Holocaust Survivors Share Stories CLICK HERE to read the story of Charles Pierce's story shown at the Point Mugu Naval Base on April 16, 2013.
Californian thanks Sedalian Don Donath for his unit's role in liberating Holocaust survivors
January 20, 2012 11:31 PM
On Jan. 11, Charles Pierce, of Camarillo, Calif. got the chance to do something he’s dreamed about for years — say thank you.
Pierce is a survivor of the Holocaust and he credits the U.S.
20th Armored Division for saving his life. Don Donath, 88, of Sedalia,
served with that division during World War II.
Pierce was living in Kielce, Poland, before World War II broke
out. He could see at a young age what the Germans were trying to do.
“They said only one party in Germany is going to exist and that’s
Hitler’s party and the rest of the world has got to go,” he said. “The
Jews lived most of their life in fear. It’s a mystery to me how people
can sit there in a country like that and hate you. The air was filled
Poland was a poor country and people lived on little income.
Pierce’s father was the owner of a shoe business. The Nazis sought to
not only destroy the businesses, but also kill the people who owned
In 1942, his family was sent to the ghetto in Kielce.
“We tried to stay with our parents and help as much as we could,
but in 1942 they decided to liquidate the ghetto and send the people out
to be killed. We didn’t know at that time what they were planning,” he
On Sept. 24, 1942, the Nazis raided their house in the middle of
the night. They chased them out with machine guns and grenades. Pierce
was forced to march to the railroad with his parents and brothers.
Once they got to the train, Pierce, 19 at the time, wasn’t
allowed to give his parents a hug or say good-bye. Pierce and his
younger brother were kept for slave labor, while his parents, brother
and sister-in-law were put on the train. They were transported to
Treblinka, Poland, where they were sent to die in the gas chambers.
Eventually, Pierce was separated from his younger brother and sent to a camp about 20 miles away.
His only food was an ounce of bread and a little cup of soup that
he couldn’t eat, because it contained horse meat. He worked long, hard
hours and slept on a piece of plywood in the barracks. He had no blanket
“I didn’t want to give up because I knew that one day if I survived I would be able to tell the world what happened,” he said.
He was at that camp for 14 months before he was sent to Auschwitz.
“Auschwitz was the worst because they had the experimental
hospital there and I also smelled the dead bodies day and night from the
crematorium,” he said.
The camp was also occupied by Josef Mengele, a doctor who loved
performing inhumane experiments on people. Pierce recalls one time when
Mengele cut all of the veins out of a man’s legs just to see if he could
walk without them.
“Mengele went through the rows of the people, front and back. He
was there with a few helpers and when he picked up his hand, if his
finger went to the right, you remained alive. A finger to the left, you
were going to the crematorium just like that,” he said. “Somehow, I
survived that, too.”
After Auschwitz, he was sent to Kaufering, Landsberg and then to
Dachau. As the war was coming to an end, the Nazis received orders to
kill everyone. Pierce was picked by one of the SS soldiers to push his
cart with supplies. He pushed it for three days, before the soldiers
received word to run and let everything go.
Pierce used a tree branch to drag himself into a barn, where he
spent the night. The morning of May 5, 1945, the woman who owned the
house said the Americans had arrived. It was the 20th Armored Division.
“With all of the power that I had left in my body, I dragged
myself out and I saw tanks right outside the barn,” he said. He weighed
about 60 pounds.
After the war, he discovered his brothers Abe and Seweryn had
both survived. Later, he found out his aunt and uncle lived in America.
He arrived in Boston at the age of 28 in 1949. He met his wife,
Libby, on a blind date on Dec. 3, 1953, in Brooklyn, N.Y. They were
married June 13, 1954. He became a United States citizen in November
1954. He has a son and two daughters.
Through Skype, Pierce and Donath were able to see and talk to each other.
Donath was a tank driver for the 20th Armored Division. Though he
didn’t personally liberate Dachau, his division provided ground
“I could see the tower of Dachau, so I might have been 200
yards,” Donath told Pierce. “I saw some of them (Jews) come out, but I
never went in. I thank God I didn’t go in there. I never thought I’d
ever see any group of human beings do that to any other human beings.
Human life meant nothing to them.”
Donath was 19 when he enlisted and one of four brothers who went into the service. They all returned home.
Libby couldn’t wait to see Donath.
“I want to thank you for helping to save my husband. You saved a
wonderful man for me and I want to thank you for that,” she said.
“Charles has been looking forward to meeting someone from that company
so he could thank you personally. I am so grateful to all of you.”
“Well, I’m glad we did it,” Donath replied.
Pierce’s son, Mark, also spoke with Donath.
“Thanks for bringing my dad home,” he said.
Shane Davis is doing a documentary about Pierce.
“Finding you was a blessing in disguise for me. Charles has spent
many, many years trying to find somebody from your tank division who
helped liberate him,” Davis said. “Charles has said it several times, if
it wasn’t for the 20th Armored Division, he would not be alive today.”
wants the world to remember those terrible murders that were committed
and prays they will never happen again. Donath was delighted to meet
Pierce and was humbled by his gratitude. The two men plan to keep in
Camarillo resident recounts Holocaust horrors
Pierce shares story of survival with Simi students
PHYSICAL SCAR—Camarillo resident and Holocaust survivor Charles Pierce
pulls up his sleeve to reveal numbers that were tattooed on his arm in
the death camps of Dachau and Auschwitz. He talked to students at
Sinaloa Middle School on Jan. 18 with his daughter, Simi Valley resident
Sherry Scranton, right, and his wife, Libby. Charles
Pierce, 91, remembers the faces, the sounds and the smells from his long
imprisonment in six Nazi concentration camps as if the details and
images were frozen in his brain.
