You know, it was such a terrible thing to happen to my country. I’d always grown up with a memory of the Nazis coming in and killing part of my family and all that, and then we were so looking forward to a peaceful, democratic world after the War was going to be over and we weren’t going to have any…
When the deportation of the Jewish population started in 1942, my parents, to protect me, put me in an orphanage that was run by Catholic nuns in Bratislava. So I was there for two years. Fortunately, my parents were not put into a concentration camp, mainly because my mother was a physician and they needed physicians even during the War.
We were washing dishes and the soldiers showed up and told my mother and my father that we need to pack up something that we can carry on our backs and we are going to leave. So we were taken to the camp in – the concentration camp – in Žilina. You know the difference, there is a concentration camp and there is an extermination camp, so we were just taken to the first place.
There was no rabbi or synagogue to really practice the religion. My parents were Holocaust survivors. They didn’t go to any concentration camp, but they survived in hiding and they were afraid to practice, but we always knew from people that we are Jews because kids in school made fun of us and even the teacher would not favor us, knowing that we were Jewish.
They had machine guns, but my mother kept yelling ‘Italiano!’ She thought they were Italians, she was hoping they were Italians. They were not, unfortunately. They took us back to that little house, and on the other side of the road they had caught a man who was Polish, trying to escape. And these soldiers were young kids; they were 18 to 21, they were kicking this man, they were beating him on the floor.
They had to stay with us, in our home, and never move out, never even open the window when mother and I were gone to the office in the morning. They knew they cannot move because you can hear on the lower floor that somebody is walking up there. My first thing here in America, anywhere I went, I would always listen – can I hear the people from above?
I think that the most incredible period for me personally, for us as a young generation at that time, was the invasion of rock and roll. The music. Rock and roll culture. Radio Luxembourg. For us it was a fascinating world because we thought that if this is possible, something over there must be right.
So I, at the age of ten or eleven, had to give up my skis, my ice skates, my sled and my most prized possession of all, which was my red bicycle. I loved the red bicycle and I had to give that up. My mother told the story that I once came home crying because I saw a boy riding my bicycle.
In 1944, the Germans started taking away women who were, and who had been, married to Jewish men. And they had a camp, a slave labor camp, in Prague. And in that camp they manufactured windshields for German fighter airplanes. So my mother was taken to that camp. And before she left she hid me with some friends, actually farmers, that we had been living with after the Germans expelled us from our home.