“It was at the women’s camp, there were towers with guards in them, and they were running around with those striped dresses, shouting: ‘Bread, bread, food!’ Starving like dogs, we didn’t have anything to toss them, and when we came closer to the barbed wire, the soldiers in the towers started to shoot at them, they shot a few of them. It was so unreal, I said to myself that this how Dante’s inferno must have looked!”
“On the first day we were in Auschwitz, we arrived late in the evening so there was nothing going on. In the morning they took us so we could write a correspondence paper to Terezín, and from there they took us to the building where there were barbers who cut our hair and shaved us wherever we had any hair, and from there when went to this sort of narrow place where they disinfected us with this sort of brush, first in your rear, then the head of the next one, and then back in our rears, we were showered, then they gave us the concentration camp rags to wear, then we found some shoes, then they took us back to that building where we had stayed, and before letting us in, there was a table there with two people from the Auschwitz office, one had little cards and we had to say our names and date of birth, and the other had a wooden pencil with a needle inside, the other told him the number and he took your arm and pinned it down like this and tattooed the number on it with the needle, he stabbed and scraped with black ink, it seeped in, the arm swelled up, but, if I’m not mistaken, nobody got an infection, it took me four or five days, it hurt, it burned, it swelled, and then it healed up and I had a number. B 11673.”
“I collected stamps and so did my father, I got it from him and we collected together, we went regularly on Sunday mornings to Veselka Café where there was a club to trade stamps. Dad had a friend who was a kiosk vendor and he put stamps aside for us. And the first thing the guy tells the Gestapo is that we had a stamp collection, so the Gestapo came to us, they wanted to see the stamp collection, because Jews had limits on how much they could collect things, they were very polite, it was right at beginning, so I showed them what kind of collection I had, they looked through it, said it was nice and that they had to take it with them so they could appraise it and when I asked if I’d get it back, they said I’d be able to come for it, they gave me a slip of paper. My parents let me go to the Gestapo in Pardubice for stamps! So when I got there all they did was smack me, telling me they can’t give it back, so that’s how they stole my collection of Czechoslovak stamps.”
“The next day I woke up and Blechhammer was empty, they had marched everyone off and forgotten me, either they thought I was dead, or they didn’t notice me because I was balled up all the way in the back, even though the Germans were still monitoring from outside, a few people stayed behind, so we couldn’t go outside because they would shoot us, then two German tanks came and destroyed the buildings, the food stores, and the rest of the things, then they all left, it was quiet, calm, I had a friend there, a Romanian, my age, we went out together, Blechhammer was on a little hill and we could see the villages below, such fine little houses, little villas along the stream, so we said that we’d go down and have a look and see if we’d find something to eat. And we did, because those Germans were so afraid of the Russians that they just left everything and ran, so we kicked down the door and there on the table was some freshly baked bread. I can still smell that bread today. When you’re hungry for a long time, it’s not goose you look forward to, you want bread. The smell of that bread, the taste of good bread is always with me.”
“After the war, when it came down to it, I told myself that two things were possible, either it was the end for me too, because I have no education, I have nothing, so I’ll try to get some money from those, from those from there, I’ll see what happens, or I am going to do something serious so I wouldn’t have to think about it. So I chose to go study, to study chemistry. I got a normal chemical engineering degree, and then did my PhD. I did more than twenty years of research when I finally reached the point to where I was working at the Academy of Science and had my own laboratory, and I got the national prize, but then the Soviets came and I had to leave. So I started working at the school here (in Plattsburgh), which wasn’t bad, and in the end I got another one, again thanks to my students, who nominated me for Excellence of Teaching, which was always the Best Teacher of the Year, and I retired right afterwards.”
I did science so I wouldn’t think about the Holocaust
Vladimír Munk was born on 27 February 1925 v Pardubice. He lived there until he was seventeen years old when, along with his parents and the rest of the Jews of Pardubice, he was deported to Terezín in December 1942. Later in the autumn of 1944, the Munk family was deported from there to the extermination camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where both his parents were murdered in the gas chambers. The Nazis transferred the then nineteen-year-old Vladimír to work in a subsidiary camp in Gleiwitz (today’s Gliwice). He awaited the arrival of the liberators in still another subsidiary camp of Blechhammer (today’s Sławięcice). Vladimír returned to Pardubice, finished an accelerated summer semester of secondary school, and in autumn 1945 he left to Prague to study chemistry. He sought out Kitty who he had met during his internment in Terezín, and in 1949 they married. He was engaged in research work for twenty years, for which he received a national prize. After August 1968 he decided to emigrate. He relocated with his entire family to the United States, where he taught at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh until he retired. He consciously avoided the topic of the Holocaust and returned to Auschwitz for the first time only after 75 years had passed, in January 2020. More than thirty of his closest relatives died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.