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Chapter Fourteen

Birkenau

We were led to block 22. In the middle, there was a long brick oven that stretched from door to door. Close by stood a small, fat man with a yellow tape on his sleeve[1], on which was written: “Block-Ältester” (“block elder”). Next to him stood several young boys, beautifully dressed with red, chubby faces.

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Two SS-men remained in the barracks. They had us line up on either side of the stove, and the block elder gave a speech: “You are now in a concentration camp, and you must know that one does not live long here. And therefore, even if you live longer, hand over everything you still have hidden. Because, you will not benefit from it in any way. We will take away your clothes. If we find the smallest thing of value on someone, he will be shot on the spot!”

No one moved to shake out their clothes, because we had already done that in Krynki. However, everyone emptied his pockets of everything he still had left there. We had to put everything in a small box that was on the stove. Then, the block elder acquainted us with the “laws” of the camp. And he informed us about where all the trucks had been taken. In case that one of us cried, he immediately got several strokes with the cane by the beautifully dressed, brazen youngsters and the block elder. A young SS-man invited Yakob to box with him, and Yakob did not dare to refuse. Two hours later, SS-men came and took Yakob to another camp towards Auschwitz, which was three kilometers away from Birkenau. After the control, the registration began. Several clerks sat on the stove at long, narrow tables on which piles of papers were lying. Everyone had to give their name and data about their family, the year of their birth, what disease they were suffering or had suffered from. Everyone had to sign, and then, one by one, we had to go in a line to a table, where two people stood with needles in their hands, tattooing a “run number” on everyone's left arm. My number was: 93886. During the tattooing, tears welled up in our eyes and we saw black dots.

Now that all of us already received a “stamp” and the clerks also finished writing everything down about us, an order is given: “Line everyone up five to a row!” Next, we will be led to the bathroom, where they will shave off our hair and take away our civilian clothes. Before we made it to the

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bathroom, it had already become quite dark. There was no living person to be seen in the camp. The frost crunched underfoot. Outside, a blizzard is raging. We march to the bathroom, and when we enter, we are immediately welcomed with a rain of beating and shouting. A Pole stood by the entrance and hit us over our heads with the buckle of his military belt.

In a few minutes, everyone was already standing naked on the cold, wet cement floor. We threw our clothes on top of each other. Only our shoes with the buckles we wanted to take with us. However, we still had to pass a shoe inspection, and those, who had new shoes or boots, had to give them away and receive wooden slippers in return.

We were then led into a large room, where people stood with razors in hand and shaved everyone from head to toe, after which we were rubbed with a green, burning liquid. This was called “delousing.” Now we were driven “with the help of” cane blows under cold showers, and whoever was not under the cold water, received quite a few blows with the cane. The windows were broken out, and snow and wind chased in from the street, seizing the naked, shivering people. Each of us looked strange. We all chattered our teeth – and no longer recognized each other.

“This is the real hell here!”, some said. For ten minutes, we stood under the cold water, then we were herded into a big cold room, where the window frames were missing, and the wind and snow were hunting us [again]. Every step we took was like being on ice. In addition, the “accompaniment” was made by blows with sticks and leather belts.

In one corner of the large room, there was lying a large pile of clothes, with quite a few people standing and sorting. After a few minutes, they began to pick out shirts. Each of us got a wet, torn shirt and then got in line for underpants.

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Even the underpants were wet. The laundry had been specially dipped beforehand in that green liquid for delousing. The underpants were short and mostly torn. In a second corner, we were issued jackets and pants. The tall or fat people were given short jackets, the short people were given large, long pants with long jackets. We exchanged everything among ourselves. Everyone quickly put on the wet, cold clothes, and immediately the sticks flew again over our heads and backs with the order that we had to line up on the street. They did not give us hats and socks because they were not allowed for recruits. We were told, “Now you will be taken to the quarantine block where you will get used to the camp, only after that we will treat you like all other citizens of the camp and give you hats and socks too!”

Then, while working on the road, we really felt the cold. Our wet underpants and shirts were frozen and it looked like we were wearing clothes made of tin. It didn't help to jump or to snuggle up to anyone. The heavy frost and the wind exerted their power. I was one of the first to run into the street, and the cold was already penetrating all my limbs.

As we stood on the street next to the baths, waiting to be led away to our block, we noticed in the distance, above the little wood, a high fire, from which the surrounding sky turned red; and the air was enriched with a smell as of roasting meat. At first, no one could explain what kind of fire it was. We thought that there was a fire in a village. But when our escorts, those thugs who were also arrested – most of them Poles, but also Jews among them – noticed that we had our eyes turned to that fire, one of them said: “You don't know what this is? That's where your families are being burned who were taken away with the trucks today.” Tears welled up in the eyes of all of us. The wintry full moon shone over our despairing faces. Everyone cried in silence,

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because it was forbidden to cry in the camp. Many wept because they had not been taken away together with their wives, so they would already be among those who no longer suffered grief and torment. So we stood there, our eyes fixed on the red horizon, and no longer felt the cold, until several SS-men came running to us with their sticks.

There are five of us in line again. Again we are counted several times. Each SS-man and assistant then counts again once more. When they are finally done counting, we hear a yelling in the surrounding silence: “Forward march!”

We stopped in front of block number 19. Immediately, several sleepy faces with rough sticks came out and looked at us coldly. They must have been angry with us for disturbing their sweet sleep or something else, anyway their looks were angry and piercing.

The block elder, a short, stocky person with small eyes and a shaved head and neck, speaks Polish-German and waves his rough stick which he calls “interpreter”. At the side stands a tall, sleepy clerk holding a pack of papers. He is discussing something with the SS-man who led us here. An order is given that we are to line up ten at a time: The small ones in the front, the big ones in the back. Along with the command, the “interpreter” comes into action, and the blows are echoing in the silent environment. Behind the block is the high wire fence, which is illuminated by large lamps. Every 5 meters there is a watchtower from which the barrels of machine guns protrude. A silent groan emanates from the broken windows. The yelling of a night watchman and cane strokes can be heard. The counting and overcounting is progressing very slowly. First, we are taught how to stand in line. Just now, in front of two drunken SS-men, the Jewish and Polish “natshalstve”[2] points out with great assiduity how loyal they are towards the camp and how well they teach us the “first parshe breyshes”[3] [4].

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Near the barracks, there are lying old, thrown clothes, torn slippers and several tin cans.

Finally, we are lined up correctly and counted over, and now we are called out one by one by the number on our arms. Everyone holds up their sleeves looking at their number several times to keep it in mind and to call out “hier”[5] at the right moment after the call. If someone does not answer “here” in time, he immediately gets the bill: blows on his head. Each of us received blows while we stood outside the barracks for an hour; some on their heads, others on their backs, and a lot even five, six blows in a row. Finally my number was called and I quickly answered “here”, but still I got a firm punch in the side from the “shtubaves”[6], which stood in two rows by the door {of the barracks}.

We looked at the occupants and did not understand if these were humans or bipedal animals. When I entered, the stench of the toilet bowls in the middle of the room rose to my nose. On the sides, walled in bricks, there were a kind of “beds” that looked like pig cages, one above the other. Several frightened eyes peeked out of the cages, only to immediately hide their heads under black blankets again. In the roof, there were windows that were open all the time, so that the “bed places” were covered with snow. The walls were wet and white frost had formed in some places. Attached to the side of the door was a small room where the block elder lived. Inside, there was a small stove that heated day and night. For the block itself there was no single [heated] stove. The people lay here crammed together in groups of 12-15 on a “bed place”, covered with a single blanket, which was pulled back and forth until it tore. For this, everyone then had to pay with 25 lashes, or do squats for 10 minutes – with a heavy chair in their hands.

We were divided into 12 people per “bed place” and were told to wait for the order to crawl into the cage. At all the three-story bed places, they positioned 36 people each and then instructed them where each 12 of them would have to sleep. Our “twelfth” had to sleep on the wet cement.

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Our heads had to be stuck out in front, so that we could be counted. It was forbidden to lie with the arm above the head [or any other position where the head was not visible].

Then the block elder's yelling rang out, “Everyone to your beds!” We had to take off our shoes and put them next to our heads, one next to the other. Then we heard another shout, “Block, rest!” Anyone who spoke a word was threatened with a cane blow into his face so that his teeth would fall out.

We all lay on a side and shook when we just exhaled. Both the block elder and the night watchman walked around, passing each “bed” and gawking at us.

”Sleep now, because soon you will have to get up again!” we heard the voice of the block elder.

However, no one could sleep a wink. For now, lying on the cold, wet cement, we only felt the cold more strongly. From above, where the other 12 lay, sand trickled into our eyes.

Everyone pondered: what kind of hell is this? What have we fallen into? Better to be dead than to torture ourselves like this… The night watchman walked around, back and forth, with his crude stick in his hand. As soon as he heard a murmur from a “sleeping place”, his rough oak stick struck immediately – on all 12 persons. So, lying on one side, we spent the first dark night of hell in the terrible death camp Birkenau near Auschwitz.

Three o'clock at dawn we heard a whistle from the block elder, and immediately the sticks began to fly over our heads. After a few minutes, everyone was already standing on the “Appelplatz” [roll call place] in the surrounding dark, cold night. Everyone ran to the wall. We obstructed each other. One ran out without shoes, the other without his jacket or shirt. After a few minutes, the block elder showed up with the “Stubendienste” [room servants], each of them with a rough oak stick in his hand. And a smashing on the heads of the black crowd of running people began.

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“Ten to a row,” we heard wild yelling, accompanied by hard blows on our backs and heads. We ran from one end of the wall to the second, not knowing where to line up. In the middle, we all bumped into each other. So it took more than an hour before we finally all confused and tired, stood in a row of ten, the smaller ones in front, the bigger ones in the back. One row stood at the distance of an outstretched arm behind the second. The block elder walked between the rows, elbowing the chests and backs of the trembling people.

So we stood outside, in the winter cold, until half past five. Then a sleepy SS-man came and counted us several times. Upon his arrival, the Blockälteste had given the order, “Attention! Caps down!”

This order was given to us even though we didn't have any caps yet. The only thing that mattered was the movement with the hand, so that the impact was heard. After counting off, we started with “exercises”, “caps off” and “caps on”, and the one who took his hand down too early or too late got blows with the oak stick over his shoulder or head.

These exercises lasted 2 hours. After that we were ordered to disperse, just across the square in front of the block, which was fenced with barbed wire. The neighboring blocks grouped into commandos and marched off to work. We will not go to work yet, because we are still in the “Schonungs-Block” (mercy block).

At 12 o'clock everyone got a potato with some green grass, the portions were for 4 men on one single plate. This was our breakfast and lunch in one. We had to eat with our hands and were not given a drop of water. Although the snow was dirty, everyone took a pile of it and quenched their thirst with it, which was tormenting us more and more every moment.

Most of us got diarrhea right away, but it was strictly forbidden to go to the toilet. Only once a day, in groups, were we allowed to relieve ourselves.

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Therefore, people made in their pants and fell down on the muddy place. At two o'clock in the afternoon, they let everyone back into the blocks. Upon entering, everyone had to take off their shoes and immediately climb up to the “buks”[7] (bed place). So we lay there, not speaking a word to each other. For that was strictly forbidden, and everyone was beware of the stick. For the smallest peep in the “buks” all got cane strokes over the whole body.

At six o'clock in the evening a whistle sounded again, and again everyone had to go to the “Appellplatz” (roll call place), the lineup had to be completed in a few minutes.

At 6:30 a.m. the same SS-man came again, with a badge hanging on his chest, which read: “Lager-Polizei” (Camp Police). Again, we were counted several times; the roll call lasted two hours. Then we were allowed to disperse in the square. The majority already had blackened and swollen eyes and some had split heads. I got two strokes of the cane on my shoulder and could not move one of my arms. On the very first day, the faces of each of us changed. Everyone had gotten blue, dried up lips. The diarrhea had increased and the air was enriched with the smell of death.

The mound with the dead from the neighboring blocks had increased in size; they lay one on top of the other. One was still moving his foot, the other his hand. No one went to them. In our block there were no dead yet, all of them were newcomers. However, everyone knew that tomorrow he could be on the mound, among the half-dead and dead, and everyone felt desperate; many were already talking about suicide. It would have been a very easy death: One could walk to the electric wire, get within a meter of the wire, and in one single second you would have been attracted and burned.

At 7:30 they started to let us back into the block. Again the same. Everyone has to take off their shoes and stand barefoot in the snow. At the door, two “shtubave” stood next to a box and distributed pieces of bread. Another stood a little further away and smeared a little jam on everyone's face instead of on the bread. A little further away stood the block elder with

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his deputy, and both of them beat the people's hands with sticks so that their bread fell to the ground. If someone bent down to pick it up again, he immediately received a second blow on the head and remained down on the ground. People with pieces of bread lay around on the ground like stones or rags.

In the corner next to my “buks” were the toilet bowls, where many people stood, holding their pants in their hands, but it ran down their pant legs… For this, everyone got a cane blow on the rear and ran back to their “buks”, not knowing where they had lain before.

A shout from the block elder could be heard: “Block, silence!” and a dead silence hung in the air. On my “buks” everyone lay confused and moaned quietly.

Each of us changed on the very first day, both externally and internally. Previous people were transformed into wounded, helpless animals in one day. After two nights of lying in the “buksn”, everyone felt small animals running all over our bodies, but we could not drive them away. They increased more and more and already crawled over our faces. Our blankets were besieged by lice. Everyone scratched himself bloody on his body.

Now we were in the so-called “quarantine block” for 6 days, where we were to be adapted to camp life. For the whole six days we stood more in rows on the roll call square than we were in the block. On the sixth day each of us was given a hat (and those who had no shoes were given heavy, wooden slippers) and torn civilian coats with a red stripe down the back. In the front, on the civilian pants, they marked everyone with red paint. On our right trouser legs, the numbers we had on our arms were sewn in. These numbers were also sewn on the left side of our coats. In addition, on one side there was a yellow Star of David, the sign that we were Jews. We were made to suffer twice: as a Jew (yellow Star of David) and as a political arrestee [red mark][8]. Jews were called upon to do the hardest, most unbearable work.

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On the seventh day, a Sunday, we were lined up in “Arbeitskommandos” (work crews), and immediately, people appeared with sticks in their hands and a yellow patch on their sleeves with the inscription “Kapo”[9]. Twice we were instructed how to pass the room of the “Blockführer”[10], where the murderous figures [lit. “faces”] of the SS were standing. We all had to march with our left foot (first), and whoever could not change his step sequence [fast enough] received a firm blow with the oak stick.