Sitting between Libby, his wife of 57 years, and his daughter Sherry
Scranton, Pierce gazed downward as Scranton told his unfathomable story
of survival to eighth-graders, among them his granddaughter Breezy
Scranton, last week at Sinaloa Middle School in Simi Valley.
“It was more emotional to hear it today,” said Breezy, who cries
whenever she listens to her grandfather’s story. “I hear more
information every time.”
GRATEFUL LISTENER—Matthew Levine, 10, thanks Holocaust survivor Charles
Pierce for sharing his story at Sinaloa Middle School on Jan. 18.
Matthew, a Hollow Hills Elementary student, came to hear Pierce speak
with his siblings, who attend Sinaloa. Pierce survived the Nazi invasion
of Poland and six years of forced labor in Dachau and Auschwitz. Seven decades have passed since the mass slaughter of 11 million people, 6 million of them Jews, during the Holocaust.
A small “B1719” tattoo inside Pierce’s left forearm that marked him
for the crematorium has blurred with the passing of time. The physical
signs of excruciating torture at camps including Auschwitz and Dachau
have faded from the Camarillo resident.
But the events of 1939, when Germany took over his native Poland,
until the war ended six years later are still fresh in Pierce’s mind,
like an open wound that never healed. They are painful for him to
While Scranton reads from a stack of recollections, Pierce carries
the burden of every sorrowful memory on his face. Today’s account by his
daughter captures only a small piece of his experiences, he says.
The horrors were so impossible to put into words, he couldn’t reveal
them until 10 years ago, more than half a century after they took place.
Prelude to a nightmare
Pierce had an idyllic childhood in Kielce, Poland, Scranton related,
where he grew up with his parents and four brothers. They were a
tight-knit family. When he was 18, those ties were savagely ripped.
On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland.
“It didn’t take long for some Polish kids to point out our apartment
to the Nazis as being the home of a Jewish family,” Pierce said. “So
soon enough the Nazis were knocking at our door.”
He was pushed into the street by a teenage boy holding a rifle.
“I was then marched through the city by this fanatical young boy who
saw me as subhuman,” said Pierce, who was forced to clean a building
newly occupied by German soldiers while enduring beatings.
“I simply did not know if I was going to be shot or not.”
It was the first of many occasions that Pierce escaped death.
The abuse continued.
Furs, jewels, paintings and other valuable objects were confi scated from Jewish families and sent to Germany.
Nazi spies noted the residences of Jewish professionals, including doctors and lawyers.
“One day they rounded up all of them, including one of my cousins, a
lawyer, and they took them all to the Jewish cemetery and shot them,”
“None of us knew if we were going to be alive from one day to the next.”
One day in 1940, Pierce and his family were given 15 minutes to vacate their apartment.
“We only had time to take what we could carry and were marched to the
ghetto in Kielce, which was a slum area. They evacuated the Polish
people who had been living there and moved in the Jews.”
About 20,000 Jews were squeezed into an area of a few blocks.
Some there were shot in the street for no reason. Others died from
hunger or illness. Death in the ghetto was a daily event, Pierce said.
‘The most terrible month’
Two years later, in August 1942, Nazi soldiers cleared the ghetto.
“This would be the most terrible month of all my experiences,” Pierce
said. “They came in the middle of the night shooting machine guns and
shouting for the people to get out.”
The Nazis raided homes, forcing everyone out.
“Whenever someone was sick and couldn’t get out, they shot them right
there. My brother’s father-in-law was bedridden and they shot him in
his bed,” Pierce said.
Women were ordered to leave their babies behind. If they refused, they were shot along with their child.
Pierce and his family were chased out of their apartment amid machine-gun fire and grenade explosions.
“We were marched out near the railroads in rows of 10,” Pierce
recounted. He and his brother Abe were separated from the rest of their
“I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to my parents or even give
them a hug. I knew in my heart and mind that this was the end.”
Pierce was right. His parents, brother and sister-in-law were taken
to the Treblinka concentration camp, where they were tortured and
murdered in a gas chamber.
Pierce will never forget the fumes of death that crept through the camps.
“In Auschwitz I smelled the burning bodies from the crematorium day and night,” he said.
At Auschwitz, “ Angel of Death” physician Josef Mengele performed
brutal experiments on prisoners. A man had the veins cut out of his legs
“When I saw him, he walked like he had artificial legs,” Pierce said of the victim.
Another day, Mengele sent inmates to the crematorium at random. Pierce was spared.
“Somebody was watching over me, and I imagined it was my beloved
parents,” Pierce said. “By that juncture I had lost much of my faith,
forever asking, if there is a God, how can he let these atrocities
Tenacity and freedom
Pierce made up his mind that he would not give up.
“The force that was inside of me kept saying, ‘You are going to live and see the horrible devils destroyed.’”
Pierce weighed 60 pounds when U.S. soldiers from the 20th Armored Division freed his camp in April 1945.
“I cannot describe the feeling I had,” he said. He recuperated from
dysentery and malnutrition at two hospitals and a convalescent home.
“My mind and body were constantly tormented throughout six years of
abuse,” Pierce said. “Yet during my recovery the only thing I was
dreaming about was to take a shower, to lie down on a decent bed and to
hold a loaf of bread, freely breaking off pieces to eat.”
