Dr. Kasriel Eilender of Manhattan was too busy with his medical practice after the war to even consider writing a memoir about his survival in four Nazi concentration camps.
But in 2003 — 16 years after he retired — Eilender, now 85, recalled those experiences in 76 typed pages.
“I didn’t have the money to publish it [myself], so I made 150 copies and gave them to friends and colleagues and one to the Holocaust museum in Washington,” he said.
Now, he is giving a copy to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which has launched a worldwide effort on the eve of next week’s Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) commemoration to get Holocaust survivors in 75 countries to write about their wartime experiences. It is seeking any unpublished or unavailable memoirs and it plans to establish an electronic collection of them. Manuscripts will be accepted in all languages.
The memoirs would then be accessible to organizations and individuals involved in the research or documentation of the Holocaust.
“Survivor memoirs may well reveal previously unknown events or aspects of the Holocaust, as has been demonstrated in the past by stories told in applications to Claims Conference compensation programs,” the organization said in a statement.
The group’s chairman, Julius Berman, said the Claims Conference “is going to ensure that their stories will live on long after they are gone. We owe it to the victims who did not survive to establish this collection of firsthand memoirs.”
Eilender, a high school student in Poland when the Nazis invaded his homeland in 1939, said he and his family moved to the eastern part of the country that was controlled by the Soviets. He graduated from a Soviet high school in 1941; days later the Nazis attacked the city and began rounding up Jews.
“I was wearing a yellow star and I hid in an attic,” he recalled. “The Poles in the street were cheering; they had a holiday. Neighbors who had been friends with Jews suddenly became murderers. I looked through the attic window and a Polish boy saw my yellow star and yelled, ‘A Jew.’”
A Russian soldier later found Eilender in the attic and ordered him out. Eilender said he followed the soldier down a flight of steep wooden steps and that as they approached the landing, he grabbed a fireplace iron and struck and killed the soldier.
“I got on the street and was picked up by the Nazis, who put me on a truck,” he said. “The soldier was later found dead and they started shooting [Jews]. They knew somebody did it but they didn’t know who.”
As he retold the story, Eilender said he had written the details “from memory.”
“Many people don’t remember,” he said. “I still have a fantastic memory.”
Eilender said he wrote his memoirs “because I wanted to show the world what hundreds of thousands of simple German people did when you gave them a gun and a uniform and hypnotized them like Hitler did. They became horrible mass murderers.”
And he said the memoirs project would be a “wonderful idea because there are so many deniers.”
“[Steven] Spielberg could not do everyone,” Eilender added, referring to Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation that videotaped and archived survivors’ stories. “The last train is leaving. If these people don’t do it, there won’t be anyone else around.” n
Further information about the memoirs project can be found at http://memoirs.claimscon.org.