by Jay Kuperman, survivor of Hirshberg and Buchenwald concentration camps
Note: Hirshberg was a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen concentration camp. It is estimated that more than 70,000 prisoners died in Gross-Rosen and its sub-camp between 1940 and 1945.
It was late August in 1939. My parents, my younger sister,brother and I, lived in a small town called Rybnik in Poland, near the german border.My father being an armchair politician, debated that Germany could not possibly go to war,because there was a shortage of food and many other things.What apparently was happening in Germany was the hoarding of all kinds of materiel, for the war which was about to break out.
My father who came to Rybnik in 1922 from a small town near Radom called Zwolen which was a 12 hour ride from Rybnik. Fearing for the safety of his family, he sent us to Zwolen, thinking that the Germans would take some time to get there, and that we would be safe. The Germans bombed the road to Zwolen a day before the war started.We took the last train leaving Rybnik, seems that thousands wanted to leave the border area just as much as we did.We arrived in Radom which is a larger town on the way to Zwolen.We still had to travel by horse and wagon to our destination. In the meantime while overnight in Radom, the Polish secret police interogated us, they suspected that my mother with 3 small children was a german spy.The next day we finally arrived in Zwolen, my father's hometown, where my aunt and her family lived, my father's sister.
Most of the homes in Zwolen where made of wood, there was no railroad,industry and populated mostly by jews. A typical "shetl". After being ther for 5 days the german luftwaffe bombed this village and burned it to the ground. We were able to escape to the nearby forrest, where lived for 2 weeks. After things quieted down, we began our trek back home to southern Poland. My father who stayed back home, was concerned about our well being, had no idea what has happened to us or our whereabouts. He started to look for us traveling on a bycycle.On our way back home we had to pass an airport crowded with germans and their planes, we were stopped and searched. Due to my vanity (I was 15), I always carried a pocket mirror and a comb. The mirror was broken and had sharp edges. Because of this discovery, without explanation the german were going to shoot me. My mother pleaded with them to let me go and they did, we later found out that several germans were found dead with their throats cut and they susspected everyone, even a 15 year old boy who had a mirror in his pocket so that he could look good for the girls. We finally made it back home, when the real horrors of the war started.
We were not allowed to return to Rybnik, it was made "Judenrein", only my mother was permitted to go back and try to sell our belongings. We moved in with a sister of my mother in Sosnowitz, about 50 kilometers from Rybnik.Soon after conquering Poland, the Germans instituted forced labor. I and many others had to be at an appointed location very early in the morning, to do all kinds of manual labor. One year on my way to the synagogue on Yom Kippur, I was taken off the street by a German officer, to his apartment, to wash the floor and polish his boots. It was 1942 when notices went up, that all males older than 14 , were to gather at a certain building, the headquarters of the Gestapo. There we were examined by a German doctor. There were several hundred uf us. WE were taken to a high school, and kept there overnight. The next day we were put on a train and taken to a forced labor camp. I did not have even a chance to say goodbye to my family. My father was allready at a work camp since 1940.
We arrived at camp Sacrau, right away we were put to work building roads . After 3 months we were asked to volunteer to work in a factory, I thought that it would be better than working asa road gang. So I joined others to go to that factory, we were a group of 50.In Hirschberg we lived in one barrack and were guarded by the factory police, the SS took over later when another 1000 jews were brought to Hirschberg. The work at the factory was different,we manufactured artificial wool from wood and paper through a chemical process. The work was very dangerous, one could loose a hand or an arm in the machinery, or be burned from fire in an explosion.The fumes from the chemicals had some kind of effect on the nervous system because many of us lost our minds, and that could last for several weeks.We worked every day for 8 hours and on Sundays we worked 12 hours..
While at the camp many of us were beaten, I was punished with 10 lashes with a handle of a shovel, after that I could not walk for several days. Many times after returning from work, our beds and matrasess were thrown all over the barrack.Hirschberg is in the mountains, winter there was a lot of snow, and many times the temperature was 20 degrees Celsius below zero. We had to line up every morning for roll call to be counted, many times we stood in the cold for hours, just to amuse the SS comander. Many of us could not control their bodily function, and were beaten and bitten by dogs.Another entertaining passtime for the SS was that we had to look for lice in our clothing. At one time a kapo pushed a running water hose down the throat of a young boy almost chocking, all because lice were found on him. That kind of treatment went on all the time in Hirschberg. For me to put all the things that happened on paper would take many pages.
As the Russians were coming closer to our camp, we were marched for 2 days, many people died on the way, I remember like in a dream, that my legs would not carry me anymore and 2 friends helped me along. We arrived at a railroad station, where open cattle cars were waiting for us, we were loaded 100 to each wagon, the train traveled for a week, we had no food or water, it was wintertime and very cold. We finally arrived in Buchenwald, I was very weak that I could not walk and fainted twice, here I was 21 years old and weight about 40 kilo.
Of the 1100 that were on the train only 400 survived.The kapo that almost killed the boy in Hirschberg, after we got to Buchenwald, was stripped of his possition, he now was like one of us, he was killed, by being drowned in a pool of water.I survived Buchenwald and was liberated the Apri 11,1945. Five years ago I went back to Buchenwald, not much is left of the former camp. I settled in Wuerzburg which is in Bavaria, I lived there until 1949, after which I came to the USA. I have 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren, 2 daughters live nearby one lives in Israel, my wife is american born.