Once released, he searched for his family, eventually finding two surviving brothers.
Four years after he was freed, Pierce left Europe to be with extended
family in Brooklyn, N.Y. He arrived in Boston Harbor in August 1949.
“The first thing I did was kiss the ground. I knew I was a free man in a country of freedom.”
Prayer for peace
Pierce told his story to more than 4,000 students last year.
“It is my hope that the memory of the Holocaust will never fade from
the minds and hearts of people like you, who will serve to make a
better, kinder, more loving world,” he said. “A world where such
inhumanity to man will never occur again.”
A week before Pierce came to Sinaloa, he reunited via Skype with a
soldier who had helped liberate his camp. It was a dream come true for
Pierce, Scranton said.
“It was thrilling,” Libby Pierce said.
Charles Pierce told the Acorn that it feels “very bad” to hear his story retold.
“It brings back very bad memories. I try not to remember those
things, but you can’t help it. It comes back to you. Even after so many
Does he forgive his captors?
“You can’t forgive,” he said. “They destroy your family, take everything from you. How can you forgive?”
A student asked Pierce if he could photograph the tattoo on his arm
“just so I can remember your story.” Pierce rolled up his sleeve for the
“Thank you so much,” the student told him. “That’s what got me the most.”
Pierce wrote “The Art of Survival” about his experiences. The book can be purchased through his website, www.thesurvivalstation.com.
Holocaust survivors Charles Pierce and Bernd Simon visited Naval Air
Warfare Center Weapons Division at Point Mugu on May 3 to tell of the
experiences they endured in Nazi concentration camps.
The presentation, held as part of National Days of Remembrance, drew
more than 80 people at Point Mugu, while China Lake employees watched by
Pierce, who spoke at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme, last
year, was accompanied by his son, Mark, and wife, Libby. As they did
last year, the son read from a book about his father’s life, while the
elder Pierce answered questions after the presentation.
Charles Pierce, who lives in Camarillo’s Leisure Village, survived
six years of imprisonment, torture and forced labor in six Nazi
concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. When he was
liberated by U.S. Army soldiers in 1945, he weighed only 60 pounds.
His book is highly detailed, and Pierce was asked how he was able to remember so many dates and places.
“My body was shot,” he said, “but my head was still working.”
Pierce says he tells his story to thank America for helping him to
create and eventually enjoy a new life, and he wants people to know the
history and to know that “we can learn to live in peace.”
The second speaker, Simon, experienced World War II from several
different perspectives. He was imprisoned in Germany’s first
concentration camp, Dachau, from 1938 to 1939. He escaped and fled to
the United States via Cuba. Then he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps
beginning in 1942, flying B-24 bombers over Italy. And after the war, he
became a Nazi hunter.
“These tell the story of my life,” he said, pointing to displays of his World War II memorabilia.
He said his life proves one thing: “You can do anything in this country of ours.”
A Ventura resident since 1948, Simon urges the public to stay informed and to stay aware of the world around them.
“You need to listen to the news,” he said.
And there had been some big news two days before his presentation — the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden.
Simon did not waste the moment.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank the Navy SEALS,” he said.
A Narrow EscapeHolocaust survivor from Camarillo shares his story with area students
By David Michael Courtland 03/24/2011
About 10 years ago, when director Steven Spielberg was interviewing Holocaust survivors as he researched his movie “Schindler’s List,” Charles Pierce of Camarillo was among the victims of the Third Reich’s genocidal policies who was asked to tell his story.
“He wasn’t ready to talk about it at that time,” recalls Pierce’s son Mark, who said he hadn’t heard the entire story of his father’s experiences in Nazi-occupied Poland at that point either.
But six years ago, when Mark’s daughter Lindsey asked her grandfather to speak to her history class about his ordeal, he decided he was finally ready to discuss the horrors he had seen as a Nazi prisoner and during his narrow escape.
“That was the first time he had spoken publicly, and the first time I’d heard all of his experiences,” said Mark, 51. “It’s a tough story to tell, so I asked him to write it down.”
For the last several years, Pierce, now 90, has not only spoken annually to Camarillo High School teacher Jeanne Nelson’s class, but given presentations in local high school auditoriums. He has also co-authored a book with writer J. Marlando, The Art of Survival, describing what happened to him during World War II and his life after arriving in the United States.
“You people should know what happened; there’s no teachers, no books to tell this,” Pierce told several hundred Oxnard High School students gathered in the school’s performing arts center on March 15. “In fact, they didn’t know until a few people like me came forward.”
Pierce was accompanied at his most recent presentation by his son Mark and by Libby, his wife of 55 years. Mark read some of his father’s written account for students, who then asked Pierce questions.
Born and raised in Poland, Pierce was 18 when Hitler’s troops invaded the Sudetenland (now a part of the Czech Republic). From 1939 to 1945, he survived hard labor and starvation in Jewish ghettos as well as the Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau concentration camps, while his parents and two of his brothers were among those killed.
“I had a big family; the whole family was wiped out, just me and a couple of my brothers remained alive,” after the war, said Pierce.
Separated from his family after they were turned in by Nazi collaborators — “The Nazis had spies in every city” who identified Jewish professionals, explained Pierce — he never saw his parents again. A member of Hitler’s youth brigade armed with a rifle marched him through his hometown of Kielce to the Nazi headquarters there.
