Alfred Schreyer was born on May 8th, 1922 in Drohobych, which was then in Poland, now Western Ukraine. His mother, Leontina, was a pharmacist. His father, Benno, had a doctorate from the University of Zurich and was a chief chemist at an oil refinery. Both were very musical and Alfred learned to play the cello. Later, in high school, he was a student of the now world famous writer and painter, Bruno Schulz. Schreyer graduated from high school in 1940, during the first Soviet occupation. He earned his first 80 rubles in a vocal quartet that was part of the Soviet culture brigades.
After the entry of the German Army (June 1941), five forced labour camps were established in Drohobych. Alfred Schreyer worked as an assistant in the carpentry workshop in the village of Herafka. The family had to leave their home and move into the ghetto. In the first “action”, 320 Jews were assembled and then shot in the Broniza Woods. More actions followed and on August 5, 1942, the largest action began, in which 5000 Jews from Drohobych were deported to Belzec and gassed. Among them was Schreyer’s father, an uncle, a grandmother and an aunt.
In 1943, three forced labor camps were liquidated all on one day. Eleven thousand Jews from Drohobych and its surroundings were shot in the Broniza Woods. Schreyer’s mother was among them. Because he was young and strong, Schreyer was forced to work in the camp Ceramic Workshop and then, after its closure, at the Carpathian Oil Corporation, the last forced labor camp in Drohobych. On April 13, 1944, all forced laborers, due to the advance of the Soviets forces, were evacuated to the concentration camp Plaszow near Krakow. Alfred Schreyer was moved to Groß-Rosen, Buchenwald, and finally Taucha near Leipzig, where suddenly one day the prisoners were told: March. March without a goal. This was the so-called death march.Schreyer survived by his wits and good luck. He was in Freiberg, Sachsen, when the war ended, and on May 7 (one day before Schreyer’s birthday) at 7 am the first Soviet tank drove into town.
Alfred Schreyer had the opportunity to emigrate to Argentina, because an aunt and an uncle emigrated there in 1937. But when he saw the barracks of the Red Cross in Berlin, where he would have had to stay for another two or three months, he decided spontaneously to return to Drohobych.
Nothing was left of Schreyer’s former life in Drohobych, but he found a home in the local Cinema Lobby Orchestra. When he sung the Soviet classic, In the City Park, by Matvey Blanter, a woman named Ludmila asked him for the lyrics. They married on January 5, 1949. Work in the Cinema Lobby Orchestra lasted for 16 years. But on January 10, 1963, Khrushchev cut funding to the Cinema Lobby Orchestras, and they were abolished throughout the Soviet Union. Alfred Schreyer worked for 42 years as a music teacher in the Music School of the city of Drohobych.
Today Alfred Schreyer is a local phenomenon, whose story reveals what it means to survive the 20th century’s worst atrocities, and still not lose one’s optimism. The Last Jew from Drohobych is the portrait of an exceptional person, whose experiences – both good and bad – tell a rare story of returning to a destroyed homeland and rebuilding one’s life.