Detailed History

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“Artist For Life”

The Life Story of Bill Salamon

by Bill and Lisa Salamon

Copyright 2012

 

William (Bill) Salamon was born in the Carpathian mountains of Hungary in a town called Huszt on March 14 th, 1927 to parents Marton and Hajnakal Salamon.He had three siblings,sisters Francesca and Adele,and brother Maximillion. Grandparents,Aunts and Uncles lived in the courtyard behind the Salamon home. Bill’s father crafted beautiful furniture while his mother was a seamstress and clothing designer .

As soon as young Bill could hold a pencil,he was making signs and drawing pictures which were always proudly displayed on the wall in the family’s kitchen. As the neighborhood children spent their saved pennies on candy and toys, the young artist would spend his on pencils to draw with. He remembers drawing as a young boy and sitting out in front of his parent’s home with his sister Adele,and Grandfather who smoked up a storm. Bill remembered the fun he had laughing with his sister Adele as they’d watch people walk by while Grandmother cooked dinner for everyone.  Bill’s mother had apprentices who worked beside her creating beautiful dresses. Women would travel from other cities and towns to be fitted for custom made clothing.

They brought all kinds of materials to the home. Bill remembers a neighbor who had 9 children and always smelled like urine. Bill’s mother would always have to shue her away before her fashionable clients would arrive.   Hajnakal taught Bill and all of his siblings how to sew which would later play a part in saving young Bill’s life while crossing a border during WW2 .Bill’s brother Maxomillion left to go work in the big city as a tailor when he was only 13 years old. Unfortunately,Maxamillion would be one of the first of the family to die in Auschwitz.

Every Thursday evening,very poor Jewish people would come into town begging for money and food. Bill’s mother always had some money and food prepared to give to them.     This may have played a role in the traits of  Bill and Adele’s extreme generosity in later years. Hajnakal taught them well. Francesca moved to Russia and no one ever knew what had happened to her until many, many years later.

Bill’s Aunt Jenny who was well to do,would come to visit on the High Holidays bringing everyone presents. She’d come with her husband Karl who was German and non-Jewish. (Everyone just figured that Karl was Jewish.) Bill always remembered,even when he was in his 80′s, He said,…” It was a happy time. Everyone got dressed up and walked to Temple.  I remember sitting next to Karl,and he had his prayer book upside down.I gently turned it over for him…Aunt Jenny looked at me and whispered,”Karl’s not very Religious…”  Bill continued on…”Little did we knowKarl wasn’t Jewish.In those days inter-marriage was very rare.They had a very happy marriage until Karl suddenly died in 1943.

The day after Karl’s funeral,Aunt Jenny was warned by her friends that she was in mortal danger and would now be deported now that she’d lost her protection from Karl’s German heritage.Most of  their friends knew that Jenny was Jewish,and they all knew that she had to act fast.Luckily Aunt Jenny read,wrote and spoke perfect German (which would later save her life) and she set out to cross the border into Hungary carrying a small suitcase.  After walking for days and nights Jenny bribed some boarder guards and finally arrived in Budapest where she had some distant relatives. Unfortunately,her comparative safety did not last long. The Germans occupied the town and all Jews were systematically rounded up.Jenny was deported to Auschwitz. About the same time,in early 1944,posters were put up all over town.

Bill continues,”Our entire family was rounded up. We were all marched to a railroad station and locked into cattle cars along with all of the other Jews from our town. For three days and nights we travelled,huddled together in horrendous conditions. Of course we didn’t know where we were heading… The rumors were that we would be working in the fields. I remember my poor Mother saying,”At least we’re all together…”

I was only about 16 years old.I was so naive that when the train finally stopped I looked through the narrow opening of the cattle car noticing that the prisoners were in striped uniforms and said,” Look mom,how bad can it be? They are still in their pajamas…”

The cattle car opened and a living hell awaited us.We had arrived at Auschwitz. There was screaming and stench and smoke from the crematoriums.SS with dogs and guns screamed at the men and women to make separate lines.At the very front of the lines stood the infamous and very evil Dr.Mengela,Dr.Death in shiny boots,a big stick,and a huge grin.   I stood with my Father. Behind me was my teacher from school. He gently touched my shoulder,looked at me and said,” This is it William,we’re not gonna make it out alive.We’re not going to survive. You were a good boy William….” Dr.Mengela pointed to the right,or to the left as people got to the front of their lines. Little did we know,the ones sent to the left  were instantly sent to the gas chambers. Ones to the right,sent to the barracks. More than half of our family was murdered that day.Aunts,Uncles,Grandparents and beautiful little children. People who clutched their children were instantly sent to death.

