Ernst Lobethal (Wrocław 6 February 1923 – New York 1 October 2012), aka Ernest Lobet, was a German Jew,. He was a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The book The Man who Broke into Auschwitz talks extensively about his internment in Auschwitz.
BiographyHis father, Rudolf Lobethal, an affluent manager, fled to South Africa with most of the family patrimony. His mother, Freda Silberstine, died shortly after in 1932. He was interned into an orphanage, then entrusted to a foster family and later he lived with his disabled grandmother, that he supported working in a Exhaust Tyre Recycling Factory in 1941-42.
In January 1943 he was deported to Auschwitz in one of the last deportation trains from Breslau.
Experiences in AuschwitzIn Buna-Monowitz he was assigned to a construction commando, but he bought the benevolence of a kapo with the 100 Marks note that he kept hidden in his belt, and managed to get a better job computing statistics in a civilian office.
He casually met a British POW, "Ginger" (Denis Avey) who wrote a letter to Ernst's sister in Birmingham. Two months later he received 10 packs of cigarettes from his sister, and this small patrimony allowed him to improve his standard of life in the camp.
The Death MarchesOn 18 January 1945, while the Russians were approaching, he was evacuated in a "death march" to Gleiwitz, some 65 Km away, with 10 thousand people from Buna and 30 thousand from Auschwitz III. Most of the prisoners died of cold and exhaustion along the march. The march lasted 24 hours without any stop. It is estimated that out of the 40-45 thousand who left Auschwitz, only 25 thousand survived the march.
Ernst put himself at the head of the column, knowing that the first to arrive would be the better accommodated. He was then put in a cattle car, without roof, 80 people in a wagon, and moved to Mauthausen, with no food and drinking melted snow along the trip. The Mauthausen camp was full so they where shipped to another camp in Czechoslovakia. During this trip he lost his eyesight - probably for malnutrition. While crossing Czechoslovakia, the local population was tracking the passage of the train and were throwing food to the inmates from the bridges.
In his own words:
"as we were passing these overpasses in Czechoslovakia the passing of the train somehow was being telegraphed from place to place within Czechoslovakia and obviously if you were standing on an overpass the sight that you must have seen must have been something to behold for I don't know how many cattle cars there were but they were all open and inside you had these zebra clad skeletons huddled together listless like cows being slaughtered, being led to the slaughter house and obviously some of these Czechs had come with bread and they threw that from the overpass into the cars. Through our entire trip through Austria where of course you also had lots of overpasses and lots of civilians see what was passing underneath and through our entire trip through Germany after we left Czechoslovakia we would never again receive as much as a slice of bread from any of these Austrians or Germans "
Mittelbau Dora and MauthausenAt the end of the evacuation he was assigned to work as a bricklayer aid in the tunnels of Mittelbau Dora, the V2 rocket factory built into a mountain. In Mittelbau Dora the work and living conditions were appalling, so he pretended to be a locksmith and was transferred to Mauthausen in February 1945. Out of 6000 inmates only 1500 were alive 6 weeks later, because of the extreme malnutrition.
Liberation and emigration to USAOn 11 April 1945 he survived an Allied bombing of the barracks with incendiary bombs, and manages to escape from the destroyed camp, and joins the USA troops who accommodate him in a hotel in Sondershausen.
He was given a pass to reach Paris, where he earned his life for some months with informal street commerce of G.I. cigarettes. Then he got a job as an taxi stand boy for the American Red Cross.
Eventually he found a sponsor to immigrate to USA where he landed in NY on Labor Day 1 Sept 1947, on the ship Marine Flasher. He immediately had his tattooed lager number removed and he changed his name into Ernest Lobet. He was soon after drafted and sent to fight in Korean War. After meeting his former schoolmate Henry Kamm he decided to go back to college and graduated in Engineering, then in Law. He married and had 3 children.