Most of our commanders in labor camp were decent people and thus we were seldom treated with excessive savagery. I recall one particular captain. He was a good natured middle-aged man who talked to us in a conciliatory manner. He reminded us of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary, a.d. 957 -1038, who introduced Christianity to his nation and who declared that every one of his subjects regardless of race, color or creed is considered a citizen of equal standing and thus entitled to equal treatment. Even the quality of the food improved under the rule of this captain. Quite frequently he would taste the food before it was served to make sure it was fit for hman consumption. On several occasions he took us to the river for a swim and never considered it beneath his dignity to come with us into the water. His deportment was like that of a friend rather than a commander. I had the impression that he was saddened by our plight. At that time we were stationed in Transylvania not far from a large town. On some weekends we were allowed to go, unguarded, into the city where we met and socialized with Jewish girls. This good man, a rare specimen, restored my faith in humanity. Unfortunately, after about five months, he was transferred to another post and replaced by a son of a bitch and things returned to normal.

Meanwhile the fortunes of war changed in the Russians' favor. Beginning with the debacle at Stalingrad where the Germans lost an entire army, the rout of their forces began. At first the process was slow, then it speeded up as it gained momentum. The news of their (the Germans') reversals reached us and, needless to say, infused us with hope, improved our disposition and boosted our resolve to survive.

At the end of 1943 we were shipped to the Ukraine where we built roads and fortifications. On the fifteenth of March, 1944, the Germans, learning that Hungary was preparing to quit the war, occupied the country, thereby compelling the Hungarians to keep fighting. The same day they took charge of us, forcing us to work for them. That event is still vivid in my memory as though it happened yesterday. On the evening of March 14, 1944, we were sitting on the floor .of the barracks listening to a fellow relate how the nazis made Jewish people dig trenches, forced them all, men, women and children, to undress, lined them up at the edges of the trenches and gunned them down. At five A.M. the following day we were roused by loud shouting in German, were given two minutes to dress, then rushed outside, handed shovels, marched to the air base under guard of German soldiers with automatic rifles and ordered to dig trenches. I was certain that we faced the fate of the people in the story we heard the previous night. Later I learned that the same thought occurred to everyone. However, it turned out to be a false alarm as the trench we dug served the purpose of concealing the drums of fuel because at that time the Soviet air force was quite active. The ditches dug, we were lined up, harangued and threatened with drawn pistols by German officers impressing upon us the value of hard work. Later we were informed that the S.O.B., our Hungarian commander, advised the Germans that we were lazy, good for nothing bums and didn't want to work. Hence the initial harsh treatment. After a brief period the Germans realized that we were good workers after all, their attitude underwent a radical change. Of course, this was the air force and not S.S. troops.

I remember one day several of us were led to a basement and ordered to shovel potatoes from one place to another . The sergeant in charge was from Austria who made it plain that this work was to take us two days. No more or less, knowing well that it could have been done in a matter of a few hours. He said to us "I hate this war".

Several days later I was put in charge of various kinds of livestock they acquired in Russia. There were pigs, chickens, geese, ducks and rabbits. Two others were put in charge of horses. I was quartered in a tiny hut adjacent to the animals quarters while the other two slept in the barn with the horses. The others spent the nights in the barracks under Hungarian tutelage. Our boss was a tall German sergeant who was living with his Russian mistress. When in a good mood he was easy to get along with, but when the mistress, who was quite temperamental, gave him a hard time, his mood plummeted and he let his frustration out on us by beating the crap out of us.:... In spite of the occasional thrashing I lived the life of Riley. The food was plentiful and good. Every day I was given leftovers from the officers' kitchen to feed the pigs with, so I became one of the pig. The chickens, as chickens normally do, provided me with eggs. I befriended an air force pilot who despised the Nazis and the war. He gave me cigarettes, a lighter and lighter fluid in exchange for eggs. The work was easy. All that was required of me was to keep the animals fed and the cages clean. One time, however, the harsh reality was brought home to me. As I opened the stall gate to feed the pigs one of them ran out and disappeared in the field. Obviously it was a communist pig and didn't approve of the Germans. After a long search by a soldier and me, we found it and drove it back home. This accomplished, the soldier informed me that I was lucky it was found. If it had been lost he said, he would have shot me dead. So much for the value of a Jewish life.


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Boris Segelstein