Apr 27, 2010

'Jews and dogs are forbidden to enter'

by Cat Hewett

The crowd in the School of Law’s Supreme Courtroom Thursday filled every seat, but more people still poured inside. Soon the floor, stairways and walls were lined with people spilling out into the hallway. Finally the man they all came to see, Holocaust survivor Irving Roth, 80, stepped to the podium and told his story. 

Roth was 10 years old the first time he saw the sign hanging outside of the park he was trying to enter. The police officer standing in front stopped him from going inside.

“Jews and dogs are forbidden to enter.”

It was 1940 in Czechoslovakia. Germany’s Führer Adolf Hitler had invaded and anti-Semitic views had invaded with him. 

“(The non-Jews) don’t even see me,” Roth said. “I have gone invisible. They don’t protest (what is happening). Nothing.” 

Five years before, Roth had been a happy, care-free first-grader. He walked the pretty girl down the street to school every day and he played fullback for his soccer team, but then came 1940.

“Jews and dogs are forbidden to enter.”

Roth no longer walked the pretty girl down the street to school because she was not allowed to talk to him and he was not allowed inside the school. He was not even allowed outside after dark.

Soccer was taken from him too.

“So I get to the field,” Roth said. “I am about to change my shoes from the regular shoes to the soccer shoes. The coach tells me, ‘Don’t bother. We don’t want any Jews on our team.’

The year before that, Roth lost his jacket. Jews were no longer allowed to own luxuries and the fur lining of Roth’s jacket made it just that. Worse than that, Roth also lost his Roman Catholic nanny when laws were passed saying that non-Jews could not work for Jews.

“She was everything to me,” Roth said. “My love for her and her total love and devotion for me were inseparable. My wonderful nanny was gone.”

Roth’s mother’s cousin David could not handle the humiliation and killed himself.

“You might say that he was the first victim of the Holocaust in my family,” Roth said.

Roth’s father, Joe Roth, owned a business that made railroad ties, but Jewish businesses were being taken away from their owners. Fate favored the elder Roth, though. He had an Arian friend named Albert who had signed his wedding certificate and so Joe Roth signed his business over to his friend and gave him $1,000 a month for his help.

“Jews and dogs are forbidden to enter.”

Three months after they made the arrangement, Albert told Joe Roth he wanted 50 percent of the profits from the business. Then three months after that, Albert took full control.

“Albert comes to see my father and announces to him, ‘Joe, I like the way you are running my business, so I am not going to fire you, but it is my business and so are the profits,’” Roth said. “Betrayed by a friend of decades.”

The Slovak government decided they wanted to rid the country of its Jewish problem. They paid the Germans to take the Jews away. In one night, 90 percent of the Jewish population of Roth’s town was crammed into a synagogue that normally accommodated 600 people.

“For a day and a half, the Jews of my city are inside this building with no bathrooms and no water,” Roth said. “On Sunday afternoon, the trains arrived — 1,800 out of 2,000 Jews disappear. I don’t.”

Irving Roth’s family was safe for the moment, because his father was still running Albert’s business, but almost daily, the other Jewish families left in the town began to disappear.

“We realized, ‘We are not going to last,’” Roth said. “‘Sooner or later we will all be gone.’”

Irving Roth and his family decided to leave their home and flee to Hungary to work. Roth, his brother and parents all entered the country legally, while his grandparents had to be smuggled into the country illegally.

“Hungary decides the only way to deal with the Jews is get something out of them real,” Roth said. “The real thing is labor, free labor, for as long as they want.”

For some time, their life seemed to have gotten better.

“Jews and dogs are forbidden to enter.”

Their time in Hungary was limited. In 1943, Roth’s parents left for Budapest to find work. Roth stayed with his family waiting for the war to end. 

“Germany was going to lose the war and all I needed to do was to hold out,” Roth said.

In April 1944, every Jew in Hungary was placed in a temporary ghetto. Then the trains started to arrived again. 