That same day, during morning roll call, one of our block, Yashe Zelikovitch from my shtetl, was caught while trying to exchange bread for water with a Russian prisoner of war. At roll call his number was called out, and, together with the “block elder”, the SS-man gave him 25 strokes of the cane. Yashe's father stood in the same line at the roll call and had to watch and listen to the death cries of his son, who, finally, was killed for his screaming and thrown against the wall, where quite a few already were lying having perished on the [electric] wire. This was the first victim from our transport.

At eight in the morning, we marched out to work. In the first line of five, the “Kapo” walked and yelled, “Left, left, left!” Now, we arrived at the high, iron camp gate. On the left, there was a small, wooden barrack, by which 10 murderous Germans stood, peering wildly at the marching, pale human shadows. We hold our hats in our hands, heads held high. An old, gray, bandit “yeke”[11] stands there smiling cynically, muttering something to his “comrade.” The “Kapo “ reports how many people have arrived and gives the name of the work crew. We hear the word “krematorium” and “with 300 prisoners” while marching out. Two young SS-men stand on either side of us and count us as if we were the most precious things in the world.

We turn left and march along the muddy path towards the grove.

Finally, we stop at an empty place, where “bages” [sacks? panniers?] are deposited, in addition bricks, mounds of sand, stones, barrels, pitch and boxes with spades,

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heavy hammers and so on. At the side is a tractor loaded with heavy, large stones, and near it are quite a few civilian people. All of them hold sticks in their hands, and, having their eyes turned toward us, they smile cynically. The “Kapo “ and several Polish foremen count us again and additionally, assign 2 men to each group. For every 20 men, a “foreman” is assigned who wears a narrow yellow ribbon with the [German] inscription: “Vorarbeiter”.

The foreman of our group leads us, cohesively, to a box. Everyone takes a spade or a log and goes towards the civilians. But one of them comes up to us, positioning us to dig a narrow pit two meters deep.

After we worked on it for a few hours, I asked the master what they were actually going to build there where we were digging?

“A crematorium will be built there to burn all the Jews”, the master replied with a smile.

At first, we did not understand these words at all, but later, we already saw with our own eyes how quickly a high, thirty meter thick chimney had risen there, from which red tongues of fire blazed up to the sky.

The first day, we worked until 5 o'clock in the early evening. Then we walked again, cohesively, to the camp gate. Now an orchestra was playing and it was easier to march to the beat.

“Left, two, three, four,” the “Kapo” yelled before we approached the camp. And when we were already very close to the room of the block leader, we heard, “Caps off!”, and a shout of the “Kapo”: “300 prisoners – Crematorium 1 – back in camp!”

Again, they counted us and wrote down the number before crossing everything out again [and recounting]. The orchestra is playing to the beat. We are marching on the “camp street” to the block.

The “camp street” is black with marching groups. From some groups, dead and half-dead are carried.

A stroke of the gong sounds, and everyone quickly runs to their blocks.

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On the camp road, quite a few people are left dragging on all fours in the mud.

As we line up for roll call, we all get the reward for a day's work in the form of blows over our heads with the oak cane.

We are already lined up in rows of ten. The block elder does exercises: “Caps off”. “Caps on”, and whoever takes his hand down too late or too early receives a firm blow so that everything spins in his head and black stripes dance in front of his eyes.

After the roll call, we are led to the latrine in groups, cohesively, five in a row.

 

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Exterior appearance of the crematorium in Dachau, mountains of dead lie next to it and (North) American soldiers look at it with bewilderment on the first day of liberation.

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It is already 8 o'clock in the evening, and meanwhile, we have not yet had breakfast before our eyes.

Each of us had had to deal with a fainting spell ten times[12]. But it was not hunger that tormented everyone so much, but thirst. It burned like fire in our bodies, and our lips were covered with cracked, sticky skin. There was no more snow either. Everything was turned into sticky, black mud. The whole camp had become one big swamp and people could not pull their feet out even after a hard struggle. Those who sunk in, had to leave their wooden slippers there, and those who even fell down, no longer had the strength to stand up again and remained stuck there until it was over for them.

 

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Klausen – observing the Jews marching into the camp
 
Kaduk – in the camp by the electric fence, shooting at a refugee from the Gypsy camp behind the fence

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No one paid attention to the other. Everyone knew that the same fate was waiting for him as well.

Water became the main problem for us newcomers. Our meal consisted of half a liter of grass soup and a rotten potato and was taken standing over one bowl for 5 people. We were called the worst and dirtiest words. The most terror was spread by the block elder and the camp policeman, an SS-man. When he was tired of beating us, he used to write down the number of a person's arm, and at the roll call, he would get his punishment. The punishment consisted of 25 lashes or 10 minutes of so-called “sport”, after which the person lay half-dead in the mud.

After two weeks, 20 men were missing from our transport, which consisted of 150 men when it arrived at the camp. Half of them had gone themselves to the wire, in groups of three or four, holding each other arm in arm. The next early morning after the death of Yashe Zelikovitsh, when it was still pitch dark, it was his father, Milke Zelikovitsh, who was the first to go to the wire, taking with him a young person, Katriel Engenradt. They fell by a shot in the chest, five meters from the electric wire.

When roll call began, the two people were missing, but were immediately found next to the wire. Each detainee bore the number of his block, and when someone was missing during roll call and was found by the wire, one could immediately determine from which block he was.

Almost all of our transport suffered from a general diarrheal disease which prevailed in the camp. Dozens of prisoners died of it every day.

After two weeks, we were transferred to another block, number 13, where about a thousand prisoners were tormented. The conditions in this block were much worse than in the previous “quarantine”. The block elder and the block clerk embodied bandits in every respect. The block elder, Rozen, was a Slovak Jew and the clerk, Adek[13], a Polish Jew.

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The block elder was one of the oldest Jewish arrestees, with the number 27,000. The only “names” he titled us with were: “You dirty scumbags, you pig dogs”, and simultaneously, he would “honor” us with cane blows over our heads. The clerk Adek, a small, powerfully built “man”, had a brusque, hoarse voice. He was constantly seen without a hat, with a clean-shaven head and a rough, oaken stick in his hand. Whoever fell into his hands did not survive.

His way of killing was to deliver a firm blow on the prisoner's head, and when he fell into the mud, he used to place the stick on the victim's neck and stepped on the ends of the stick with both feet, until

 

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In a pit next to the crematorium are lying mounds of human skeletons, which could not be burned because of the great shortage of coals

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the victim's tongue came out and a white foam wetted his lips. Only then, the “Stuben-Dienste” (“room services”) used to grab the victim by his feet and throw him to the wall, where other dead and half-dead people were already lying on top of each other.

Immediately, when we arrived at his house, Adek gave us a speech with the words:

“You dogs, you will not live with me for more than one week. I want you to know that you are now in block number 13 with Adek, and I want you to know what awaits you there!”

Block 13 housed the worst work crews, such as “Crematorium number 1 and number 2” and “Excavation works in the Vistula”. In these 3 work crews, a Jew would not endure more than two weeks. At the crematoria, one had to work 24 hours in a row at a stormy pace.

From (such a) work crew, they used to bring in 20-30 dead every day, half of them half-dead, who left the next morning for block number 7 – the block of death.

I worked in the “Crematorium Number 1” crew, and had to haul bricks. The amount of work grew before our eyes. Dozens of civilian Germans were employed here and every day, a tall officer came from Berlin, inspected the work and intervened.

Our “Kapo” was a German, an imprisoned criminal with a green triangle [on his clothes]. There were various identification badges in the camp; political Aryans wore a triangle [or “angle”] with the point down [on their jackets or shirts. Jews wore a red angle with the point upwards and a yellow angle with the point downwards, which altogether made a Star of David. Additionally, every Jew had to wear the first letter of his country of origin: for Poland a “P”, for France an “F”, for Romania an “R” and so on. Thieves wore green angles with the point down, and sabotagers wore black angles with the point up. The majority of the “Kapos” were imprisoned criminals who were rewarded with cigarettes for each murdered prisoner.

When we got to work, the “Kapo” used to order that we should open our mouths. And whoever had a

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a gold tooth was placed aside. Later, these people were assigned the hardest work, they had to drag 25 bricks over the scaffolding up to the chimney. Anyone who could not do this job at a run was thrown from the highest scaffolding down to the earth.

At the very top, there were standing a number of young SS-men ready to do this inhuman “work” with diligence. For one day, I worked carrying bricks, and if I hadn't been able to get another job the next day, I would have also been lying murdered in a puddle of blood below. But I then worked for several days making clay and unloading bricks from the trucks.

The dead people's gold teeth were usually torn out, for which the young SS-men could drink schnapps. In addition, they received a present from camp commandant Schwartz: a packet of cigarettes for each dead person.

The orchestra played to the beat, and the dead were carried four at a time, on the shoulders, to the camp command (“Lagerkommandatur”), whose members stood at the gate and gloated over our unbearable suffering.

In the first week, 40 of our 140 men were murdered. The remaining ones were all in very bad condition, so that every day whole groups had to move to block number 7 – to the “precinct”. Block number 7 represented a transit center to death, of which 1500-2000 people of all nationalities were taken out[14] every second or third day, but the majority were Jews. Russians and Poles were already taken out when they were only half dead.

People of all nationalities were in the camp: Jews, Russians, Poles, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Spaniards, Germans and so on. Also, a “Strafkommando” (penal-command), abbreviated “S.K.”, was there, where the strongest Jew had a life expectancy of 5-6 days. The “S.K.” was separated from the general camp by a high, brick wall, covered with barbed wire fence at the top. The “sin”, for which someone was put in here, was talking to a civilian worker or women. The latter was exceptionally strictly forbidden.

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For this, one was punished with six months of S.K., which meant to live only for 6 more days. The work in the S.K. consisted of digging in the Vistula while standing up to the middle of the body in water. Every five prisoners had an SS-man next to them as a supervisor, who used to beat them with a stick from morning until evening. In its block, the S.K. exacted a special strict discipline: One had to stand barefoot at roll call for several hours, and there had to be strict silence all the time until after work.

Any communication with the camp was denied, and when quite a few detainees went to the kitchen after dinner or to the bread store, they were led under gun-point by the murderous commando leader. There [in the S.K.] were also those, on whom a faint suspicion had fallen that they might have wanted to escape. The only way to save his life, definitely was to escape. Although it was impossible to implement this. Because of the electric wire at the height of two and a half meters, it was impossible to get out of the camp. From the work crew, it was also difficult to escape, because ten people each were guarded by one SS-man. Even if someone managed to escape sideways, he was usually searched for by thousands of SS-men with sniffer dogs. That same day, the fugitive used to be brought back to the camp alive or dead. A victim, who was still alive was then hanged the next day in the middle of the camp, and everyone had to be present at this ceremony. The dead body used to hang for several days, with an inscription above him in German and in Polish: “This is what awaits everyone who escapes!”

After eight days of work in the squad “Crematorium Number 1”, I decided to go to a different crew, at “Barackenbau” (“Barracks Construction”), which was one of the better squads.

The next morning, I positioned myself in the new work crew “Baracken-Bau”, which included a hundred workers with two “Kapos”: namely, a “Head Kapo” and an ordinary “Kapo”. The “Head-Kapo” was a German of 60 years. Always with a smiling face, and always without a stick. Everyone considered him a “father” of the squad.

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He is a political prisoner, and the workers of his crew have a very good opinion of him. I stand among the people of his crew. Fortunately for me, one worker was missing that day, because he had fallen ill. So now, together with me, there were exactly one hundred of us. But the change was not as easy as I thought. In the camp and in each block, there was a regulation that everyone had to stay continuously in a single work crew.

 

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Here we see a gassed Jew being thrown into the oven of the crematorium, which was carried out by the “Sonderkommando”, whose members were also killed later

 

When the murderous “Kapo” saw that I was missing that morning, he ran through the camp looking for me. He then found me in the work-crew “Barracks Construction”. At first, I was hit hard on my back with his stick. But the old “Head Kapo” immediately stood in front of me and refused to let me out of line.

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One Kapo pulled me towards him, and the other pulled me into his crew. The two ambitiously got into a dispute about who would win the victim for himself. And the old “head kapo” won! I left, to work in a new squad. That's when I realized what a difference the Kapo made in terms of the work situation. Here too, the SS was present, also with sticks in their hands, but we were already working in such a way that we were not immediately seized, if we stood there just for a moment without working.

Our Kapo had built a hut in the field, where he sat for hours with the SS-men, and we used to stay between the boards, or on the roof of the barracks. When the old Kapo was in a good mood, he, together with some of the arrested, used to go to the women's camp and bring a kettle of soup. Very few Jews worked in our squad, the majority were Poles with old numbers; they had come in 1942. They had already been through measles and chicken pox and gave me lessons on how to fight the difficult daily battle for survival.

My job was to haul up boards to cover the roof.

One day, when I returned to the camp from block number 1, where also the murderous Kapo from the work crew “ Crematorium Number 1 “ was staying, he examined me from head to toe and made a gesture with his hand, gnashing his yellow, protruding teeth.

The old Kapo had told me to report to him if the other kapo would hit me. But the murderous Kapo did not beat me anymore, and from that day on, I worked in the squad “Barracks Construction”.

Every day, the ranks of our transport group became emptier. When I used to come back from work, I did not recognize my comrades, because everyone changed in appearance from day to day. The mounds with the dead on the wall grew, among them lay acquaintances from my shtetl. Five people were already missing from my “buks” [box, the sleeping place made of cement]. Now I slept in the middle box, where you could not sit up and it was dark during day and night like in a tomb.

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Sleeping together with me were Yudl Kaplan, Isaiah (Shiye) Glezer, Motl Kirzner, Pinye Klas, Shiye (Shia) Shapiro and two people from Grodno. So far, all of them had “held up” well. Everyone was fighting for their lives every day. Once, when I came home from work, I did not recognize my friend Yudl. His whole face was swollen and tinged with all colors: blue, yellow and red. At roll call, standing next to me, he told me, what he had been through during the day. After the roll call, he ate nothing, because when he received his portion of bread, he received cane blows over his hand and fell into the mud. I carried him to the block and put him in our “box”. After two hours, he rose with wide, staring eyes and asked me for some water. I jumped down from the “box” to ask for a drop of water from someone. But when I returned to the “bed”, I found my comrade Yudl Kaplan dead. All night, I lay in the box with him, and after three days, the same happened with Shiye Glezer.