He described the next six years, spent moving from one death camp to another, as the darkness of a jungle, as he and other prisoners were forced to provide slave labor in tanneries, lumber yards and paper mills where the chemicals smelled so bad they made him sick.
He and other prisoners worked for businessmen who contracted with the Nazis — once, even for a man who had been a friend of his family — and were forbidden to speak to each other for fear they would plot their escape, said Pierce, who described signs above electrified fences that read “Talking is silver, but silence is gold.”
The camps were run by Nazi SS officers whom Pierce said were psychopathically cruel and sadistic. “I remember watching a soldier shoot a man simply because he didn’t like the way he looked,” said Pierce, who added that sometimes Polish volunteers would bring food and clothes.
He narrowly escaped death more than once by sheer luck, such as the time a Ukrainian guard who stopped him for a suspicious bulge in one of his pockets, but misread the number on the tag attached to his pants. When Nazi soldiers burst into his barracks moments later, calling for prisoner 969, Pierce realized the guard had read the tag upside down, and quickly reversed it so that it read 696.
At Auschwitz and Dachau, bodies were hung from fences as a scare tactic, and he could smell other bodies being burned in the camp’s crematorium, said Pierce, who described meeting a boy at Dachau who walked awkwardly because the camp’s “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele, had removed blood vessels from his legs.
“I lost my faith, and asked ‘If there’s a God, how can he let these atrocities happen?’ ” said Pierce, adding that it was a mystery to him how he survived. Despite being malnourished and not being allowed basic hygiene — he once went 18 months without a shower — Pierce overcame dysentery and typhoid fever.
His rescue in the final days of the war was yet another close call: A guard fleeing American and Soviet troops forced Pierce to push a cart with the guard’s belongings in it, saving him from a last-minute execution as Allied forces closed in.
“I didn’t know it then, but the war was being lost by our captors,” said Pierce. “After three days, he took off, I drove myself to a barn with cows and pigs,” where he stayed until the next morning, when a woman alerted him to the approach of American soldiers. Pierce was put in an Army truck and taken to a hospital.
After he recuperated, Pierce spent several years tracking down his brother Abe; and several years later, after learning he had relatives in Brooklyn, he emigrated to the United States. Arriving in Boston, he recalled “For the first time, I knew I was a free man.”
As students lined up at a microphone to ask questions, one girl wondered when he recovered his faith. “When I came (to the United States) as a free man, met my wife, raised my family, that’s when I recovered my faith,” answered Pierce. “I tried not to think about the past, tried to wipe out any past.”
Libby elaborated on his answer, “I always say God saved him for me,” drawing a round of applause from students. She added, “We’re not a religious family, but we celebrate Christmas and we celebrate Hanukkah.”
“What gave you faith to keep going and not give up?” another student asked. “I wanted the world to know what happened during those years,” said Pierce, adding that the Nazis launched “a war to destroy the whole world,” even going to Africa to draw its resources.
“One ounce of bread a day and a cup of soup, grass, potato peels,” over a 12-hour work day, Pierce said, answering another student who asked what his longest period without food was. “My stomach was shot — if not for the hospital that treated me (after the war), I wouldn’t be here.”
What can we do to prevent the Holocaust from happening again, another student asked. “The main thing is education. You people have a chance to do anything you want,” said Pierce. “You can travel. Our young people have education and spread the word of love and not hatred.”The Art of Survival
is available at Charles Pierce website, www.thesurvivalstation.com. Pierce is available to speak at events by contacting Karen Kleyla at 444-3411VC Reporter article link
Holocaust survivor shares experience with Oxnard High students
Holocaust prisoner speaks at Oxnard High
* By Gareth W. Dodd Special to The Star By Gareth W. Dodd Special to The Star
* Ventura County Star
* Posted March 15, 2011 at 7:12 p.m., updated March 15, 2011 at 8:58 p.m.
More than 750 Oxnard High School sophomores studying world civilization gathered in the school's performing arts center Tuesday to hear the story of a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who found freedom and a lifelong love in America.
Holocaust Survivor, 89, shares his harrowing story
The story they heard was that of Camarillo resident Charles Pierce. Pierce survived six years of imprisonment, torture and forced labor in six Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau, before being liberated by U.S. Army soldiers in 1945.
Pierce has been speaking to local schools since his granddaughter urged him to tell his story six years ago when she was a junior at Camarillo High School. He is accompanied by his wife of 56 years, Libby Pierce, and son, Mark Pierce, who reads his father's story to the audience.
Pierce's story of imprisonment and torture started in 1939 in Kielsa, Poland, when he was 18. He was separated from his family and sent to a concentration camp. He never saw his mother and father again.
"For six years I was fighting just to stay alive," Pierce said. "It was like a jungle. I went to six different camps and didn't know what was going to happen. While we were moving (from camp to camp) they were shooting people.
"From 1939 to 1945 I was enslaved while the Nazis were torturing and killing 11 million people, 6 million of them Jews. The leaders of each camp were cruel and sadistic members of the SS.
"While at Auschwitz and Dachau we smelled burning bodies day and night," he added. "I lost my faith and asked 'If there's a God, how can he let these atrocities happen?' How I survived is a mystery to me."
Libby Pierce said he survived so he could come to America, meet and marry her.
"God saved him for me," she said.
Libby Pierce said that while Charles was in a concentration camp she was "safe and sound" in America, although worried about two brothers in the Army. One of them was killed in action.
"I was safe in Brooklyn," she said. "We didn't know what was happening there. I didn't know about the camps. One of the reasons God saved him was so he could talk to these kids."
