As part of this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration, Circle of Care staff heard from Jack Steinmetz, a Holocaust survivor and Circle of Care client, as he shared his Holocaust experience. Jack spoke during a special ZOOM presentation for staff and recounted his memories of what took place during the war.
Jack shared how at 14, on a visit home to see his family in Hungary, he saw armed German soldiers guarding Jewish homes. Within days, his whole family – mother, father, grandmother and two brothers – were in freight cars, eventually ending up in Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp near Weimar, Germany.
Separated from his mother and brother at Buchenwald, Jack found himself face-to-face with Josef Mengele regularly. Mengele was an SS officer and trained physician who performed horrific human medical experimentation on concentration camp prisoners.
“Mengele had a procedure. All the boys from the barracks would line up, and Mengele would hold out a riding crop. We all had to walk under his riding crop – those that weren’t tall enough to touch the crop were sent away,” says Jack. “We knew those boys were going straight to the gas chamber. We could see the crematorium; it was close by.”
“I had fooled him twice by walking on my tiptoes. The third time I did not fool him.”
That day, Yom Kippur, Jack was among the boys marched to the gas chamber for a “shower.” He was undressed, inside the chamber, when a guard came by looking for boys for a work detail. Jack’s knowledge of Yiddish helped him understand German and he volunteered. He and twelve other boys scrambled back into their clothes and out of the gas chambers, the same way they came in, as other boys were pushed into the chamber.
His work detail, collecting garbage from the camps, saved him. His remaining years in captivity included forced labour in a number of camps before a dramatic escape. He and other boys saw the gates of the camp open and the guards gone, and started walking. Soon they ran into a convoy of American soldiers, which explained why the German guards had disappeared.
Jack’s troubling, inspiring and amazing story – including his journey to Canada at 18 – was enlightening and sobering. The presentation was part of Circle of Care’s ongoing effort to help all employees better understand the unique challenges and circumstances facing Holocaust survivors and their families.
Circle of Care is honoured to provide care and services to over 1,600 clients through our Holocaust Survivor Services Program (HSSP), making us the largest Canadian grant recipient of funds from the Conference on Jewish Materials Claims Against Germany. Support for Holocaust survivors requires special understanding, knowledge and sensitivity, and no where is this more important than in case management.