An Interview with Irving Roth
by Jerry Gordon and Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant (March 2020)
Jerry Gordon, Irving Roth, and Pastor Joey Rogers, CUFI Night to Honor Israel, Pace (Florida) Assembly Ministries, Feb. 2, 2020
On January 30, 2020, the 8 million-strong Christians United for Israel (CUFI), issued a press release drawing attention to a major film, Never Again? to be shown on October 13 and 14, 2020 in more than 800 movie theaters across the US. The title of the CUFI film is a sendup on the meme intertwining the history of the Nazi SS final solution that murdered Six Million European Jewish men, women and children with the recent spike in violent, lethal Antisemitic incidents in the US in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Poway, California, Jersey City, New Jersey, and Monsey, New York.
That was reflected in the comments of CUFI’s founder, Pastor John Hagee quoted in the Never Again? press release:
Violent anti-Semitism is rising across the country, and people of conscience cannot sit idly by. Anti-Semites have used the fertile ground of ignorance to grow their malicious ideology. If we are to stem the tide, we must inoculate the next generation against the world’s oldest hatred by empowering them with knowledge and reaching them with a message of unity. If we are to fulfill the promise of Never Again, we cannot allow the memory of the Holocaust to fade.
The promotional trailer for Never Again? opens with 91 year old Irving Roth, holocaust survivor of both Auschwitz and Buchenwald, silhouetted against one of the cattle cars used to transport him, his older brother Andrew, “Bondi”, and their grandparents. They were among the 4,000 Hungarian Jews in the fateful transport to the killing complex that day in 1944. His grandparents were “selected” on the platform.
Picture of Andrew “Bondi” and Irving Roth, 1930
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Mr. Roth, his brother and grandparents were captured and transported to the Auschwitz – Birkenau death camp in southern Poland, where over 437,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed and their remains incinerated in a 53-day period in 1944. Over 1.1 million were murdered at Auschwitz – Birkenau; 90 percent of them, Jews. His grandparents, brother “Bondi” and several other relatives did not survive. He witnessed the accidental bombing by the 15th USAAF in September, 1944, and the Sonderkommando Revolt in October, 1944, aided by valiant Jewish women slave laborers at the IG Farben plant, who provided the explosives that destroyed Crematorium 4 in Birkenau. Roth and his older brother Andrew “Bondi” were part of the 60,000 Auschwitz prisoners’ death march that left Auschwitz in early January 1945 from which less than 12,000 survived. He ended up in Buchenwald concentration camp from which he was freed on April 11, 1945 by two US Army soldiers; one white and the other black who found him weighing less than 75 pounds. He recalls the Hungarian Seventh Day Adventist nurse who cared for his father while recovering from Typhus and hid both parents in her apartment in Budapest. Roth, his parents, and a cousin returned to his Slovakian hometown after the end of WWII and confronted local Christians who had shunned them, occupied their home, and betrayed the family business. The Roth family desperately tried to find his missing brother Bondi, to no avail.
Irving Roth, Humene, Slovakia, 1946
It was through the sponsorship of an uncle in New York that Roth, his parents and a cousin were brought to the US. Roth, whose education was denied as a Jew in fascist Slovakia, then made up for lost time. He served in the US Army, completed high school, and attended Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute earning both a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering. He eventually became a research director for an electronics firm in Long Island, New York.
Roth’s activism as a survivor was triggered by questions raised in his own family about what he experienced in the death camps. Roth is an internationally renowned holocaust speaker and co-author with his son, Rabbi Dr. Edward S. Roth, of a memoir, Bondi’s Brother, published in 2004, now in its 19th printing in the US. He received awards for his efforts to explain to young Americans the origins of Antisemitism, and the depths of anti-Jewish hate ideology and the depravity of Hitler’s Final solution. What Roth called “the mechanized murder” of one third of the pre-WWII 16 million world Jewish population.
Roth established the Adopt a Survivor program in 1999 in Long Island to enable survivors to tell their stories to students after going on a March of the Living to Auschwitz in Poland, and then to Israel in 1998. It has since expanded to schools nationwide.
A Long Island Newsday profile of Roth in 2019 noted the CUFI connections:
He twice accompanied Christians United for Israel to Poland as the guest eyewitness survivor, most recently in March 2019 for its “Living Eyewitness tour to Poland with Holocaust Survivor Irving Roth”.
Through the auspices of Christian United for Israel (CUFI) Mr. Roth has spoken at more than 200 college and university campuses throughout the US.
