Miki Schwartz was 13 when the Nazis came for him.
In 1944, Hitler's storm troopers packed his family into a windowless cattle car for a four-day train ride to Auschwitz.
Schwartz survived the Holocaust that killed an estimated 6 million fellow Jews. He went on to fight for the creation of Israel, earn an engineering degree and work in San Diego's aerospace industry. He raised a family.
|HOLOCAUST MEMORIES - Miki Schwartz was 13 when the Nazis came for him. In 1944, Hitler's storm troopers packed his family into a windowless cattle car for a four-day train ride to Auschwitz. He was recently featured on a '60 Minutes' show about the Holocaust. CNS Photo by K.C. Alfred. |
But the past returned recently when CBS' "60 Minutes" gave Schwartz the chance to become one of the first Holocaust survivors to see Hitler's secret archive that was closed to the public for more than 60 years. During the broadcast, which aired last December and again in June, correspondent Scott Pelley showed Schwartz the document that may have saved his life. Schwartz started shaking.
"Werner von Braun needed workers. There weren't enough Germans to do the work, so they took from the (concentration) camps, slave laborers," Schwartz said. "See here - here is my name, Mikolaus Schwartz, crossed out. Why, I do not know."
He holds a copy of a Nazi document that is his own Schindler's List.
This was the most startling find in the archives: a single typewritten sheet containing the names of 50 Jewish boys on a transport list to Dora, the notorious underground weapons factory overseen by the rocket scientist von Braun. Nearly half of the 60,000 slave laborers there perished. Two names on what surely was a death list appear neatly struck through with a straight line, Schwartz's and someone he never knew named Marko Katz.
CBS had taken Schwartz and two other American Holocaust survivors last fall to view the repository of more than 50 million records compiled by the chillingly meticulous Third Reich.
In 2006, Germany became the last nation to agree to open the world's largest Holocaust archive at Bad Arolsen overseen by the International Red Cross. Some 16 miles of shelves document 17 million victims of Nazi extermination.
For a long time, Schwartz kept his nightmares to himself, said his wife of 51 years, Betty. He started opening up when the oldest of their three children, Daniel, turned 14 - the same age Miki Schwartz was while in the concentration camp.
"Now he watches and reads everything he can about World War II," Betty Schwartz said.
Schwartz gave his most complete recollections in video testimony to film director Steven Spielberg. Spielberg's Shoah Foundation has been documenting those horrors both for historical record and to offer as educational programs. The foundation was launched after his Oscar-winning film "Schindler's List." The movie was based on the true story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler who risked his life to save more than 1,000 of his Jewish workers.
It was through the Shoah organization that CBS found Schwartz and offered the trip to the archives. "I started shaking with fear," Schwartz said. "I got chills. I never wanted to go to Germany in my life."
What overcame his fear was his hope that by speaking out, he can help persuade the world to never let it happen again.
"There are not too many people alive who can say, 'I was there, that's me.' In 10, 20 years there may be none of us left. As long as I'm alive, it's my responsibility to say the Nazis did exist; they did these terrible things," Schwartz said.
The trip to Auschwitz was just the beginning for 13-year-old Schwartz. Those who survived the hellish journey in the impossibly crowded cattle cars were "processed" upon arrival: men pulled apart from women; children yanked from their parents.
An older prisoner whispered that Schwartz should lie to the guards - claim he was 16 and had a trade. So Schwartz was shipped to the relative safety of the Buchenwald camp and avoided the common fate of the youngest Jews - being among the first slaughtered in the gas chambers, along with the oldest and the weakest. Schwartz never saw his parents again.
Over the years Schwartz has been collecting bits of his past, documents here, photographs there, a small pile of proof and a reclamation of self.
How he was saved from von Braun's list to Dora remains a mystery. His savior may have been an older prisoner who was a fellow Czech and had connections with another Czechoslovakian who worked in the prison office.
He figures it had to have been someone trying not to arouse suspicion. "They could cross two names off a list, but not five," he said.
And so, Mikolaus Schwartz, Buchenwald prisoner number 55019 and number 11 on a list of 50 boys as young as 12, escaped being shipped to Dora on May 29, 1944, and was spared working under some of the most inhumane conditions of all Nazi prisoners.
When the U.S. Third Army liberated him from Buchenwald in April 1945, he was not yet 15 years old.