On Sundays, our squad did not work. Therefore, all of us used to retire back to our blocks and sit down against the wall. Opposite us, the first rays of spring were already roaming around. All the other work crews used to work until 12 o'clock in the day. After that, all except the “crematorium commando” used to march into the camp and get shaved and have their hair cut. The shaving was done on the roll call square. First, 10 men were soaped up before they were all shaved with one single knife. The shavers received a soup refill for this. The haircutting was done in the same way. Later, the block elder made a check, and those who had not yet been shaven, received a portion of caning.

Sundays, moreover, new stripes were applied to the clothes, and buttons were sewn on with wire. Those who still had a little strength also washed out the mud from the whole week. We were not allowed into the blocks, and standing in the mud for half a day was worse than being on the work detail. It pulled the marrow out of our bones.

The Sunday afternoon was also used for selections.

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This brought death to hundreds of people. When we heard a signal and the shouting: “Blocksperre!”[15], then we already knew that the “Galgen-Mengelyer”[16] was about to come to carry out a selection.

Everyone had to strip naked in the block and then to go completely naked to the roll call area, where we had to stand in line, looking and waiting, until the executioner would come.

When Mengele appeared with the other officers, we all trembled all over. Everyone knew exactly that death was going there, from which one could not buy oneself free.

Mengele, an elderly, tall, slim person with a long face and large, shining eyes like those of a tiger, used to walk serenely with long strides, one hand buried in his coat, a cigarette in his mouth. In the same pose, he stood at the railroad station, where the human transports arrived, and all had to pass under his murderous gaze: With a single movement of his left index finger, either to the right or to the left, he sent tens of thousands of people to the gas chambers, and with the same composure, he carried out the selections on the men and women.

His name alone spread terror throughout the camp. But now, there was a second executioner, a sadist, the “Rapport-Führer” [report leader], who received the report, whether everything was properly in order, and forwarded it every day to Berlin, to the “Judenvernichtungs-Amt” [Jewish Extermination Office], to [Heinrich] Himmler and [Ernst] Kaltenbrunner.

In addition, there was (Josef) Schillinger[17], a small, powerfully built man who constantly kept his head tilted a little to one side, with dark brown, piercing eyes. He was frequently present in all the barracks. If someone fell into his hands, he did not survive. His method of beating consisted of grabbing his victim by the lapels, shaking him violently, then gnashing his teeth so that his jaws would go up and down. Finally, he would push his elbow hard against his victim's temple so that even the strongest would immediately fall over unconscious. But he never was satisfied with that but would take a stick, put it to the unfortunate's neck and squeezed,

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until death freed the victim from the savage sadist. His chastisements usually lasted a minute. He had a particularly large hatred on Russian and German political prisoners.

This beast did not live long. At the end of 1943, he was shot in the crematorium by a Jewish artist. She had come from an internment camp from Berlin, where 1600 Jewish American citizens were staying.

I worked for two weeks in the “Barracks Construction” crew. One Sunday, early in the morning, our block had to perform squats next to the wall as a punishment. There, at our feet, lay a mountain of corpses that had been dragged out of the “boxes” today.

Most of us were already unable to stay on our feet, and many were left stretched out in the mud after doing the squats. They no longer felt the cane blows of the clerk, Adek. Suddenly, the “Arbeitsdienst-Führer” [fatigue duty leader] appeared, together with several detainees in the function of clerks.

He ran to the block elder and talked to him, while his gaze fell on the seated people, who now looked like frogs in the mud, with their heads held high.

The “Arbeits(dienst)-Führer” pointed to us, the sitting ones, and the block leader called one to stand up. The fourth one he pointed to was me, and I had to get in line. In this way, he called up 50 detainees, the majority of whom still looked “good”, although this “goodness” consisted only in the fact that they were wearing more or less clean clothes.

We were led to the bathroom, where we threw off our lice-ridden clothes and got under the cold shower. No one knew for what purpose we had been chosen, everyone believed something different. The majority thought that we would be sent or transported to another camp.

After washing, we all got clean shirts and new

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striped clothes: Pants, a jacket and a coat. After that, we were told that we would be working in the “Aufräumungs-Kommando” [clean-up squad], which was called “Canada”[18]. It was known as Canada, because in this squad, everyone had enough to eat and could live “like in Canada”.

Before I came to this warehouse, I had heard already about this squad and seen people who worked there. Most of them were old detainees, who had come at the beginning of 1942 and first stayed in the Auschwitz camp. After that, they were transferred to the subcamp, Birkenau, which continued to grow every day with new barracks and additionally, with new plans for new large camps. The environment was swampy, the earth was one big mud, but thousands of detainees worked hard, digging channels into which stones were thrown, to dry out the earth. All the surrounding villages had been destroyed and their houses expropriated; the empty area, where people used to work, was littered with small camps like Bana, Yanozhne, and even smaller camps with up to two to three thousand detainees. The camp was 40 square kilometers in size and was guarded by five chains of posts. To its one side flowed the Vistula, to the other were the Beskid Mountains, which were well visible from the camp.

From the bathroom we were led to a wooden barrack, number 17, where also the work crew “Barracks construction” was located; and next to it, in barrack number 16, was “Canada”. The block elder, a German with a “green angle”, valued discipline and cleanliness as much as circumstances allowed.

Life was very different in the barracks than in the stone block. Now, there were three bedsteads, where no more than 6 people slept, that is, two in a bed, with a straw sack on the side. Like in a casern, the bed had to be well made every day. Compared to the previous hell, this was paradise. It is more light and airy here. The toilet device is next to the door, and good care is taken that it does not overflow. The toilet is brought out [and emptied] according to a certain order. In this respect, there is no difference between old and new detainees.

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The same law applies to all of them. Anti-Semitism is significantly less pronounced here, because the Poles of the barracks like to approach the Jews who work in “Canada”. The clerk is a Slovak Jew, he too has a hoarse voice. He is a restless person and does not spare with sticks. However, he only beats Jews. He is a little afraid of the Poles, since they are old detainees who “have already been under the horse and on the horse”[19]. The strokes of the cane intended for them are usually given to us – but with soup it is the other way around.

Among us fifty people, two of our transport were included: Me and Ayzik Tzigel.

I slept together with Ayzik in one bed, the others were locked away from us. No one from the camp dared to enter our barracks. The next morning, we were led to work, three kilometers from Birkenau, where there were five barracks, next to which lay piles of suitcases, packs and bedding, covered with blankets.

The work crew “Canada” numbered 300 people with two Kapos, one a German, and the other a German Jew.

When we got to the workplace, the Kapo gave a speech in front of us, in which he said that we all had to work like machines and were not allowed to eat while working. Moreover, it was forbidden to take food into the camp.

There were also quite a few SS present. One, an “Oberscharführer”, was called “The Grandpa”, the other “Oberscharführer” was called “The Dad”. Both were tall and fat, with red, murderous faces. They constantly had rough sticks or leather whips in their hands. At the tip of the whip was a piece of lead, weighing 200 grams.

We were assigned to different jobs, I was to load heavy sacks of rags onto the wagons. All at a run, driven by young SS-men. And if someone got out of breath, he was beaten with sticks or had to do the so-called “sport”: “Lie down! Get up! Lie down! Get up!”, and so it went, countless times….

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We worked 12 to 14 hours a day with one hour rest for lunch. The transport groups were already all beaten bloody. The Kapo, Serele, boasted of his beatings, and was virtually idolized by the SS.

Several hundred Jewish women also worked here with an overseer, an SS woman, who carried a wolfhound that helped her torment the debilitated women.

In this regard, a special chapter consisted of a single lavatory, where no more than one person was allowed to go. Almost all of them, however, suffered from diarrhea and could no longer control themselves.

When three or four women gathered next to the toilet, the SS woman noticed this immediately and rushed her loyal companion, the dog, to them. And he understood quite well what he was needed for … The dog used to grab one of the women by her dress and drag her across the yard. And when the dress was torn so that the dog could no longer pull it, he bit the body until the blood ran over the yard. The SS used to delight in it and toss and roll on the floor, laughing, while encouraging the dog: “Tighter, tighter, grab, grab!”

Such scenes occurred every day for both women and men. Every day, two or three such victims were usually brought into the camp on a cart. Shootings were also common. It was strictly forbidden to deliver [to others] a piece of bread, even if it had been lying in the mud already.

There was a carpentry squad working in the vicinity of our workplace, and they usually asked us to pass a piece of bread through the wire fence. But the SS used to be careful watching the wire fence through a crack in the barracks, and just in the moment, when someone would bravely threw bread across it, a revolver shot would be fired and hit his head, so that the offender [lit. captive] fell into a pool of blood.

Such incidents were very common. Despite the danger of death, bread and canned food were still thrown over for the hungry comrades.

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While marching to and from work, we were forced to sing German songs, and if someone did not sing, the Kapo or the “Postenführer” [guard of the camp] would hit them with a stick.

The work in “Canada” consisted in taking over the things of an arrived transport. When a transport arrived at the station, everyone left their luggage in the wagons. Then about 50 “Canadians” came to load all their luggage onto trucks and take everything to the so-called “Effektenlager” [stock store], where 300 men and 400 women were working; everything was sorted and well searched here. When something sewn in was found, they usually tore the concerned garment and throw it to the rags. The very good and new items of clothing used to be collected in a magazine [military storehouse] and sent to Germany on a weekly basis.

There [also] lay piles of luggage and suitcases thrown on top of each other, which one brought from the transports day and night. Shoes were also transported to Germany. The women worked sorting the laundry and sealing it: Everything was packed in dozens of parcels and tied with ropes before being sent to Germany.

The same was done with bed linen. The old ones were torn up and thrown to the rags, the new ones were sent to Germany. Every day 10-15 wagons were fully loaded. Valuables, such as gold, money, watches, silver and gold glasses, as well as everything that was counted as valuables, were collected in large, locked boxes with a hole into which the objects could be thrown. Such a box was usually transported to Berlin every day.

The clothes of the gassed people were also sorted in this way. All paper passports and photos were burned so that no traces of them would remain.

After work, a strict check was carried out. Everyone was forced to strip naked and their clothes were thoroughly searched. Woe to him with whom they found something.

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The punishments were different, depending on what was found in the detainee. For a box of canned food, you got 25 lashes, from which you used to fall down unconscious. The “Grandpa” beat with his leather strap until blood flowed. While he was beating, the unfortunate victim had to count himself, and if he miscounted and said, for example, “5” instead of “6,” he had to start again from the beginning. For beatings, there was a special bench on which the victim's feet and hands were clamped in holders.

Sometimes, when many were to be beaten and the “Grandpa” was already tired, the “Dad” was called to help; then both were beating and having a lot of pleasure.

I got five lashes on the very first day for picking up a piece of sugar from the ground and putting it in my mouth. This was noticed by the “Dad” and he, immediately, paid me my “wages” for it. These were my first “counted” lashes of my camp life. In the meantime, I was already registered as a “camp resident” and at the same time, as a “Canadian”. In “Canada” it often happened that all for one took blows. If one of a group of 20 people committed even the smallest “sin,” all 20 would get the punishment. Most of the time, we were given collective punishments. However many advantages this crew had, there were also many disadvantages.

No day went by without a cart, carrying a number of beaten people. Those who had received 25 lashes, could not go to work the next morning, so the majority of them had to transfer to Block 7, where they met their death.

A human being was transformed into a running machine in this squad. Everything had to be done at a run, accompanied by caning. The SS were constantly drunk, and they satisfied their animal instincts by tormenting us.

A number of other punitive measures were also implemented.

It was very strictly forbidden to speak a word with a woman, who worked on the same yard.

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worked on the same yard. For this, you got 25 lashes or a “report”; and that meant: 3 months “S.K.” (“Strafkommando”).

Various women worked here, most of them Jewish. They represented only one percent of former thousands of living women. Most were from Slovakia. The same discipline applied to the women as to us. They also used to get the same caning. All too well known was the warden with her dog, who was a sadist in every way, both outwardly and inwardly. Even when a smile appeared on her face, it seemed cruel and cynical. The SS boasted [of special cruelties] in front of her, and she in front of them. Man has been turned into a toy here. The men also had to take off their caps in front of the SS woman, which gave her pleasure.

Very frequently, there were inspections of high officers and generals. The “high lords” always used to come to inspect the looted goods.

When such a commission arrived, they used to intensify the beating and tormenting. In this respect, every SS-man wanted to surpass the others, to receive an award for it. Often, the camp commanders “Schwartz” and “Hess” used to come. On such days, not two or three, but 10 or 15 people tortured to death were brought to the camp.

All food found in the luggage had to be delivered to the camp kitchen. The SS people kept the canned food for themselves. After a few days, we were allowed to carry bread into the camp. After work, each of us got a loaf of bread, which was strictly controlled. Usually, I also poured a little tobacco into my pocket, mixed it with bread crumbs, and brought that to the camp. I distributed the tobacco and bread to the still living Krynkers, who kept already waiting for me with impatience, because it was very strictly forbidden (for them) to come to us in the barracks. The strong smokers, like Yashe Margolyes (Margolies) and others, felt happy when I gave them some tobacco. Every day, I also provided another comrade with my shirts and sweaters.

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I used to put on torn clothes and, with great difficulty, would [change my clothes and] dress in new clothes at work. We were strictly forbidden to carry pocket knives. We could only smuggle them [to the camp], when we went to the train station in the middle of the night for a transport was arriving.

As I mentioned earlier, I remained together with Ayzik Tzigel; we shared a “bed” for sleeping and worked together. After five days of working, he received 25 lashes for trying to carry five pieces of sugar into the camp. He was taken back to the camp on a wagon. The next morning, he was sent to another block, from which everyone was usually taken away in unknown directions.

Now I was left alone. I was assigned a Jew from Grodno, to share my bed with. We became good comrades, but unfortunately the situation did not last long. Once, I decided to smuggle a box of sardines into the camp for the “blokovn” [person in authority?] in order to persuade him to take two people, Yashke Margolyes and Yehoshua Shapiro, out of the “Crematorium Number 1” work crew and put them in another squad. Thus, on the walk from the train station back to the camp, I took a box of sardines with me. But when we had to pass the block leader's house at the gate, we were searched, and the box of sardines was found on me. My number was noted, and for the moment, I was released. The next morning, I went to work as I did every day. But at lunchtime, the “Zeyde” (“grandpa”) called my number and I had to go to him, knowing what to expect.

“Bend down, blighter!” he yelled wildly at me, pointing his finger at the “bench”. No reason for the punishment followed, the order had to be carried out immediately.

