The boys crossed the border into Austria and walked some 15 km to Schachendorf. Today, Schachendorf is a bucolic agricultural town with acres of wheat fields that obscure an ugly truth: This is the place where approximately 1500 to 2000 Jews were buried in a mass grave.
In 1944, Schachendorf was a desolate place except for some bunkers. About 1000 to 1200 boys shared a barrack, which was filled with wooden bunk beds. In total, there were about 5000 young men at Schachendorf. My father, along with the other boys, turned over their shoes and received wooden ones in return, along with pants and a jacket, infamously patterned with blue and white stripes.
My father described his daily routine:
We got up at 4 a.m. There was no water where we were. If we wanted to wash our face, we would walk a half-mile. We received black coffee in the morning, and, at night, we received some thin soup made with the leftover potato peels from the kitchen that cooked food for the Germans. Every four or five days, we received a slice of bread. And then we went to work. People died of starvation every day. If you couldn’t walk and you fell, they would shoot you. Some people died over night and, during the day, while walking the 4 to 5 km to work, another five would die. Every day, 10 to 12 people died. We would put them on a wagon and then the bodies were dumped into a mass grave.
Among those who died from starvation was the cruel Dr. Rozsa who played with the devil and lost.
Each day, as the bodies piled up, the boys gathered at the mass grave to say their goodbyes:
It would take a miracle to survive the starvation and cruelty, the miles of walking and backbreaking labour. Perhaps, that is exactly what happened.