Meet Holocaust survivor Andy Factor

Life before the war

Andy was born in Plauen, Germany in 1924 but spent his childhood in Falkenstein. His family was one of the few Jewish families living in the small town. Andy felt that his childhood encompassed the best of both worlds – the beauty of both his Jewish and German heritage.

Andy recounts his childhood as a happy one. His family was an orthodox Jewish family who adhered to Jewish traditions. Andy had many German friends, and when he entered state school in 1930, he loved it.

“I can still smell the books, the drawing books that I had, the newness of them. One of the things we had to absolutely observe is to keep them clean, put our pencils away in order of colour. It was German, sort of, regimentation. So the first years of my school days were very happy ones.”

 

The rise of Nazism

When the Nazis came to power, life for Andy quickly became very different. Antisemitic newspapers depicting anti-Jewish propaganda made him feel very self-conscious, and he noticed the sudden cruel treatment he was subjected to at school. Andy was the only Jewish boy in his class and experienced humiliation and isolation.

Andy in school prior to the outbreak of war.

His teachers would punish misbehaving classmates by making them sit next to Andy, and he was cruelly exhibited as a living specimen of racial inferiority with typical Jewish physical features. Attending school became increasingly oppressive and demeaning as the years went on.

During this period of persecution, Andy was attacked by a German student one day and was forced to fight back. The next day, the German boy was given several strikes with a cane for being “beaten by a Jew,” indicating to Andy just how severe the situation had become:

“This experience taught me a lesson also. It showed me that you can twist the brains of people; they can think completely differently to what it is to be logic.”

The turning point 

Andy and his father were arrested the day after Kristallnacht in 1938.

They were incarcerated at the town hall in a small room in the cellar overnight. From there, they were taken to a nearby town and detained in prison there. After one week, Andy was released, as the medical examiner – a man Andy’s father played soccer with – kindly marked Andy ‘unfit’ to be taken to a concentration camp.

Andy’s father was transported to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, where he spent six weeks.

 

The Escape 

Andy had relatives – including beauty-industry mogul Max Factor – living in America who sent funds for Andy’s father’s release from Buchenwald with the proviso by German authorities that the Factor family leave Germany immediately.

After six weeks, Andy’s father returned home a changed man: thin, dirty, and traumatised. Fourteen days later, after extensive correspondence between the American Factors and the German and French Authorities, temporary visas were granted, and Andy and his family went to Paris.

In Paris Andy, now 14 years old, did not attend school, instead, he practised his violin with two teachers, one for the left hand and one for the right hand. In December 1939, the family left France for Genoa, Italy, and on 1 January 1940, they sailed the San Remo to Australia.

 

Life in Australia

Andy Factor and MHM Education Officer Mel Attar at the end-of-year volunteer function, 2022.

When Andy eventually landed in Melbourne, he quickly tried to find a job to earn a living. He began working at Myer Emporium for 12 months, primarily on the Christmas windows.

When he turned 18, Andy was called up to the Australian army, where he stayed for four and a half years. With his growing passion for violin, Andy established a string quartet in the company and performed concerts regularly. Following this, he took on a position with the renowned Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Andy eventually married and had two beautiful daughters. He began volunteering at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum as a survivor guide in 2017, to educate visitors on the Holocaust; he now speaks to school students on the importance of equality and freedom:

“We all deserve to be treated as human beings and we should enjoy the freedom we have got and appreciate it and defend it to the last. Be absolutely mindful that what we have in Australia, particularly, is an exception to many other countries who don’t have this freedom.”

To hear the testimony of Holocaust survivors like Andy, please visit our Eyewitness Project.