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Erich Kary

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00:00:00 Background

00:04:50 Zionist youth movement

00:10:57 Deportation/selection

00:17:26 Daily life and survival in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp

00:35:47 Death marches/liberation

00:46:45 Postwar period

“[I] stood in front of Mother and asked, ‘Now tell me: Why are they saying I’m different from everybody I’ve been playing with until today?’ She tried to explain it to me. In the end, we both were bawling. We didn’t understand it. And if you want the honest truth: to this day, I still don’t.”[1]


Erich Kary was born in Angerburg, East Prussia, on November 28, 1924. He came from a very low-income background. His father, Sigmund Kary, made the rounds of the villages and bought rags, iron, and paper for resale as “raw products.” Erich, still a child, worked as a shoemaker’s helper to supplement the family’s income. His brother Alfred, four years older, managed to emigrate to Israel through the Hachsharah program in 1938, and there he changed his name to Tuvia. Their father went to England in 1938; their mother, Klara Kary (née Schaul), was supposed to follow, but leaving Germany soon became impossible. In November 1939, she sent Erich to the Hachsharah camp at Winkel near Berlin, and from there he went to Hachsharah’s Ahrensdorf camp in 1940.


When Hachscharah was banned in 1941, Erich Kary had to leave Ahrensdorf, and he was sent to the Neuendorf labor camp to do forced labor. In March 1943, the Gestapo took him to the transit camp on Grosse Hamburger Strasse in Berlin, along with his mother, who in the meantime had also been taken to Neuendorf for forced labor. On April 19, 1943, they were deported to Auschwitz, where the SS sent Erich’s mother to be killed in the gas chambers at Birkenau. Erich, selected as a forced laborer for I.G. Farben, was placed in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp. He had to work in the cable-laying detachment, in a warehouse, and finally as a mechanic. He became foreman of mechanics’ detachment no. 80. On January 18, 1945, the SS forced Erich Kary and thousands of other prisoners to go on the death march to Gleiwitz. He was transported again, to the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, for more forced labor. In April 1945, the SS forced the prisoners to leave Mittelbau-Dora again and march to the Wöbbelin concentration camp in Mecklenburg, passing through Osterode and Ravensbrück along the way. The SS left the camp on May 2, 1945, and only a few hours later the U.S. Army reached Wöbbelin and began helping the liberated prisoners.


With three friends, Erich Kary went to the nearby town of Ludwigslust, where they stayed with the parents of a former Monowitz inmate, Eduard Besch. In the neighboring town of Techentin, he met Ruth Qaiser in the home of a farmer; they married, settled down in Ludwigslust, and had a son and a daughter. Erich Kary began working for a privately owned grocery wholesaling firm, which became a state-owned enterprise several years later. There Erich Kary attained the position of plant section manager. Erich Kary continues to serve on a volunteer basis as a contemporary witness at the monument and memorial site in Wöbbelin, a former subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp.

(MN; transl. KL)



Erich Kary, oral history interview [Ger.], August 17, 2007. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.

[1] Erich Kary, oral history interview [Ger.], August 17, 2007. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.