Michael M. Bernath, 94, of Randolph, a Holocaust survivor, died Sept. 26, 2017.
Mr. Bernath was the author of more than 30 books, many now archived at Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The youngest of 12 children, he was born in Sziskzo, Hungary, a small town whose Jewish population was decimated in the Holocaust. As a youth, he joined the Partisans to fight the Nazis who had overtaken Hungary, but was captured and placed in a forced labor camp, Shakendorf. He was later transported to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, one of the first large camps instituted by the Nazis.
In his first book, he wrote about how he survived the early years of the war, scavenging for food and trying to avoid disease. By mid-1945, he could not escape a typhus epidemic that had swept the camp. He wrote of being weak and sick, and falling asleep in barracks where hundreds of men shared rows of wooden bunks. A putrid smell awakened him; Allied troops were liberating his camp, and as they pushed into the facility, their tanks broke open the latrines, sending the stench into the air. He awoke to find himself among hundreds of dead bodies, the only person in his bunk to survive.
At 5 foot 8 inches tall, weighing less than 60 pounds, he was close to death, but a Jewish Russian soldier took him to a field hospital. Over time, he gained weight and strength, and decided to travel back to Hungary to see who had survived the war. He took a train to Sziskzo, and at the station he recognized his high school sweetheart, Kate Friedman, who had survived Auschwitz.
Reunited, the couple returned to Germany, where they married while living in a displaced persons’ camp and where their son Alexander was born. Nearly four years later, they immigrated to the United States, where two of his brothers lived. He worked as a dishwasher for 50 cents an hour, later opening his own luncheonette and moving to Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
He was a member of Congregation Brothers of Israel in Mt. Vernon for more than 50 years. He was also a member of Liberty Lodge (formerly Odd Fellows) for more than 60 years. He and his wife worked at their luncheonette, noted for its egg creams and sandwiches, for almost 30 years, before retiring in 1981.
In retirement he launched a second career as a self-published author. His writings included poetry, philosophy, and memoirs, many on the themes of his Holocaust experience. He also accepted invitations to speak to students and share his story. In 2003, he relocated to West Palm Beach before moving to Randolph one year ago.
He is survived by his wife of 71 years; his son, Alexander (Marcie) of Sherman, Texas; his daughter, Joan (Richard) Rosen of Randolph; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Services were held Sept. 28 with arrangements by Ross’ Shalom Chapels, Whippany. Memorial contributions may be made to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.