Chaim-Zvi Lorenz: A Young Jawischowitz Survivor at the Children's Home in Ecouis, France

Chaim-Zvi Lorenz at the children's home in Taverny, France, 1946

Chaim-Zvi Lorenz (Lörincz, Lerincz) was born in 1929 in the village of Nyírlugos, in northeastern Hungary, to parents Shmuel-Mordechai and Chana née Gottlieb. Shmuel and Chana lived in Chana's parents' house in the village center, and they had nine more children: Magda (b. 1928), Esther (b. 1931), Sheindel (b. 1933), Hinda (b. 1935), Yitzhak (b. 1938), Elazar (b. 1940), Shimon (b. 1943), and another daughter and son who died in infancy.

Shmuel owned a grocery store and a tavern, and the family maintained a religious Jewish lifestyle. In 1930, 145 Jews lived in Nyírlugos, and the village had one synagogue.  When the tavern closed and the grocery store went out of business, Shmuel started trading in furs, and struggled to make a living.  Chaim started going to Heder at age three, and to the village primary school at age six.

In 1941, Shmuel and other Jewish men from the village were drafted to Hungarian Army forced labor battalions, leaving their families without a breadwinner.  In order to keep the Jewish dietary laws, Shmuel did not eat the food supplied by the Army, and received dry food parcels from home.  A few months later, Shmuel was released and returned home.  In early 1944, an acquaintance came to visit, who warned Shmuel of what was to come and advised him to flee to Romania.  Shmuel wondered: "How will we escape and cross the border with eight small children and an elderly grandmother?" Magda, the eldest daughter, moved in with relatives in Budapest. 

On 19 March 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary, and in April, the day after Passover, the Jews of Nyírlugos were ordered to stay inside their homes and wait for the gendarmes and the clerk who would come to register them and collect their valuables.  A second announcement followed, ordering the Jews to take their personal belongings and to gather in the synagogue courtyard.  There, rumors circulated that everyone would be sent to work in agriculture until the end of the war.  The following day, the Jews of Nyírlugos, including the Lorenz family, were taken to Nyíregyháza and confined in a ghetto there.  Due to the immense overcrowding in the ghetto, they were moved to a nearby tobacco farm that was teeming with lice, and had no sanitation facilities or running water.  The men were taken for forced labor.  After some three weeks, probably on 22 May, the Jews were taken to the train station in Nyíregyháza and loaded onto freight trains.  The trains stopped in Kosice where more Jews were crammed into the cars.  Some three days later, they arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  During the selection, Chana and the little children were separated from Shmuel and Chaim.  Shmuel managed to pull 14-year-old Chaim along with him, and they became camp inmates.  Two days later, veteran prisoners told them that  Chana and the other children had all been murdered in the gas chambers. 

Shmuel and Chaim were sent to forced labor at the Jawischowitz sub-camp of Auschwitz, where Shmuel worked mining coal, and Chaim and other youngsters sorted through the coal and removed stones.  "Even in the camp", relates Chaim, "We knew when to mark the Sabbath and the festivals… There were people who made sure to remember the dates, and not one festival went by without prayers in small or large groups, during our breaks.  Each individual recited what he remembered by heart, and the others repeated after him.  I also remembered quite a few prayers".

After some three months at Jawischowitz, Shmuel was injured while helping another prisoner in the mine, and was hospitalized in the camp infirmary.  A doctor there operated on his leg, and he seemed to be recovering.  Chaim came to visit him whenever he was allowed.  On one occasion, Chaim arrived at the infirmary and couldn't find his father.  He was told that he had been taken to Auschwitz with all the other patients.  Chaim was left entirely alone.  He later heard that his older sister Magda had been in one of the protected houses in Budapest, but had been deported to the Dachau concentration camp. Her fate is unknown. 

On 19 January 1945, the camp was evacuated, and the prisoners forced on a death march.  Each inmate received a loaf of bread, a few lumps of sugar and a blanket.  The snow was knee-deep, and everyone who lagged behind was shot.  Many prisoners perished of exhaustion and hunger on the way, or froze to death.  They were loaded onto open cattle cars for part of the journey.  The survivors of the march reached the Buchenwald concentration camp.  Chaim was taken to the "Small Camp" and placed in the block for children and youth, where the conditions were slightly better than in the adult barracks.  On 11 April, the US Army liberated Buchenwald.

In June 1945, Chaim left Buchenwald with a group of children under the auspices of the OSE and reached France.  Recalling his arrival at the children's home in Écouis, France, Chaim relates:

We were around 500 children.  We arrived in France, and they were waiting for us. … They had been allocated a kind of palace for a time, where they took us in.  They thought that children were coming, so they organized beds and sheets like sleeping bags for us, that were suitable for little children, blankets and a toy on each bed. … When we arrived, they left us outside. There was a medical check to see if any of the children were sick… it was not a good feeling.  Who knew what they would do to us? Disinfection? We were scared… later we understood that they had thought that little children were coming so they had prepared nice rooms for us, and they had to collect everything up and organize things differently. 

The children's home in Écouis closed in late August.  Chaim was moved to the children's home in Taverny, which was designated for religious children.  At Taverny, the children studied French, English and Hebrew, to equip them for their future.  Chaim also learned carpentry.  The older children prepared themselves for illegal immigration to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine).  One of the younger ones, Chaim wanted to go with them, but the counsellors at the children's home persuaded him to wait for a "Certificate", and not to take the risk.

In April 1946, Chaim immigrated to Eretz Israel.  After a short stay at the camp in Atlit, he moved to a children's institution in Kfar Saba, and then to the "Kol Torah" Yeshiva in Jerusalem.   He enlisted in the Lehi, and fought in the War of Independence in Jerusalem.  In 1949, he joined the IDF and volunteered to serve in the Navy Seals Unit as a diver. After his release from the army, he studied carpentry, moved to Nir Etzion, returned to Jerusalem and opened a carpentry workshop.  In 1962, he married Zehava, a Holocaust survivor and they had three sons, and fostered a fourth.  After Zehava passed away, Chaim married Vered.

In 2005, Chaim Lorenz submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of his parents Chana and Shmuel, his grandmother Raizel, his sisters Magda, Esther, Sheindel and Hinda, and his brothers Yitzhak, Elazar and Shimon.