I have given many talks about my Holocaust experiences in schools… in the hope that younger generations may learn from events and work for a better future.

- John Chillag

John Chillag was born in 1927 in Vienna. His family moved to Győr, Hungary in 1934, where John spent most of his childhood. John’s father was an accountant with his families building and construction firm.

After the German annexation of Austria in 1938, John and his family began to see a large influx of Jewish and political refugees in their town. In the same year Hungary introduced its first anti-Jewish law, under this legislation John’s father was mobilised in the army, and because he was a Jew, he was put into a separate labour battalion where he had to dig trenches and load lorries.

After Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944 and more anti-Jewish laws were put in place immediately. By May John and 35 members of his family were moved into a ghetto on the outskirts of Győr, the conditions were abhorrent with overpopulation, no gas, water, or electricity and barely any food. They would not stay here for long.

On the 11th of June 1944 John and his family were marched to a local railway, and with thousands of other Hungarian Jews were forced into cattle wagons. After three days of travelling, they reached their destination, Auschwitz-Birkenau. During the initial selection process, over 30 members of John’s family, including his mother, were sent to the gas chambers where they were murdered.

John, along with his father and one of his uncles were selected for work. From the platform they were sent to a shower, after which their head and body hair were shaved, and they were given ill-fitting uniforms and wooden shoes.

John was in Auschwitz-Birkenau for 3-4 weeks before he and 270 others, including his father, were selected to work at a steel plant, part of Bochumer Verein, Westphalia which was one of the largest armament works of the Third Reich.  John would work 12 hour shifts, operating dangerous machinery and even though they received more food than in Auschwitz, they were still starving. Many people died in the factory due to the abhorrent conditions and dangerous machinery, John’s father was among one of these people, he died in December 1944 due to illness.

As allied forces began advance into German territory the factory was evacuated and John and 1,500 other prisoners were transported to Buchenwald concentration camp. By this time John was very weak and had to be transported straight to the infirmary ward in the camp.

On the 11th of April 1945 American soldiers liberated Buchenwald. John was extremely ill at this point and weighed just 25kg. John underwent numerous treatments until he was able to return to Hungary again. When he returned, he found that not a single member of his family had survived the Holocaust. John eventually had to escape the Communist regime that took hold in Hungary and became a refugee in Austria and then Australia. John finally came to England in 1963.

In later life John Chillag became a very close friend and supporter of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. He shared his testimony with audiences as long as he was able. Many thousands of visitors have heard John’s story which is the legacy he has left.