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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf People in Hitler's Europe

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                                                  Miklos Klein upon his return from the Bergen-
                                                  Belsen concentration camp, 1945. Courtesy of
                                                  Miklos Klein, Budapest.

Labor Brigade and Bergen-Belsen

I received my induction notice and I went to. . . a labor camp. Many, many of us were there. We had to make a trip to Budapest [where] they gave us a medical examination. They denied that I was deaf. They said that I could hear and that I was just pretending. The doctor nevertheless gave me a certificate. . . . I escaped constantly . . . . [After several episodes of escape and rearrest], I couldn’t find any safe place . . . . In the Deaf Mute Institute in Mexico Street, there were many, many of us. I thought there I would be lucky and nobody would bother me. Early in the morning, there was a raid. They surrounded the ghetto and they took us . . .Judit was there, with her mother . . . . The next morning, they put us in wagons and they took us . . . . About eighty of us were crammed into a [train] wagon. There was no air, no oxygen, nothing to drink. In ten days slowly we were advancing toward the border. At the border, they gave us something to eat—salted rice. We asked for water. They said, “No, we don’t have any.” We started the train again—towards Bergen-Belsen. In three days, we arrived at Bergen-Belsen. We were very thirsty . . . . Those who could speak German were reading all the signs . . . . We were in a concentration camp. We did not know how many people were in the concentration camp. They took everything from us. All of our packages; everything that was with us. They separated the elders from the young ones. Twelve deaf mutes together—we were together. In the concentration camp, we suffered quite a lot. That was the reality. Somebody was listening secretly to a radio. We listened to Voice of America. We succeeded to hear that the liberation of the Jews was imminent. They took us to Czechoslovakia. One died, of the twelve deaf, in Czechoslovakia. Klein Lajos died on the train. Ten of us remained, survived. We didn’t go any further. We stopped there. There was a lot of bombing, air raids. That train wagon toppled over. The American troops liberated us . . . . There were other pockets of resistance. They still were fighting.

Liberation from Bergen-Belsen

I was very very skinny, I was just skin and bones. Slowly, slowly I was starting to recuperate. The American doctors were helping me. I was fortified some. The American soldiers left and the English soldiers came. And then the next wave was the Russian soldiers who took charge . . . . The Russian said, “What are you doing now? You cannot stay here. Go home. Don’t stay here.” Among the ten deaf, two died, eight returned home. Under the Russian flag we arrived home. It took us quite a while for the journey, about twelve days, and when we arrived in Budapest, we saw the horrible state of affairs in Budapest.

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