Holocaust Survivors Molly Gross and Irving Roth (University of West Florida, Pensacola CUFI Student Chapter presentation) February 3, 2020
Israel News Talk Radio – Beyond the Matrix was able to film an interview with Irving Roth. The interview was conducted at the Pace (Florida) Assembly Ministries, on a CUFI Night to Honor Israel, Sunday, February 2, 2020. We are grateful for the arrangements to film this interview by Pastor Joey Rogers and his audio-video communications team. Mr. Roth also presented at a CUFI student chapter event on the campus of the University of West Florida in neighboring Pensacola on Monday, February 3, 2020. There he met another holocaust survivor, 92-year-old Mrs. Molly Gross, whose late husband, Leon Gross, was also at Buchenwald in the same barracks as the late Elie Wiesel.
Irving Roth speaks in the interview of the gates being closed to Europe’s Jews by democracies, especially the betrayal by the FDR administration, to rescue European Jewish men, women, and children, six million of whom were murdered in unspeakable ways. He draws on his experience growing up in the small town of Humene of 7,000 in what became Fascist Slovakia, after the appeasement by Britain and France at Munich in 1938 broke up what was pre-WWII Czechoslovakia. First, it was No Jews Allowed in the town parks, no bathing at the beach on the River, then no Jews allowed to attend school. Then, after the Final Solution Nazi Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January, 1942, 1,800 of the town’s 2,000 Jews were marched to the synagogue, locked inside and “resettled” -meaning sent to one of the six Nazi killing centers. He and his family were among the 200 Jews left behind. He tells of the loss of his family’s lumber business through “aryanization” and betrayal by Christian friends in his community in Slovakia. The Roth family escape in 1943 to a small village in Hungary where they had relatives, while his parents moved on to find work in Budapest. That haven ended in 1944, when the Horthy and Hungarian Nazi Arrow Cross party capitulated to German occupation and Eichmann began transports to Auschwitz – Birkenau.
He suggests that some major American universities harbor anti-Israel Antisemitism. It is important, he says, that American students do not forget the history of the holocaust and the current rise of lethal anti-Semitism in the West.
Jerry Gordon: Hi, I’m Jerry Gordon, co-host of Israel News Talk Radio-Beyond the Matrix. I’m here with noted Holocaust expert, speaker, and author, Irving Roth. Irving, thank you for being here.
Irving Roth: My pleasure to be here. It’s a privilege.
Jerry Gordon: Mr. Roth, in your Holocaust presentations you discuss the betrayal by local Christians of you, your family, and fellow Jews living in a small city of 7,000 after the Nazi takeover and the break-up of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia. What was your experience?
Irving Roth: The real betrayal took place on a personal level. My father had a lumber business, he produced railroad ties. And as 1940, ’41 comes along, Jews could no longer own any businesses, and therefore they were “Aryanized”, meaning that a non-Jew could walk in, throw you out. So to prevent this from happening, my father asked one of his very dear friends, a fellow by name of Albert, if he could use his name and change the name of the company, move the ownership, and this way it would be protected. And having been friends for years, Albert says, “Certainly.” But months go by and one day he walks into my father’s office and says, “Joe, how is business?” And my father tells him how he appreciates what he’s doing. He says, “Well, really we are partners, so I think that since it is my name on the marquee, it is my name on everything else in this company, I’m really the owner. But you’re doing a very good job of running my business. I’m not going to fire you. You can stay as the manager, but understand the business is mine.”
Jerry Gordon: What happened to the 2,000 Jews in your hometown?
Irving Roth: Well, in 1942, early summer, six months after the Wannsee Conference, the six death camps were operational. And so, Slovakia, being a fascist country, they decided to get rid of the Jews. So, on a Friday night, 1,800 Jews out of the 2,000 were picked up, marched into the synagogue, the synagogue was then locked. They were there for a day-and-a-half, marched to the railroad station, and they disappeared, gone.
Jerry Gordon: Where did they disappear to? Do you know?
Irving Roth: Good question. Where did they really disappear to? Well, because there were different operational camps, some of them wound up in areas like Lodz, and others wound up basically in death camps: Chelmno and Auschwitz.
Jerry Gordon: By January of ’42, when the Nazi SS Wannsee Conference was held, how many Jews had been killed by that time? And what Final Solution plans were approved by the Nazi SS hierarchy?
Irving Roth: The Final Solution had been really going on from the very outset. When you look at some of the articles written by some of the dignitaries, like Adolph Hitler and others, the idea of getting rid of the Jews was an essential part of their total ideology. The basis for it was the fact that the Jews are the problem in Europe, in Germany, and the cause of every ill that you can imagine. You had to somehow get rid of them. At the very beginning, it was possible to leave. But the question is, “Where do you go?” The gates of the democracies were closed, and Jews had no choice but stay. By the time we come to 1941 many basic things had already happened. The murder of Jews begins. First, before the Wannsee Conference, particularly in what was then the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen, together with the help of the regular German Army, Hungarians and Slovaks did several things.