So I lay down on the “bench”, the Kapo clamped my hands and feet, and the “Zeyde” yelled, “Count!” “One!”

A blow with the braided strap. The piece of lead [at the tip] slashed into my belly. After the first blow, I felt a sharp pain under my heart and felt dizzy. Cries and

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tears escaped from me, and immediately, a second and third blow fell. Each blow tore a piece of flesh from my body. I counted to “five”, but then the Kapo already began to count, because I could not even scream anymore. When they untied my hands and feet, I fell unconscious to the ground.

So I was lying there under the “shap”[20] until the evening. Then, I was put on a cart and taken to the camp. It was only on the way there that I felt the pain. My bedmate put a compress on me with a wet towel[21]. The whole night, I lay on my belly and moaned. The next morning, I barely managed to go out to the roll-call. Two comrades supported me under my arms. But I could no longer go to work. That was, how my three weeks in “Canada “ ended.

* * *

That same day, towards evening, the block clerk called my number, and I was led away to block number 3, where those were standing, who had returned from the precinct or those, who had been beaten and could not go back to work. Block “three” was one of the worst and dirtiest blocks. A brick block with 700 prisoners, 600 of whom were only shadows of human beings. They were no longer fit for work, and therefore they were facing the threat of block number 7. The block elder is a Jew from France. A very strict man, but even he cannot fight the dirt in his block. The block number 3 is the way to death. Every day, 30-40 victims are carried out to the wall. The whole day, we had to be on the street. The camp elder drove us from one place to the next, and in this process, quite a few fell down under the canes and died. The healthier inmates were selected to do camp work. They had to carry stones so that the only camp road could be paved. One day I was still lying on the road, and the next morning they had already assigned me to carry heavy stones. I shared

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the sleeping place with a former Kapo, an Austrian, who had received 25 lashes from the “Rapportführer” Schillinger.

Being in the camp, we usually saw the trucks, which were fully loaded with people, being transported to the grove. There was a small, brick hut with two wooden barracks. After half an hour, a fire used to flicker out of the pits, and black clouds of smoke darkened the blue sky. Two crematoriums were already complete. Their chimneys were covered with iron, so that they would not burst from the great fire. The height of the chimneys is thirty meters. They are separated from each other by a wide road, and each crematorium is fenced with an electric wire, which is already surrounded by high, wooden watchtowers.

Opposite our camp was the women's camp. We used to watch from a distance, as shadows of women moved over there, without hair, without shoes, in a single blouse or in torn shirts. We were very strictly forbidden to stand near the wire and talk to the women. This was well supervised by the camp Kapo. At the slightest suspicion that one had raised his hand to make a gesture in the direction of the women's camp, there were ten lashes on the spot or a report that meant three months “S.K.” [Strafkommando]; this punishment also applied to the women. The women were completely isolated from the men; and no one knew who was still alive, and who from the transports was still in the camp.

From our transport, a group of 17-to 20-year-old girls had come to the camp, but none of us knew if any of them were still alive. The hundreds of women, who worked opposite us in the camp, were very closely guarded. Whenever the women marched to or from work, we were driven off with sticks to the sides of the road. However, if someone managed to get closer, he still did not recognize a familiar face, because both the women and the men had changed very much in appearance. Often I stood at the side,

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focusing my gaze on the women, who dragged themselves along like shadows, searching for an acquaintance, for someone close to me…

From our transport, only a few dozen had remained. Every day, their number decreased even more. A few were transported away to a subcamp, to Bana[22]. One transport was assigned to work in a “Sonderkommando” (special command), which was completely separated from the surrounding camps. We were strictly forbidden, to exchange a word with its inmates. However, we knew very well what kind of work they were doing.

The majority of the people in the Sonderkommando looked fine. Whenever they entered the camp, they carried in sacks of food. Often, they would throw bread over for their acquaintances. The only one of them, who came from our shtetl, also used to throw a piece of bread to one of us, which we would share.

Once, I managed to talk to him through a hole in the wall, which they had hacked out. That's how I learned that another one from our shtetl, Shloime Avnet (“the Blond One”), also worked in the crematorium. He had come there three months before us from another shtetl, and they had assigned him to this work right away.

Through the hole, I was often given a little water and a piece of bread. At the time, while I worked in the camp, both [above mentioned] used to be in the block, because they worked in night shifts. I usually waited a moment when no one noticed, and then we talked. Through them, I learned exactly, what happened during the gassing and burning of people, and about the fate of our relatives. For two weeks, I worked in the camp, building the road. Later, they set up a new work crew from block three. The Kapo, who was my bedmate, became the Kapo of the new squad, which was called “Abort-Baracken” [toilet barracks]. There were 40 people working there, all from block three. Our work consisted of building foundations for the construction of ovens and water pipes for the new camps. Seven camps were under construction, each with 32 [residential] barracks. The work progressed at a rapid pace.

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There were several civilian Poles working with us, with whom we were forbidden to speak. We were only allowed to work and to obey all the orders.

The Kapo treated us well. He did not beat us and did not urge us to work. With me together in the squad, also one of my shtetl worked with me, Pinye Klas. He quickly became acquainted with the civilian Poles and began to trade with them secretly. The trade consisted of selling a shirt or a pair of civilian pants without stock stripes, plus, among other things, shoes. These clothes would be obtained from those who worked in “Canada” and in the “Sonderkommando”. Pinye had a cousin in the “Sonderkommando”, Othniel Leibovitch. He used to “support” him with the things he needed. I established a “partnership” with Pinyen, and what the civilians brought in return, we divided among ourselves. The Kapo deliberately looked away. We usually also received a few eggs from the civilians. We carried them into the camp and then exchanged them in the canteen, which was only for the Poles and Germans. We illegally traded for cigarettes. And these, we then exchanged for bread. This is how we conducted our illegal trade. At night, just as we were about to leave for the camp, an SS-man came to me who had been standing in the next barrack, keeping a close watch on me. He instructed me to raise my hands and examined me. I had 5 eggs in my pocket at that time. The SS-man took the 5 eggs and wrote down my number. I already knew what was waiting for me.

Three days later, after the second roll call, my number was called. The block elder led me to the “Rapportführer” Schillinger. Usually, every day such “sinners” came to the “rapport” (situation report), and now, when I was standing there, about ten people had already gathered, among them a few Kapos, who had not given enough beatings. Individually, the “crimes committed” were read out. Only one answer we were allowed to give: “ Yessir!”.

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After the individual reading [of the accusation], the judgement followed:

“Number 93886 was punished with five nights of standing cell!”

“Yessir!” was the answer.

That same night I was led into a narrow “chimney” of 80 square meters, where it was pitch black, with very little air. 20 centimeters of water, in which they had poured some “flarik”.[23]

Of our transport, only 10 people had remained in Birkenau. Our work crew increased from 40 to 50 people. The master sent 20 of them to work in the women's camp, digging foundations for ovens and pouring clay for the new barracks.

Among these 20 people, whom the master had designated to work in the women's camp, were myself and Pinye. We were instructed that it was forbidden to talk to the women, even if one recognized his sister there. When entering the women's camp, it was noted how many were going in, and when going out, we were recounted. In addition, there was always a strict check when going in and out; especially letters were searched for. The women's camp had the same number of barracks and stone blocks as our camp. There was the “Toten-Block” (block of dead), number 25, from which some naked, tormented skeletons were taken away each day by trucks. When we first marched to work in the women's camp, skeletons of women cast vacant glances at us, searching for familiar faces. The women looked terrible: In long, gray dresses, without hair, with bloody feet. There was an empty place there, which was called “the plyazhe” [the Beach]. There were usually hundreds of women, lying semi-conscious under the hot sun. They were forbidden to leave the assigned place. The women's camp was overcrowded with inmates, and every day, hundreds of them remained lying on the “plyazhe”, and the sun would burn them until eternity.

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Those who could not go to work were given less to eat, that is half a liter of water with pieces of red beet. Also the women suffered from the typical camp disease: diarrhea. They too, were subjected to selections several times a week, carried out by the same cold murderer, Mengele.

In the women's camp there was a leader named “Drekslerke”[24]. Her mere appearance in the camp caused terror among the women. She usually came with her dog, and just in the same way as in our camp, there were also the roll calls with the selections. Moreover, there were SS-men there all the time, who had the task of making sure that the men did not talk to the women. At the slightest suspicion, 25 lashes were threatened.

On the third day of my work in the women's camp, while I was shoveling sand, an SS-man came up to me, with a large dog at his side, and asked me what I had been talking about with the woman. He pointed his finger at a girl standing in the distance. Taking off my cap, I answered that I didn't know anything, that I hadn't spoken to the woman.

“You were very well talking to her, cursed dog!” and he poked me in the chest with his hand.

I continued to say no, only the SS-man insisted.

“Yes, you did speak to her! Come with me to the camp leader!”

So we went to the camp leader. We stopped at his house, the SS-man ran in and made a report about me. He then came back with the well-known murderer, Oberscharführer Moll[25], a short, sturdy man with a round, fat face. He measured me from head to toe and then went back to his office.

The SS-man stopped and smiled under his black whiskers.

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“In just a moment, you will tell what you said!”…

I didn't answer a word but waited for my punishment: Either 25 lashes or a note of my number and then “S.K.”.

Soon, the murderer Moll came out with a rough stick in his hand: “Now, will you testify what you said, you dirty dog?”

“I didn't say anything, Herr Oberscharführer”, I replied, and still stood there with my hands hanging down as if frozen.

“You'll talk soon!” He shows me his cane and laughs coldly. I do not answer but wait for further orders.

“Bend down, you pig!”

The SS-man standing to the side grabbed my head, and I felt a hard blow. After the sixth blow, which I got on my back, I passed out.

When I opened my eyes again, I was soaked from head to toe. There was an empty bucket on the side. Around me stood: the bandit Moll, the SS-man and several SS women. Everyone laughed and poked me in my sides with their boots.

“Get up, you dog!”, I heard the screams of the sadist Moll, and another blow hit my body.

I got up and the SS-man grabbed my head again, and the beatings began again. I no longer felt any pain, only heard the counting and laughter of the sadists standing around, who were enjoying themselves in this bestial “sport”.

For the second time, I counted 20 lashes until the murderer Moll stopped, turned to me and laughed. Sweat ran from his face.

“So, now you won't talk anymore! March to the camp, to work!”

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He instructed the SS-man to take good care of me, that I was working hard.

This had been my first punishment, which I had received simply because of a false accusation by the SS-man, who wanted to prove to the camp leader that he was loyal and paying good attention. Until evening, the SS-man stood next to me and drove me to work. I only felt the pain when I returned to the camp, after roll call. Again I put cold compresses on and next morning, I didn't go to work.

On the third day I went back to work, because there had been seizures in the camp, as I learned from a room service. The seizures went as follows:

All block leaders, together with the elders and block elders, had gone to the camp to find those who were hiding and not going to work. Most of them could no longer work, but they did not want to go to Block 7 either. Now that all (“refuseniks”) had been herded into one place, a truck arrived, onto which all were herded with sticks and transported to the crematorium.

This day, one of our shtetl was also taken away, Yehoshua Shapiro, who had already been lying next to the wall and could no longer go to work. All my efforts to take him to our work crew had been in vain. He was already unable to stand on his feet.

Our small group was getting even smaller with each passing day. During the time I worked with Pinye in the women's camp, we looked for a familiar woman's face, but we found none. Whenever we asked the women who worked in the same barracks and carried the excavated earth out, we got the same answer: There is no one left from our transport, everyone is already in the crematorium.

Every day, Schillinger came to us on a bicycle to check our work. In the process, he constantly administered slaps to our Kapo for not speeding up the work.

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Thus, the Kapo decided to watch out if Schillinger came. Then everyone should work harder. In fact, he often gave out slaps then, when some of us sat idle.

The Kapo ordered me to stand all the time at the door of the barracks and watch, whether Schillinger or another SS-man would show himself. In that case, I was to give a sign that one should work. Every minute that we gained by idleness meant for us to live a whole hour longer.

So I stood at the door and paid close attention. When the Kapo went around the camp, we usually all lay in the pit, holding our work utensils in our hands, so that we would be ready to work immediately.

I watched the women who passed by incessantly. Maybe I would meet someone from our shtetl after all! I just didn't want to believe that none of them should be there anymore. Usually, together with Pinye, I went around the “plyazhe” with a cartload of bricks and searched, but I found no one.

 

I meet the only girl from Krynki

So another two weeks of hard work went by. Two weeks of tormenting body and soul, with no hope that tomorrow would provide something better for me. But anyhow, time still fulfilled its mission to bring me something new. And something unexpected happened, something new, which illuminated my further hard life in the concentration camp and awakened courage in me to endure.

I'm standing at my post as I do every day. Before my eyes, pale, mournful women are moving around and carrying earth – for whom and for what, who knows?…

Suddenly, I see something incredible, something that can only be some sick perception: There's a girl in a torn shirt, from which parts of her body look out on the corrupted world. Her feet are bound with paper, and blood is trickling out from underneath. Her head is shaved, her face small and pale. She drags

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a large bucket to pour it out. Her eyes are so familiar to me. But I am afraid of my own imagination – maybe it is only me who thinks it is my classmate Rochele Zakheim!

I'm exchanging ideas with my friend Pinye about my assumption. We decide to call her by name when she gets back from work. A few minutes pass. Standing there, we are already very impatient. At that moment, the little creature, like a pitiable ten-year-old child, shows up. The bucket she is carrying is already empty. She walks with slow steps; we can see that she is at the end of her strength. And yet! The face is similar to that of Rochele at former times. I had stopped at the open door at my post. Pinye was going off sideways, and when he saw her approaching the barrack, he called softly, “Rochele!”

“Avroheml!”, we heard her answer, and then she immediately fell down to the earth.

SS-men walking past us turned around. I did not dare to move from my place, because I knew all too well that it would cost us both our lives if I walked toward her.

I remained in my spot and watched Rochele pass out on the floor, so close to me!

“Heart, can you really bear so much?”, I think today, remembering that shuddering moment. There, I am standing at the door, seeing the only girl from Krynki, my comrade of my sweet school years! Later, both of us were active together in the children and youth organization “SKIF” ['Socialist Children's Union']. Together we attended lectures on the struggle for a finer, fair life. We spent the summer in the camp, went on trips together, and our songs used to echo in the wide surroundings. Now, there lies a shadow of the always laughing Rochele.

