Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Network
ERNÖ "ARI" ROTH, 1907-1993
HUNGARIAN HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR
~ IN HIS OWN WORDS ~
From: Andrew Roth, son of Ernö Roth
Just days before my father Ernest "Ari" Roth, passed away on July 7, 1993, he recounted some of his experiences during the Holocaust years. I have transcribed his words from a tape recording.
I was born in Olaszliszka, Hungary on January 3, 1907. In 1917 I moved to Sátoraljaújhely (aka Ujhely) when my father was called to the army. He was wounded and stationed in Ujhely. I graduated from high school there. By age 17, I had a wholesale gas and oil business and took over my father's vineyards and wines business.
I sent my younger brother, Zoltan, to Italy. First, Zoli went to Prague and became a dental technician. I always wanted to be a doctor but since both my parents were ill, I stayed home to take care of my parents and Zoli went to medical school in Italy.
My sister Teri, was born in Olaszliszka. She married, divorced, and remarried and moved to Szeged. In 1938 my mother died from heart disease.
In 1940 I was called in for forced labor at the age of 33. My father had a heart condition was considered too old for forced labor. But then anti-Jewish laws had been passed and the Hungarians took away the vineyards and the gasoline license.
While stationed in Ujhely, during forced labor I helped build roads and an airport while being supervised by Hungarian soldiers. Soon, however, I became an assistant to a doctor, so I didn't have to do any physical labor. He was a friend from Baracszas.
Ernö "Ari" Roth in 1940
in forced laborer uniform.
After three months, I was released, but recalled the following year. Along with 8-10 other guys, we bribed a Hungarian colonel. We got to live in the city but didn't really have to do any work. But the Colonel and us guys got arrested and taken to Munkacs. We were put in a baron's castle and interrogated with a lot of other people in a big room. It was during the High Holidays and messages came in with food delivered by restaurants. I sent a message to Laci (my future brother-in-law) "to disappear." I was courting Laci's sister, my future wife, at the time. The interrogators were gendarmes who beat the prisoners. A sergeant from Ujhely told the gendarmes not to hurt me. Prayers for the High Holidays were being said in Yiddish. We were told to admit bribing the colonel or be beaten to death. The colonel had connections and got another committee of soldiers to investigate the charges. On Yom Kippur, we were all to disclaim what we had admitted to before under threat of beating. We were all released.
Ten days later, we were all arrested again. We were taken to Kassa to jail and were there greeted by Colonel Ferency who later, after the liberation, was hung. We were told again to admit that we gave the colonel money. Upon admission, we were all released again. The prosecutor was a Captain and friend of mine from my soccer team. I told them I didn't give the other colonel any money. Ferency closed the case and I was released. I was then transferred to the Szeged labor camp. Then I was summoned to Munkacs. By that time I had gotten married in 1942. But in Munkacs by then it was 1943. I claimed I was sick and was again released from labor camp. The other 8-10 guys were deported to Russia and were shot to death at the border.
Eva Princz Roth, as a bride. Ernö Roth carried this photograph with him all the time, during his imprisonment and survival of the Holocaust.
In 1944, at the Szeged labor camp, the Hungarian government was taken over by the Nazis and I was ordered on a march to Germany. I knew if we crossed the Donal River we would never escape because the Russians were coming. I asked some convent nuns to harbor me but they refused and I was marched to Germany.
German SS youngsters with guns and whips greeted us but brought us back to Hungary to build anti-tank shelters and ditches. I had a friend who was a chef, cooking for about 18,000 men and 8,000 women. I somehow got a promotion to supervising the kitchen. I would go to the warehouse daily to pick up food, mostly beans, and my friend the chef had me supervise the kitchen.
When typhus broke out I was given a typhus-shot and a separate room because I had to go to the warehouse to pick up food and the German's didn't want to get infected. I always took a few more sacks of beans than had be requisitioned. I gave the women more food. Everyone knew me there.
Then we were marched again to Germany and many people were shot along the way. It took weeks at 40 km per day; we slept in fields and the kitchen supplies came along to feed prisoners. We went to Mauthausen which was not an "elimination" camp. 50,000 to 75,000 people were there supervised by SS. The first day there, a German sergeant asked for 5 Jew volunteers. I figured if you work for them they'll give you something to eat. The job was to unload horsemeat from trucks. The smell made me sick. The sergeant put me aside and told me to wait for him the next morning. He put me in a warehouse full of American Red Cross food; cocoa, evaporated milk, cigarettes anything. I was told I could eat anything I wanted, but he said, "If you take anything out, I'll shoot you on the spot." Why was I treated well? Because I was the first to volunteer.