In Hungary about 20,000 Jews who were not Hungarian citizens were simply picked up and shipped out to a place called Kamenetz-Podolsk in the Western Ukraine. There they were murdered because it was part and parcel of the idea that the Jews needed to be eliminated. They really began that elimination in the Soviet Union. The mass murder began, in the summer of 1941 with Hungarian, Russian, and Polish Jews. At that time the Soviet Union controlled part of Poland. The murder of the Jews began very simply by machine guns in mid-1941. Thus, hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered before the Wannsee Conference.
Jerry Gordon: Probably the most notorious event was the ravine in Kiev.
Irving Roth: In Kiev, of course.
Jerry Gordon: Babi Yar.
Irving Roth: In Babi Yar. In two days, over 30,000 Jews were murdered.
And the crazy part of this, here you have innocent human beings: men, women, and children being murdered. Who were the people doing the shooting? And this was not some place 1,000 miles away pushing a button and a missile goes off. This was face-to-face. The scary part was that these were ordinary people doing the killing.
Jerry Gordon: Your family fled Nazi-occupied Slovakia for a small village in Hungary. How were your parents safeguarded? And how did your older brother and you end up being in a transport going to the killing center of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Irving Roth: In 1943, we managed to cross the border and now we were in Hungary. So, what do you do? Where do you go? My brother and I, my grandparents go to these wonderful relatives, a group of aunts and uncles in a small village. My father needs a job. He and my mother go off to Budapest, they get an apartment, and my father gets a job. Essentially in 1943, the Hungarian Jews are still in good shape. It is true, that Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 60 are attached to the Hungarian army, as slave laborers, but their families were safe at home. Yes, there are some restrictions at home. It was not until the spring of ’44 that the decision is made by the Hungarian Nazi Party that it was time to bring the Final Solution to Hungary. My brother and I wound up in a cattle car with my grandparents in Auschwitz, while our parents were still in Budapest.
Jerry Gordon: On September 13th, 1944, where were you in Auschwitz-Birkenau when the 15th US Army Air Force accidentally bombed Auschwitz, witnessed by none other than the late Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory, and what happened?
Irving Roth: I was working with horses. There was an area outside of the camp itself, were there were horses and stables. We had 10 stables with horses that did different tasks. Most of them were work horses, some were riding horses. There I was when the siren goes off. We all go back to our stables. I’m approaching the stables, suddenly there is a “Boom, Boom.” I get into the stable, and the horses, of course, are totally wild. There is shrapnel all over the place. You can hear it on the roofs, you can hear “boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.” Outside of a building where the Nazis lived there is a huge crater. I suspect there was a certain amount of… You can’t quite call it joy, but the fact was that they, the enemy, were not invincible.
So, there was a positive feeling.
Jerry Gordon: What happened during the Sonderkommando Revolt in October 1944?
Irving Roth: As it turns out, I worked with horses, and at different times had different tasks. One of them was plowing the fields and draining swamps. So here I was outside in the field. Suddenly, I hear this explosion and I see smoke. Obviously, something is happening. Then I see people running, and then I see people in vehicles and even motorcycles. Something obviously happened. We are taken from there back into the camp and we find out that what happened was that one of the gas chamber crematory complexes was blown up by the inmates.
Jerry Gordon: The story there was that Jewish women supplied the explosives that were apparently used by the Sonderkommandos to blow up Crematorium IV.
Irving Roth: Yes, absolutely. Because Jewish men and women both worked in three major camps: I, II, and III. Two was, of course, the death camp, where the four major crematoria and gas chambers were located. Auschwitz I was a slave labor camp where I was stationed. Auschwitz III was a factory built for IG Farben by the Nazi government, where they made synthetic rubber and oil. In order to do that, you had to have chemicals. After all, when you arrive in Auschwitz as a Jew, you get off the train, you strip naked, everything is taken away from you, except possibly shoes, and so you have nothing. However, women who worked in Auschwitz III and the people in the Sonderkommando contacted them and asked them to smuggle out some chemicals necessary to blow up the crematoria and they did. The sad story was that a week or two before Auschwitz was evacuated, these five women were executed.
Jerry Gordon: Some of that is depicted in the film, Son of Saul, which talks about the revolt and destruction of Crematorium IV.
Irving Roth: Yes.
Jerry Gordon: A recent BBC documentary, 1944: Should we Bomb Auschwitz? tells the story of FDR’s failure to rescue European Jews. Dr. Rafael Medoff of the David S. Wyman Institute of Holocaust Studies said, “This is a whitewash of FDR’s betrayal of European Jews.” He cites recollections of former 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern who was part of the 15th Air Force flying against the very same IG Farben plant. Another late friend of mine was a navigator on those runs, and they used the crematoria chimneys as waypoints in their final run to hit the IG Farben plant. What are your thoughts about that?