Now she is weak and helpless, and I do not even have the human right to help her up from the blood-soaked ground. A couple of girls pick them up and bring them to the barracks. In front of me reveals a great sacred goal: to help the only surviving girl of my native town Krynki.

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Pinye decides the same. I bribe my capo. He gives me the number on her arm and informs me that she is in block number 9, that is, that her days of life are numbered. The Kapo became my liaison between me and Rochele. He delivered my first few words to her, “Hang in there, we will help you as long as we live.”

When he returned, he brought me a piece of paper on which she had written, “I remained the only one of the whole transport.”

Now we had to give her concrete help: First of all, to dress her so that she got a better appearance. Because in the condition she was currently in, she was one of the first candidates for going into the crematorium. To get clothes for her, we had to hire the Kapo and pay him well, to provide her with them. In particular, we had to pay him for causing the German women who held a leading position in the camp to take Rochele out of the block. We bribed those “women” especially with good cigarettes, silk stockings and other luxury items, for which we risked our lives each time we smuggled them in.

A few days later we manage to have her taken out of Block 9, and Rochele gets work in “Canada”. There, she no longer needs clothing (by us)[26]. She receives food through me and Pinye, how much we can only bring over. Her situation is improving every day. We often see each other from afar and write letters to each other. She washes my shirts for me so that I look clean and “mannered”. A good appearance prolongs the life of the detainees. I also feel more courageous, and the painful days seem to pass more quickly. I don't know if I was in love then with her, my current wife, and if there could even be love in such a terrible, hellish situation. But I know very well that she had given me a lot of strength to be able to endure the most terrible period of my life.

However, the happiness of being in the same camp with Rochele did not last long. Lined up in “rows of five,” the Kapo led us out of the women's camp. Rochele accompanied me silently from the side. I took my last glances at her – and saw that she had big tears in her eyes.

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In our camp, I told everyone from our shtetl that Rochele Zakheim was here. And that we all, as long as we lived, had to see to do our utmost to keep her alive. I and Pinye pledged to spare no effort to get her out of the present situation. I also told the Kapo that I had found a sister in the camp who was in a very bad situation, as a result of which she could be “taken out” at a selection every day. The Kapo agreed to be helpful, that is, to effect patronage by the German women who kept a head position in the camp. We made an effort [in return?] to procure a dress and shoes. Every day we “brought” cigarettes; we received “onions” organized by the Poles, who received a “parcel from freedom” in return. We procured and brought everything we could to the women's camp, giving courage and hope to the only girl, who now no longer felt so miserable and was gaining more courage with each passing day.

 

The First Passover in the Camp

Life in all concentration camps transformed man into a bipedal animal with all its base instincts. Man has quickly lost his human dignity, his inner balance, his former human feelings.

The only ideal and effort was to figure out how to get another piece of bread or a few spoonfuls of watery soup to satisfy the beastly hunger. Death, which lurked at every turn, did not affect us as much as the terror of hunger.

The camp man imagined that after a few pieces of bread and a few spoonfuls of soup he would gain the strength to control death. And one must add that an inner, incomprehensible urge and will to live, and to survive the bestial Hitlerism, was deeply rooted in the hearts of each of us, although death accompanied us like a shadow all around.

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In our camp, I told It was characteristic that every person who was so close to death developed a particularly strong will to live.

The old concentration campers, who had been imprisoned for several years, forgot bit by bit that outside the electric wire there was another world where free people lived in dignity. They also forgot their former nearest and dearest, and in general everything that had been before. It seemed to them as if dozens of years had already passed, and that what was happening there on that piece of earth was a normal occurrence and would remain forever. Very seldom did we hear from an old concentration camper, such as a block elder, a clerk or a Kapo, a reminder of his past in the free world.

The camp man simply erased the memory of his past and lived only in an uncertain “today”. Whether we would experience the next day was not certain, and with the red sky, the black smoke and the selections that spared no one, the “ tomorrow “ was no longer in our thoughts. We only lived in the present[27]. Every time the cold murderer Mengele showed himself in the camp, he already knew exactly how many people, whether healthy or sick, he would send to their deaths today.

So it is quite understandable that in such gruesome conditions no one knew the exact date or even a holiday. A holiday was whenever someone got hold of a piece of bread or a little watery soup. In the camp, there were also very religious Jews and Christians, who silently and secretly said a prayer, so that the block elder could not notice it. My bedmate was an elderly Jew who prayed silently every day, both at work and at camp and roll call, while looking around intently on all sides. From this Jew I learned that tonight was Passover.

Previously, we were only aware of one day of the week when we only worked until 12 noon, and that was Sunday.

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The names of the other days and months became quite foreign to us. Thus our enslaved life flowed away.

When I learned that today was Passover, my heart throbbed violently. I remembered my former home in the free world, when we had lived together with my family in the happy, laughing shtetl. When we went to the forest to pick nuts, played with dyed eggs and drank the sweet Passover wine.

Near Passover, the Nazi beasts began transporting tens of thousands of Slovak, Czech and Hungarian Jews from Carpathian Russia. They had been told that they would be taken to the Garden of Eden, where they would live like “God in Odessa.”[28]

Just before Passover, the first two crematoriums began to burn, incinerating ten to fifteen thousand healthy people in 24 hours. Incessantly, day and night, the chimneys spewed out thousands of innocent human souls.

Here, in the gruesome, cruel death camp, where human life had not the slightest value, there were still people who could love each other, and on whom the camp climate and living conditions had not had such an effect.

When the pious Jews from Carpathian Russia came to the camp and saw the “Garden of Eden” to which they had been brought, they walked around on the first day of Passover with their heads hanging down, and some of them kept their bread in their pockets, not wanting to eat leaven. A few of these Jews worked with me, and when I told them about the fate of the families who had been taken away from the railroad station on trucks, they did not want to believe it and even said that we only wanted to frighten them.

The only place where people could talk freely to each other was the toilet. There, in the silence, one carried a little bit of conversation concerning the sad situation and all our fates, which had already been sealed before.

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Only a few of the transports were allowed to pass through to the camp, but they too, like the greater part of the transports, would be sent to their deaths in a few weeks, one a day earlier, the other a day later.

 

The Gypsy Camp

The new camps were quickly completed, and right after Passover, transports of Gypsies began arriving in camp “e”, which had 32 barracks. Most of the Gypsies, whole families, came from Germany. Therefore, the “e” camp was called “Gypsy camp”.[29] Our old camp was transferred to a new one, called “d” camp, which consisted of 32 wooden barracks, two kitchens, a housing unit for the block leader, plus two latrines, which already had a more modern status than the old ones. There was also a bathroom, where one could have a wash every day. In the new camp, I was taken to Block 20, where the block elder was a French Jew, named “Zhulte”.

It was very strictly forbidden to talk to the Gypsies. In the first period, the Gypsies were in a privileged situation. Their clothes were not taken away, nor was their hair shorn. They all spoke German. Among them, there were many former soldiers and officers of the German Wehrmacht, who had been withdrawn from the front because of their Gypsy origins.

The Gypsies also had to undergo a roll call, but it did not last as long as ours. Among them, there were many pregnant women and small children, who also had to stand during a roll call.

The Gypsies were not conscripted to work, but therefore they were given less to eat, not 200 grams of bread, but only 100. Every day, their mortality rate increased, and for the sick there was already no place to lie down. The number of Gypsies was 12,000.

For a while, our squad worked in the Gypsy camp, and I managed to talk to many of them. Some of them

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showed me military awards from their army days in the Battle of Stalingrad. With each passing day, the Gypsies lost more and more of their belief that they could once again return to freedom. Thus, in a short time, their number decreased from 12,000 to 7,000 people. One Sabbath evening, a commission with several generals arrived from Berlin. They drew a sign on each barrack with a red pen. This meant that all living people from this barrack would have to be gassed. The next afternoon, the chief of all crematoria, Oberscharführer Moll, arrived on a motorcycle and issued a decree: “Blocksperre!”[30] This regulation also applied to our camp. Immediately the gongs sounded in both camps, and our hearts pounded. We already had enough experience and knew what that meant: namely, that the next candidates [for the gas chamber] were either us or the Gypsies.

We saw through the cracks of the barracks, how trucks flew into the Gypsy camp, and soon after, the loud screaming of women and crying of children could be heard. I climbed onto the top bunk, which was close to the skylight. In front of my eyes, there were

 

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Gypsy Camp in Auschwitz

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SS-men in two rows with canes in their hands, yelling, “go, quick, tempo!”

The cries for help reached the sky. Several women were rolling in the street. Revolver shots and shouts of “oh God!” could be heard, along with the cries of young men, “I was a German soldier after all, I was in the war for our Fatherland!”

It took two hours before the camp with its 7000 inhabitants was emptied. In the crematorium, some resisted. Thus, the Gypsy transport ended its life. The next morning, the SS-men found four children hiding in the latrine. They were led to the crematorium the same day. Absolutely nothing remained of the fact that just one day before 7,000 human had been there suffering, but alive.

 

Greek Jews arrive

All four crematoria are already in operation. The “Sonderkommando” (special command) has increased in size. Now, a railroad line has already been laid directly to the crematorium. Summer has arrived and one can feel the fragrant air of the surroundings. A little wind tries to soothe the unfortunates, but immediately, the summer air turns into the air of death. The smell of roasted flesh escapes from the crematoria, and when the air pressure drops and the smoke descends to earth, the whole area is filled with the smell of death. In the hot summer days, both “Canada” as well as the “Sonderkommando” were enlarged. Therefore, everyone knew that the arrival of new transports to a greater extent was expected, but no one knew from which country. Anyway, immediately when the first transport arrived, the whole camp knew that they were Jews from Greece. Each transport numbered 1500 people, 200 of whom were allowed into the camp. Between 4-6 transports arrived every day. After a few days, the camp was overcrowded with men and women. Selections happened more regularly now. The arriving people did not know where they were

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and where they were being led. They all had to go their last way under the hot sun, accompanied by the orchestra.

All crematoria were spilling smoke during day and night, and when they became overcrowded, they began to burn the bodies in large pits. The whole horizon was one red flame.

The newly arrived Jews in the camp knew immediately about the grim fate of their families.

Most of the Greek Jews did not know a word of Yiddish. Some of them could speak Hebrew. Their usual language was Spanish or Greek. Immediately they felt the full force of camp life.

 

Kry205a.jpg
 
Kry205b.jpg
Boger-the “human sadist” leads a Jew to be shot, with his hands tied behind his back
 
A Jew hangs on the wall in the bunker

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They were beaten more than others, because they did not understand what the sadistic murderers were saying to them.

After a very short time, most of them became “Muselmänner”[31]…During each selection, the Greek Jews were singled out first and foremost. Despite the large outflow of arrested Jews, the camp was constantly overcrowded. The number of “Laufnummern”[32] grew up to 134,000, of which 10,000 were still alive.

In the yard of crematorium number 1, a barrack had been built, and in the days when the Greek Jews arrived, our squad was detached to work there. We saw healthy men and women enter the crematorium, all dark-skinned, with their children in their arms, driven by the murderers with canes in their hands. Every day I met with Otniel Leibovitsh and Shloime the blond. They informed me about the incidents that occurred during the gassing of the Jews in the crematorium.

Today when I met them, they told me what had happened to a little boy. It was already the third transport. Whole mounds of gassed people lay next to the ovens.

The people who arrived with the trucks, had to undress and were driven into the gas bunkers by the Nazis with canes. Then the murderous sadist, Moll, poured in a green powder from a can, and after ten minutes, everyone was already lying there dead. After that, the workers of the “Sonderkommando” opened the doors and fans drove out the gas. After entering the bunker, when the corpses were loaded onto elevators, they noticed that a little boy was lying at the wall, still moving his eyes and his tongue. They carried the child out of the bunker to a second room, where they laid him on a sheet and waved to him several times. After a few minutes, the child revived and regained consciousness. The murderer Moll immediately called the camp doctor Mengele and told him, that this child had survived, although all the others had already died. The cold sadist Mengele took the child

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to his laboratory, where various experiments were carried out on living, healthy people. Next day, Mengele returned, bringing the child with him. He was dead, with cuts all over, and was wrapped in a blanket. The child's heart and lungs had been removed and the top of its skull sawed off. Later, the murderer Moll told the Kapo of the “Sonderkammando”, what the professors of the laboratory had found out concerning the child: The child would have lived to be 132 years old and become the strongest person in the world. The gas had not been able to penetrate his heart. All the child's strength was in his long black hair.[33]

For two months, there was no end to the Greek transports. 50,000 Jews arrived, of whom only 10,000 were admitted to the camp. After several months, only a few dozen of the 10,000 were left. Immediately after the Greek transports were stopped, prisoners from our camp were started to be transported to other camps, such as Avizhne [Jaworzno?], Buna[34] and Blechhammer, to work in the coal mines.

Also the ten people from our transport, who had remained in Birkenau, were sent to the other camps, so I was left alone with Otniel, whom I now saw less often.

It became very difficult to talk to those who worked in the crematorium. I also couldn't meet Rochele as often now. Our squad fell further apart. I could no longer get into the women's camp. My situation worsened and I now had to go hungry more often. All my comrades had left with the transport (to the other camps). Our work crew was reduced to 20 people. We no longer worked together with civilians. Now, we were transferred to barrack number 18, where I got a very bad place to sleep, that is, next to the “barrel”.[35]

The block elder, a “Volksdeutscher” (ethnic German), used to strike right and left, especially at us Jews. I began to feel that the day was approaching to be taken out on the occasion of a selection. Especially with regard to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I was particularly fearful.

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On those two days, the cold killer committed a massacre of both us men and the women. On the first Yom Kippur, they took out from our camp 3000 people, the majority of them Greek Jews. In the women's camp, too, it was mainly the Greek women who met the same fate as the men; since they did not know German, they suffered even more than the others. In our camp, the workers usually got an “allowance” twice a week, which consisted of 300 grams of bread and a piece of sausage made from horse meat. The Greek Jews used to exchange their sausage for cigarettes and their margarine too, for something else. The camp elder then issued a decree that the Greek Jews would no longer receive an “allowance”. This was the punishment for exchanging their portions.