Mark Pierce said that while growing up, other members of the family would talk about the Holocaust, but not his father.
"He never spoke unless we asked him about the tattoo on his forearm," Mark Pierce said. "The home was only filled with love. He never told me I couldn't have friends who were not Jewish or white.
"He didn't look at people like they were different. He taught us to try and remain colorblind to your peers because we're all the same inside. My father never preached hate."
During a question-and-answer session, Pierce said he survived 12-hour workdays on a cup of soup and piece of bread — sometimes supplemented with potato peels and grass — and weighed only 60 pounds when he "half walked, half crawled" toward an approaching American tank.
"I am so thankful to the American Army," Pierce said. "They found me and rushed me to a hospital."
He went from one hospital to another and then a convalescent home. He spent several years tracking down two of his brothers who also survived concentration camps. He then came to America, where he had family in Brooklyn.
"On Aug. 9, 1949, I arrived in Boston Harbor," Pierce told the students. "I dropped to my knees and kissed the ground. I knew I was a free man in a free country.
"You live in a free country and have the chance to do whatever you want. I pray the world will someday live in peace."Click here to see pictures related to article.
© 2011 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
By Michelle Knight
Mark, Libby and Charles Pierce MICHELLE KNIGHT/Acorn Newspapers Charles Pierce cheated death at the hands of Nazis several times before the end of World War II. _____________________________________________________________________Letter from Deborah Perkins from the Rotary Club Ventura East
At 18, Pierce’s happy life with his parents and four brothers in Kielce, Poland, ended abruptly when German forces overtook his hometown in September 1939. The son of a shoemaker and a store owner, Pierce was sent to a concentration camp 20 miles from his family’s home.
Pierce worked the night shift making canvas bags and other items for the Nazis. After a shift, he’d sometimes stuff scraps in his pants pocket to exchange for food with people outside the camp. Generally, a prisoner’s single daily meal consisted of a few ounces of soup and a bit of bread—not much to sustain someone who had to work 10 to 12 hours a day.
One night, a Ukrainian guard in the camp stopped Pierce, saw the bulge in his pocket and noted his identification number on the tag pinned to his pants. Although the guard allowed him to proceed to his barracks, Pierce knew others had been shot for lesser infractions.
He braced for the worst.
Moments later, Nazi guards burst into his barracks yelling for prisoner 969. Pierce’s tag number was 696 but somehow, unbeknownst to Pierce, it had turned around so that the guard who had earlier made note of his number read it as 969. Pierce fixed his tag.
The guards scanned the room. Pierce’s nerves twisted and turned inside when the guards looked at him. He remained silent, and the guards left the barracks.
This encounter was one of at least four times that happenstance spared Pierce’s life during the six years he spent in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau.
Now 89, Pierce survived cruel treatment and inhumane living conditions that claimed the lives of other prisoners. He triumphed over near starvation, typhoid fever and clothing and shelter that offered little protection from the elements.
Last week his son, Mark Pierce, read a 17-page narrative of Pierce’s story to members of the Rotary Club of Ventura East at Ventura’s Poinsettia Pavilion. Pierce and his wife of 56 years, Libby, sat quietly at the front of the room.
Afterward, audience members spoke to Pierce and shook his hand. Many wanted to know how he survived when so many others didn’t.
Pierce was hard-pressed to give a simple answer. He said perhaps it was the will to live. He had told himself he must live to tell the world.
“Somehow my body fought it and I survived,” he said.
Libby Pierce, standing at Charles’ side, credits a higher source.
“I say that God saved him for me,” she said.
Pierce has opened up about his Holocaust experience only for the past five years, speaking through his son to dozens of schools and organizations in the county.
Pierce asks Mark to read his story because the memories are too vivid to relate the story himself.
Pierce relives the experiences each time his story is told.
His memories are seven decades old, but he recalls terrifying details of his six-year ordeal. He remembers the look of exhaustion and defeat on the faces of Polish soldiers marched through the main street of his town, panel trucks filled with the dead, and mothers shot for refusing to leave their babies behind.
Memories of Auschwitz are also heartrending. The stench of bodies burning day and night in the crematorium, the innocent look on the faces of two dozen Jewish schoolchildren before they were sent to the ovens, and the unnatural gait of a young man whose veins were cut out of his legs under the direction of infamous Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele.
Despite the painful memories, Pierce feels strongly about sharing his experience. To help the current and future generations know the atrocities the Nazis committed, he has penned a book, “The Art of Survival.”
“This shouldn’t happen again,” he said, showing the tattoo “B1719” the Nazis inked on the inside of his left forearm when he was a prisoner at Auschwitz.
Mark Pierce expects to receive the self-published books from the printer in a few months. “The Art of Survival” is available now online as an e-book on Pierce’s website, www .thesurvivalstation.com.
Of his immediate family, only Pierce and two brothers survived. The Nazis murdered his parents, his two other brothers, a sister in law and many other relatives.
After the war, Pierce came to America, marrying Libby on June 13, 1954. The couple raised two daughters and a son in New York.
In 1993, Charles and Libby followed their children to California, settling in Camarillo’s Leisure Village.
The ghastly sights Charles Pierce witnessed during the Holocaust have not embittered him, said his wife and his son. While growing up, Mark said, he and his sisters were permitted to play with children of all ethnicities, including German.
Incredibly, Pierce has maintained a sense of humor. After once again being asked why he thought he survived when many did not, Pierce grinned.