There was a friend there, Yoska Horowits, a former employee of the Lajos Princz (my father-in-law) flour mill in Vámosújfalu. Mauthausen was in the middle of the woods. Lots of Red Cross food was there, all eaten by the Germans. I saw the sergeant shoot an American parachutist in the sky. I had to go to Lindz to get water in trucks. I was taken from the warehouse and put in a kitchen where they cooked over and over with the same coffee grounds. An SS Lieutenant slapped me in the face. The sergeant came in at the same time and said "come with me follow only my orders." I got acquainted with another SS sergeant, an Austrian. We went to pick up water from Lindz. In truck I could hear news on the radio. It told me that the Germans were losing the war and the Americans were close.
One day, on a water run, American jeeps came up onto the road and stopped our water trucks. A Jewish American boy asked in Yiddish, "Where is the lager?" They couldn't find it. They put me in a jeep, arrested the sergeant and I led them into the camp. All the SS soldiers were standing in line; guns in one hand and ammunition in the other, waiting to surrender. There was a lot of money and jewelry in the camp. It had been used to pay for food. I found the Lieutenant and slapped him, took $200 from him and brought it back to Hungary to restart my father-in-law's flour mill.
I had been in Mauthausen for 2 months in 1945. From Mauthausen, they took us to Gunskirchen, lager. I was liberated from Gunskirchen, not Mauthausen. The warehouse was in Gunskirchen. Some Jewish people had overrun the warehouse and some had eaten themselves to death. I met a Jewish American soldier and got him to give me a truck and 2 cans of gas. With a group of about 5 of us, we left towards Hungary. At the place where the American front met the Russian front, the Russians directed us to a camp to be fed and cleared at the Czech border.
There was no escort with us, so we took off away from the camp, because I was driving the truck and I was not going back to any camp again willingly. On the way toward Vienna, we were stopped several times by Russians who wanted the truck, but there was always a Jewish Russian boy among them that convinced the others to let us go.
In Vienna, the Russians took us and asked each of us " Where do you want to go?" One said Czechoslavakia. Another said Poland. I said Czechoslavakia because the Russians were more sympathetic toward Czechs than Hungarians because of the language; felt they were related Slavics. I with 5 others tried to jump a train. Finally we got on a train and it took 5 days to get to Budapest. I was wearing an SS uniform for clothes. I looked for my family, but they were not at the house where they had been. I heard from others that my father, Samuel Roth and my sister Teri and my neice, Vera, had been killed at Auschwicz. A central place for information told me about them. I found my wife and her mother in a friend's house in Budapest. Much earlier, while in forced labor, before leaving Hungary, I had been working clearing out a school and I found an ID of a gentile girl. I hired a soldier to deliver the ID card to my wife to keep to use for ID if necessary. I moved my wife and my mother-in-law back to the apartment they had been in Budapest. First, I had to threaten to throw over the balcony the mother of an SS soldier who had taken the apartment. The apartment was furnished with my in-law's belongings. They went back to Vámosújfalu.
The flour mill was being run by a Nazi. We both got lawyers. I paid off the Nazi's lawyer and the Nazi left. I took over the flour mill and I was back in business. I bought a cow, horses, a buggy. I went from house to house to find and take back the stolen furniture which had been taken when my in-laws left for Budapest. Peasants had taken the furniture. My wife insisted we shouldn't stay in Vámos, her home village. Her father, Princz Lajos had been shot and killed in Budapest by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, just weeks before the Nazis fled the city. After a couple of months, Laci (my brother-in-law) and Duci (Laci's wife who he had met in a refugee camp after surviving Auschwicz) arrived.
