By Max Wein
Editor’s Note: Only a portion of Max’s story, which would make a large book, is shared here. He was greatly appreciated and a main attraction at our “Judah, You Are Not Alone” conference last November.
by John Stembridge:
One of the most graphic scenes to me in “Schindler’s List” was when they showed the Sunday morning German Christians, dressed in their suits and their finery, going into the churches as the church bells tolled. Then you saw the smoke and the ashes of God’s wife, the Jewish people, in the air and settling on the hoods of their automobiles.
Satan hates the Jewish people. All throughout the ages, we have seen that he has tried to exterminate them. From Pharaoh on and on endlessly. Yet the beautiful thing is that God has a plan for every Holocaust survivor. And that is to give them beauty for the ashes in their lives.
God has blessed this dear man. There have been about three 5’s in his life: He survived 5 of Hitler’s camps; one 5 has to do with his wife, Florence, whom he just lost shortly before this conference; and he ended up at the age of 54 with 5 carpet stores and retired from that. So already this promise has been kept by God to Max who lost his mother, his sister and his brother in the Holocaust. Let me present to you my dear friend, Max Wein, who was chosen to be on Schindler’s list.
I was born in Germany May 25, 1922, and in the city of Scralsund, which had a population of 50,000. The city had 50 Jewish families. At that time it was a democratic country, and they were good times. Our family was my father, mother, a sister, a brother Leo, and I.
I was the only Jewish kid in school. I had blue eyes and blond hair, so I didn’t feel any different – until Hitler came. They came to the school one day and asked, “How many are Catholic? How many are Protestants? And how many of the Jewish religion?” I stood up. And that was my mistake!
At that time Germany was a land of 66 million people and only 660,000 Jews, mostly located in Berlin, but all over as well, and in little towns. Jews were in all walks of life, and we were happy to go along with the normal life. My father had a small army and navy store. I was born in Germany but my parents were from Poland.
The Nazis came one day and said we had to leave because we were foreigners. Finally after about three months we were brought to Berlin. We were put in a Jewish quarter. They took my father and mother away. We children started to cry but since my parents were Polish citizens, they released my mother, and two days later they released my father. We were given 48 hours to leave Germany. Since we were Polish citizens, we went into Poland.
When we came to Poland, my father opened a little furniture store, used and new and we started to live better again. But in three years, September 1, 1939, the war started between Germany and Poland. Poland was no competition to Germany. We ran away to Krakow and the story, which you see on Schindler’s List, happened at Krakow. This was the beginning.
Germany took Poland in three weeks and after they came in, every child from 10 years and up had to wear a Jewish star. Jews couldn’t go out to buy before 10:30 AM. No open market had any food by then because the other people came at 7:00. So whatever we got we had to buy at the black market.
The Nazis were very cruel, pulling out the beards of the religious Jews, and many other dehumanizing things. They built a Ghetto covering 20 blocks and surrounded by barbwires. They put 20,000 Jews of Krakow into the Ghetto. The first victim of my family was my sister. She was 15 years, blond and lovely. They took her away and I never saw her again.
I Was Made a Slave-Laborer
They put me to work. They made the Jews build a concentration camp on a Jewish cemetery. We had to pull out bodies from the graves, and then they made us use the headstones to make streets. We worked very hard and it took about two and a half years. It had been a temporary thing that children could be together with parents, and I never saw my mother and my brother who were still in the Ghetto. Only my mother came out. I never saw my brother again. My mother was numb after losing two of her children.
All we had to eat was a little bowl of soup every night. Every day they slaughtered. When we came to work, we had a signal and we said, “What’s the score?” That meant, “How much did they kill today?” They pulled out gold teeth from the bodies and stripped them until a day later there was not much left when you saw the figures of the dead.
The Russians were coming so we had to take out the bodies and burn them. And that smell I hope you never have to smell in your life.
Now About Schindler
Things got worse for the Germans and we had to work very hard. If somebody came from another country, they let them come in with children, then played children’s music and then took them away to Auschwitz. It got worse and worse.
They found out somehow what Schindler was doing and they put him in jail for two weeks. When he was in jail they took away 800 people to Auschwitz. When he came out, he looked and they were gone. So he came into the concentration camp and took another 800.
