SMA Prep cadets experienced a profound, personal account of loss and luck from one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors, Mr. Paul Molnar. Mr. Molnar emphasized to the 8th-grade students, that he was 14 years old when the Germans occupied his Hungarian village on March 19th, 1944. “I was the same age as you are now when my life changed forever.”
As Mr. Molnar began to tell his story, cadets embarked on his precarious journey as he recounted his initial relocation to a Hungarian ghetto where anti-Jewish laws were established and he was required to wear the Jewish (Star of David) badge so he could be easily distinguished from others as a Jew. He described the cramped, unsanitary conditions being transported in a cattle car to an unknown destination that he would later learn was Auschwitz-Birkenau. “Many old people died and others lost their minds,” he said recalling his 3-day transport to the death camp.
It was at Auschwitz where the sorting lines formed to the right and the left. His mother went to the right staying with his grandmother and little brother. While he and his cousin Otto went to the left. He reminded cadets, “I had no idea where we were or why.”
He would later notice four chimneys spewing ash into a summer sky. “What are they burning?” he asked a prisoner nearby. “It’s your family going up in smoke,” the stranger replied. He would never see his mother, grandmother or little brother again.
“5,000 a day in June of 1944… Auschwitz was built to be a killing machine,” Mr. Molnar stated without hesitation.
Another cattle car transport brought Mr. Molnar to the labor camp of Buchenwald where he believes he remained alive because of his youth, ability to work and also strokes of luck. “I survived not because I was a hero. That’s the way it was.”
Cadets listened intently to Mr. Molnar’s every word. SMA-Cadet Samantha Mast described the impact of his story. “I could feel how confused he must have been when he was younger; when he was our age.” SMA-Cadet Elise Dunn also expressed an emotional connection. “There are not a lot of people left that can tell their story. It was very special.”
SMA-MAJ Pelletier, who is teaching Holocaust survivor literature to her 8th graders, was captivated listening to such an intimate recounting. “To listen to his story and see the cadets make specific connections to his powerful and personal story offers a unique, authentic and memorable experience.”
Mr. Molnar was told he was free on May 8th, 1945 finding himself along the Czech border and eventually preparing himself to return to his home in Hungary. He arrived at an empty house and later found out his father was at work and would be returning home. He never imagined he would see his father again. He would eventually learn that he lost 16 immediate family members.
Members of Mr. Molinar’s family joined him. Two of his great-grandchildren are SMA Prep cadets, who he described as “the pleasure of my eye”.
Mr. Molnar told the cadets not to be a bystander when they hear racial or bullying remarks stating, “this is how something like this happens.” As he received a final thank you for his visit to SMA Prep, he said, “I need to do this, there aren’t many of us left.”
About Paul Molnar
Survivor/Camps: Ujpest (Hungary), Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Magdeburg, Berga
Born in 1929 in Ujpest, a suburb of Budapest, Hungary, Molnar was the older of two sons of a moderately wealthy Jewish man in the construction business. His life prior to World War II was quite normal. He attended public school, mixed with all kinds of children, and recalls very little anti-Semitism. Watch Mr. Molnar tell his story at Studies in the Holocaust with Paul Molnar, Holocaust Survivor