“By the time May of 1944 comes along, I am in a box car with my brother and my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, 90 people stuffed in this box with no bathroom and no windows,” Roth said. “By the third day the train stops.”

When they were finally able to leave the confines of the train, they were greeted by Auschwitz. Roth and his brother were taken one way, their grandparents, aunt and 10-year-old cousin another. They needed only to ask an older resident of the death camp to know what had become of their family.

“Twenty-four hours after arriving in Aushwitz, my brother and I were alive,” Roth said. “My grandfather, grandmother, aunt, cousin (were) not even corpses. Twenty-four hours later, they are nothing but smoke and ashes.”

The next morning, the boys did not have their own clothing, but blue and gray-striped pants, shirts and hats. They were told to sit down at a small table across from a man with a needle.

“I am no longer a person with a name, now I am a number and the number is tattooed on my arm,” Roth said. “I should not forget my number, but mostly I should realize that I am the property of the German government to do with as they pleased. They pleased to send me to work.”

Roth spent his time at Auschwitz working with the horses and plowing fields. Every day he and the other Jews were given a cup of coffee for breakfast, a bowl of soup for lunch and a piece of bread for supper. They showered every day after returning from their work and occasionally there would be inspections to ensure that nobody in poor condition kept working.

“There are occasions that after you get undressed and walking into the shower, a doctor in a uniform would look at you for an instant of time and determine if you should continue to live or feed the fires of Aushwitz,” Roth said.

By January 1945, the Allied forces drew near and the German officials cleared out the camp. Roth and his brother were two of 60,000 people sent on a three-day death march to another train and the Buchenwald concentration camp.

“My brother keeps encouraging me,” Roth said. “He says, ‘Keep marching. Eventually they will put us on a train and we will go some place we will be able to rest, but if you are too tired, say a Psalm or two.’”

They both made it to the camp and waited. Roth could see the Allied planes flying overhead and hear the artillery getting closer with every day, but before the American troops who would eventually save him came, disease and starvation took hold in the camp. Roth’s brother was taken from the camp with a group of men.

“I have never seen my brother again,” Roth said.

The waiting game continued. In April, the death marches began once again. Roth weighed only 75 pounds. The Allied troops grew closer by the day, but the Germans dared not run from the camp, because then the Jews would run to freedom and that was not permissible.

“Jews and dogs are forbidden to enter.”

Then, finally, on April 11, 1945, two American soldiers walked into the barracks where Roth was staying. The soldiers saw a dozen walking skeletons.

“I know what the Messiah looks like,” Roth said referring to the soldiers. “These two battle-hardened soldiers look at us. They have never seen skeletons shuffling along and so they break down and cry.”

Roth was finally free. After a few months of recuperation, Roth decided it was time to try and find his parents. He had not seen them since they left from Budapest, so he headed back to his home town.

When he arrived home, a neighbor told him that some Roths had returned and where they were living. Roth went to the house and when the door opened, it was his mother’s face looking back at him.

“I said, ‘Hi, mom,’” Roth said. “My mother fainted.”

Both of his parents were alive.

“Jews and dogs are forbidden to enter.”

Even though the war was over, life did not go back to the bliss-filled equality Roth remembered from the first grade. The people living in the Roth house would not move, so they shared half of the house with the Roths. Roth and his family moved to New York, where Roth entered high school when he was 18 years old.

“That was the beginning of the re-acclimation process,” Roth said. “I outline this for you in a step-by-step fashion to see how slowly and methodically one can go from simple prejudice to the eventual genocide.”

Roth then explained how he can see many of the same attitudes that were prevalent before and during World War II coming back today.

“I see signs of betrayal,” Roth said. “I see the beginnings, the step-by-step beginnings against the Jewish people again. There is a president of a large country who openly announced to the world, he has a plan for the Jews, the annihilation of the Jews. The world sits by and does nothing.”

Roth said he can see that Jews are slowly being demonized once again. Roth challenged the people in attendance to not stand idly by, but to stand with Israel, learn from the past and not let anything like the Holocaust happen again.


Contact Cat Hewett at


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