Soon,my Father,my cousin Moishe and I were transferred to The Top of the Warsaw Ghetto. The uprising had happened while we were in Auschwitz.The Warsaw  Ghetto was actually rubble on top of a city that the German’s had destroyed.The Germans built a concentration camp on top of the rubble.We were not there that long,because rumors spread that the Russians were coming. By now it was summer,and the German SS with German Shepherds made us walk for three days to cattle cars which awaited us. On one of those three days of walking,we were being marched through a small town.My Father,my cousin Moishe and I were in a single file line with all of the other prisoners.  I noticed that one of the prisoners had a piece of bread.I asked him how he’d obtained it.”It’s easy,”he said”I just popped into a house and asked for food…”   “I thought to myself,”I can do that…” and when I got the opportunity, I jumped into a house and some ladies gave me a piece of bread and a baked potato.I looked outside.The whole unit was down the road.All I saw was an SS, his gun and his Shepherds patrolling the end of the line.One of the ladies said,”You’d better get back to your unit.” I thought,”Oh my God,I’m a goner.I’m dead now…”

With all of my strength I ran to the end of the line.One of the dogs snarled and bit my foot but I managed to jump right back into the group clutching my little bit of food which I shared with my Father.

We marched and marched for days and days. We were out in a big field. It was hot.                 We were all starving and extremely thirsty.There was a lake near by. Some ran to jump into the lake and drink.They were shot instantly. I remember it being the High Holidays. It was just about sunset.We were in a big dry field surrounded by German soldiers.We were all exhausted and we all began digging into the ground in agony.All of a sudden,there was water! Everyone had little tin cans (for eating) which we filled up with water and everyone had enough to drink! It was a miracle!

The next morning,we were walking again,this time toward the German border.There we were put into cattle cars once again and landed in Landsberg. Here I was,in ‘another’ concentration camp.My Father and I were put into barracks.There were no gas chambers in Landsberg,but almost everyone had Typhoid Fever.

By this time,I spoke German,Russian,Hungarian,and Yiddish. I dont remember how it came about,but soon the Germans had me painting signs.While everyone else was outside freezing and dying of Typhoid Fever, I found myself in the German soldier’s mess hall/cafeteria surrounded by old German men in their 60′s and 70′s who were not as gung ho as the younger SS were. Things had cooled down.The Germans knew they were losing the war,so the camp wasn’t too strict…. I was ordered to paint a mural (inside of the cafeteria) of a Nazi soldier sitting on a park bench with his arm around a beautiful girl. The guards threw me some scraps of bread for entertaining them.I saved half for my Father who was outside dying of Typhoid.

I was also ordered to paint Christmas mugs for the children of SS German soldiers. One day,an SS came in where I was painting and saluted to the older soldiers. Heil Hitler! He said. “Heil Hitler! “They replied. After the SS left,they extended their arms back out saluting and laughing saying, “This is how high the shit is in Germany right now!’   It was ironic that during the day soldiers were torturing people,and at night they sang Christmas carols cheerfully celebrating with their families.

Everyone was outside in the freezing snow dying,and I was indoors painting a mural. My life was spared because I was an artist. For some reason,it seemed like only people over 40 were dying of the fever. I recall looking through a fence watching cows graze peacefully on grass  in the pasture.I thought to myself,’How lucky they are that they’re free… ”   My biggest wish was to have an apple.I wanted one tremendously,but no such luck.

By this time,I was in a daze. I went to where my Father slept to bring him a piece of bread.   His cot was empty.I was told that he died peacefully in his sleep the night before.I didn’t cry,  I just dropped the bread.We felt like every day was our last day anyhow…”

The disease in the camp was so bad,that the Germans were actually afraid to come into the camp.They just let everyone die.

