April 22, 2008


Robert Mendler wants people to know he is not a statistic or a number.
“I am a human being,” he states. “Listen to me. I will tell you what happened to me and everyone I knew and loved.”

Writers seek assignments, and I was delighted when the Westmoreland County Historical Society agreed that I could do an article on Robert Mendler—full name used by his permission. I plan on posting his story on this site— — in several segments. Material was gathered from talks he presented which I attended, including one he presented to seventh and eighth grade classes at a Catholic school, as well as a personal interview, and several casual conversations. His story impressed on me all the more the amount of abuse thrust not only on adults, but also on children, during the Holocaust. It was a difficult story to write. It will be a difficult story to read. It is a story of abuse to a specific child of the tender age of 13.

“I am a Holocaust survivor,” Mendler stated, baring his arm bearing its permanent number on it. “I want you to know I am not a number and I am not a statistic. I am a human being. I had parents a long time ago.”

He pointed out that a Jew is a person who practices Judaism.

“This is my faith. Religion is only a faith. The Bible is a very good book to read.

“I’m a human being, an American. I give my blood and receive it too, sometimes when having surgery.”

Mendler was born in Nowy Targ, a small Poland town, similar to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, now his home. Its population of 8000 included 3000 Jews, almost 40%. Only 39 of them survived the war. He is the lone survivor in his family—eighty-nine of his relatives were lost to the Holocaust.

In September 1, 1939 Mendler had completed seven school grades. On July 1 that year he celebrated his bar mitzpah, a time in the Jewish faith when a boy becomes a man and accepts religious responsibility.

His parents were business people. His father owned a candy factory.

“I was born with a sweet tooth,” he said, smiling.

His mother owned a soda water factory that made soft drinks, stuff like cola.

Within 24 hours after the German occupation order came up all Jews over ten years old had to report to the town square. Mendler was thirteen.

Jews received white armbands with a blue Star of David to wear. Jews were taken hostage, and if a gentile reported a Jew, he received $5 for the deed. The Jew was punished, beaten, sometimes to the death.

“There were many instances like that.”

Jews were deprived of all education. Food was rationed. They were forced into heavy labor, mistreated and beaten. Young girls heads were shaved, and many were raped by SS guards.

In November Mendler was working in camps 40 kilometers from the Czech border. “Winter was very cold. We lived in mountains, and always had snow. We skied in the summertime. I used to love it. Temperatures were always 30 degrees below zero.”

He was among the Jews cleared the highway so the Gestapo chief could drive to his hometown, where he murdered Jews for his pleasure.

After a few months Mendler, still thirteen years old, was ordered to work in stone quarries. His job was to break granite in small pieces with a hammer.

“We had to produce (a certain amount) every day. If you didn’t you were just killed, shot.”

After a few months he was sent home and reassigned to work at a lumberyard.

“The family was already in a ghetto. All the Gentiles were removed, all Jews moved in. It was fenced in. In big cities there were walls. We were isolated from all different people, constantly guarded by the SS. Members of my family were killed for no reason at all. Lots of my people are buried under today’s highways. Thirty-nine people lived in my home. You can imagine how we lived, slept, survived…”

On August 29, 1942, Mendler’s father had tears in his eyes as he told the family he would be leaving shortly, that all Jews must leave their homes and go to different camps.

“He instructed us what to do.”

At seven o’clock August 30 the ghetto was liquidated. All the Jews left their homes and reported to the SS.

“We all marched to the stadium with our families,” Mendler said before pausing to wipe a tear away. “I’ve been talking so many times and always lots of things come back on me, I’m very emotional.”

After Mendler’s mother said goodbye to his little sister her last words to him were “Remember who you are and what you are. Always respect others.”

We were divided into three groups. Children were separated from their mothers.
“You can imagine the screaming and crying of them for their mothers.”

Some woman, men and children were piled into box cars which carried them to gas chambers.

“The sick and crippled were taken to a town cemetery where a grave was waiting. Father included. The SS made them undress. Naked, the SS guards chased them all over cemetery and beat and punished them, then lined them up at the grave. With machine guns they (the SS) shot them. Some were still alive falling into grave. Five hundred in all were killed, buried in the mass grave. This was the beginning of mass solution.”

Mendler, 13, was just old enough to be useful. He found himself in the third group, those who survived the first division, because he was able to work.

Click on THE HOLOCAUST STORY OF A TEENAGE VICTIM (Part 2) to continue reading Mendler’s story.