“I knew that my (future) wife lived in Brooklyn,” he said.
Speaker for July 8 – Charles Pierce
THE ART OF SURVIVAL
Charles Pierce, a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps from 1939 to 1945, shared with the Club his experience as a young Jewish man living in Poland during the Holocaust. Mr. Pierce’s words were read by his son, Mark Pierce, while Mr. Pierce and his wife held hands.
Shortly after the Nazis occupied Poland, a teenager with a rifle ordered Mr. Pierce out of his apartment. Mr. Pierce was taken to a building where he was forced to clean it while periodically being beaten. He was eventually released and sent home.
A few months later, Mr. Pierce was again taken against his will along with 600 other young Jewish men. The men were sent to live in a barn and forced to work on the roads. They received little food or sleep, yet were forced to do hard labor for the better part of each day. Upon release, he returned home where he battled typhoid fever.
In 1940, soldiers came to his apartment and ordered everyone to leave within 15 minutes. They were taken to an area called the “ghetto” which housed approximately 20,000 prisoners. The conditions in the ghetto were terrible and people regularly died of hunger and illness. The Nazi’s showed no respect and would shoot people in the street for no reason.
In August 1942, soldiers came in the middle of the night and told everyone to get out. Anyone who was sick was immediately shot to death. Women were told to leave their babies behind. Women who refused were shot along with their babies.
Most people were put on trains in very cramped conditions where they were sprayed with lime and chlorine. Most people on the train died. Mr. Pierce and his brother Abe were pulled from the line, but the rest of his family were put on the train. He did not have a chance to say goodbye. Abe was forced to work in the city while Mr. Pierce was sent to another camp to work making canvas products.
Mr. Pierce hid scrap canvas pieces in his pockets so that he could later trade them for food. He almost got caught; however, his badge was upside down so the soldiers were looking for prisoner #969 instead of #696.
After 14 months, Mr. Pierce was sent to Auschwitz. Here, the crematories were constantly working and the smell was horrendous. Mr. Pierce even witnessed children under 10 years of age being sent to the crematories.
Auschwitz had what was called a hospital, but it was really a place for experiments on humans. Mr. Pierce met another prisoner who had his veins cut out of his legs at the hospital.
Mr. Pierce was sent to two other camps before the camps were abandoned. Upon abandonment, most prisoners were shot to death; however, Mr. Pierce survived because he pushed a cart for one of the soldiers.
When he was eventually found by the Americans, he weighed only 60 pounds and was severely malnourished. He stayed in two hospitals over many months while he was nursed back to health. Shortly thereafter, he made it to New York where his Uncle lived. He kissed the ground as soon as he arrived.
For more information, you can visit Mr. Pierce’s website at www.TheSurvivalStation.com. Deborah A. Perkins
The following is an article from the Inside Leisure Village newspaper
dated July 2, 2010.
This is a local newspaper distributed to the homes where Charles lives.
Brothers who survived Holocaust reunite in Las Vegas
Brothers Charles Pierce, 90, (left) and Abe Price, 87, survived the Holocaust. They met in Las Vegas for a surprise reunion arranged by family members.By Tiffany Gibson (contact)
Saturday, May 1, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
* United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
* Holocaust survivor shares painful memories with students (9-23-2009)
It wasn’t until five years ago that Charles Pierce, 90, was finally able to open up about his Holocaust experiences.
His brother Abe Price, 87, has been speaking about it for a long time, but they have never talked about their experiences together until they were reunited in Las Vegas on Thursday.
The brothers live on opposite sides of the country and have different last names.
Price lives in Naples, Fla., and Pierce in Camarillo, Calif. They changed their last names from Piasecki after they arrived in the U.S.
They’ve kept in touch over the years but do not get to visit each other often. Their reunion at the Monte Carlo on Thursday was a planned surprise by their families.
“It’s wonderful to be together,” Price said, adding that their visit to Las Vegas is the first reunion they’ve had that hasn’t been prompted by an unpleasant event.
Pierce said Price is his only family member left after the Holocaust. Both are concentration camp survivors and natives of Poland.
The brothers are two of five siblings deported to the Kielce ghetto in 1941, separating them from the rest of their family. Price said his parents were taken to Treblinka extermination camp, where they were killed.
“We were not prepared for that,” Pierce said, holding back tears. “This was the beginning of a big nightmare, because we didn’t know what they were going to do next.”
Pierce recalled the smell coming from the crematorium at Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp built during the Holocaust. When he first arrived at the camp, he said, he was told that 20,000 gypsies had just been killed there.
Price told the story of his experiences working in the Henrykow Factory in the Kielce ghetto. He said a Polish girl befriended him and helped him try to escape. The girl and her family were arrested and he was returned to the factory.
He said he was lucky the Nazis didn’t kill him because those who tried to escape were usually hanged. He said one of the Nazis took his diamond ring that belonged to his mother and sent him back to the factory.
Pierce and Price, 19 and 21 at the time, tried to stay together but were eventually separated into different camps. It wasn’t until 1945 that they met face-to-face again.
Knowing his brother was still alive, Pierce said, he traveled to the U.S. in 1949 and met a cousin in Boston. Price followed in 1951 and lived in Indiana for many years. Both became citizens.
Pierce said he began talking about his experiences after his granddaughter, Lindsey, asked him to come speak to her class. Price said he has spoken at classes for his granddaughter, Monica.
Through family support and perseverance, Price said, the brothers have been able to enjoy their freedoms in this country. “We spent six years in hell and now we live in paradise,” Price said.
