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Cousins Share Nazi Terrors, Nobel Prize Joy

October 19, 1986|GARY LIBMAN

West Los Angeles real estate developer Jack Slomovic had reason to celebrate last week.

On Wednesday his daughter Sharon Frank, 25, started work as a lawyer after passing the California State Bar exam.

And that was only a day after his cousin, New York author Elie Wiesel, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Four decades ago Slomovic, 61, rode a train to the Auschwitz death camp with Wiesel and stole food there to help keep his frail, undernourished cousin alive.

Surviving on Peels

"I would jump the fence behind the kitchen and take some potato peels or carrot peels," he said.

"Or I would sneak up to a delivery truck, stuff food in my shirt and tie a rope around my waist so the food wouldn't fall out of the shirt."

"People can't imagine the situation and how hungry people were. If the food was clean or unclean, cooked or uncooked, you ate it."

He said he would take the food to the barracks where the family lived five to a bed on bunk beds four levels high. Slomovic's group included his father and brother while Wiesel and his father slept in the group above.

"He was weak. He was very skinny," Slomovic said of Wiesel. "His father was constantly taking care of him because of his weakness. Even today he's skinny so he was not very strong. His father was glued to him."

The Nazi Camps

He spent the better part of a year in Auschwitz and in the Buchenwald concentration camp with Wiesel.

On Wednesday, Slomovic tried to call Wiesel, couldn't get through, and settled for a congratulatory telegram instead.

Slomovic is one of three cousins the author comes to see on his semi-annual visits to Los Angeles. Elieser Slomovic, 65, teaches rabbinic literature at the University of Judaism. William Slomovic, 59, operates a Bell Gardens nursing home.

The Slomovic brothers grew up in Slatina, Hungary, only a few miles from their cousin in Siget. All three survived internment during World War II.

When Wiesel, 58, visited Los Angeles to speak at the University of Judaism in January, he went to Saturday morning Sabbath services with his cousins and then lunched with them at Elieser's house in West Los Angeles.

"We talked about old times," Elieser Slomovic said in his faculty office last week. "He's good company. He's much better in smaller crowds than in big groups. We may have talked some theology or philosophy."

With his brothers and cousin, Jack Slomovic recalled stealing food at Auschwitz to help keep Wiesel alive.

"I helped him. I was more alert so I always had more food than anyone else. I was very swift. . . . My younger brother was also very weak. And so was my father. My father used to distribute the food to whoever he felt needed it more."

Jack Slomovic, who worked in a factory at Auschwitz, said he stole food to survive, but thievery was terrifying because prisoners lived in fear every minute. "If you walked out of line on the way to work, you could get killed," he said.

Many members of the family were killed. Wiesel's parents and younger sister were exterminated along with Slomovic's mother and four sisters and brother. Slomovic's father lived only four months after liberation from the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he was sent after Auschwitz.

That is why when he read "Night," Wiesel's highly praised novel describing his death camp experience, Jack Slomovic had little reaction.

"It doesn't impress you that much because if you lived there, you know how it was," he said. "Nothing, including Elie, can put it on paper the way it actually was because it happened to me and because it was so terrible.

"If you read the story, you imagine how it was. If I read it, I remember how it was."

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