The Belief of a Holocaust Survivor

Frank Shatz - Williamsburg, Virginia
Entered on March 5, 2007
Age Group: 65+
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I am one of the dwindling numbers of Holocaust survivors. For forty long years I have refused to talk about the past. For me the past had no meaning. Only the present and the future had. When I learned about Holocaust-deniers, I started to speak up.

Although I eluded the horrors of Auschwitz or other extermination camps, I did experience the Holocaust as an inmate in a slave labor camp. We were building a rail-line over the rugged Carpathian Mountains. It was back-breaking work on a starvation diet. We were treated just like beasts-of-burden. Those who got injured and were unable to work were killed or let to die. I survived by talking myself into a job as a groom for the commandant’s horses.

After six months in the slave-labor camp, I managed to escape. During our retreat in front of the advancing Red Army, using the cover of an Allied bombing raid, I fled into a nearby cornfield. Budapest was a short distance away. By sheer chance, while wandering the streets of Budapest like a hunted animal, I ran into my brother-in-law, who had himself escaped from slave labor in a copper mine in Serbia. He was living under false papers and working for the Zionist underground to help fellow Jews escape or evade detection.

He took me to a safe-house set up by Raoul Wallenberg, the legendary Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Hungary. I stayed at the safe-house only for a few days. I was furnished with a fake ID and joined the anti-Nazi underground movement.

For the next six months my job was to help save Jewish lives. I was a courier for the underground, dodging checkpoints manned by murderous fascist thugs, while delivering fake papers to another Jew or another Jewish family facing deportation by SS Col. Adolf Eichmann, to Auschwitz.

I have survived it all, followed by living for almost a decade, under a repressive Communist regime, in Czechoslovakia. Finally in 1958 my wife and I have arrived to the United States, as refugees.

Considering, all those experiences, I am often asked: “Is anything left for you to believe in?”

My answer is: Having survived the horrors of living under the Nazis and the Communists, I believe a world view based on solid knowledge is the best safeguard against the danger of revisiting the horrors of the past. To my mind, the best investment one can make for the future is to provide financial support for the education of young people.

Frank Shatz is a survivor of the Holocaust who feels an obligation to bear witness, believing that after his generation is gone, there won't be anyone left who could say, "I was there. I saw it with my own eyes." Mr. Shatz and his wife have become major donors to the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary.