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Seeking the author of Buchenwald memoirs

It was not the search for a relative but for three notebooks from a great aunt´s estate which led Heinz Bachmann from Switzerland to the ITS (International Tracing Service) in Bad Arolsen. Buchenwald concentration camp survivor Marton Stark had recorded his experiences in the notebooks at the end of 1945. “I was deeply touched by what I read,” said Bachmann. The 55-year old immediately decided that he would like to meet the author and publish his memoirs.

The International Tracing Service was able to make contact using a request for compensation filed by Stark in the 1950s, which turned up an address in California. The ITS called in the American Red Cross, which notified the now 80-year old Stark of the discovery of his memoirs. Bachmann and Stark first met in February 2009 in California. “It was an impressive and fascinating experience. We greeted each other like two old friends,” said Bachmann. For hours, Stark recounted the brutal experiences of persecution, which he confessed had “given him a number of sleepless nights.”

The Californian still remembers Bachmann´s great aunt vividly. Elise Welti, who worked for the Red Cross, had looked after three Jewish youths. After their liberation from the concentration camp Buchenwald they went to Switzerland to recuperate for a time. Stark suffered from typhoid. “My aunt´s visits and the excursions to cafes were the first signs of a return to life – human attention after the horror,” as Bachmann relayed the Holocaust survivor´s feelings.

Bachmann´s aunt also encouraged the then-16 year old to note down his experiences. Stark´s childhood came to an abrupt end in 1943 as he was confined to the ghetto with his parents and brother. One year later the Nazis deported the family to Auschwitz, where Marton alone survived. His last stop was the concentration camp Buchenwald. As Stark was Romanian and had not learned much German in the camps, his language was “emphatic, almost simplistic,” reported Bachmann. “This accounts for the strength of the texts, which do not include soothing euphemisms. They depict the brutal reality of life in the camps.”

Stark was able to emigrate to the USA via Germany in 1951. In addition to original documents from Buchenwald, the ITS archive also has the passenger list for the ship “General Sturgis” which on December 29, 1951 brought Stark to his new home. The Holocaust survivor worked in the jewelry business and started a family. “There were phases in which I was satisfied with my life. But I could never again be happy,” as Stark told Bachmann at their first meeting. Now both men want to publish a book together. Stark´s writings in the school notebooks will play a central role.

If it were up to Bachmann, the book would also be an appeal to humanity. “I will dedicate it first and foremost to my children,” said the Swiss assistant professor. “They should see that we can make a difference to one person – as my aunt did back then for those three youths.”