I was on his list which was ready to go with Schindler, but my dad was not on the list. I had lost my brother, my sister and now they took my mother away, too. I never saw her again, so when my dad was not on Schindler’s list, I said, “Father, I’m not going. I’m not going to leave you. We go together wherever we go.” So it came about that my uncle, Wolf Wein, took my place on the list.
Father and Son Inseparable
I jumped in a different train with my father and they took us to Gross Rosen, Silesih where there was a camp. We survived two weeks there, and were shipped out to Buchenwald, a big camp. We were there a couple weeks and they came with an order to go out.
There my father was on the list, not I. So again, were we to go together or not? They put us in a barracks and I crawled out from the bottom of the barracks and I took a number and said to my father, “Look if you die, I die.”
They made from us animals. There was one time when my father saved my life. I’ll tell you how. He was a worker in the kitchen. Every day he stole a potato and hid it. They looked for it but could not see it. He brought it to me, but eating a raw potato makes noise and I could get caught
They came and said we have to march away. They called it “march”. We call it “death march”. Whoever couldn’t walk or stopped, they shot. So every day 20 or 50 people were shot who couldn’t walk. Six or seven miles seemed like a hundred miles. We walked and then we slept in a barn. Horrible.
My dad said, “Max, you’re young. Go on, I cannot.” I said, “Dad, we are going to die or not together.” So with a big glass, two potatoes and a little salt and a little bottle like coke, we had a plan to escape.
My father and I were in some hay in the corner of the barn. Every morning they counted. They asked a little German woman, “Where are those men?” The Germans came with their bayonets to our corner of the barn and chopped in the hay. But thank God they didn’t get us.
We ate of the hay – unbelievable. But after three days we ran out of water so my father said, “I will go out to the pond.” He jumped out and meanwhile the dogs began to bark.” He came back, waited 15 or 20 minutes and crawled out again. The dogs started to bark again, but the farmer must have given them a field mouse or rabbit, and they got quiet. With that water we lived another 3 days.
Then we heard noises and what were the noises? Thirty German soldiers came, slept on the hay over us. Father said, “We have to get out from here. Whenever they find us they will kill us.” So the next day when they were cooking, we crawled out of the barn through the screen and crawled right back into the barn [to another place]. The Germans left and they didn’t know that we were in the barn.
In the meanwhile a little woman came out and she gave me and my dad a sandwich. We were ready to die of hunger. Then a German came and said, “What are you doing with those sandwiches?” He didn’t know we were Jews. “Are they enemies?” he asked her and she said, “No, I have a son in Russia. Maybe he’s a prisoner, and for a piece of bread . . . please?”
Then began another walk to death – but it turned out to be walk to life. We walked maybe a half a mile but it took an hour. About two weeks later, around April 24th, we came close to a little church and a cemetery. A German soldier took us into the cemetery and took out his gun to kill us, making us kneel down. I began to say the Sh’ma [“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”] That was all I knew and somehow it helped. And he laid down his gun, for he was thinking, “If I do this, at the end of the war they will get me.”
[Editor: There were many other incidents Max shared with us. Bleak stories of how they stayed alive by posing as non-Jews, sometimes as Roman Catholics. One time he was told to show his arm. This was to see if there were a number on his arm. Continuing now in Max’s own words.]
They looked for the number. Only Auschwitz gave the number. If he’d said, “Let down your pants,” I’d have been sunk because Jews are circumcised. The others are not.
I wanted to go to Prague, a big city, because I wanted to get my father to a hospital. The Russians were there by then. I went to a German and got a bicycle and a Russian saw where I put it and took the bicycle and ran away with it. But I stole it back and I said, “Aren’t you ashamed to leave us here? My dad is dying.”
After the war, by God’s grace we came to America in 1946. I didn’t speak a word of English, but learned the word “sandwich”. Then they’d ask, “What kind?” and I couldn’t answer! Golden America! But I learned when I applied for a job I had to say I was Jewish and they didn’t hire very many Jews in those days, so when I went to a place and you had to write out your religion, I wrote “Protestant”. But now, I can thank God for America, and I am accepted. -
[Max got a standing ovation.]