In the middle of 1943, a transport of non-Polish Jews was sent to Warsaw to clean the bombed ghetto. Very many Jews were brought back after a short time in a half-dead state. They were all immediately taken to the crematorium. Also from the other camps like Jaworzno, Dora, Blechhammer and Buna, transports were brought very often with completely exhausted people, who were no longer able to work. Not far from the camp, downed German and enemy planes were brought to be worked on by thousands of people, mostly Russian prisoners. From this squad, people used to flee more often. Every week, usually two or three Russians escaped and remained, as if disappeared into thin air. No matter how much effort and energy they expended to find them, the Nazis never succeeded. If one was missing, the news spread everywhere. Both in the police commissariats and in the camp, the siren used to give a sign, screaming, as if a thousand enemy planes were approaching to bomb. If one was missing, all the SS-men were ready with their wolfhounds. The squad, from which there were often escapes, was called “Zerlege-Betrieb” [“dismantling plant”]. There, the planes were chopped into pieces and loaded onto rail cars. The aluminum sheet was taken to Germany to be used to build new airplanes.

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It was characteristic that Poles or Jews who fled, were caught immediately, but when Russians used to escape, they were impossible to find.

I began to work out a plan to successfully escape. My only goal was to get to freedom in order to make known to the public what happened in Auschwitz.

Together with another Jew who worked in “Canada”, Ravuke Garbatke, we began to concretize the plan. We decided to escape from “Canada”, starting from the railroad station. With great difficulty, I managed to get back to “Canada”.

Our plan was to hold on to a passing train and then jump off 50 kilometers past Auschwitz, to flee to the Beskid Mountains. We reported for work at the railroad station and waited for a favorable opportunity. But everything turned out differently. During the time we were at the station, no trains used to pass. So, we waited completely in vain. Every day was even longer and harder for us to bear, and I didn't meet with Rochele anymore. I really wanted to get her inside to work in the “Women's Canada”.

After strong efforts at the women's Kapo, I managed to get her work in “Canada” [again?], where she was considered my sister. However, the same severe punishment was threatened here, if one spoke to a woman. The women worked in special barracks and were closely guarded; but despite the many precautions I [usually] managed to talk to her briefly. Rochele then told me about the painful sufferings she had endured before meeting us, and about the fate of the other girls, who had all perished. The last to perish was Mertshe Yaglam, who had been with Rochele in death block number 25, from where she was led to the gas chamber.

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When the trucks drove up to pick up the women, the cold murderer Mengele performed the selections together with Dr. Hessler [Hössler?], who was only acting in the women's camp. The bandits decreed that those women, who still have the strength to get out of the “box”, should go out to the roll call square. Out of a thousand women, a few dozen then came out and were ordered to walk there and back. Of them, seven were set aside. Among them was Rochele! All the others were taken to the gas chamber. Mertshe Yaglam also died at that time; even before she was taken to the crematorium.

After two months of work in “Canada” I fell ill with epidemic typhus. I was taken to the “precinct” into a block where 300 typhoid patients were lying. The doctor, who cured the sick, was Dr Schorr from Warsaw. Among the sick were Jews, Poles, Russians, Germans and French. Selections were made only among the Jews. All those, who had a fever above 38 degrees, were taken away to the gas chamber. After I had lain for ten days, a selection was made. Doctor Schorr instructed me to get dressed and take a broom in my hand. At present, I had a fever of 39 degrees.

At ten o'clock in the morning, the cold murderer Mengele appeared, accompanied by quite a few SS officers, and soon we heard: “Jews have to line up in rows of five!”

I stood to the side with the broom in my hand and swept out. There were 76 Jews in the block, of whom the murderer Mengele put 70 at the side. Then he turned his stern gaze on me, asking, what I was doing there. Dr Schorr answered him that I was working as a “Stubendienst” (room service).

In the evening at 5 o'clock, a truck arrived with six SS-men, each holding a cane in his hand. The block clerk read out the numbers. Everyone walked quietly to the door, glancing back once more. Dr. Schorr stood to the side with a pale face and big tears in his eyes. There was a dead silence in the block. Everyone felt enwrapped

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by death. Immediately, after the murderer Mengele left, I lay back in bed. My thoughts flew far into the distance. I would have liked to go back to the camp as quickly as possible, in order to continue our plan to escape.

After 6 weeks of bed rest, I recovered, but remained very weak. My body was only skin and bones, my eyes were deep in their sockets. I knew that I would not last much longer in such a condition. When I came back to the camp, I was no longer accepted to work into “Canada.” I now had to work in the squad “Zimmerei” (“Carpentry”), where the same Kapo was as then in the “Barracks Construction”. I worked only a little. Every day, I visited the “Sonderkommando”, where I got a piece of bread from Othniel and Shloime. After three days of work in the “carpentry “, I felt very bad and could no longer march out to work. Shloime then took me and hid me in his bed, where I used to lie from early morning until the evening roll call. I also got food from him.

So I lay there for two weeks without marching out from the camp. On the 1st of May, we worked only until noon. After that, everyone stayed in the camp and “celebrated” May Day; in the afternoon, we gathered with Shloime at his “box” and sang workers' songs. Meanwhile, a guard stood at the gate to signal us in case SS-men came. Othniel often sang Russian songs. He was always cheerful, although he knew that he might not live to see the next day.

Shloime was the exact opposite. He, a constant dreamer with a silent, melancholy look, used to say to me, “Avroheml, we must free ourselves, or at least fall like heroes in battle!” Shloime's thoughts were always busy making plans how to blow up the crematoria so that no one could be gassed anymore.

As I wrote before, I was in block number 18, where 95 percent were Russians. I slept together with

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four Russians, all of whom worked in the “dismantling plant.” One of my bedfellows once confided a secret to me. He asked me to bring him two large knives and a battery. I immediately understood for what purpose this should be.

 

Russians Escape

I left for the “Sonderkommando” [special squad] and asked Shloime for the things. He, immediately, gave me two “Holy Sabbath Knives” and two batteries. Shloime promised to bring me as many knives as I wanted. I brought the knives to the Russian, who took them and thanked me, saying that the things would be very useful, but I should not tell anyone about them. The Russian, a former major in the Red Army, became my best friend. We used to share our food. When I brought a piece of bread from an acquaintance from “Canada” or from the “Sonderkommando”, I shared it with him. When he got a few potatoes from his comrades, he brought them to me already boiled from the squad. This is how we settled in, hoping we could keep it that way as long as possible. Often, we lay on the beds for hours, and he [the Russian] used to tell me about his battles and how he, being in an unconscious state, had been taken in captivity from which, however, he had escaped twice. As a punishment, he had been taken to Birkenau concentration camp, where – he whispered in my ear – the same plan had to be worked on. That was the only way out, he said. The Russian was called Fedyor Tichi (the quiet one) because although there were so many “Fedyors” in the block, there were no “Tichis” (quiet ones) except my friend.

Fedyor advised me to try to get back to work in “Canada” so that I could bring what I was told to get from there. I followed him and went back to work in “Canada”. Rochele was also working there. She knew that I had been ill with typhoid fever. We were in letter contact through my comrade Zeidl Epstein, who often visited me when I

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was sick in bed, bringing along a letter from Rochele. When I came back to work [in Canada], I did not tell anyone about my plans and for what purpose I was now working. Every day, I met with Fedyor, who told me what I should bring.

He mainly asked for knives, maps, passports, batteries and watches. I usually brought all this when I marched to the train station at night. I knew that I was threatened with the gallows if I was caught with any of these things. Therefore, I was very careful. Often, there were strict searches at the gate – while a map was under a bandage wrapped around my arm, or a compass or a watch was hidden in my shoe. But knowing what purpose it was for, nothing has been too difficult for me. I knew that my knife would be used to fight the murderous Nazis, and that with the help of the map they would try to find their way out of the camp without getting into another one. I also brought shoes and civilian clothes. Only my friend Fedyor and I knew about it. In case there was a strict control, but I had to deliver the requested things on the same day, I usually got them with the help of a girl from “Canada”. She used to hand over the things to my comrade who worked in the women's camp. Otherwise, I only used to get wristwatches through the girl. However, she did not know for what purpose. Usually three people escaped in a week, and only very rarely one got caught. The camp command put all its efforts into catching the fugitives and finding out where the “maline” [hiding place] was from which they used to escape. Once, when they caught three fugitives, they could not get out of them where they had been hiding. All three were kept in the bunker[36] and tortured. They cut pieces of flesh from the body of one of them and poured pepper into his wounds. But everything was to no avail. The next morning they were sentenced to death by hanging. One of them was put on the gallows as a dead man. The other two made a heroic resistance, fighting with their feet. Before they were hanged,

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the whole camp was summoned. SS-men were placed around it in case of a riot.

When the death sentence was read, one of the condemned cried out, “Comrades, I die for the Fatherland, take revenge for my blood, I die for Stalin!”

As soon as he had mentioned the word “Stalin,” the camp commander, Kramer, ran to him with a knife and cut out his tongue. A torrent of blood poured out onto the ground. Choking screams could still be heard. The camp elder pulled the chairs away from under the condemned. A gasp was heard, and then all three hung in the air.

After that, we all had to march past, each with his head pointed at the dead. The deceased remained hanging like this for two days. But despite all this, the escapes did not stop. Every third to fourth day, the siren wailed that another one had escaped. And again, as usual late at night, the SS-men ran out with their dogs like poisoned mice but came back without success. Finally, the camp command understood that it was an organized escape movement. They immediately transferred a Russian colonel into the S.K. [“Strafkompanie”], with the inscription “i.l.” [inside the camp][37]. The colonel was not allowed to march out to work. He only worked in the camp as a street sweeper. That's what they did with everyone who was suspected of escaping.

This colonel was the main organizer of the escape movement. He determined who and when to flee.

Fedyor promised me that the day would come for me, too, to be destined to escape. In the meantime, however, I should continue to work actively to enable others to escape. At the same time, 5 people escaped on their own: The clerk of Block 26, two Kapos, a Dutchman and a German Jew. They bribed an SS-man who led them out of the chain of guard posts. But then, this SS-man shot them all and, back in the camp, reported that five people had escaped and that he had shot

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them all. He received an award for it. All five were taken to the camp. They were laid down by the camp gate so that everyone would see them. A similar case occurred with the person in charge of block number 3. The SS-man, whom he had bribed, also brought him back dead. Several Russian women also escaped from the women's camp, but they were caught.

Later, the clerk of the women's camp, a Czech girl, Malye, escaped together with a Pole. After four days of searching, they were both caught in Katowice. Malye was stuck in the bunker. During her interrogation, she took a bottle that had been on the table and split the head of “Oberscharführer” Boger[38]. For this she was sentenced to be burned alive. The Pole was hanged in our camp, in the presence of all the detainees.

I have mentioned before the heroic Jewish girl who shot with her own hand the notorious sadistic murderer Schillinger. However, this circumstance is worth describing in more detail. It was the end of 1943, and at two o'clock in the night a transport was brought with American citizens who had been interned in Berlin. The SS were sure that these people would not resist, so they were led to special crematoria. There was no selection at all, but all were led to death right away. The fourth truck with people drove up to Crematorium 1; on it was a young girl, an artist.[39] The people brought by the truck before were already in the bunker; their clothes were hanging in the “undressing room”. At that time, the murderer Schillinger was on duty and walking around, prodding people with his cane to undress faster and tie their shoes together.

The young girl, wearing her coat and holding her reticule, walked around the crematorium, reading the inscriptions on the walls.

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The murderer Schillinger ran to her with the words, “Miss, why don't you undress to take a shower?”

“I don't want a bandit like you to see my naked body,” the girl replied.[40]

This made the killer's blood boil, and he struck her on the shoulder with his cane.

The girl jumped up to the killer, grabbed his hands and gave him with her head a sharp blow into his face. He dropped the cane and reached for his revolver. When he had already stripped off the holster and was holding the revolver, the heroic girl dug her teeth into the flesh of his hand with the last of her strength and bit down hard. The pain was so intense that the killer dropped the revolver from his hand. The girl grabbed the revolver and immediately shot the killer in his chest. He, immediately, fell dead in a pool of blood on the cement. A second SS-man then rushed in to seize the revolver. But the girl shot a bullet at him, too. After that she shot into the electric lamps, so that it became dark in the whole crematorium. When the other SS-men heard the shooting, they ran out of the crematorium. They set up machine guns in the windows and shot at the girl, who defended herself to the last bullet and died a heroic martyr. The crematorium had been destroyed by the bullets. The remaining people who were in the bunker had heard the shooting and had run out naked. The next day, they were all lying shot in the yard of the crematorium. Many found death on the electric wire.

As I have already written, I was the only one of our transport who remained in Birkenau, after the second remaining one, Otniel, who had worked in the crematorium, was sent away on a transport together with another 200 workers of the “Sonderkommando” in May 1944. They were taken to Lublin, under the pretext that there they would

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work there. But right after they left the train, they were taken to the bathroom. From there, they were led to another room, 5 at a time, and shot.

The “Luner”[?] Kapo Leyzer Harontchik (now staying in the state of Israel) had, during a selection, sent Otniel Leibovitch to the Lublin camp, i.e., to his certain death, because the latter had refused to shave him at the same time as an SS-man.

Still remaining in the “Sonderkommando” was Shloime the Blond, who now began to work out a plan to blow up the crematorium, to put an end to the burning of people.

In the “Sonderkommando” were brought 20 Russians from [the KZ] Majdanek, who did the same work there as before in Majdanek. Among the Russians, there was a former major who, together with Shloime, worked out a plan to put an end to it all. When I came in to Shloime to get some knives or a pair of civilian pants from him, I usually found him lying with the major in a corner of the bed, quietly whispering to each other.

“Avroheml, we will shortly put an end to our criminal work! We will fall, but as heroes!” These were the words that Shloime spoke to me.

The work had to be done extremely secretly, because there were many traitors in the camp who would send their own comrades to their doom just for a piece of bread, or even for some watery soup. When we found such a traitor, we used to throw a blanket over his head and punch him properly in his sides.

Shloime confided in me that they were working on building a bomb. The [gun] powder for this was brought by the women who worked in the [gun] powder factory. Since the women were very strictly controlled, all this happened only with the greatest difficulties. But despite all these troubles, individual women used to bring a

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bit of powder every day in their shoes, handing it over to the designated man, who would deliver it to Shloime.

The plan called for four crematoria to be blown up at the same time. Then, the barbed wires of the women's camp were to be torn open so that everyone could escape. Opening the barbed wires of the men's camp was too difficult because the men' camp was far away from the crematorium, whereas the women's camp was only separated from the crematorium by a barbed wire.

The work to enable escapes also continued. Every week, three to four people escaped. They disappeared off the face of the earth. The preparation of the uprising developed at a rapid pace. We in the camp knew, where the front was and that the Russians were approaching our place. We also knew that we would all be killed at the last minute before the Nazis were defeated. This is what happened in Lublin: 70,000 people were shot there in several hours.

