How soup helped St. Louisan Oskar Jakob survive the Holocaust


Irving and Oskar Jakob, 1946

St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, Special For The Jewish Light

Today, we tell the remarkable story of Oskar Jakob a St. Louisan who survived five camps before being liberated by the British. The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum is allowing us to republish portions of their  Oral Histories Project, as a celebration of life and a crucial part of honoring and remembering the past. Please follow the provided links to additional recordings.

Oskar Jakob

Oskar Jakob was born in Simlul, Romania in 1930.  When he was three years old, his family moved to Dobra, a small town near Satmar. The fact that they were the only Jewish family in the community made Oskar’s life difficult, sometimes painful. They often visited his grandparents who lived in the next town.

In the early 1940’s, Oskar’s father was taken for forced labor by the Hungarian army. While his father was gone, Oskar – being the oldest child – had to earn money for their family’s living.

On May 4, 1944, Oskar’s family was taken by Hungarian and German Nazis. First they were taken to an open field and kept there for two weeks. The sanitary conditions were quickly worsening. They had no food and no water. Praying was forbidden also.

After two weeks they were put on a train, about 180 people into a boxcar, and were transported to Birkenau (a death camp in Poland, also called Auschwitz II). They had no food, no water, and inhuman conditions. After arriving, Oskar was separated from his mother, sister, and brother. He, his father, and cousin Erwin were able to stay together.

In the camp, whenever they had the opportunity, they volunteered for work since they thought that it might help them to stay alive.  First they were bricklayers. Beatings, punishments, hangings frequently occurred.

A few months later they were transferred from Birkenau to the city of Auschwitz, where they worked as masons. Though the living conditions were slightly better, the work was extremely hard: many times they were working and crying from the pain at the same time, as Oskar says.

Oskar Jakob saved his father

At one point Oskar’s father got sick and, since he couldn’t work, he was not given any food. Oskar had managed to share his ration with his father, but as he remembers, it was very difficult since the ration that they were given was hardly more than nothing. But still they managed, and his father’s health improved.

In January 1945, as the Russian army was approaching, the prisoners were transferred to a camp called Althammer, a satellite camp of Auschwitz. They had to march three days and three nights in bitter cold, without any food or water.

Soon they were sent deeper inside Germany on a train to Dora, a camp near Nordhausen. After arriving, they were forced to carry and pile up the thousands of dead bodies of the people who died on the train during the transport. Oskar recalls this as a horrible experience. Later on they were again put to work: lifting and carrying sections of rockets for the German army.

A few weeks afterwards, they were put again on trains, under horrible conditions, and after five days they arrived at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany. As the Allies were approaching, many of the German officers had already fled, and Hungarian soldiers were left watching the camp prisoners.

Though the living conditions were awful, the guards were not as thorough as before. Oskar once found a piece of bone from a horse and he was able to cook a “soup” from it with his father. Even the smell of the soup was able to give strength and hope for them. This soup may have been what they needed to help them hold on during the last days.

Oskar Jakob is liberated

On April 15, 1945, Oskar Jakob was a prisoner at Bergen-Belsen when British tanks arrived and announced their liberation. Despite their release from Nazi control, the prisoners did not have the energy to be jubilant; many of the prisoners even died following the liberation because of their bodies’ inability to handle a sudden intake of food provided by the Sixth British Army soldiers.

Oskar’s father and cousin were still with him in the camp. Through mutual support of each other, and the rations provided by the liberating army, Oskar and his family were able regain their strength and health over the next several months. As soon as they were able, his family, as well as the other Jews in the camps, began communicating with other camps trying to locate surviving family members. Oskar’s mother, brother, sister, and a young cousin were all lost during their imprisonment at Auschwitz. Oskar’s father did, however, vaguely remember the address of a cousin in the Bronx whom he soon contacted.

Oskar Jakob, his father, and his cousin managed to get back on their feet through donations from Germans, as well as stealing from abandoned German houses or anywhere they could find food, clothes, and supplies. Together, the three of them moved to Frankfurt in 1946 where they became involved in the development of the Jewish community and used black marketeering of American goods to earn some money. Later, when Oskar’s father would travel to Paris in hopes of emigrating to the U.S., Oskar and Irving (Erwin?) became partners in a group that would open a successful kosher deli in Frankfurt.

In 1949, the U.S. consulate contacted them, and in August of that year he was able to immigrate into the United States. Oskar Jakob settled in St. Louis where he lived with his wife Margo, and their two children. His cousin, whom he remained close to, lived in New York.

David, Oskar, Herman, Sari, Joe, Lilly, Magda, and Irving Jakob