Marko M. Feingold
(Neusohl/Banská Bystrica, Slovakia 1913 – Salzburg 2019): The first prisoner from Austria to arrive at Auschwitz
“You had a feeling of uselessness, worthlessness, and with it the loss of your entire humanity”
His Slovakian birthplace was a coincidence resulting from his father Heinrich’s railway construction job there; Marko Feingold actually grew up with his siblings Ernst, Nathan and Rosa in Vienna. He was not a good pupil and started an apprenticeship at the age of 14 and worked at a furriers’ company until 1932. At the age of 15 he discovered his love for the movies and dancing. Extravagant clothes and an elegant appearance became young Feingold’s trademark despite his difficult financial situation. To avoid unemployment, he began travelling around Italy with his brother selling liquid soap. “We lived from day to day” and actually had no prospect of a better life. At the time of the “Anschluss”, Marko Feingold was in Vienna with his brother to renew their passports. They fled to Prague, but the passports became invalid and the two of them were subsequently detained pending deportation. He and his brother managed to enter Poland illegally. They obtained forged papers that identified them as Polish citizens, although they could barely speak Polish. With these papers they returned to Prague. The story he told about the events that followed sounds incredible. He met a Viennese work acquaintance in SS uniform: “How did you get here?” The SS man found him and his brother a job inventorying the furniture of abandoned apartments. They had assumed that one day the Germans would pay the escaped Jews what the furniture was worth, so they had valued them generously. The ruse was discovered and he and his brother were arrested and beaten. In late 1939 they were sent to a prison in Krakow and on 5 April 1941 to Auschwitz concentration camp. At that time Auschwitz was mainly an internment camp for Poles. So it came to be that Feingold and his brother Ernst – who were considered Poles due to their forged papers – were probably the first concentration camp prisoners from Austria. They were also stripped of everything when they arrived; a ring that Marko Feingold could not remove was sawn off.
For someone who attached so much importance to his appearance, the admission procedure at Auschwitz was gruelling: “By now it was getting dark. We continued on to a shower room. In front of it was a room where a barber shaved your head bald. As bald as a coot! Under the armpits too. All over. Private parts. Everywhere where there is hair. You stand there naked as a jaybird, all over your hair is shaved or removed with a machine. It’s so humiliating, it’s hard to explain. In no place did it bother me as much as on my head. My brother and I looked at each other and both of us had tears in our eyes when we saw each other bald. That was one of the most awful moments. You had a feeling of uselessness, worthlessness, and with it the loss of your entire humanity.” He came to the penal company like his brother: “We fetched the gravel from the gravel pit, carried it to the construction site, dumped the gravel there and went back again. The whole thing had to be done at speed... The hand-barrows were made of wood that was rough, angular, torn open, not planed or rounded. After a quarter of an hour, I didn't just have blisters, but open flesh wounds on both hands. I no longer had the strength to hold the stretcher, it slipped from my fingers. I simply couldn't hold it any more. That's how the first day there began.” Feingold suffered a beating by a foreman, but a Kapo came to his rescue. That was one of many life-saving strokes of luck. In his memoirs, he mentions another one involving shoes: “After a few days, our shoes were taken off and we were given the first ‘Dutch clogs’ [wooden shoes]. At first, I still had socks and could therefore walk reasonably well with the clogs, especially because they were old and someone before me had already tried to plane off the edges a little. The clogs were made of very rough wood, into which you had to drive your bare feet without socks. Without socks, you had terrible blisters after half an hour! The skin just couldn’t get used to it.”
The privation was a strategy, which was also intended to force the prisoners to fight for survival and to keep them from showing solidarity. Marko Feingold gave an example of this using food: “Then we went in, there was food. There was a shortage of bowls, and those who already knew that did not pass on the bowls. ‘If you want the bowl, you have to leave me some of the food.’ That sufficed to cause scuffling, jostling, pushing. The veterans knew how to help themselves and worked in pairs. If someone was holding a bowl in one hand and a piece of bread in the other, someone would come up behind him and give him a push. The bread would fall out of his hand, the other would pick it up and be gone. They worked with such deviousness. They were all inmates. People always talk about the ‘beautiful comradeship in the concentration camp’, but I didn’t see any comradeship at Auschwitz. There was the instinct of self-preservation, like wolves, which are the only animals that eat their own. In Auschwitz, it was every man for himself. Everyone against everyone else.”
After twenty days, he and his brother were put on a transport to Neuengamme concentration camp. His hands were covered in wounds from Auschwitz. His brother, who had been key to their survival, was gassed to death at the Bernburg killing centre in June 1942. Feingold only learned about this much later on in his life. For Marko Feingold, the concentration camps Dachau and Buchenwald followed. After he was liberated, Marko Feingold lived in Salzburg and became one of the most significant contemporary eyewitnesses, not least in view of his advanced age. In 2021 former Makartsteg will be renamed after him: Marko-Feingold-Steg.
Marko M. Feingold, Wer einmal gestorben ist, dem tut nichts mehr weh: eine Überlebensgeschichte, edited by Birgit Kirchmayr and Albert Lichtblau, reprint, Salzburg 2012.