Atlanta, and participated in activities at the Jewish Community Center.  Lucy was very creative, and knitted blankets, stuffed animals, and gifts for others.  In 1995, David and his wife were in a car accident with an 18-wheeler truck.  David’s wife was killed, and David suffered a brain injury.  Lucy had a very hard time after the accident, and died a short time later.  Eliezer and Lucy were married for 49 years, but unfortunately, were not able to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary together, which Eliezer had planned, because she passed away before it occurred. Eliezer has three grandchildren, and two dogs.

SCOPE OF INTERVIEW

Eliezer recalls his family, and life in Salonika, Greece before World War II.  He talks about how life changed for him and his family after the Italians invaded Greece in October 1940 and later, after the Germans invaded Greece in April 1941, after which time, he and his brother were forced into hard labor.  He describes how he and his family were required to move into a ghetto from which they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in April 1943, an eight-day trip by train, where he and his brother, Isaac, were admitted to the camp as slave laborers. Eliezer recounts how shortly thereafter he found out that the rest of his family had been murdered in the gas chambers.  

He recollects how he was transferred to a number of different camps including Buna (Auschwitz III), Dachau, Landsberg, and Leitmeritz; the hard labor he was forced to do; and his narrow and miraculous escapes, on several occasions, from the gas chambers. He discusses how he and his brother jumped off a cargo train into the hands of the Red Cross. He also discusses their travels through the former Czechoslovakia, Ukraine and Hungary over two months as he tried to get back to Salonika. Finally, he discusses his life in Salonika after the war, meeting his wife, Lucy, and immigrating to America where he became a barber and eventually came to own his own shop.  He recalls how his son was in a terrible automobile accident that killed his son’s wife and how shortly after his wife, Lucy, died just before their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  

KEYWORDS

Air raids

Antisemitism—Greece

Atlanta, Georgia

Arbeit Macht Frei

Auschwitz-Birkenau (Death Camp: Poland)

Badges, Jewish

Barbers

Barbering industry and trade

Baron de Hirsch Ghetto—Greece

Black Saturday

Bourekas

Buna-Monowitz (Labor Camp: Poland)

Budapest, Hungary

Dachau (Concentration Camp: Germany)

Death Camps: Poland

Deportations

Displaced Persons Camps: Germany

Gas chambers

Georgia Institute of Technology—Atlanta, Georgia

Greece

Greenfield Hebrew Academy—Atlanta, Georgia

Hanukkah

Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)

Holocaust survivors

Hungary

Immigration

International Red Cross

Israel

Jews, Sephardic

Jewish-Christian Relations

Jewish Educational Alliance—Atlanta, Georgia

Landsberg am Lech, Germany

Liberty Square—Salonika, Greece

Leitmeritz—Czech Republic

Litomerice—Czech Republic

Or VeShalom—Atlanta, Georgia

Plateia Eleftheria—Salonika, Greece

Prague, Czech Republic

Ransoms

Salonika, Greece

Selections

Sephardim

Slave labor

Sotto, Bella

Sotto, Charlie

Sotto, David

Sotto, Eliezer (Eli)

Sotto, Gracia

Sotto, Isaac

Sotto, Lucy Levy

Sotto, Rachel

Sotto, Sarah

Sotto, Victoria

Thessaloniki, Greece

Trim Shop—Atlanta, Georgia

Ukraine

Vienna, Austria

Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw Ghetto—Poland

World War, 1939-1945

 

 

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