- Ernst Michel was born in Mannheim, Germany to Otto (a cigarette manufacturer) and Frieda Michel. His sister, Lotte was born five years later. As a child, the impact of the Nuremberg Laws affected Ernst in 1936 when he was no longer allowed to attend school. At first he was able to find some factory work for a nearby cardboard packaging company, but Jewish owners of the company could no longer offer him employment after November 9, 1938. He made many attempts to leave Germany and even got an affidavit from an American pen pal, but he still could not get out. The conditions brought hard times to his family and his father was forced to sell his stamp collection piece by piece to keep the family alive.
- Ernst’s father was able to find an apprenticeship for him to train as a calligrapher. In September of 1939 the Gestapo came for him to send him away to forced labor. He never saw his parents and his grandmother again.
- Ernst was confined in various work caps until in 1943 he was deported to Auschwitz and placed in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp. After a month of forced labor in the cement detachment, Ernst was beaten up by an SS man. While standing in line in front of the prisoner infirmary Ernst had the great luck to be given a job as a clerk in that infirmary because of his beautiful handwriting: That saved his life.
- By January 1945 the SS forced inmates to go on the death march westward. They got to Buchenwald concentration camp and Ernst was selected for mining work in Berga. Once again they were evacuated and forced to head east. Ernst escaped the column and ran to the forest. He worked on various farms till liberation.
- After the war Ernst was given a job with the U.S. Army and then worked as a correspondent for the German General News Agency at the Trial of the Major War Criminals in Nuremberg. He was in close view of Hitler’s henchmen and Goring even requested a secret meeting with him.
- He emigrated to the U.S. in 1946 and started working as a typesetter for a newspaper. In 1947 he took a job with the UJA and changed his first name to Ernest. Ernst rose in the ranks of the organization and finally became the head of the organization in 1950.
- He took part in the distribution of funds in the settlement with I.G. Farben, allocating money to the former prisoners of the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp. In 1993 he published his memoirs Promises to Keep: One Man’s Journey Against Incredible Odds.
Jews in Germany before and during WWII
Hitler comes to power in Germany
At Nuremberg Trials