Discussion with the Holocaust survivor Eric Imre Hitter in Berlin
Eric Imre Hitter, survivor of the Holocaust, talked about his experiences in front of roughly 40 students from the Catholic school “Theresienschule” and the 45 guests attending the opening of the exhibition "The Death Marches in the Documents of the International Tracing Service" at the Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" in Berlin. The 86-year-old man had endured and survived the concentration camps Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen and Flossenbürg as well as two death marches.
When Hitter was 16 years old, the persecution began for him and his family in Hungary. Together with his parents and his siblings, he was deported from the ghetto in Oradea to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. "The railway wagon had been built for animals and that’s what the Hungarian police treated us like", Hitter remembers. "Here, the inhumanity of the Holocaust was revealed for the first time. I will never forget and forgive that brutality." Separated from his family at the time of their arrival, he came to a labor camp alone where the worst period of his life began. "I didn't know anything of life yet," he explains to the students. "I went straight from school into the camp. There, I had to adjust myself to the situation and work."
From Wüstegiersdorf, a sub-camp of concentration camp Gross-Rosen, where he had subsequently been deported, his first death march to concentration camp Flossenbürg began in January 1945. Flossenbürg in turn was "evacuated" in April 1945. The survivor relates that the Jewish prisoners first had to climb into railway wagons. But the train was bombed by the Allies again and again. "They probably assumed that there were German troops or military equipment on the train", says Hitter. “A spoon in my pocket protected me from the fragments of ammunition, so I was not hurt", he continues. "In addition, there has probably always been a guardian angel in my life who has been watching over me." Shortly before the approach of the US Army, the SS began to shoot the remaining prisoners. Hitter managed to hide in the straw and was liberated by the Americans on 23rd April 1945.
"We were so much terrorized by the Nazis that we never believed we would survive", says Hitter. "At the same time, however, there has always been our hope as well." After his liberation, he contracted typhoid fever and was taken to a military hospital. Along with other young Jewish survivors, he was living at a children's center run by the Allies in Indersdorf in Bavaria in the late summer of 1945. "Here, I was asked whether I wanted to go home, whether I wanted to stay, or whether I wanted to emigrate to another country", he relates. "I chose England and emigrated together with 300 other children."
Today, he lives in Belgium with his wife Faye. He talks proudly of his three children and eight grandchildren. He tells the students that he has come to Germany to get to know today's youth. "I see friendly, intelligent boys and girls. Always think about what you are going to do”, Hitter appeals to the young people. "If you want to do something bad, think twice!" The questions why the Shoah happened, how and why all of this was possible at all, have been tormenting him to this day. Apart from two sisters, he lost his entire family in the Holocaust.
The traveling exhibition "Search for Traces - The Death Marches in the Documents of the International Tracing Service (ITS)", which also shows the fate of Hitter, was opened in the foyer of the Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" at the beginning of December 2013. With an eye to the two discussions with the living survivor that she moderated during the events at the school as well as at the Foundation, Dr. Susanne Urban, Head of Research and Education at the ITS, stressed: "We will not have the opportunity to listen to these people for very much longer. They are the bridge to the past and we must walk on this bridge again and again."
The death marches were the last organized mass crime of National Socialist Germany. Thousands of prisoners still perished in these last days of the war. A program ran at the ITS from 1946 to 1951 that was supposed to help finding and identifying the victims of the death marches. The exhibition now opened in Berlin allows for insights into the stocks of documents of the ITS relating to this subject and presents the memories of individual survivors.
About the Exhibition
In seven banners (Roll-Up), which were developed on the basis of newly evaluated historical documents, the exhibition "The Death Marches in the Documents of the International Tracing Service (ITS)" opens with a short introduction into the topic. Then the origin and diversity of the documents are described. Two biographies of victims of the death marches are presented, whose remains were identified. Fragments of survivors’ memories of the death marches serve as a bridge to the biography of Hitter.