In March 1945,there came a drastic change. All of the remaining prisoners from all camps were gathered together to be sent to Dachau by foot. It took a couple of days for us to get there. Soon we arrived. I remember being near a railroad station when the Americans began to drop bombs all over Munic daily.I wished one would land on me to put me out of my misery.The Germans took all of us out of Dachau to wander aimlessly in the Bavarian Forest.There was still snow everywhere.We had practically no food.I remember eating snow and leaves just to have something in my mouth.We all huddled together.We were once again surrounded by German soldiers. We all thought that they were going to kill us so there would be no witnesses left to attest to their atrocities.

My friend Sam and I huddled together at night terrified. We tried to keep warm. About the third day,I said to Sam,’Im gonna die,I can’t take this anymore…’This is my last day.  At that very moment,somebody hollered out,’The guards are gone!We’re free!We’re free!  All of a sudden,I felt a rush of adrenaline and a feeling of hope.It was indescribable!  I gasped,”I’m free! I am free!” We were all on a hill in the forest and began to march down.  I remember there was a dead horse and some people were scrambling to eat it.I didn’t.I kept moving down the hill into the village below.

The townspeople  were waving white flags. People gave us milk and bread.The houses had barns.I was exhausted so I stumbled into a barn and covered myself up with hay.  All of a sudden,I awoke to a big noise.I scrambled out into the street and realized I had lost one of my shoes. I went into the street.There were American soldiers in big tanks throwing us chocolate bars and cigarettes.I was waving back to the soldiers,and one of them waved to me. He motioned for me to come to him.He spoke German to me,he said,’You only have one shoe,come with me.’ So he took me,and we went to a little house. He knocked on the door,and a lady answered. He said,’This boy needs some clothing!He needs a jacket and some shoes.’ She said she didn’t have anything.’ He brushed her aside,took me in.He opened up the closet and threw me some clothes and shoes. She exclaimed”Those are my husbands’ The soldier said,’Don’t worry,he’s not coming back.’ Then he said,’This boy needs a bath.’ She was freaking out because I was filthy.I hadn’t had a bath or shower in six months.So I got to take a bath. And that’s when I realized how skinny I was. My legs were like arms. I might have weighed about 85 lbs…”

The soldiers made sure we had lots of food.Alot of people got sick from eating too much food. Soon they bussed us out to some abandoned barracks (with cots)which German soldiers had previously occupied. After a few weeks,we began to regain our health.Little by little,survivors left to go back to where they came from. I was ready to go back home.We were bussed to a railroad station in Chekloslovakia. There were alot of people and alot of commotion. All of a sudden I heard my name called. I looked up and saw my sister Adele.We hugged and kissed and cried.I asked her where mother was.She said she didn’t know.I think she was just saying that to save me the grief. She asked where Father was,I told her he died.

Aunt Jenny had put the word out to meet at her place. We took the train to our previous residence first,only to find it completely ransacked and used as a barn for horses. A girl walked by on the street in one of my sister’s dresses.My sister  ran after the girl yelling at her. It was a one of a kind dress our Mother had sewn.Some neighbors told us that our dog had cried badly for us after we’d left. It was very depressing. Soon we were on a train heading to Aunt Jenny’s old apartment. Aunt Jenny was well to do,and luckily,her apt. had been completely untouched during the entire war. When we arrived,she saw to it that we had enough food.

One day,I decided that I wanted to go back and see what was going on in our hometown Chust.My Uncle had dealt in gold,and I remembered him saying that he was going to hide some of it in his kitchen.I ran into an old friend of mine,David,and told him about what my Uncle had said.Soon we were in my Uncle’s kitchen ripping apart the floor.We broke open the floor boards.Nothing…. I know my Uncle said he had gold here…I thought. Then all of a sudden,David yelled out,”Here it is!Here it is!”Alot of gold!”I gave him a handful,and I took the rest which I sewed all into the lining of my jacket that  I was wearing. I wanted to return to Aunt Jenny’s,but by this time,the Russians were occupying the border of the Carpathian mountains and all of the other surrounding towns.

I had to bribe a Russian guard with gold in the middle of the night at the border. He let me pass through and I headed for Jenny’s. I caught a train,then hung onto the outside of another train all the way to Ostrava Moraviska. Little by little I made it back to Jenny’s apartment.  I gave everybody some gold and that’s when Aunt Jenny told us her story.