In the first row, there had been the Jewish prisoners. A few days before the uprising, the murderer Moll learned of the plans. That very evening, he summoned the Jewish Kapo Kaminski and demanded to hand over to him the people who were at the head of the organization. After torturing the Kapo for two hours, he shot him and threw him alone into the oven.

After two days, something went wrong again in crematorium number 1. It happened in the morning at 10 o'clock. One escaped from crematorium number 1 to crematorium number 3, where Shloime was working, and reported that the operation had failed. Thereupon, those from crematorium number 3 detonated their bomb and threw the German Kapo and the “Oberscharführer” alive into the fire. The crematorium was destroyed! Everyone then rushed out to the courtyard and ran to the guard towers. With bare hands, they heroically defeated quite a few guards' posts. They took their rifles and ran to the crematoria

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1 and 2. There, they tore the barbed wire from the women's camp and the majority fled.

The SS immediately understood what was going on. First, they ordered all the squads to lie face down on the floor and not to raise their heads.

The siren began to whistle and the SS ran to the crematoria. The heroic fighters defended themselves in the yard of the crematorium. The majority fled, taking with them other prisoners who were working near the crematorium.

The whole courtyard was laid out with red bodies, among which was Shloime, with his belly shot through. The SS issued a call for help and then circled an area of 50 kilometers. So they then managed to bring back those who had escaped. Most of them defended themselves with their bare hands and fell as heroes in battle.

Crematorium “three” had been completely destroyed and no longer could anyone be gassed there. Shloime fell like a martyr in the fight for the honor of the Jewish people. Glory be to his memory!

 

Work crew “Canada”

I worked in “Canada”. We, who were called by the Nazis “the Litvishe” or “the Grodner”, or “Bessarabia Dogs”, were beaten the most, whether by the Kapo or by the SS. And we were driven to do the worst work.

The work in “Canada” went its course. Every day the same. In good order, the wagons were loaded with clothes, shoes, bedding and rag sacks.

The work was already so well established that we thought it had been going on all our lives and would stay that way forever. Forever, we will be hunted down and tormented with the stick. Eternally, we will be led to and from work under duress. We had already completely renounced freedom. If we ever wanted to remember the past,

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the beautiful world where people could go and do whatever they wanted, we would paint inner pictures of freedom, each on our own[41]. But when we raised our heads and saw the black smoke with the red flame, then the sweet dreams disappeared and the vision of death took their place.

When I used to meet Rochele for two minutes, behind the wall of the barracks and hidden from the murderous SS eyes, we would talk about freedom. What would it be like if by chance we again became free people? I usually did not believe that this could ever happen because I knew only one thing: we would have to free ourselves alone! I did not deviate from my plan to escape for a single minute. Usually, when I was lying on the bed with Fedyor and we were talking about our plans, I asked him if we would be able to get Rochele, too, out of the camp and lead her to the Beskids Mountains. The meeting point of all the refugees was located there.

It was our plan to first escape, and when we were already a larger, armed group, to raid the camp and free all the prisoners; this was the only way to freedom. In the “B” camp, there were Czech families, women, men and small children. They usually received parcels and letters. It was called “Czech Family Camp”. It was the same with them as with the Gypsies: At first they still wore their civilian clothes, but a little later their civilian clothes were dyed with red stripes. Their treatment became stricter every day; the rations became less. With each day the mortality increased, until a “commission of the dead” of some generals arrived from Berlin, who pronounced the death sentence on the whole Czech camp. Before the execution of the mass murder, each prisoner had to write a card with the words:

“We are alive and well. We are well. We work and earn.”

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Sunday evening there was a block lockdown in our camp. We knew that the entire Czech camp was being led out to the crematorium. The people put up a heroic resistance, when they were driven into the bunker.

Into their camp, fresh transports were brought from other camps, such as Blizhin [Blochin?] and Hungary.

Now, a new, large camp was created, which was called “Mexico”. Nobody knew, for whom this camp was and who would live there. Later, we learned that women from Lodz were to come to the camp; the crematoria were preparing to receive 70,000 Jews from the Lodz ghetto.

“Canada” prepared to take their packs and clothes, and I prepared to leave the camp. After the first transport of Jews from Lodz, my friend Fedyor told me to bring a map, a compass, three batteries and three watches. This would be for myself. After I had brought that, I should leave “Canada” and go to work in the “dismantling plant”, from where I would escape together with two other people, among whom he, my friend Fedyor, also would be.

I quickly brought three large knives and three watches; a compass was given to me by a girl from Sokolka, Rochel Malski. I also brought the compass to the camp, and Fedyor carried it all away to the place from where we would escape.

Now, all I needed was the map – one of the most important things we had to have. But annoyingly, I did not find such a map, showing Auschwitz and all surrounding villages and shtetls – which were now camps, and therefore had to be avoided.

Fedyor spurred me on, shouting that it was our turn now and we had to escape as quickly as possible to allow a free space for others.

During this time, 50 women and 50 men were selected to go to another camp in

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Birkenau, into the “Effektenlager”[42]. Also Rochele was among the 50 women, so I was left alone. Every day seemed pointless now. I was only occupied with the thought of how I could procure a map to leave “Canada” and put an end to camp life as quickly as possible.

I also knew that I would have great difficulty in leaving the work squad, since they wanted to enlarge it in view of the expected arrival of 70,000 Jews from Lodz. But this problem, however, I would solve later. The main thing was that I got a good idea of how to “organize” a map at the SS:

An SS-man was coming with a cart to clean the bathrooms. Around the wagon worked 5 people, to whom the SS-man paid attention. It was in the morning. I went by with a pack of clothes, from one barrack to another, and saw the SS-man's coat hanging on the fence. A portfolio was sticking out of the breast pocket. The SS-man to whom the coat belonged went into the bathroom and the cart obstructed the door. I decided to pull out the portfolio; only, how was I to do this without anyone noticing? Back in the barrack, I took a pack of clothes and went to the second barrack, stopping next to the coat and pretending that the pack was heavy for me to carry. To adjust the package, I leaned against the fence, next to the coat. Then I pulled out the portfolio, put it between my clothes and ran into the women's barracks. There, I took out the portfolio and hid it well until evening.

The SS-man ran across the yard, shouting that he had lost his portfolio, which contained important papers….

In the evening, when the cart had already left, I went to the bathroom with the portfolio. I found a map with the whole plan of the camp and where the guards were. I tore up the other papers, such as a book about the “Hitler Youth” and various documents about awards, and threw them into the toilet.

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I wrapped the map around my foot, tied a bandage around it and entered the camp (with it).

When Fedyor saw the map, he was very excited. I told him, how I had “organized” the map, and he gave me a friendly pat on the back. On the same day, I told the “Kapo” that I no longer wanted to work in “Canada”. After the “Kapo” reported this item to the “Schreibstube” [the clerk's office], I was confirmed that I should no longer work there. Instead, they assigned me to work in the worst crew, the “dismantling operation” – exactly the squad from which I was supposed to go to escape. Also, my friend Fedyor was working there. I signed up for the new squad as a locksmith and went to work there the very next morning.

It was Sabbath, and on this day three people escaped, two Russians and a Pole. The SS searched for them with their sniffer dogs, but without success.

We did not march back to the camp. All thousand prisoners stood silently in a row of five. Later, the camp commander, Kramer, arrived and reported that he would shoot every tenth one unless we testified where the three were.

But neither beating nor “making sport” helped; everyone was silent. In any case, no one knew where the refugees were hiding. Sweat ran down from everyone like water. Others already had split heads. The murderer Kramer took out all his rage on us. Immediately, the square was surrounded, where we had been working together with the SS: every five meters, there was standing now an SS-man with a machine gun. We were taken to the camp and positioned separately next to the kitchen. Then Kramer, together with several SS, took out 50 people to shoot them, if we did not say where the three were. The 50 stood to the side, all pale as lime, and waited.

We stood until ten o'clock at night, everyone petrified, forbidden to stir. The fifty were led out of the

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camp under heavy guard, and we were ordered to go to the block. We received our punishment: no bread for three days and every day, standing an hour longer on roll call.

The fifty were not shot. At 12 o'clock at night, they were brought back to the camp. They had only wanted to scare us.

Monday, we went back to work. Now, the guard was very reinforced. Each group of 20 people was assigned a soldier from the Air Force who was responsible for the 20 people.

No one was allowed to move even one step away without reporting it to the soldier. Every hour, there was a presence check.

The escape was done in the following way:

The fugitives had to lie down for three days and nights, and on the third day, when they did not longer hear the siren whistle, they came out of their hiding place at night and slowly crept towards the Vistula. They then had to swim across the Vistula and make their way to the fields.

Me and Fed(y)or[43] worked together in a group. I still didn't know, where we would hide. Fed(y)or was stalling me from day to day, telling me that the time had not yet come. We had to wait, until the guard would weaken.

It became very strict now. We were not allowed to take a single step to the side without a report. We postponed our escape for a week. During this week, I was to become more familiar with my work and workplace.

There, where we were working, was a large field covered with broken parts of airplanes. Every day, they brought new wagons with shot down airplanes.

The work was very hard and dirty. The soldiers of the air force were driving us with sticks to make us work faster.

There were lying mountains of sheet metal from gasoline cans, engines, wheels, and

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mountains of aluminum that, each day, were loaded onto rail cars and sent to Germany.

As for the location of the hiding place – I still didn't know, where it was. It would be revealed to me on the last day before our escape. Only one of the three of us knew about it. Also, I did not even know, who the third of us was.

After three weeks of working on the squad, F(y)edor told me Monday morning that we would escape today. I immediately, wrote a farewell letter to Rochele and passed it on to my friend to give it to her when I was no longer there. She was the only one to whom I confided the secret of our escape.

Monday morning, we march out to work as we do every day. We are divided into groups; me and Fed(y)or are together in one group. The third, a Russian, went into another group, working next to us. I am introduced to him. A very courageous person, a former lieutenant.

We decide to go to the hideout ten minutes before 5 p.m. . At ten o'clock in the morning, Fed(y)or showed me the place, where our hideout was to be. It was a wheel of an American airplane. There was room for two men there, and in a second wheel-for the third.

The entrance was through a cut-out door, which was difficult to notice. There, where the two wheels were lying, there were also hundreds of other wheels, so they did not stand out. In the wheel you had to lie three days and nights and then leave it. The plan is brilliant. From these two wheels, 50 people had already escaped. The sniffer dogs could not run over the gasoline that had poured all over the place. The fugitives usually poured some snuff on a second place, just not near where they were hiding. The dogs then started sneezing and couldn't get anything done. Every minute dragged on as if made of pitch. I already wanted to lie in the wheel so much! At twelve o'clock at dinner, we met all three and agreed on the order, in which we should go.

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Fed(y)or was designated to go first. I, second into the same wheel, and the third was to go last into the second wheel.

The control was the same as every day. Every hour, we had to line up in rows. At 4 p.m. we lined up for the control. The soldier counted us off and then told us to go to work. We usually worked until 5. Every passing minute seemed like a year. Me and Fed(y)or are standing not far from the place where the wheels are lying. We work chopping up wings. Every minute, the soldier makes his rounds past us, shouting:

“Quick, quick, this must be finished!”

We work with our heads down, as if he doesn't mean us.

I catch a glimpse of the clock: it's half past four. Fed(y)or puts aside his hoe, looking around in all directions. I stand at my work. The soldier is just away at a second group and is talking to another soldier there. Fed(y)or runs with tiny steps to the wheels. I see him bend down and open a little door on the wheel. Now, he is already stretched out on the ground and after two seconds he is already inside. The door closes again.

I am still in the same place, my heart is beating even harder. Now, I will soon put an end to my camp life! Either I am free or I end up on the gallows. I turn around. The third friend waves to me.

I cast a glance at the mountain of wheels and at the wheel, where Fed(y)or is lying. We have agreed on a sign that I have to give Fed(y)or, before I go to the wheel.

The two soldiers stand and talk to each other with their backs to me. I decide to put down the hoe and go to the wheel. Suddenly, I hear a shout: “Hey you dog, come here real quick!”

I turn my head and see how the soldier waves his hand to me to come to him. My heart is pounding, but I am not embarrassed. The third comrade looks at me to see what happens next. When I am with the soldier, he leads me to a mountain of aluminum and instructs me to make room, so

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that a tractor can drive in there. He has brought a few more people here, and is now standing alone with his stick in his hand, screaming: “Faster, faster, this has to be done today!”[44] It will soon be “closing time”. Every piece of tin fell from my hand.

The soldier simply did not step away from us for a single moment, and then a whistle was heard and the order: “Line up!”

We've lined up in 4 rows of 5. There are four in the last row. The soldier shouts: “Where is the fifth?” His lips are trembling. He runs around like a madman, yelling at the “foreman.” All groups march to the large field, where everyone forms up to march back to camp. But our group remains standing on the spot. The command leader[45] comes to ask, what is going on. The soldier stammers in a trembling voice: “One is missing!”

The command leader shouts, gestures with his hands, curses, runs around back and forth. We are asked, if we don't know where the person has gone? Maybe he is asleep? The numbers are called out.

Immediately, it is known which number is missing. We all answer synchronously that we do not know where he is. We know that something will happen to us; we will be tortured. We are ready to endure whatever may come. After five minutes, we hear the choppy whistle of the siren. In a moment, SS-men with their dogs start running. We are led away to one side of the field.

“Knee bends!”, the commando leader orders. Immediately, several SS-men position themselves around us with rough oak sticks. The commando leader shouts at us to tell where the Russian is, where he is hiding. We remain silent, because in such a case it is better to only listen and not say a word. Or just to drone out: “Yessir! Yessir!”

Every minute, more SS arrive.

The camp commander, Kramer, is coming on. His eyes gleam wildly, as if he wanted to devour us with them. He walks past us, gives one of us a hard shove in his stomach with his boot, yells at the commando leader and the soldier from our group.

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The soldier, looking pale, is standing there and stating, that at four o'clock, everyone was still at work, and that he stood next to us from half past four until five o'clock.

Kramer yells wildly, “Well, then where is he?”[46] The soldier remains standing without answer, arms drooping and also shouting after each word, “Yessir!”

Kramer curses and shouts to the right and to the left: “Golly, golly!” He yells at the commando leader, who stands bolt upright like a pole, arms stretched down, “Every day we're missing prisoners!”