Irving Roth: One looks at all the reactions and actions from the very beginning. It appears to me, probably prejudicial somewhat, that the idea of helping or saving Jews was not a priority. That to me is fundamental. Now, it really begins much earlier. It begins in 1936 when the Olympics are in Berlin. Germany, of course, by this time, is a Nazi country for three years, and they say, “No Jews will participate.” Now, thinking in terms of looking back, it is an athletic event. The best of the athletes of the world are the ones who are there competing, but Jews are not. So, I said to myself, “What if the government of the United States would have said to the US Olympic Committee, ‘Sorry, you’re not going. Unless Jewish men and women can participate from the United States, we are not allowing you to go.'” This did not happen. And it’s a betrayal of the principles of humanity.
Jerry Gordon: The other betrayal occurred in the summer of 1938 at the Évian Conference.
Irving Roth: 1938 is a total disaster. It is really a total unraveling. One thing that happened, of course, there was the Évian Conference. There was also the Munich Conference where you had people of great importance; the Prime Minister of England, the Prime Minister of France, and Il Duce, saying to Germany, “You want a piece of Czechoslovakia. We’ll convince them to give it up. Let’s appease the evildoers.” It’s a message saying, “You can push us and we’re going to buckle under.” The interesting part is Czechoslovakia wasn’t even invited to the Conference.
Jerry Gordon: Correct.
Irving Roth: It had to do with them, with us.
Jerry Gordon: At the time, the Czechs had probably one of the largest motorized armies in the world.
Irving Roth: Yes. If you step back and look at all these specific activities, of course as you point out, the Évian Conference. Wait a minute. There was no room in America? After all, the total population of the United States was upwards of 120 million. Today we’re around 340 million?
Jerry Gordon: Yes.
Irving Roth: If you fly over the United States, for miles and miles and miles, there’s nothing but land. No room at the inn? One needs to understand that there were step-by-step points at which major changes could have been made. Then, on November 9th-10th, 1938 the Nazi pogrom of Kristallnacht occurred. Now, what was the reaction? Did the US government say to Ford Motor Company, “You’re pulling out”? No. Business as usual. Ford Motor Company continued to produce even Panzer trucks.
Jerry Gordon: Didn’t Henry Ford receive a medal of honor from Adolf Hitler at that time?
Irving Roth: Absolutely. So, there were powerful American people who said, “Nazism is the way to go.”
Jerry Gordon: Going back to your experience in Auschwitz, how did you survive there and the subsequent death march to Buchenwald?
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Irving Roth: Fortunately, when I arrived, they needed people from the transport. I came on a transport from Hungary of about 4,000 people. Immediately upon arrival, on the platform, there was a “selection”. Most of the people went to the gas chamber: My grandparents, my aunt, my cousin. My brother and I were separated. Suddenly, I have a number on my arm, which I found out was a good thing, at least temporarily, as you were going to be assigned to work. I ended up working with horses, which itself was good and bad. The work started at 6:00 in the morning. To begin work at 6:00 in the morning, we had to prepare the horses at 4:30. At the same time, the horses were getting fed. Some things are not really that digestible by man, but one of the things I very clearly remember is that in addition to the horses getting oats, they also got sugar beets. Since horses can’t speak, they can’t tell that you took some of their sugar beets. So it was that aspect of working with horses. Along comes early January 1945. Like every morning, we get up and go through the gate. That morning, we got up, and do the same thing. But this time we’re marching away from Auschwitz.
Jerry Gordon: And where did you end up?
Irving Roth: I wound up in Buchenwald.
Jerry Gordon: And when were you liberated at Buchenwald?
Irving Roth: April 11th, 1945.
Jerry Gordon: And who came to liberate you?
Irving Roth: The American army.
Jerry Gordon: And who in particular?
Irving Roth: In particular, they were my first vision. It’s so very clear even today, these two young soldiers walked in, and one is black, and one is white.
Jerry Gordon: Interesting. Mr. Roth, we want to thank you for this interview.
Irving Roth: My pleasure.
Listen to the Israel News Talk Radio – Beyond the Matrix discussion on holocaust survivor, Irving Roth.
Watch the Israel News Talk Radio – Beyond the Matrix interview with Irving Roth.
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Jerome B Gordon is a Senior Vice President of the New English Review, author of The West Speaks, NER Press 2012, and co-author of Genocide in Sudan: Caliphate Threatens Africa and the World, JAD Publishing, 2017. Mr. Gordon is a former US Army intelligence officer who served during the Viet Nam era. He is producer and co-host of Israel News Talk Radio – Beyond the Matrix. He was the co-host and co-producer of weekly The Lisa Benson Show for National Security that aired out of KKNT960 in Phoenix Arizona from 2013 to 2016 and co-host and co-producer of the Middle East Round Table periodic series on 1330amWEBY, Northwest Florida Talk Radio, Pensacola, Florida from 2007 to 2017.
Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant is creator and host of Israel News Talk Radio-Beyond the Matrix.
Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast
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