Lajos Princz flour mill in Vámosújfalu, Hungary
I had gotten home in 1945; now it was 1947. By now I was a "capitalist." By the time Laci came home, I had a lot of money from operating the mill. I got passports for myself and my wife and mother-in-law, Laci and Duci. In 1946, they gave 1-year passports and in 1947 I wanted to renew them. I set out for Szeged to get money I had there and stopped in Budapest and there I met our relative, Zoltan Flesch. He said, "Don't go to Szeged, go to America." He explained that I should "go as a Rabbi, or as a farmer" to get out of Hungary. I wrote to my brother who was now a doctor in Pennsylvania working at a hospital, and I was accepted to Reading, Pennsylvania as a Rabbi and also documented as a farmer. By that time Zoli and Misha Flesch (other relatives) had passports good to 1948. Zoli said there was a very difficult Hungarian guy in the American Consulate who would ask for many documents, all of which I had. When I went to renew my passports, they said that all passport documentation had disappeared with all old records. I was very discouraged and I went to the Ministerium where I found a woman who recognized me from the camp where I had been giving women more food. She told me to come back at 9:00 AM the next morning and to follow her; not to talk, just follow. The next day I followed her to a dark corridor. She kissed me and gave me the 5 passports and ran back into the office. Then I went to the American Consulate and had to prove I was a farmer by examination.
I also got back my vineyards. There had been an exposition in Budapest and we had hired someone to sell our wine there.
Two guys came and arrested Laci because they said he didn't pay for the wood which was used for the fuel to run the flour mill. He explained that he had traded flour for the wood. The problem was that under the Communists, they were supposed to turn all the flour over to the government in exchange for money. At the same time, if they neglected to run the flour mill, they would have been arrested for sabotage. I went to Laci's friend who was with the police, but he said he couldn't help Laci, who was in jail and in a perilous position because they hung people for that offense. Even though we were about to leave in couple of weeks. I said, "We have to leave now."
We went to Budapest, all packed up and went to a friend's house and then by train to Bratislava in Czechoslavakia for 2 days, and then flew to London. I paid in advance in London for lodging; a terrible place. Duci, Laci and my mother-in-law stayed behind in Hungary. I had bribed a lawyer to arrange for Laci's case not to be tried in Budapest, but in Ujhely. He was luckily sentenced there to 30 days in jail and then released.
It was lucky that we left because they were looking for me too, because of the mill business. Laci got a visa to Prague and flew to New York. We went on the HMS Queen Elizabeth from Southampton to New York. My brother, your Uncle Zoli was waiting for us and brought us to Hazelton, Pennsylvania. I went to the library there everyday to learn 20 English words. I did this for 6 weeks but couldn't find any work. Finally I got a job sewing in a shoe factory in New York for 75 cents an hour, the minimum wage. Erno Flesch got us an apartment in the building he lived in. Then I got a job, in a shoe factory in Hazelton, PA, for 90 cents per hours and learned to cut leather for shoes and they made me a foreman. I built up production to 30, 40, 50 cases of shoes, but they always wanted more. I became the manager of the Hazelton plant and lived there for 2 years during the Korean War. But I got very, very sick with hepatitis. I was in the hospital for 6 months. My Uncle Zoli said I had to rest, but I went back to work and relapsed. After that, Zoli said that we had to go to a better climate. Andor Spiro (another brother-in-law) was in the grocery business in Los Angeles and said there were a lot of opportunities there, and went there and got into a small grocery store with Misha Flesch.
I had always been optimistic. I always said, "I'm going home." Even when an SS soldier asked for my wedding ring, I refused to take it off. I always managed to get myself into a good position. I always had shelter and a little food. I had been very lucky. Back in Budapest many people who survived recognized me; mostly women. Once in Vámosújfalu the train stopped and a girl asked if she could stay. She was a Gunskirchener.
While at Gunskirchen, once I stole a big wheel of cheese and the Germans found me with it. I denied stealing it. The SS soldiers beat and shot a lot of people; girls were raped and killed. "G-d was with me."
Laci was in very poor condition on release from Aushwicz; 80 pounds. He had to be built up before coming home. Some friends told Laci and I was alive. An American soldier told your Uncle Zoli that I was alive. Zoli sent packages to Vámosújfalu. So did Andor Spiro.
Eva and Ernö Roth, c. 1990
End of transcript as transcribed by Andrew Roth that can be contacted at the email above.
Special Selected Links:
My Story, 1944-45,
Hungary to Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Back
The Liberation of Gunskirchen Lager
KZ Mauthausen--GUSEN Info-Pages
GUNSKIRCHEN Extermination Camp
A Synopsis of the Holocaust in Hungary
by Edward Victor
Photographs Documenting the Holocaust in Hungary
by László Karsai, Ph.D.
Forced Labor 1944-45
- Hungarian Jews in the Labor Camps of the SS in Austria
JewishGen Hungarian Jewish Genealogy
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