  1. Carolyn,
    Hi! I finally found the info. on Robert Mendler, that you was talking about at the Beanery Writers Group; although, I haven’t read the whole story yet; I sort of glimpsed at it and read some of it while downloading it and making a copy of each segment. Anyhow, it seems that you could almost write a book! Is that what you intend to do? Because, I do think that would be a very good and interesting thing to do! If you do, eventually make it to a book; it would be nice to have a signed copy: especially since, I would know the author! Anyhow, I don’t plan on using all of it, of course for the booklet; but, wanted to read it for myself, so that is why I copied all of it! Anyhow, I suppose it is easier to read in segments and/or chapters; hence, why you had it set up that way? Anyhow, I also, was able to see some of your pictures through flkr; not a site I want to join at this time! I’m already on facebook and myspace; that’s enough of those types of sites to be involved with at this time: especially, since I do not have my own computer set up in my apartment! Anyhow, I probably will use a combo of excepts from your info, the book I got at the library, and whatever else I may find for my contribution to the booklet; if that’s okay! Julia
    Anyhow, I was thinking that I could possibly use some of the info. for future papers at college, if need be! That is if I take anymore classes where I’d have the opportunity to use it; but, of course I wouldn’t use any of it without your permission, and not without giving credit where credit is due!

    Comment by Julia E. Torockio — June 18, 2009 @ 12:01 am | Reply

  2. Thank you for your comments, Julia. I’m glad you enjoyed the material and can use some of it. It is copyrighted material, to be used only if referenced back. We’ll talk more later. Next meeting is coming up! June 19. Carolyn

    Comment by carolyncholland — June 18, 2009 @ 3:05 am | Reply

  3. Én Magyarországon lakom Mendler József vagyok rokonaim Bécsböl jöttek ide, de már elég régen. Szívszorito történet ez az élet ilyen kegyetlen.

    Comment by Mendler József — September 21, 2009 @ 7:41 am | Reply

  4. Thank you for doing this interviw with Mr. Mendler. I am sad to read that he has passed away. I was able to interview Mr. Mendler myself about 10 years ago whikle residing in Latrobe, Pa when I was only 17. Mr. Mendler was such a nice man. He and his wife came to my presentation for my senior project as well as my graduation. Unfortunatly my advisor for said project stole the cassette tape with the interview on it from me and it is gone forever. I have been a person who loves history since I was a little girl and never thought I would ever be able to meet a Holocaust Survivor. Although I wish now one had to go through I am glad I was able to hear Mr. Mendler’s story. My love and prayers goes out to his family.

    Comment by Jenn Bolyard — February 1, 2010 @ 4:16 am | Reply

  5. With a sad tale, Bob Mendler.

    One of Bob’s first holocaust experiences was moving into Gentiles’ homes as they were forced to leave to accommodate the jews. Bob witnessed many horrors that happened to others, Bob himself only suffered a little bit. One of Bob’s jobs was to clear snow from a road so a Gestapo chief could travel to Bob’s hometown to murder jews at his pleasure. Bob also witness the Nazis chase 500 sick and crippled naked jews around a grave yard and then machine gunned, but once again Bob was OK because he was 13 and able to work. Bob witnessed jews Diesel exhaust fumed to death at Belzec Bob lost 89 family members there. Bob witnessed 60,000 jews bug sprayed to death in one day at Auschwitz, Bob knew what was going on but didn’t say anything then or he’d have been killed for sure. Bob sorted clothes instead.

    Bob did suffer though, he turned yellow when he (to continue reading this post, click on: )

    Comment by carolyncholland — March 12, 2010 @ 3:42 am | Reply

  6. Carolyn, I gotta write you and tell you about me and my mother’s trip to Nowy Targ last April… To follow. Jonathan Applefield

    Comment by Jonathan Applefield — September 4, 2013 @ 12:17 am | Reply

    • Would love to hear from you…your mom is Janet, I assume. We are preparing to travel to Mass. and plan on meeting her. I’m certain she shared the story of our connection on Carolyn’s Compositions and my attempt to connect her and Bob Mendler. Email: chollandnews at I’d love to hear from you.

      Comment by carolyncholland — September 4, 2013 @ 9:51 am | Reply

  7. […] than we need to remember the Holocause? Do holocausts follow Gods plan for a loving world? Read THE HOLOCAUST STORY OF A TEENAGE VICTIM (Part 1) and a remarkable story, AN UNEXPECTED VISIT WITH BOB MENDLER ON DECEMBER […]

    Pingback by Rethink Church Lenten Photos 2016: Week 5 | Carolyn's Online Magazine — March 10, 2016 @ 5:05 am | Reply

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