After hearing recent comparisons of ICE detention centers to concentration camps, as well as President Trump’s immigration policies being labeled as “fascist,” California resident and Holocaust survivor Piri Katz, 91, decided to share her incredible story and speak out in the president’s defense.
“It bothers me when people misjudge others without knowing them. [Don’t] just judge and say all kinds of hateful things,” Katz told The Epoch Times.
“How dare they compare Trump to Nazis or to Hitler. They have no idea what it was like to be under Hitler’s Nazi regime. To call him those names and put him down just made me so angry.”
Katz said it’s wrong to compare the treatment of immigrants by the United States and prisoners under the Nazi regime.
“I came here legally. No one is forcing you to come to this country. There’s a big difference between a chain link fence, which is around every school, and barbed wire with Nazi guards and electric fences and machine guns,” she said.
To highlight the difference between ICE detention centers and Nazi concentration camps, Katz, who was joined by her daughter Cherol, told The Epoch Times her story of survival, loss, resilience, and redemption against insurmountable odds.
Piri Katz, maiden name Gross, was born on Nov. 18, 1927 in the small Carpathian mountain town of Tibiva, Czechoslovakia in what is modern-day Ukraine, along the Slovakian border. She was the seventh of 11 children to Orthodox Jewish parents Volf Hersh and Chaya Blima Gross.
Nazi Occupation and Abduction
In 1944, during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the nation was split in two, with the Jewish community constantly harassed by the Nazi occupying forces.
“We were just a normal family. We had a lot of acres of land and two water mills. On Friday nights, we would have a Sabbath [dinner at] a big table with all the children eating. One night the Nazis came. They pulled the tablecloth and everything fell on the floor: the food, the candles, everything. We got scared, so my father said, ‘Quiet, quiet. Go in your bedrooms, don’t be afraid.’”
She continued, “My parents were talking to them and tried to get rid of them, but they just tried to destroy everything they could. Then, they finally left. This was going on for a while. They would keep coming. Anytime they knew that there was a Jewish family, they would try to destroy things, to break things, to take things away from you, so you would have nothing.”
Katz’s two oldest sisters had non-Jewish friends that would warn them on a regular basis to hide their belongings when the Nazis were coming.
“They said ‘close the drapes, and close everything so that nobody would know that you were Jewish,” she said.
During this time, Katz’s cousins, who had lived in Poland, fled the occupation and hid in her family’s barn in order to evade capture.
Her cousins were eventually found by the authorities. One was dragged to his death, and the other one was shot by German troops. No one from that family survived.
The constant harassment came to an end one day during Jewish Passover when the forces rounded up Katz, who was 14 at the time, with the rest of her family.
“One day, they came and said we have to leave, we have to get ready to go. [We asked] where are we going? They didn’t say where, what, or how,” she said.
Katz and her family were taken to the Munkacs Ghetto by Nazi soldiers with the help of local law enforcement.
“We couldn’t take much. We had some oranges, some apples, but nothing else. What can you do? You couldn’t take much,” she said.
The Munkacs Ghetto
When Katz’s family arrived, there were already dead and dying people in the street. They had to sleep on their suitcases. They had no food, no water, and no bathrooms. Katz’s mother and a married sister had fortunately packed a limited amount of food, which lasted the family three months.
“When we got taken to the ghetto, it was a brick factory. We had to carry bricks and line them up,” she said.
Prisoners were constantly beaten and killed by the Nazi guards. People were shot for looking at the guards the wrong way. If anyone questioned why they were there or why they had to do the work, they were shot.
“They all had bayonets on the ends of their guns. A lot of times, they would see little kids. They were crying [because] they were hungry, starving and they would take bayonets and just stab like you would a piece of steak [until] the child would die. They would [also] throw children in the air and shoot [them],” Katz said.
After being in Munkacs for months, they were then sent to Auschwitz.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Katz and her family, along with other prisoners in the ghetto, were hoarded into cattle cars with no windows, operable doors, or anywhere to sit. She and her family remained on the train for a week.
The prisoners were forced to stand in their own feces and vomit for the entirety of the trip, with no food or water. A number of prisoners fainted from standing for days and even died before arriving to Auschwitz. A pot in the corner of the cattle car was the only form of a bathroom for the prisoners.
After the grueling train ride, the doors to the train were flung open. Nazi guards began beating, shoving, and forcing the surviving prisoners out and separating them into groups.
She described the situation as chaotic. People were pushed, shoved, shot and hit. The guards even resorted to having their German shepherds tear prisoners apart. The event was so traumatizing that Katz has since never wanted a dog in her house.
“There were men with guns shouting, ‘You go this way, you go that way!’ They took my two older sisters with their kids. They took my parents one way. Me and my younger sister went a different way. [They] were telling everyone which way to go. Who’s to live and who’s to die,” she said.
The guards at Auschwitz were inspecting the prisoners to see who was capable of working, while immediately executing those who couldn’t. Katz and her younger sister, Ruchel, were deemed eligible to work, while her parents, most of her younger siblings, eldest married sisters and their children were gassed.
