MURRAY Scheinberg watched in horror as the gun-toting Nazi officer snatched a six-month-old baby from its mother and hurled it in the air.
It was 1944 at Auschwitz death camp, and Jewish prisoner Murray was about to witness an act of such extreme cruelty it would haunt him forever.
As the baby flew upwards, the Nazi sneered, “If you can’t walk, you will fly”. He then aimed his gun, pulled the trigger and shot the flailing infant dead.
When the mother immediately fainted, she too was shot in the head.
The brutal double execution was among countless horrors Polish businessman Murray was forced to endure during nearly six years at Auschwitz and other Nazi hellholes.
In 1940, he became one of the first eight Jews to be caged at Auschwitz. Later, he’d be one of the last to escape from another concentration camp – Dachau – with the help of a German officer.
Now, 25 years after Murray’s death, his great-niece Marilyn Shimon has told his astonishing story of survival for the first time in her new book, First One In, Last One Out.
She reveals how her courageous ‘Uncle Murray’ battled through more than half a decade of starvation, torture and bloody beatings after being captured by Hitler’s forces.
During this time, he was forced to witness regular ‘Death Wall’ shootings and participate in sick Nazi games – including “walking” on his skeletal back with his legs in the air.
He was literally the first one in and the last one out of the concentration camps
“My uncle’s story is unique in that he was literally the first one in and the last one out of the concentration camps,” says former teacher Marilyn, who lives in New York, US.
“Every time we went to visit him as children, he’d tell us the same stories. He was very emotional – he’d cry, scream, pace.
“He’d stand up, point to all the scars on his body, say ‘look what they did to me’, and show us his number – 31321 – tattooed on his arm.
“He would tell us, ‘If I see a Nazi I will shoot him, no questions asked’. He could not let go. It was part of him until the day he died.”
Hero Murray spent much of his life in California, after American soldiers found him hiding in a ditch outside the walls of Dachau, surrounded by his own urine and faeces, in 1945.
Yet the Holocaust survivor actually grew up almost 6,000 miles away, in Polish capital Warsaw, where he lived in a luxurious five-room apartment with his family.
Born on July 11, 1911 – the youngest of nine siblings – Murray was a popular, happy child.
“He looked Aryan,” Marilyn, now 66, tells us.
“He had blond hair and blue eyes.”
Unbeknown to the youngster at the time, his looks would one day help him deceive the Nazis, who initially didn’t suspect him of being a Jew.
After losing both his parents by the age of 17, Murray took over his father’s men’s designer clothing business and became successful.
He also proudly served in the Polish Cavalry for two years, making the rank of colonel, before falling in love and starting a family.
But on September 1, 1939 – the day Germany invaded Poland – Murray’s peaceful life with his first wife Miriam and their two children came crashing down.
Their street was shattered by the sound of planes zooming overhead, buildings exploding into flames and their neighbours being shot dead.
Soon, the stench of burned flesh permeated the area.
Yet it was only the beginning of the family’s nightmare.
Three months later, at 2am on December 3, 1939, Murray was marched away from his home by German soldiers, after his childhood pal told them under interrogation that he had riches in his store.
Given just two minutes to get dressed, Murray sobbed a final “I love you” to his wife and kids before he was dragged off at gunpoint. Tragically, he’d never see his family again: they were killed by the Nazis.
Caged as a political prisoner at Pawiak prison, in Warsaw, Murray had to sleep in a 10-person cell alongside 24 others, with no bathroom or water.
His only food was that leftover by the Nazis – who forced the prisoners to jump around like frogs and perform other ‘games’ for their entertainment.
One twisted ‘game’ involved getting the emaciated inmates to sing while standing on one foot. As they croaked out tunes, an officer whipped them.
They were called ‘entertainment games’. My uncle would go on the floor and show us like he was reliving it
Another activity saw 10 men shot as they walked on burning coals. And a third involved the prisoners trying to “walk” using only their backs.
“They were called ‘entertainment games’,” explains Marilyn.
“My uncle would get up, go on the floor and show us like he was reliving it.”
After more than a week at Pawiak, Murray was transferred to Tarnow prison, around 185 miles away, where the sick challenges continued.
The guards – who, at this point, didn’t realise Murray was Jewish – would bark: “Hands high. Now crawl on your stomachs to the courtyard!”
Prisoners too weak to follow the commands were shot.
Then, on June 14, 1940, Murray was told he was being transferred to work in a sock factory in Germany – which would turn out to be Auschwitz.
He was among the first eight Jews imprisoned at the camp – all of whom made a pact to help each other keep their Jewish identities hidden.
