Michael Mark was sent to a concentration camp at the age of 18. Upon arrival, he, along with many others, were immediately shaved and told to remove all clothing except for their shoes.
“The conditions of (transportation to the camp) were unbelievable,” he said. “There was no food, no water, people were dying.”
Mark guest lectured in Professor Michele Paskow’s Intro to Judaism class Wednesday. Paskow’s class is learning about the Holocaust, which is one of the reasons he came in to speak about the subject. His presentation was open to the public.
“One of the questions I asked the students to think about is, are the things that happened during Hitler’s time similar in some ways to things we see going on in the world today?” Paskow said.
Mark was born and raised in Czechoslovakia. He said things really began changing when the Hungarian government aligned with Hitler.
He spoke in detail about his trip to the concentration camps.
“They stacked us like sardines on top of each other, and naturally, like children, we were crying and that went on all day long,” he said.
Those taken to the camp were on the train for days and went without water or food.
Mark also talked about what he witnessed at the camps.
One memory Mark shared with Paskow’s class was when the Nazis killed a baby in front of its mother.
“The child was crying for the mother, and the German officer was so annoyed so he just beat it to death with a heavy stick,” he said.
He also saw how prisoners were killed in gas chambers.
“They packed the people in the chamber so tight that 40 minutes later when they were all dead, they opened the doors and they were all standing up. There was no place for them to fall down,” he said.
At the camp, Mark described the temperatures as freezing to the point where he and others with him had to find paper to insulate themselves.
“So many people were dying that we had to drag them out. We didn’t know how to dispose (of) them so we just dragged them out to the latrines and piled the bodies up,” he said.
From there, Mark was taken out to the death march. During this time he was still united with his father and brother.
But it was also during the march that Mark’s father collapsed, and there was nothing he could do about it.
“We had no choice but to keep going because if we stopped, they shot you to death,” he said.
Mark was kept at the camps for more than a year, though he said one day would have been enough.
When he returned to his hometown, he was sure somebody had survived, with all the members in his extended family. But he got back to find that nobody made it, including his mother.
Despite her death, he considers his mom one of the lucky ones because she has a gravestone with her name on it, and millions of those who died during the Nazi reign did not.
While many people know about the Holocaust, Paskow said hearing the story directly from a survivor is different from reading someone else’s story.
“Every body’s heard about the Holocaust, but when you meet somebody firsthand, it’s pretty powerful,” she said.
Mark, now 86, eventually moved to the United States, and through all the hardships he repeatedly said he considers himself fortunate.
“I have to say I feel I’m a very lucky person who came out alive from hell, came here penniless, and started a new life, worked hard. I can say I achieved the American dream,” he said.
In April, he will celebrate his 58th anniversary with his wife, Sally, who accompanies him when he talks about his experiences.
“Each time, I know he breaks down when he talks about his father or mother,” Sally said.
Paskow said students have generally liked having Mark speak in her classes.
Ali Stephenson, 24, liberal studies, was one of the students who thought positively about Mark’s stories.
“I think he had an amazing story. I’ve been to two different Holocaust museums, so to actually hear somebody live opens your eyes to what he’s been through,” she said.