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“Many of my classmates were deported directly to Auschwitz”

The survivor Zeev Beer from Glandale, Ohio (USA), and his son Ayal, came on 21 June 2013, to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen to view documents about the family’s persecution during the time of National Socialism. For the two Americans, it was an emotional encounter with the past. Beer had to spend three years in a ghetto and in concentration camps. He had lost his mother when he was a teenager.

On 5 November 1929, Zeev, then Wolfgang Beer, was born in Sontra in the region between Hesse and Thuringia. His single mother, Bertha Beer, tried to make a living as a cleaning woman and field worker. "My mother came from a family of eight children and had already taken care of younger siblings earlier." Beer who did not know his father came to the Jewish school in Kassel at the age of six. "The twelve beds in our dorm always had to be neat," he recalls. In 1939, he and his mother moved to Berlin. Again the boy went to a Jewish boarding school, while his mother rented a room on the Neuebayreuter Strasse and worked on temporary employments.

At the age of twelve, Beer and his mother were deported to a ghetto. "Transportation list 25 I. to Riga in 1942, 1051 people, wave 10,” it says on the document from the archives of the ITS. "I was lucky. When my mother received the letter from the Gestapo, she picked me up from school. Many of my classmates were deported directly to Auschwitz and murdered there." For almost two years, until the end of 1943, mother and son were in the Riga ghetto. After its closing, they were taken to the concentration camp Kaiserwald. "Men and women were separated upon arrival, so I lost contact with my mother. She called my name. It was the last time that I saw her," Beer recalls. "Shortly thereafter, she must have died. She was a very good mother, but she had a hard time."

Beer worked in a sub-camp of the concentration camp, in the army supply depot (TWL) of the SS. "I had to push wagons along the trails with uniforms that should be deloused. It was hard work, and there was hardly anything to eat." In October 1944, shortly before the approach of the Red Army, the prisoners were brought back to the main camp Stutthof. "I was only there for a short time," says the 83-year-old. He went directly on to the external sub-camp to Stolp in Pomerania, to a factory in which railroads were fixed. "I worked as a locksmith. We had a foreman, Mr. Kraus, a civilian who trained the young people."

In March 1945, as the camp was closed, the prisoners were sent on a death march. "We had to walk long distances. Many fell on the road." On 5 April 1945, liberation finally took place in Neustadt /Holstein. Beer spent a few months in the hospital of Neustadt and in the orphanage Lensterhof before he found a temporary home at the Warburg Children Health Home of the American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) in Hamburg-Blankenese. That are the facts the ITS documents contain about Beer as a displaced person in liberated Germany.

In May 1947, Beer was finally able to immigrate to Israel after the necessary papers had arrived. At Kibbutz Hulda, he worked and went to school. "I was not the best student. I lacked the patience to sit for long." Because it was too hard in agriculture, he decided it was time to join the Israeli army. "Here I had a roof over my head, food, and clothing." And here he also met his wife, Ruth, also a survivor, who came from Berlin. He married her in 1956, the two had three children and moved in 1962 to her parents in the United States. For over 30 years, the Beers ran a bike shop. "Ruth was very strong. She has always demanded that the children make something of themselves.”

His mother refused to talk about the time of the Holocaust, says her son Ayal. "And my father opened up only 15 years ago for the first time. It was a great relief when he showed us all the places in 2004 on a trip to Europe." Since then, his father was able to find inner peace. "We could always feel it, and we knew about the Holocaust, but we did not know the stories of our parents. I wish my mother could also talk about it." But love and support was always given by the close relationship within the family.

And with a smile on their faces, father and son tell of their visit to Zeev’s hometown Sontra, in 2004. They first entered a toy store which allowed no access to Jews during Beer’s childhood. "We bought some toys. A toy was the first thing that I wanted," says the survivor. He is currently writing his story "for my children and anyone who is interested." Forty pages have already been compiled. "But I have to take breaks from writing."