Silk Road

A University Heights resident breaks his silence to pen a memoir on surviving the Holocaust.

The blue tattoo, "A.9561," only begins to tell the harrowing story of Alex Zelczer. He survived the ghetto of Beregszász, Hungary, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the Jaworzno labor camp before being liberated by Russian soldiers in January 1945. Six members of Zelczer's immediate family were murdered, but the 16-year-old escaped. He found a haven in Cleveland, where he started a family and opened an electrical contracting business. After decades of silence, the 85-year-old has self-published the gripping memoir Eight Pieces of Silk, What I Could Not Tell My Children (Outskirts Press, e-book $4.99, paperbook $9.99, available through Amazon). We talked to Zelczer about the e-book that details his survival.

Q. Why did you decide to write the book now?

A. I finally came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to live forever and the luxury of silence was no longer an option for me. The collective voices of my family and friends were silenced. I went through the mental ritual of burying these nightmares. It was a survival method: These were things that tore you apart and you had to put them somewhere.

Q. Where does the book title come from?

A: Just before we were taken away, my father brought out a silk shawl. He then cut it into eight pieces for my mother and my siblings as an amulet to keep us safe. I later kept a small swatch, which I kept hidden in my mouth.

Q. How did you make it back to Hungary?

A. A Russian officer gave me and a friend a bottle of whiskey, which got us a ride through the Carpathian Mountains. Without that, I don't think we would have made it. We were like two wild animals walking along the road. Even in a bestial world, we found unusual love.

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