Holocaust survivor shares story with NBVC
Holocaust survivor Charles Pierce, left, and his wife, Libby, brightened at the end of their presentation when they showed photos of themselves taken when they first met.
By Andrea Howry, Lighthouse editor
Posted May 12, 2010 at 1:49 p.m.
On April 27, Charles Pierce got to thank the men who saved his life 65 years ago.They weren’t the same men who helped drag the 60-pound Holocaust survivor from an old barn, but they were men in uniform.And for Pierce, that was enough.“My father is grateful for the soldiers who saved his life,” said Mark Pierce as his father, now 89, sat silently by his side in a large auditorium at Naval Base Ventura County. “He is grateful not only for the military of 65 years ago, but for everyone in uniform today. My father knows the importance of what you do.”For the first time in his life, in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Charles Pierce talked with military personnel about his six years in concentration camps. It was only five years ago that he talked publicly about the experience at all. He did so, his son told the audience, because he wanted everyone to hear the horrors of what happened in the hopes they will never happen again.As the younger Pierce read the horrific passages from his father’s memoirs about life and death in the Polish ghetto and later in the worst of Europe’s concentration camps Charles Pierce and his wife of 55 years, Libby, sat at a nearby table. Afterward, he answered questions from the audience.The older couple lives in Camarillo’s Leisure Village; Mark lives nearby. They have spoken to school groups and came up with this presentation after Charles began to tire midway through the talks.The passages Mark reads are wrenching. They deal with the disappearance and death of Charles’ mother, father and other family members. They deal with Charles’ many near brushes with death, including the time he was suspected of stealing and saved himself from sure execution by flipping his identification number upside down so it read 969 instead of 696. They deal with Charles staying alive by eating potato peelings and grass instead of the horsemeat the guards tried to feed him. And they deal with Charles smelling the bodies burned in the crematorium.Finally, the memoirs reach 1945, when the Americans begin closing in. The Germans scatter, and Charles makes his way to an old barn, where he is found by the 20th Army Division. The physical healing begins, and in time, so does the mental healing.Four years later, Charles comes to the United States and begins a new life. He meets Libby on a blind date and they raise a family together without hate, without prejudice. Mark brags that the best man at his wedding was a German and that his father was just fine with that.“He never preached hatred to anybody,” Mark said.Charles was asked if he thinks the Holocaust could happen again.“Not where we live,” he said. “We live in a peaceful place. But every day you hear about things happening in different parts of the world.“I’m very glad that we live here.”______________________________________________________________
Charles Pierce shared his story of survival Tuesday as part of the inaugural Holocaust Remembrance Day at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Camarillo man shares his story of survival
By Emily Vizzo
Ventura County Star
Posted April 27, 2010 at 10:21 p.m.
The event was held to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.
“The power in my body said, ‘You have to live through and tell the world what’s happened,’” said Pierce, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives in Camarillo. “Now we live in a beautiful world and we should appreciate it.”
He sat onstage with his wife of 55 years, Libby Pierce, as their son Mark Pierce read excerpts from Pierce’s autobiography, “The Art of Survival,” an e-book available on Pierce’s website, TheSurvivalStation.com.
Born in Poland in 1920, Pierce survived a number of concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau, from 1939 to 1945. His parents and other family members died in the camps, but Pierce lived to become a U.S. citizen in 1954. He has three children and four grandchildren.
Pierce was taken prisoner after Nazi soldiers invaded Poland in 1939.
“This was the beginning of my nightmare,” Mark Pierce said, reading from his father’s book. In 1940, the family was forcibly moved into a ghetto with thousands of other Jewish families.
Armed Nazi soldiers loaded families onto freight trains, spraying them with chlorine solutions and withholding food and water. Many died en route to the camps.
“Under the sound of machine guns and grenades, I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to my parents,” Charles Pierce wrote.
Camps lacked bathrooms, showers and mattresses, Mark Pierce said, continuing from the book. Working up to 12 hours daily, Pierce survived on bread, potato peels and grass.
Terrible odors from the crematorium pervaded Auschwitz. Pierce received an identifying tattoo on his forearm, and was sent to other concentration camps. In 1945, Nazi soldiers began to scatter as news of incoming American soldiers spread.
Using a tree branch to support his 60-pound body, Charles Pierce eventually flagged down U.S. soldiers.
“I cannot describe the feeling I had,” he wrote. After a hospital recovery, he began searching for family members.
“The only thing I was dreaming about was to take a shower, lie down on a decent bed, hold a loaf of bread and break off pieces,” Mark Pierce recited. “But I didn’t give up. A force inside me said, ‘You are going to live.’”
Charles Pierce eventually located a surviving brother in Poland. In 1949, an aunt in the U.S. arranged his travel to Boston.
He later returned to Germany, testifying in a trial against Nazi war criminals.
“Holocaust memories belong to all of humanity,” said Capt. James McHugh, Naval Base commanding officer.
“What we do matters. Every day each of us has the potential to shape the world in which we live.”
Charles Pierce began sharing his story five years ago, when a granddaughter asked him to visit her history class. Two years later, Mark Pierce took over the readings because his father’s voice had grown softer and reading took a toll.
The family now shares the story with students at area public schools. Tuesday’s event was Pierce’s first military appearance.
“He honors every one of you in uniform today,” Mark Pierce said. “Not even you may know the importance of what you do, but he knows.”
