Holocaust Survivor Speaks at TAMUG

May 7, 2008

Al Marks, a Holocaust survivor, spoke to students, faculty, staff and visitors at Texas A&M University at Galveston on Wednesday, May 7, 2008. Marks, who has been speaking about his experiences surrounding the Holocaust for just over ten years, shared his story and photographs at the request of Professor David Lawhon who teaches History of the Holocaust at TAMUG.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Marks was only thirteen when he was taken by cattle car where there was “no air, no food, no medicine,” to Auschwitz for internment. It was June 6, 1944. It was at the infamous gates of Auschwitz where he saw his parents for the last time. They were sent to one line and he another. He was then sent to the distribution camp Birkenau before being ferried down the Danube River to Mauthausen, a work camp. Marks explained to the audience that the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” that adorned the entryways of many concentration camps, mean “Work Shall Make You Free.”

While interned, the barracks at the camp where he was mistakenly bombed. It was not until years later that Marks learned he still had a piece of shrapnel in his lung from the resulting explosion. From Mauthausen, he was sent to the sub-camp Melk where he was sent to help dig tunnels. Prisoners worked six days a week, surviving on weekly rations smaller than a Happy Meal at McDonalds. Prisoners from Melk were forced on a three-day Death March to Ebensee, where Marks was liberated in May 1945.

Guards told the prisoners that liberation would never happen for two reasons, Marks explained. “We will win the war and even if we don’t win the war, we will still have enough time in the last minute to execute you.” The day before the camp was liberated, Nazi guards tried to send all of the prisoners into the tunnels. The prisoners, in a bold act of defiance, refused to go because they knew that the tunnels meant imminent death. He said, “We knew the end was near but we didn’t know how near.”

He spent thirty years wishing to be reunited with his liberators when he discovered their identities on a commemorative plaque during a visit to Ebensee. Since then, he and the surviving liberators reunite annually. Those liberators include the soldier who drove the first tank through the gates of Ebensee. Ebensee was liberated by the U.S. Army 3rd Calvary division.

At the end of his presentation, Marks answered questions for the audience. When asked what kept him going while in the camps, he said “There was always that maybe hoping (sic) for something event though it may not happen. It was not easy to find that strength.”

Marks lives in Houston with his wife of fifty-two years. After coming to the United States from Ebensee, he spent a brief time in New York City before relocating to Houston – a city which he had never even heard of. Two years later he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After serving in the military, he worked his way through music school and went on to a successful career as an orchestra leader.

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