Abram Enzel, was born in Częstochowa, Poland on June 18, 1916 to Chaim and Faigle Enzel. Chaim worked as a Kosher butcher. They had five children; three boys and two girls. Abram was the first born. In 1939, there were 28,500 Jews living in Częstochowa, which is 124 miles (200 km) southeast of Warsaw.
The Germans entered Częstochowa on Sunday, September 3, 1939, and persecution of its Jews began at once. More than 300 Jews were killed on the following day, which became known as “Bloody Monday.” On December 25, 1939, a second pogrom took place and the Great Synagogue was set on fire. The family survived both pogroms.
On the morning after Yom Kippur in September 1942, Abram was separated from his family. One brother, Nathan, had previously been taken by the Germans to a concentration camp. The other living members of Abram’s family were gassed and cremated three days later in Treblinka, a nearby concentration camp.
The Germans sent Abram to work in a munitions plant operated by HASAG (Hugo Schneider Aktiengesellschaft-Metalwarenfabrik, Leipzig), one of the privately owned German industrial companies that used concentration camp prisoners to manufacture armaments. HASAG was the third largest of such companies, after I.G. Farben and the Hermann Goring Werke. HASAG operated four camps in Częstochowa, Poland. The largest, HASAG-Apparatebau, held seven thousand Jewish prisoners. The wages of the Jewish forced laborers were paid directly to the SS, the elite guard of the Nazi state. In general, the policy of Vernichtung durch Arbeit (“extermination through work”) was applied. Selections were held and those no longer fit for work were killed. From July 1944 to early 1945, HASAG transferred most of its equipment and Jewish workers to Germany. No HASAG personnel were put on trial by the Allies in the later Nuremberg war crimes trials.
In 1944, the Germans sent Abram from the HASAG munitions plant to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp and from there to the Flossenbürg and Dachau concentration camps. One of Abram’s most poignant memories was of his forced move from the Flossenbürg concentration camp to Dachau, along with 500 other prisoners. In a 1973 interview with the Pittsburgh Press, Abram explained that “They made us march at first. But later they herded us like cattle on some old freight cars.” Out of the 500 prisoners who left Flossenbürg, only 18 arrived in Dachau alive, Abram among them.
On April 29, 1945, the 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions and the 20th Armored Division of the US Army liberated Abram from Dachau, near Munich, Germany. The very next day Adolf Hitler committed suicide. At the time of Abram’s liberation, he weighed 78 pounds, compared with a healthy 130 pounds before his ordeal.
After the war in June 1946, 2,167 Jews had returned to Częstochowa to rebuild their community. Abram did not to return. He first recovered in Germany and then operated a grocery store in Bayreuth until 1951, when he emigrated to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
After settling in Pittsburgh, Abram met Dora Weiss, who also settled in Pittsburgh after World War II. She was born in Munkács, Czechoslovakia, now known as Mukačevo, a city in Ukraine. Her parents died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. On June 8, 1952, they married and had a son David who was born on January 21, 1955.
Dora was later diagnosed with cancer. She passed away on July 30, 1958, at the age of 35. Abram did not remarry. In Pittsburgh, Abram worked in the H. J. Heinz plant and later moved to the Concordia Club, a private Jewish city club in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. He started as a bus boy and eventually moved up to maitre d’. The 30 years Abram spent at the Concordia Club were the happiest of his life.
David moved to Washington, DC in 1979 and Abram moved to Washington soon after his retirement from the Concordia Club in 1981 to be near his son. Abram passed away on May 10, 1994 in Washington, DC, the capital of the country that liberated him.
Abram’s oral history is available online from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Another oral history is in the American Jewish Committee Oral History Collection, which is part of the New York Public Library (Dorot Jewish Division). This collection includes over 6,000 hours of taped interviews.