Katz’s father was in tears just prior to their separation over the fact that her younger brother, who was just shy of 13, was unable to have his Bar Mitzvah. Katz’s last memory of her family was being torn from them at the gates of Auschwitz.
Katz, Ruchel, and their three friends Ruchele from Zhikava, Katz, and Lily, were taken, had their heads shaved, their jewelry removed, and anything of value stolen.
“I had this little necklace and they just stripped everything. Some [people] got choked when they pulled [off] everything, some people just fainted. They were just trying to strip everything. Whatever you had,” she said.
Every morning the prisoners were required to quickly stand at attention to do roll call, or they would get shot or beaten. Katz’s number was 20,444.
Katz’s younger sister was very weak, and Katz would attempt to help her sister stand, but the guards would beat her for trying to do so.
“I would hold her so she wouldn’t faint and they would beat me, and I wouldn’t get food for three days because I wasn’t standing like a soldier.”
When they did receive food, it was often a small, stale piece of bread, sometimes accompanied with a cup of water. The girls always had to decide whether to drink it or attempt to bathe with it.
“We would just look at each other [and ask] should we drink, wash our face, who cares? We would just do that so we could live, so that we could survive.”
The Gas Chamber
Katz said that prisoners didn’t last long in Auschwitz. People were either transferred to another camp or they were killed.
Nazi guards often warned the prisoners, while pointing at the smoke coming from the crematoria, that if they didn’t behave they would end up in the ovens just like their parents and their family.
The girls knew that eventually they would end up in the gas chambers as well. One day, the five girls were taken to be gassed with a large group. They were brought to a lower level room where they were to be stripped down before entering the chamber. On the wall at the top of the room, there was a small window looking down upon them. This was their way out, their way to survival. The five girls climbed upon each other’s shoulders, managed to break the window, and pulled each other up to the outside level ground, escaping their demise.
The five girls then ran to a group that was leaving Auschwitz and going to Geislingen, a work camp in Germany. The girls realized that going to the back of the line would get them caught and sent back to the camp, where they would surely be executed. So, instead they ran to the middle front. When the guards counted, they realized they had five too many and took the last five people in line back to Auschwitz.
Despite all odds, the five brave girls escaped the most notorious death camp in modern human history. But, their story didn’t end there.
Geislingen Labor Camp
Upon arriving to Geislingen, the girls were slave laborers, carrying heavy rocks on wheelbarrows for building projects. The guards would do everything to humiliate the prisoners. They barely slept and had almost nothing to eat. Female prisoners were raped and some had their breasts cut off.
Katz described one incident at Geislingen as especially heartbreaking.
“There was a woman who was pregnant in our barrack. No one knew she was pregnant but she gave birth in the camp. And because the baby was crying, they [had to] smother the baby. If the Nazis knew she had a baby, they would have killed the whole group,” she said.
Many of Katz’s friends who survived were fed poison in their food at the camps in order to make them infertile — part of the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish race.
Cherol, Katz’s daughter, explained that it wasn’t until much later that she found out many of her mother’s friends’ children were adopted.
“I grew up with so many people in our synagogue. I didn’t know until many years later that many of the children I went to school with were adopted for the most part,” she said.
Transfer to Dachau
In 1945, towards the end of the war, Katz, her sister, and her friends were transferred to Dachau as German forces lost ground in their fight against Allied forces.
Upon arrival, everyone knew that this was the end of the line and they wouldn’t be leaving alive. They were taken on marches in the snow regularly where many prisoners met their death. Others developed typhus and other deadly diseases from lack of medical care and malnutrition.
At one point, Katz’s sister, Ruchel was dying of starvation. Katz and the other girls decided to sneak into a food storage area in the concentration camp to steal some potatoes for her sister. While the other girls were able to sneak out, Katz was caught after slipping and falling on the potatoes.
Katz’s punishment was to stand out in the snow for 72 hours while armed guards with dogs hit her and yelled at her. If she so much as bobbed her head, the guards would bring the angry dogs close up to instill fear into her.
The harsh treatment continued for weeks until they were once again loaded onto another cattle car, this time to a killing field.
Word spread that the prisoners were to be taken to a field to dig their own graves and be shot by Nazis with machine guns. They prayed and hoped that some sort of divine intervention would save them from what was to come.
On their way to the field, they heard gunshots and the train came to an abrupt stop. The cattle cars swung open, and to their surprise the men waiting on the other side were not Nazi guards ready to execute them, but American soldiers.
The adults on the train began shouting “Americans! Americans!” The prisoners on the train began hugging the American soldiers and kissing them.
“They were afraid, because we were kissing their feet and thanking them for freeing us. When they opened up the cattle cars and saw a lot of dead people, they were silent and they couldn’t believe the [sight] of death,” said Katz.
She said she learned her first American phrase when the troops shouted, “Let’s go, let’s go!” to get all the prisoners off the train.
The United States troops didn’t know what to do with all the survivors, so they took them back to Dachau, which was turned into a displaced persons camp. They began handing out rations to the surviving prisoners. Some of them overindulged, and their stomachs burst from overeating after starving for so long, killing them.