Being married to Karl had given her some protection,but only while he was alive.After he died,she knew she had to act fast and leave for Hungary.At this time,Hungary was unoccupied.After walking for days and nights and bribing some border guards with gold,she finally arrived in Budapest where she had some distant relatives.Her comparative safety did not last long for the Germans occupied Hungary and all Jews were systematically rounded up and deported to Auschwitz.Aunt Jenny was assigned to work in the office because she spoke perfect German.She read German as well,and soon discovered that all prisoners who worked in the office were slated for extermination because they knew too much. She somehow managed to get herself into a Women’s transport that was headed for another concentration camp.The women prisoners ended up in abandoned barracks in a bombed out town in some dilapidated barracks surrounded by SS guards..The women’s jobs were to clean bricks and debris.Time went on and soon Jenny was a walking skeleton.One night,she said to her friend Hilda,”I’m going to escape…””You’re crazy,”said Hilda,”The guards will shoot you.”

“Im dead anyhow she said.I just can’t take this anymore.”With this,she walked out the door through a snowy yard towards a gate.She hadn’t gotten far before a guard pointed a rifle at her. She quickly scrambled back into the barracks.That same night,around two a.m.,Jenny looked out the window and noticed that the guard at the gate was slumped over asleep.

She walked as fast as her emaciated body would take her.It began to snow very heavily,and she collapsed onto the sidewalk.Soon her whole body was covered in snow.In the very early morning,two women on their way to go grocery shopping almost tripped over her body and one of them exclaimed,”Oh my God! It’s a woman!”   Thinking she was already dead,Aunt Jenny said,”I am a prisoner and I’ve just escaped from a concentration camp.” “Come,we’ll help you,” they said.  With this,they helped her up and took her to their apartment.She had to be hidden from the neighbors and dared never to leave the apartment.Little by little Jenny got her strength back,and began to look like a human being again.

After about two months,one of the women informed Jenny that her nephew who was an SS was coming to visit,so Jenny had to leave.The women gave Jenny some money,and took her to the railroad station.Jenny wanted to get to the small town where her deceased husband’s relatives lived 100 miles away. She bought a ticket,but soon found out that in order to board,you must have proper I.D.papers. She sat in the train station for hours and  began to see and feel suspicious eyes looking at her. She saw a train approach the station and she walked onto the platform. As she recalls it,she said, “It was as if God told me what to say and do next… “She began to hollar,”Hilda!Hilda!” Where are you?!”

An SS soldier who was standing on the train steps said,”Come on you woman.”Get on,You’ll miss the train.” He reached for Jenny’s hand and helped her onto the train. She was a good looking lady.Two SS soldiers motioned for her to sit with them.The next thing she knew,she was sitting in between two SS officers!They began to flirt with her,feeling her up.Once again,her salvation was that she spoke German fluently.All the while,she was deathly afraid that they would lift up her sleeve and see the KZ tatoo number on her arm. After a while,the train officials walked in asking for identification papers. Jenny said,”My cousin has them.” “Yes,”said one of the SS. I vouch for this lady.”

She finally arrived at the small town where Karl’s relatives lived.There,she made up a story that she was fleeing the advanced Russian army in Czechoslovakia. Again,her big fear was that someone would discover her tatoo. Karl’s family consisted of his niece Gretchen and two small children. Aunt Jenny recalled that one night Gretchen had insisted on washing her back as she took a bath. Jenny kept covering her arm up with soapsuds as much as she could to hide the tatoo.Another time,they were all sitting at the dinner table. One of the boys was playing underneath the table and called out” Aunt Jenny has a number on her arm!” Aunt Jenny gave him a swift kick under the table. The child started crying saying “Aunt Jenny kicked me.” To which  Gretchen replied,”Aunt Jenny would never do that.” And so it went,until May 8th 1945. The war was over.The nightmare finally ended and Jenny began her journey back home. It had been over two years since she had left her apartment in Czechoslovakia and she was wondering what she would find once she got to her place.She finally arrived home.She found her hidden key and opened the door.It was a miracle! Nothing had been touched!Everything was exactly as she had left it and nothing was missing!

