Photo: Klaus and Paula S. married in 1942 in Germany. Both survived Auschwitz and several other camps. Photo taken in Fuerth, Germany, 1946. Photo on right: Klaus and Paula S., Seattle, 2005.
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My name is Klaus S. I was taken with my wife the 19th of April 1943, one day before Hitler’s birthday with a group of about 1000 people. As soon as I arrived in Auschwitz, I received a tattoo on my left front arm, with the number 117033. As I found out later on, from our transport of 1000, only 299 men made it into the camp…[and] only 158 women…The rest were gassed right away.
Klaus was born in 1921 in Breslau, Germany. In 1942, Klaus S. was a young, newly married man in Berlin, Germany. When the Nazis came to power, Klaus noticed that people increasingly began to treat him differently because he was Jewish. In April of 1943, both Klaus and his wife Paula were deported to Auschwitz. Like many Holocaust victims, they were moved around from camp to camp for the purpose of forced labor for the war effort; their longest stay was in Auschwitz.*
For 28 months, they never knew if the other was still alive.
In January 1945, when the Nazis realized the Russian armies were closing in, they closed up portions of Auschwitz and forced the emaciated and sometimes shoeless prisoners to take part in the infamous death march* from Auschwitz to Germany in freezing winter conditions. Klaus was liberated* by the Americans in May, 1945.
Klaus survived the following camps*: Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Flossenburg, Leonberg, Muhldorf.
The following are excerpts of Klaus S.’s oral testimony, recorded in 2005.
…My best friend was a non-Jewish boy, Walter Lazer. His parents had a big restaurant and the mother would say, “When you are old enough, why don’t you help us before you go out to play in the park or other games like little boys.” So I went there everyday before I went with the other ones to play soccer and other sports. I helped my good friend clean up at the restaurant…I did that for many years and we were close like brothers.
...As you know, in January 1933, Hitler took over. In April 1933 there was a boycott against Jewish stores. Little by little we were isolated.
We lived in a big apartment house and there was one widow, Mrs. Brinker. My mother did many good things for her, shopping for her sometimes. And when Hitler came to power, the friendly neighbors we knew for years and years gave us the silent treatment. Only one was very nice, Mrs. Brinker. [She] came and said, “I’m very sorry Mr. and Mrs. S. You know what’s going on. I can’t greet you anymore. I can’t do much with you anymore. After all, I have to be like everyone else.”
Every Christmas [our landlord] went door to door and wore a Santa Claus outfit, brought us candy and nuts, everything. Jewish boys were like any boys but after Hitler took over we were isolated. Later on my parents moved out and got a smaller apartment in Berlin.
…The biggest shock I experienced was when my friend Walter, came to me, “Klaus, I can’t play with you anymore.”
I said, “What are you talking about. We are the best of friends. We are like brothers. We do things every weekend. We swim and play and do everything else. What’s the matter with you? What did I do to you?”
He said, “You didn’t do nothing to me.”
I said, “No? What is the reason?...”
“Well, let me explain to you…You know my parents have that restaurant and if anybody sees me playing with a Jewish boy, by parents might lose their business. I’m sorry I can’t play with you anymore.”
Here I lost my best and closest friend…When you are about 13 years old that is a big shock to you…
I went out with different girls and some were nice and some not, anyhow, I was kind of selective. Paula, she went out too. Little by little we came together, Paula and myself, and we talked about what we could do in the future if everything went all right. Then we found out we had many things in common and I think we were meant for each other.
Paula and Klaus were both taken to Auschwitz. They were separated and neither knew where the other was or if the other was still alive. After liberation, Klaus became very ill and was taken to a hospital in Bavaria.
When I was a little stronger I got a piece of paper and a pencil and I wrote a little note. “Paula, I’m still alive. Please wait for me. I’m here in a hospital in Bavaria.” [I don’t know] how I remembered the address of Paula’s parents. Little by little I went up to the nearby highway, saw some soldiers, and asked one of the guys, “Where are you going?”
He said, “I’m going to Munich.”
I said, Why don’t you give this little piece of paper to someone who is going North, to Liepzig.”
It went through so many hands, and by golly, my wife Paula got the note later on. For 3 ½ weeks Klaus made his way to where he hoped Paula would be. Paula came running over and we rushed into each other’s arms. It is hard to describe the moment we saw each other after 28 months. Until Paula got my note she had no idea that I was alive and I had no idea that Paula was alive. Here we were together the first time with all our experiences together again.
Klaus and Paula immigrated to the United States in 1946. They were the first Holocaust survivors to come to Seattle. They have two children, four grandchildren, and a beloved dog.
More about Klaus and Paula:
Biography Booklet - Klaus Stern (student handout)