Katz attempted to go back to her hometown to see if any of her relatives or neighbors had survived the war. To her dismay, she discovered that other people had moved into her home and had taken her family’s belongings. A childhood friend of Katz’s with whom she was very close had taken her favorite dress, and upon seeing Katz return, the girl was in shock, but refused to return the dress.
“She was my best friend and when we were friends, the two of us liked the same boy. When I came home she looked at me and said, ‘What? The Nazis didn’t kill you? Well you’re not getting this [back]. It’s not yours anymore.’ She wore my dress and my shoes. So, I decided to cry. I said, ‘I don’t care. You can take whatever you want.’ The way they were talking, I was afraid I was going to get killed, so I quickly left. I was afraid to be hurt in my own home,” she said.
A Soviet Prison
Katz lived in various displaced person camps for nearly five years before relocating to the United States. She had two siblings whom her father had sent to an aunt’s home in the states before the war broke out. Despite her aunt and siblings requesting assistance from numerous Jewish groups to bring Katz and her younger sister to the United States, they had to wait. During this time, her home region came under the control of the Soviets.
During that time, Katz was desperate to get her family out of communist territory and acquired multiple unclaimed passports, which eventually caught the eye of the authorities. She and her friend Belle were subsequently thrown into prison, where she was forced to scrub the floors. Katz grew fearful of one of the prison guards, who kept staring directly at her.
“I though he was going to rape me. He said his name and I looked at him. He [told me] he was one of my sister’s friends and he knew my older sister. He said ‘Listen, I’m going to send you out to a well to get some water and I am going to turn. If you disappear, I’m not going to come after you, but if you get caught, you’re on your own,’” she said.
Katz and a friend went out to the well at night, left their buckets, and ran. Near the prison was a potato field, where the two of them hid under potato branches, evading searches. Eventually, they caught a passing train, which took them to another displaced persons camp.
Finally Reaching America
After years of Katz’s relatives lobbying to get her into the United States, she finally settled with her sister Roselyn and brother Sydney in Detroit, Michigan, where they had lived since the war broke out. Katz went to night school to learn English and worked as a seamstress making drapes. She later met her husband, Dr. Milton Katz, who served in the US Army’s Company E 10th Infantry during the Battle of the Bulge.
After Milton’s death in 1968, Katz continued to work on bringing the remainder of her family to the United States. Her brother Zalman, sister Sheindl, and sister Ruchel finally arrived in the early 1970s.
Katz will be 92 years old in November, and she is grateful to have children and grandchildren to carry on the story of the Holocaust. She hopes that people in the United States will appreciate their freedom.
“You don’t know what it means to be free until you’ve had it and lost it,” she said.
When asked about her feelings on many politicians and leaders within the country like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Elizabeth Warren embracing socialism, Katz expressed her stern opposition to the ideology, having lived under both Nazism and Communism.
“Socialism is terrible. I don’t know who believes in it, but it’s very bad. Socialism is ‘what’s yours is mine’ and it’s just not right,” she said.
Speaking Up For Trump
Katz wrote a letter to the editor of multiple news publications, including The Epoch Times, to express her repulsion to comparing ICE detention centers with concentration camps. The letter briefly describes her experiences in Dachau, Auschwitz, and Geislingen, the horrors she saw, and how she barely made it out alive while most of her family were executed.
A portion of her letter is shown below:
As a Holocaust refugee, I waited in displaced persons camps for four years with
affidavits of support from family members to come to the United States legally. I was
not given free health care, education, and housing by the U.S. government. The U.S.
provided me with what I wanted most—freedom.
Those who support open borders should not compare or call U.S. border facilities
“concentration camps.” Let me tell you about concentration camps. In 1944, my family
was forcibly removed from our homes and taken to the Munkacs Ghetto for three
months with nothing but the little fruit and bread my mother packed us, sleeping next
to dying fellow Jews in the streets. We were then shoved like sardines into hot,
crowded cattle cars, standing for days without food, water, and only a pot for a
“bathroom.” In Auschwitz, I was forever separated from my father, mother, two
married sisters (each with two children), younger brothers and one sister who were all
murdered in the gas chambers; their bodies burned in the crematoria.
My sister and I with shaved heads, prison clothes, and numbers, were slave laborers in
Geislingen, and finally near death in Dachau until 1945 when we were liberated by the
American Army. Throughout this genocide, there were no warm showers, healthy
meals, sanitary restrooms or mattress bedding provided by U.S. authorities. On a daily
basis, people were tortured, starved to death, shot, and systematically murdered.
THAT is a concentration camp, and those in the media and Democrat party who fuel
hate by false comparisons denigrate all of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
I am a proud Jewish American, a 91-year old Holocaust Survivor.
I support President Donald Trump, whose deeds on behalf of all U.S. citizens, its Jewish people, and the State of Israel, are the reason I will support him again in 2020.
Katz also said that she hopes Americans will also be tolerant of others, regardless of their race or religious beliefs.
“I just would like everybody to get along, to respect each other for whatever religion, whatever color. We are all human beings. That’s the most important thing. I don’t care if somebody says this is their God. Who am I to judge? We are all human beings and we should respect each other as human beings,” she said.