Jossi Steiner (1936)

Photo: Jossi Steiner

Biography

“Jossi Steiner, the boy from bunker, was now holding a German rifle in his hand and thinking of what that rifle went through and what he went through, too.”

Jossi Steiner was born in 1936 in the town of Zlaté Moravce. His parents raised him in accordance with the principles of Judaism. As a six-year-old child he and his family experienced the hell of the holocaust. Firstly they were wanted just in Slovakia, but later on a hunt for them was launched also in Hungary, where they hid out in various places. Then they got to ghetto. After coming back to Slovakia they hid out in the house of Mr. Ján Mozolák. They spent nine months behind so-called “double wall”. Nine people lived in the space 1,5m wide and 5m long. German soldiers stayed in the room above their concealment for two weeks. It was the most dangerous time period. They couldn’t move, sneeze or cough at all. Soldiers also used the dogs to find them; they banged on the wall to find out whether there is somebody hiding behind it. This way soldiers found some Jews in the neighbourhood and killed them. However, they survived and waited to see favourable conditions. After liberation the whole family tried to start a new life. Jossi and his brothers moved to Israel where they could live freely. In 2000 Jossi came back to Slovakia and he still tries to remind others the names of their saviours.

Night Escape across the Border

Jossi Steiner - Night Escape across the Border (data format Flash Video)

“But let’s go back to Zlaté Moravce when my father got that message. He immediately organized that we would go for a walk. My brother was in a pram and we used that pram in two ways. Firstly we put there the smallest things we had to take with us, you know, the most necessary things and we left the house. I was almost six years old, so I went on foot, my mother, father, and Robi Mojše in the pram. In that pram, there were some things under it, we tried to be inconspicuous, so we walked around in Zlaté Moravce just like an ordinary family and near the cemetery, opposite the grammar school, there was a cab waiting for us.
When we crossed the border, I was told that then I had to be dumb. And the reason was that I spoke only Slovak and it was suspicious because in a short period of time we were wanted through radio. We were searched by Slovak police also in Hungary.”

Children under the Shaft Cover in the Latrine

Jossi Steiner - Children under the Shaft Cover in the Latrine (data format Flash Video)

“Although we probably wanted to go to Romania, we found ourselves surrounded in a ghetto, but in this kind of ghetto you could even get a telegram. And my father sent the telegram: “In no case write your name on the paper; don’t write your name on the list as usual!” Near this house, there were two toilets, rural ones. As we know, these latrines stand on two boards and there is a cesspit under them. With my brother, we were told that we had to get to the latrine and hide there. But not inside the toilet, just under the seat, on those two boards holding the construction. So we went under the seat and sat there, one here and another one there and we were silent until the list was complete. And this way we successfully avoided being recorded.”

Nine People behind the “Double Wall”

Jossi Steiner - Nine People behind the “Double Wall” (data format Flash Video)

“And father says: “Look here, you are building that room here and there is a basement, so what would happen if we made a kind of hole between these two walls where we, nine people, could hide?” That space was about five meters long and one and a half or two meters wide. Soon it was summer 1944 after the Slovak National Uprising that took thirty to sixty days. That frightful era came, when not Slovaks, but Germans together with the most loyal Slovaks, who were reliable for them – Hlinka Guard and its emergency troops (POHG) - were searching for Jews and, naturally, we were scared.”

Secret Signals

Jossi Steiner - Secret Signals (data format Flash Video)

“The room above our concealment helped us a lot because Anča gave us a signal, and then we knew that we couldn’t cough or sneeze, that there had to be absolute silence because if somebody coughed in the basement, it’d be obvious that spuds didn´t do that. Imagine that I was just eight-year-old boy. Eight years old. We were five boys there and two buckets. One was intended to answer the call of nature and the second one was prepared for water if we had some. We slept on the straw. There was a plank where fathers slept and we all with mums, my aunt and my mother too, laid under that plank. This way we lived there. When we heard three bangs it meant danger, one bang meant that alarm was cancelled, or that the soldiers went away. In this way we had to live for nine months. We didn’t see the sunlight, so we all became yellow.”

German Soldiers in the House, Death Knocking at the Door

Jossi Steiner - German Soldiers in the House, Death Knocking at the Door (data format Flash Video)

“It was a nice day, when Germans came, they belonged to a unit with mortar and they ordered Anča to get out of the room, so between us and Germans there were just three or four centimetres. Nothing else. Moreover, we couldn’t get anything; they stamped all the time and of course, the housewife couldn’t go to the shed with food because cows don’t eat fruit compote yet. They even don’t eat potatoes, not so far as I know. There were also swine and a kind of wooden tank for swine’s fodder. And there she put one black sock with some potatoes. And she gave us a warning: Stay in silence, Germans are here. However, we saw them, they didn’t have to tell us because firstly we heard them and then we had two gaps in the wall, naturally, masked ones, because we needed air to breathe. And through that gap, I saw the soldier’s boots. He stood next to the mortar. I remember it till today. Fortunately, it didn’t take a long time; Germans stayed in Mr. Mozolák’s house just for two weeks. Then we could be a bit calmer. Of course, the calmness back then was quite different from how we understand it today. At that time, Hlinka Guard and German troops searched for Jews and they found them also in our neighbourhood. So we were afraid.”

Police Dogs, the Highest Risk

Jossi Steiner - Police Dogs, the Highest Risk (data format Flash Video)

“Once they came with dogs, because you could place a barrel there and the wall could stand right behind it. And human body, actually, nine bodies smelled, whether you wanted or not. Spuds and wine helped us a lot because the dogs sniffing around couldn’t smell anything else. Thus, spuds and wine played an important role. Another time my father told me that he made a small hole, smaller than a keyhole, but anyway you could have a wide view through it. So he could see that Germans were searching there and vice versa Germans knew that there was a double wall. Thus they looked around and banged. I am not able to explain you how the wall could withstand. But the fact is that Germans banged and found nothing, they neither found a hollow nor people. And there were nine. I knew my father borrowed an axe from Mozolák, Ján Mozolák, and was ready to use it. Father said that if somebody put his head inside, he would behead him. He already knew that we were sentenced to death. It was obvious; they shot people in the woods without any trial. There they killed people by hanging or shooting, it was normal. It was the war. They had no problem to take ten people who, according to them, weren’t worth to be starved out in Auschwitz. They took them to woods and wrote a report: Ten Jewish bandits were dispatched.”

Risky Homecoming for Hidden Jewels to Buy Some Food

Jossi Steiner - Risky Homecoming for Hidden Jewels to Buy Some Food (data format Flash Video)

“Mother knocked at the door and neighbour says: “Go away, I need nothing.” She thought my mother was a farmwife selling eggs and butter in the town, in Zlaté Moravce. Mother understood, so she took her bonnet off. Neighbour opened the door again and wanted to send her away when suddenly she recognized my mother, Irenka Steinerová. She says: “Oh jeepers, they told us you wouldn’t come back home!” “I am here,” mother says, “my children starve and three years ago I gave you my jewels, so now, please, give them back to me.” The neighbour says: “Yes sure, but they are set in the wall and my husband comes back home in the afternoon.” What I forgot to say is that on the way from station, in Telepa, it is a name of a quarter in Zlaté Moravce, there were three people hanged. At present there is a commemorative plaque. I went there and saw it. Gestapo hanged them. I think one of them was a Jew.”

The story and videoclips of this witness were put together and published thanks to the financial support of EU within the programme Europe for Citizens – Active European Remembrance.

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