During the horrendous cattle train journey to Auschwitz, crammed in with hundreds of Polish prisoners, Murray witnessed people die around him.
Some lost their senses and collapsed. Others died from the heat or lack of food or oxygen. Before long, there was a pile of bodies in the corner.
Days later, the sweltering train arrived at its destination: a soon-to-be factory of death, where more than one million Jews would be slaughtered.
Back then, there were only 22 pre-war barracks.
But Murray and other prisoners were quickly put to work expanding the site into a network of extermination camps – something that would play on his mind in later years.
During his time at Auschwitz, Murray witnessed soldiers carry out executions at will on portable gallows, and shoot prisoners three times a week in front of a high wall dubbed ‘Death Wall’.
No prisoner was too young to die, he learned.
During the selection process – where new arrivals were chosen for slave labour or the gas chambers – young children were often sent to their deaths.
Some didn’t even make it to the chambers.
The Nazi threw the baby in the air – and he shot it. He said, ‘if the baby can’t walk, let it fly’. Then he shot the mother
“When he was at the selection, there was a woman carrying a baby,” says Marilyn, recalling the moment that plagued her uncle’s nightmares.
“I’ll start to cry when I tell you this.
“The Nazi pointed the gun at the mother and told her to have the baby walk. The baby was six months old, and obviously couldn’t walk.
“He threw the baby in the air – and he shot the baby. The Nazi said, ‘if the baby can’t walk, let it fly’. Then he shot the mother.”
She adds: “My uncle just told that story a million times.
“And I understand it wasn’t uncommon. They’d just throw little babies into the air and shoot them like shooting practice.
“How can someone do that?”
For some prisoners, life at Auschwitz was so unbearable they killed themselves by leaping onto the surrounding electric fence.
Others, who tried to escape, were slowly tortured to death.
Fellow prisoners were warned: “There are man-killing German shepherd dogs all over, and they will eat you alive if you try anything stupid.”
Eventually, despite Murray’s best efforts to keep his Jewish identity a secret, he was found out one day in the shower.
Officers, learning he was circumcised, broke a chair over his head and whipped him until he was black and blue.
But the brave prisoner wouldn’t give in.
Incredibly, Murray – known by multiple names throughout his life – survived Auschwitz, often pinching his cheeks to look fit for work.
And in April 1945, having been transferred to Dachau camp and with the Allies fast approaching, he made a daring bid for freedom.
He was helped by a high-ranking Nazi officer, called Rudy, whom he’d formed a remarkable friendship with.
Murray’s escape saw him cut through the camp’s barbed-wire fence, shoot two officers and dress in one of their SS [Schutzstaffel] uniforms.
He then hid in a shallow ditch, masked by twigs and weeds, where Rudy brought him food and shared a laugh with him every night.
It was in this tiny hole that the gasping and grey-haired Murray was found by American soldiers on April 29 – the day before Hitler’s suicide.
He was the only one of the initial eight Jewish Auschwitz prisoners to have survived.
In the difficult following months, Murray – who eventually made a new life for himself in Los Angeles – never forgot what Rudy did for him.
And when he came face-to-face with his former Nazi friend in court during the Nuremberg trials, he even testified: “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here to tell my story.”
“The non-Jew helped save the Jew and, in the end, the Jew saved the non-Jew,” says Marilyn, now a Holocaust lecturer with a son, Roy, 39, and baby granddaughter, Emma.
In later years, Murray met and married Marilyn’s ‘Aunt Rose’ – an American Jewish divorcée who supported him through his terrifying flashbacks.
“She would always pat him on the back and say, ‘Murray, it’s OK it’s over, they’re gone, calm down’,” his great-niece tells us.
He died in LA in 1996, aged around 85.
Today, Marilyn is dedicating her time to revisiting and retelling the horrors of the Holocaust – including her Uncle Murray’s hellish experiences.
She believes the worst atrocity in history must never be “buried” or forgotten – otherwise, we are paving the way for future genocides.
If people are bystanders, this will happen again
“Anti-semitism is on the rise now. In the US alone, last year we had more than 2,000 reported instances of it,” she says.
“If people are bystanders, it’s going to happen again.”
Her new book is based on her uncle’s recollections, his written journal and his official oral testimonies, as well as historical documents.
Its publication follows an unsuccessful attempt by her mother in the early 1960s to publish Murray’s memoir, when he was still alive.
At the time, Marilyn says, the world “just wasn’t ready to hear” his story.
But she adds: “Even when he was ill, when he knew his life was coming to an end, my uncle still begged my mother: ‘Please tell the world what happened. They have to know it from me, the first person in Auschwitz’.”
And now, the world knows.