John Fisher commemorates Holocaust survivor Eugene Black, who died on 26th September.
Holocaust survivor Eugene Black, who has died aged 88, was born Jeno Schwarcz on 9th February 1928, in what was then the Czech-Hungarian town of Munkacs. Growing up in a prosperous family, he helped his father, Bela Bence in his tailoring business.
His main interest was football and he would regularly refer to the historic victory of the Hungarian national side over England at Wembley in the 1950s. His love of football however was indelibly linked to the day in May 1944 when, returning home from a game of soccer, he and his parents and two of his sisters, Paula and Jolan, were arrested and transported in cattle wagons, along with thousands of other Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The journey took three days. On arrival he was separated from his family and never saw them again. Eugene was selected for slave labour and sent first to the Little Camp in Buchenwald concentration camp. German records show that after a short stay he was taken with 1,000 Hungarian Jews to the Dora Mittelbau camp where he endured terrible conditions and made to work long hours in the underground rocket factory tunnels, carrying stone and debris. There was little food and no sanitation.
By November 1944 he became seriously ill and following treatment by a humane German doctor, who in all likelihood saved his life, was sent to a smaller camp, Harzungen, where he remained a slave labourer but on so-called ‘light duties’. During this period he went on long marches to places of work, often walking through villages and being spat at and verbally abused by the local civilian population.
Finally, in March 1945 he was again transported in a cattle wagon over many days with fellow prisoners, being denied food or water, to northern Germany, and sent then on a forced march to infamous Bergen-Belsen. Liberation by the British Army occurred on 15th April; had it been later he would not in all probability have survived.
Yet survive he did. After a short period working as an interpreter for the British Army he travelled to England in 1949, marrying Annie whom he had met in Germany who also worked for the army. They raised four children, two boys and two girls. Eugene gained employment with Marks and Spencer, graduating from a porter in Manchester to a senior management role across the north of England. Those were arguably his happiest days, with a contented family life and a burgeoning career with a prime UK retailer.
In the 1990s, like many of his generation, Eugene faced up to the challenge of confronting his experiences. After giving his testimony for the first time to the Shoah Foundation, he became an active member of the Leeds-based Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association (HSFA), undertaking regular, and sometimes taxing, visits to schools, colleges and clubs, and on two occasions to events organised by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, where he described his experiences and entreated his audiences to fight intolerance and oppression, inspiring thousands of young people at home and overseas.
He was to return to Germany and Poland. In 2007, accompanied by his eldest daughter Lilian, he visited the German Nazi archives in Bad Arolsen where to his horror he discovered the fate of his two sisters. They had not, as assumed, perished at Auschwitz but had been selected for slave labour and sent to a sub-camp of Buchenwald at Gelsenkirchen. They worked at an oil refinery carrying materials from the canal banks to the factory.
In September 1944, along with 150 Hungarian Jewish women, they were killed in an RAF bombing raid, having been denied access by the SS to the air-raid shelters. He never returned to Munkacs, now located in the Ukraine, but his daughter Lilian did some years ago and even found the original family home.
He died peacefully with his surviving children close by. Sadly, both his wife Annie and youngest child Gloria passed away before him. Eugene will be missed by so many who loved his spirit, cheeky smile, gentle humour and sheer love of life.