After the war,we stayed with Aunt Jenny for a while,then went into a D.P.(Displaced Persons)camp where we had enough food and time to regroup a little bit. My sister Adele met a musician who would come and serenade her.They ended up having a beautiful wedding in camp.There came opportunities for us orphans to ship out to places like Israel,Canada and America etc. Moishe went to Israel.Adele,her husband Tibor and I planned  to go to Canada together,but I became ill and was denied the trip.It must have been meant to be for later I ended up in Chicago living with a Jewish Foster family.I had  only $7.00 in my pocket and spoke not a word of English.Three nights after I landed in America I enrolled in a class and was learning how to speak English.

Salamon also enrolled into The Chicago Art Institute and began painting again. He remembers waiting for a bus to come one cold day.The bus finally came,but it whizzed right by him. He stood at the bus stop confused by what had just happened.Another bus soon came and picked him up.As the bus traveled down the road,he looked out of the window and saw that the bus which had passed him by was envolved in a very horrible accident. He knew that he had been spared that experience and was very grateful.

He said,”Within a year, I was drafted into the Korean war. I had never even heard of Korea.(“What’s Korea?”I said… )

He got through basic training,shooting targets so well that his fellow soldiers told him to stop doing so well or he’d end up on the front lines.

One thousand,one hundred men were sent to fight in the front lines.  Salamon says,”Of those 1,100 men sent to fight,only 29 didn’t have to go to Korea.I was one of those 29.” Salamon was chosen to work in Military Intelligence disciphering languages and designing army manuals.  It was almost Christmas time and William found himself painting Christmas decorations and mugs again.He enjoyed it very much. His fellow army buddies commissioned him to paint their portraits on weekends which they would then send home to their families as gifts. He was great with the men and was soon promoted to Sergeant. He earned his stripes early by impressing his superiors with the way he’d decorated the camp for the holiday.

After being discharged, Salamon was able to concentrate again on painting.

He decided to move to California because he’d heard the weather was nice. The very day he arrived in Los Angeles,he got a job at The May co. He worked in the sign shop hand lettering and signs and ads. He enjoyed hanging out with the fun crowd who were big into fashion,art,accessories & window displays. He made friends easily and was instantly promoted to sign shop manager.

Enjoying Los Angeles, Salamon enrolled in the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute on The G.I. Bill where he continued his studies painting.

He met his beautiful wife Carol at a Jewish singles dance in Beverly Hills in the 50′s.

After nineteen years at The May co, Salamon retired so he could work from home and have more time with his wife and two children Lisa and Mark.

William Salamon had a great sense of humor and was very fashion conscious. He lived his whole life for his family. He was the sweetest,kindest,nicest,most wonderful,most loving,most thoughtful,most generous,gentlest,best and greatest Father,Husband and Brother in the world. He bought his children everything they ever wanted. He never cheated. Some said he was a Saint. He was an artistic genius who loved to garden,paint,decorate interiors,cook and care for his loved ones. He attended every art show,play,award ceremony,softball,soccer and basketball game his children were ever involved in. He volunteered,donated his time money and paintings to charities and brought cookies,juice and a friendly ear to hospitalized war veterans.He was a shining example of what unconditional love is. He never lost his temper,never ever yelled or screamed. He chose love over hate.

William Salamon won hundreds of awards including Grumbacher,Windsor Newton,Mayor’s choice,City Purchases,many Best of Shows and County Fair awards. He was featured in numerous newspapers,on radio and television. His home was his art gallery which neighbors and fellow artists would enjoy visiting.  He painted in his studio-garage in Rossmoor California until 2011 fascinating neighbors and passers by. One neighbor bought a painting while it was still wet.

Part of his and his sister Adele’s life stories were documented by Steven Spielberg’s SHOAH Foundation and is housed  in The Visual History Department (Archives) at the University of Southern California.

Aunt Jenny,Francesca,Bill and Adele always visited & kept in touch throughout the years until Aunt Jenny and Francesca passed away. Adele and Bill spoke on the phone every afternoon in their Golden years until Bill passed away on July 31st,2011..

His grave-site/memorial plaque is at Forest Lawn in Long Beach. He is extremely missed.

 

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