On the Net:
Holocaust survivor shares his story with Camarillo High School students
* By Mike Harris
* Posted March 10, 2010 at 12:01 a.m.
Holocaust survivor Charles Pierce, left, shows an ID tattoo from his time in concentration camps,
as his son, Mark Pierce, reads his father’s story.
A Camarillo High School history class got a first-person account of the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust from 89-year-old Charles Pierce, a Camarillo resident who survived a number of the Third Reich’s death camps.
“The kids should know the background and history of the war,” Pierce, choking with emotion, said before his remarks on March 3 to several dozen students of teacher Jeanne Nelson.
The presentation consisted of Pierce’s son, Mark Pierce, 51, also of Camarillo, reading aloud a 13-page synopsis of his father’s Holocaust memoirs, after which the older Pierce took questions.
Born in Poland, Charles Pierce from 1939 to 1945 survived such concentration camps as Auschwitz and Dachau, while members of his immediate family were murdered by the Nazis. They included his parents and two of his brothers.
“How I survived six years under those conditions remains a mystery,” said Pierce, who detailed a litany of gruesome Nazi atrocities he witnessed. “The reason I decided to do my life history is because I want my family and future generations of my family to know what I experienced.”
Mark Pierce, whose son and daughter are Camarillo High School graduates, said he read the synopsis because his father doesn’t speak very loudly and frequently breaks down with emotion. Charles Pierce sat stoically throughout the reading, his hand being gently held by his wife of 55 years, Libby.
The older Pierce’s Holocaust experiences have been expanded into a full-length autobiography, “The Art of Survival.” The book is being shopped around to publishers.
Nelson said Pierce has told his story to her students every year for the past several years.
“Students learn best from primary sources, and he’s a primary source,” she said. “So it’s meeting a historical figure in person. It’s very important.”
After the reading, a few students had questions for Pierce.
“Can we see your tattoo?” one student asked.
Pierce dutifully rolled up his shirt sleeve to display the fading prisoner ID numbers Auschwitz guards tattooed on his inner left forearm.
Another student asked Pierce, who said his Holocaust experiences made him question the existence of God, whether he still feels that way.
Holocaust survivor tells powerful tale
By Eliav Appelbaum email@example.com
WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers
MARKED FOR DEATH- Holocaust survivor Charles Pierce sits next to his wife, Libby, and shows the identification tattoo he received as a Nazi prisoner to students at Apollo High School last Thursday.
Pierce was there with his wife, son and daughter to share his story of perseverance and courage. Charles Pierce survived the "black month of my life" in August 1942.
That was when Nazis liquidated the ghetto in Pierce's hometown of Kielce, Poland, and began shuttling the city's Jews to their deaths in concentration camps.
For most of his life, Pierce, now 87 years old, kept private his horror stories of Auschwitz, Dachau and Waldheim. Four years ago, he finally opened up, sharing the darkest moments of his life, the vivid details of the Holocaust.
Last Thursday, the Camarillo resident spoke to about 100 students and teachers at Apollo High School in Simi Valley.
His son Mark read notes his father had dictated to Libby, his wife of 53 years. As Mark read aloud, Pierce, Libby and their daughters, Shelly Scranton and Emily Waltjen, listened. Scranton fought off tears while Libby Pierce clutched her husband's hand.
Students and teachers alike were moved by Pierce's story. They stood up to get a better look at the "B1719" tattooed on his left forearm and sat in silence as he told of mothers- after refusing to abandon their children- being shot dead along with their babies.
But even though his school visit recalled a life filled with sorrow and suffering, there were moments that revealed Pierce's perseverance and his sense of humor.
Libby told the story of how they met- on a blind date Dec. 13, 1953. Pierce asked her to marry him that New Year's Eve.
"It was a beautiful party in Brooklyn. And she got me drunk," Pierce said, as the students laughed.
Dominique Isabeau, 18, gave Pierce a hug before leaving for her next class.
"It was very touching, very sad," said Isabeau, a senior. "I'm glad he's still here. I think he's a strong, strong man who's still witty and smart."
Senior Richard Gonzalez, 17, sat and listened to Pierce's story twice. Gonzalez could see the anguish on Pierce's face as his son spoke of his survival.
"After the first time, I wanted to stay and see his emotions," Gonzalez said, "how he can actually fight through his emotions and talk about it and be here. . . . There's something to learn from all those memories."
Jerry Neri, an economics and history teacher, had one word when asked to describe Pierce's account.
"Powerful," Neri said. "Powerful. It was an incredible gift. It's so rare nowadays, that sharing of spirit that bridges generations. That's what made it powerful. The kids understood on an emotional level what was taking place in his life. . . . What he taught was beyond the Holocaust. A lot of kids here suffer in their lives, and this gentleman gave them hope."
Pierce had to cancel a previously scheduled speaking engagement at the school in December because he had fallen ill.
Principal Tracy Rohlfing was thankful he was able to finally speak to her students.
"It was a very moving story," Rohlfing said. "The message for the kids is how hatred can be painful, and it's important that we practice tolerance."
Every student at the school is required to take a nine week orientation course that stresses acceptance of others and how to deal with conflict.
Until this year, Apollo students visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
Pierce, who's lived in Camarillo for 14 years, had four brothers, but only two, Abraham and Seweryn, survived the war. The three survivors all had different last names, however. Abraham Price resides in Naples, Fla. Seweryn Piasecki died four weeks ago at 97 in Baltimore. Pierce changed his last name from Piasecki when he became an American citizen.