Fear. Sickness. Beatings. Hunger. Lack of sleep.
“It was terrible,” Holocaust survivor George Levy Mueller told 8th graders at Humphrey Middle School Friday afternoon. “The Nazis were capable of anything.”
The 83-year-old Mueller, who now lives in Glen Ellyn, captivated students with the story of his journey from a happy 8-year-old in Germany to a teen-ager in concentration camps and ultimately to freedom once World War II ended.
Near the end of his ordeal “I was so hungry, I gnawed on a piece of wood” and “I had hundreds of lice running all over my body.”
It all began in northwest Germany where he lived in a nice house and his father owned his own business. But in 1938, things began to change.
“They burned all the synagogues and began beating up Jewish people,” Mueller said.
His mother, father and younger sister were forced to leave their home and move into a very crowded home with other families. And soon his father was taken to a concentration camp, only to return six weeks later so sick that he died.
In April 1939, his mother was able to send Mueller and his sister to Holland, but she did not accompany the then 8-and 4-year-olds.
“I’ll never forget waving to her as the train left the station,” Mueller said. “That was the last time I ever saw her.”
A guardian took charge of them in Holland where they stayed in a convent with nuns who were part of the “underground resistance.” But a year later the Germans overran Holland in five days and they made all Jewish people wear a yellow star.
“I was in third grade. It was very embarrassing,” Mueller said. “It was like standing in the corner with a dunce cap on every day.”
In 1943, after going into hiding for a while, they were sent to Vught Concentration Camp in Holland.
“It was like walking into a different world,” he said. “We didn’t get a lot to eat. The food was terrible. It was dirty. It was crowded. And there were a lot of beatings.”
But what everyone most feared was the regular posting of lists of people who were transported to what turned out to be “death camps.” Mueller believes he and his sister never made the list because their Dutch guardian had forged some paperwork that said they were only half Jewish.
In September 1943, they were moved to another concentration camp in Holland and in 1944 they took a “transport” to the same camp in Germany where Anne Frank died.
“It was really, really cold there and everybody was sick,” Mueller said as he recalled wearing shoes and clothing with holes in them and feces everywhere. “We were very weak and very thin. We got bread every three days. The bread was made with sawdust.”
In April 1945, he and his sister boarded what is now called “the lost transport” which wandered around Germany for 13 days, stopping only to bury the dead…and there were many who died because there was no food and “we were crowded like sardines.”
Liberation came on the 13th day.
“One morning I heard a woman yell ‘We’re free! We’re free!’ and I looked out the window and saw Russian soldiers,” he said. “It was one of the happiest days of my life.
Mueller came to America in 1947.