Kramer goes back to us, yelling: “I will shoot you all like dogs if you do not testify, where the Russian is!” We sit there with trembling knees. The one, who got the blow with the boot in the stomach, is lying there in an unconscious state. He is a Greek Jew. Kramer goes to the victim, gives him another firm blow and quickly runs away to the SS, who are standing in rows, holding the leashes of the dogs in their hands.

Kramer speaks to them, and they all swarm out like a cloud of locusts over the work area. A blind shootout into the mountains of tin can be heard. We stand up. Soon the order comes, “Lie down!” Then again, “Get up!” Half of our group is already lying beaten up on the lawn. I fall down with my last strength but can hardly get up. My tongue hangs outstretched from my mouth; I lack air. My body is wet. The Greek Jew lies and struggles with death. His eyes stare at the sky. The other prisoners, who until now have been in the “standstill” position, have also been ordered to do “knee bends”.

The killers leave us for a few minutes to consult among themselves. Now, their canes “work” to the right and left. The Russians are swearing wild curses. The caning is given to those, who are already half-dead, shaking with their arms and legs and not being able, to stand for a minute with bent knees. Dozens are lying beaten up. Soon, the murderers are coming to us, shouting, “You cursed, dirty dogs!” – and even more “beautiful” names.

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Everyone in our group is lying stretched out and completely broken on the grass. The SS laugh and rejoice that they have won a “victory” over us.

In this way, we remained lying there until sunset. The SS came back with their dogs – sweaty and unsuccessful. The workplace was surrounded with SS. Kramer gave the order that we should return to the camp. Those who could not get up were put on a truck and taken to the camp. The rest marched in rows on foot to the camp. There, they positioned us all separately next to the kitchen. We had to stay like that until three o'clock in the morning, without food. At three o'clock, each of us was taken individually to our barracks, and at 4 o'clock, we had to go out again to the roll call square. After the morning roll call, at 6 o'clock, we were led back to work.

We were all dead tired and additionally, got more beatings that day than the other days. There was no lunch for us. People were dropping like flies from hunger. This day was the worst day of camp life for us. In the evening we were taken to the camp and each of us was given half a liter of watery soup. We did not get any bread with it. The guards increased, they counted every five minutes, and we were held responsible for each other.

The three days were now over, and the guards were withdrawn. My friend Fed(y)or had successfully escaped alone. However, the colonel decided to suspend the next escapes for a few weeks.

But after a few days, three runaway Russians were brought back, enchained. They had been captured not far from Auschwitz. All the anger was vented on these three people. The camp commander, Kramer, wanted to find out at all costs, where the hiding place was; and he succeeded. The three were tortured until they revealed, where they had been hiding. When they first pointed to another place, they were not believed, and they were tortured further, until they showed the right place. After two weeks of torment, they showed the two wheels, then they were

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believed. After six days, they were shot in the crematorium. The escape movement stopped. All my plans fell apart.

 

Beginning of the Nazi collapse

In the camp, people knew that the Germans were suffering great defeats on all fronts. The front at Vitebsk was broken. The Russian armies went ahead with giant strides. The Western Front was broken. The Germans were leaving France, Holland and Belgium. We in the camp knew that our lives were now even more in danger. Any minute, there could be an order to make the camp “cleansed”, which meant killing all the prisoners.

Meanwhile, an order came to evacuate the camp towards Germany. The Nazis needed manpower and therefore began to transfer thousands of prisoners to other camps.

Every day, they sent out transports, liquidating many squads. There was also an evacuation in the women's camp. The transports from Lodz were the last to arrive in Auschwitz. With the last transport, they brought the “King of the Ghetto”, Chaim Rumkowski[47], and threw him together with all the others into the gas chamber. The first to be evacuated were the Jews of Lodz, later the Hungarian ones. In October, the order came to evacuate the old prisoners. On October 17, no one marched out to work. Transports of 2000 people each were assembled. On October 15, I went to the “Effektenlager” in order to say goodbye to Rochele, who was doing the same work there as in “Canada”.

On the 17th, our whole barracks was sent to another camp in Germany. When we left Birkenau, they dressed us in civilian clothes. Everyone was given a long coat, large wooden shoes and new, round hats. We did not recognize each other. First we were led to the train. There,

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everyone went through the same check as if they had arrived at the camp only yesterday. It was forbidden, to take more than one spoon. We were led to the train, strictly closed and guarded. There, everyone was given half a loaf of bread, a portion of margarine of 100 grams, a cane blow as a surcharge, and then we were packed sixty people into a wagon. The wagons were very tightly closed, without any gap. Next to each wagon remained three SS. We took the last look at the camp and the electric wire. From the grove, the tall chimneys, which were wrapped with iron to not fall apart, peeked out. A bright smoke curled up to the sky. Still, the remaining Lodz Jews were burning, together with the “King of the Ghetto”, Chaim Rumkowski, who, with his good speeches, had enticed the 70,000 Jews to work in Auschwitz.[48]

Standing on the train station, everything seems like a dream. Something like foggy sadness lingers in the silence. Trucks, loaded with clothes, are passing by, leaving behind them dense white dust. A wind is blowing over the warm clothes that, just a few minutes ago, had been on human bodies. The other prisoners who remained in the camp stand at the fence and say goodbye to us, waving their hands.

We hear the wild, animalistic yell of the camp commander, Kramer, “All aboard!”

A scramble begins. Rifle butts fall over our heads. After several minutes, we are all in the train car. All my comrades, with whom I have led the day-to-day struggle for “tomorrow”, are riding together with me. My “bed-fellows”, Arke Krantzman and Itshe Suroski, are calling me over, to stand together in a corner. The wagon is small and there is little space. The SS-men take up the whole center by the door. Litter (straw) is carried in for them. There's no place for us to stand. Three pairs of large, murderous eyes are looking at us, piercing us with their gazes. One of them shouts, “Golly, what's that air! You stink, you curs!” And with his mouth full, he spits on one of us. We hear a choppy whistle, along with a shout: “All aboard!”

The wagons give a

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start; one is bumping into the other. The crowd is shaken up, falling against each other with their whole bodies. The wagons start moving. The door is open. The camp flies by. There, we can still see the chimneys; black smoke is billowing from two of them. From the other two, a thin smoke is curling, quickly dissipating in the air, leaving no traces…

The double-row electric fence runs by quickly. Every stone that lies there screams out a dirge; every grain of sand is steeped in the mystery of a human life.

The wheels are pounding in time, ever stronger by the minute. A transport is being transferred, but not wood and coals, but a transport of living people who want to live and experience the hour of reckoning with the enemy. A cool autumn wind blows in through the open door, which is blocked by three green cloaks. A belt is dangling on them, with the inscription “God with us”. On the left side, a revolver, in the hands, next to the legs, a rifle. In addition, large, stuffed backpacks, from which the tip of a white bread peeks out. All our eyes fall straight on the bread. Everyone's thoughts are occupied with the bread: What would happen if someone had the bread in his hand now? In which side would he take his first bite?

The wheels are pounding. We are riding between green fields. Auschwitz is left behind us. Nobody knows where the train will take us. We in our corner decide, to resist in case they take us to another crematorium. I have smuggled through a “holy Sabbath knife” which I keep ready. The others are willing to defend themselves with their spoons; their handles are sharply ground, also serving as a knife.

Night has fallen. We cannot keep our eyes open anymore. Our legs buckle. There is no place to sit down. We are leaning against the other, slumbering. The SS are smoking one cigarette after another, spitting and cursing. But we do not respond to a single word and pretend that we are not meant at all. We fly past villages and towns. There is no end to the night. Everyone falls into a light sleep, only to wake up again.

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Our knees give a jerk and the slumber cuts off. One is pushing the other with his feet. When one of us sits down, there is a shout: “Ow, my foot!” Meanwhile, the SS-men are taking advantage of this situation, attacking us with rifle butts and hitting over our heads.

In this way, we were standing all night. A cold morning wind has brought us a little freshness. The train has stopped. We are reading an inscription with big black letters: “Gleiwitz” [Gliwice]. Now, we already know that we are going to Germany. The SS-men jump down, tapping their feet together and rubbing their eyes. One wipes the second. All three march next to the door. The transport leader walks from wagon to wagon with a note in his hand. Each SS-man stands upright in front of him, hands stretched tightly down, shouting out: “Everything all right!” In this way, the transport leader runs from wagon to wagon, until the last one.

We look out through the open door. Preoccupied railroad workers run back and forth. Everyone glances at the door and keeps walking. The only thing we ask for is bread. A piece of bread – that's what we require. But no one throws bread to us. Everyone passes by, pretending that it is not him, who is meant.

In Gliwice, we have stood until 12 noon. Then, the train is starting, again with the SS-men together with us in the wagon. Now, they are having lunch. Everyone unpacks a long, dry, firm sausage and white bread, and their chins move up and down. Once they cut off the sausage, once the bread, then they bite into it. Slowly, one after the other. We are standing there, silently. All our eyes are now on the knife that cuts the sausage and bread, shining like those of a cat, standing there tied up while a fat mouse jumps around in the distance. All of us had immediately eaten our bread that we received yesterday before leaving Auschwitz, being afraid that one might steal it from the other. We do not know when we will get bread. We are locked in the wagon between four walls without a view, and do not know at all what is planned for us. It's just as if we weren't even there.

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Night falls again. With every minute, the hunger grows even more. We shout at each other, so that the SS should hear, “Bread, why don't they give us bread?”

The SS shout, “Quiet, you pigs! You will get bread tomorrow”.

“Why tomorrow? We are hungry today!” the whole wagon shouts in unison. But shouting didn't help; we didn't get any bread.

So, we drove through the second night. The majority in the wagon had no strength to stand any longer; others not even to talk. Hunger dominated everyone. If someone had still thought of escape – now it was nonsensical, because no one had any strength left.

On the third day, we stopped at a small railroad station near Gdansk. The SS told us that we would not go on, but would be dumped in a camp. Nobody knows the name of the camp. We lay there, leaning against each other, waiting for our fate. Two Greek Jews died this morning. They are lying with us. The air in the wagon is suffocating. The SS-men are spitting and cursing with the worst and dirtiest words; it would be us, who are guilty of everything. They were innocent, free from suspicion. (1). Until now, a faint voice could be heard, “Hunger, bread,” but henceforth, everyone is silent, because the slightest shout is stifled with the rifle butts of the SS. Everyone is afraid of the last blow with a butt.

After several hours, a few officers came to our transport. They looked at the “goods” that were brought to them. In our wagon, there were already two dead, and the rest were half dead.

 

Stutthof

We were herded out of the wagons and lined up five to a row. Now, a counting began to control, if no one had escaped on the way.

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The dead were dragged out of the wagon and laid down below to be also counted. From each wagon, they hauled out 2 or 3 dead. Others simply no longer had the strength to stay on their feet. The only thing everyone wanted now was a piece of bread, and later, come what may. Hunger plagues us all and pulls us down to earth. Everyone has withered, blue lips.

The murderous officers take their time. They stand comfortably in the distance, sneering at us, pointing their fingers at the victims, who have gone down on their knees, with their heads lowered to the earth.

The air is fragrant; we are in a forest among tall conifers. The sky above us is saturated with moisture. The night has fallen. We are still standing in the side yard. The SS officers burst into loud laughter, hearing the reports of those who came with us.

Suddenly we hear a wild, drunken shouting: “Ahead, march!”

One is linking arm with the other, and the dead are placed on a cart. We march over yellow needles in the deep forest-not even knowing where to. Marching with me in line are my “bedfellows.” Each of us is determined to defend ourselves if we are lined up to be shot. Meanwhile, we march with short steps in the darkness. Each of us is sure that this is our end and we will be shot here. We decide that as soon as we see the SS moving away from us, we will throw ourselves at them and tear their necks open with our teeth.

The majority of the whole transport is no longer capable of resistance. Only a tiny percentage is still able to do so, if the bullet does not come even earlier.

Escaping is impossible. After each meter, SS-men are walking on both sides with guns held out, ready to shoot.

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Behind us, we hear a gunshot and a groan. They have shot someone who could not go any further. If we keep going like this, everyone will fall down. No one knows, where we will march and how long we will have to walk like this. Everyone is sure that this is our last march; may what has to happen anyway, just go faster. This is the wish of all of us. Again a shot is fired, accompanied by a long “oi!”. Once again, they shot someone. The wagon is already overflowing with the dead. Wild screams can be heard: “Ahead! Quick, you dirty dogs!”

Around us it is dark; the path is swampy. Suddenly, we see small fires approaching us from afar. Now, we are already next to a narrow field; and we stop. The fires come close to us. We can clearly see a locomotive with dense black smoke coming out of it. To the locomotive are attached small open wagons. We stop next to these wagons and are counted again. The dead on the wagon are also counted.

Fifty people stand next to each wagon. An order comes: “Board!”

None of us has any strength left. Immediately, the wild SS-men come running with the butts in their hands, bumping and hitting from all sides. There is a scramble, a rush from one wagon to the next. One wants to hide behind the other. The SS-men take advantage of the situation, beating everyone over their heads and backs. There is a groaning of people, who have fallen down to the earth. The others are stepping on them. Those, who have already managed to hastily get into the wagons have not received any blows. The ground is covered with people. Each of them croaks and shouts with his last strength: “Shoot me, shoot me, you murderers!”

I am in the wagon. My hand is swollen from a blow. Now, what can come will. None of us is capable of resistance anymore. The broken and the dead have been placed together in the last wagon. Now we are believing that we are being led to the crematorium.

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Only one thing we wanted – might it already be over! The hunger and the beatings have broken in all of us the strength to resist.

The locomotive starts moving. In each wagon, four SS-men are sitting, with rifles at the ready. We drive into the forest's darkness. From the last wagons, we hear a moaning and wailing.

The wheels are pounding, the locomotive is whistling. So, we were driving for more than one hour.

The locomotive has stopped next to a large warehouse, the lighting of which could be seen from afar.

We have left the wagons again, lining up in rows of five. Some of us were lying unconscious in the wagons. The living, half-dead and dead have been counted. The transport is in order: all 1200 people are present. We marched to the gate of the camp. Above the gate is hanging an inscription, illuminated by electric lamps: “Wald-Lager Stutthof”.[49] At the gate, SS-men line up on both sides, counting us again as we march in. The dead and half-dead are brought into the camp and left on the street, next to the wall of a barrack. We are taken to an empty barrack with no beds and no floor. All of us have fallen to the bare, wet ground, being dead tired. So we have been lying there until dawn, with everyone groaning and gasping.

At four o'clock, two SS-men came in with sticks in their hands and shouted: “Roll call! Roll call! Everybody out, out, you cursed dogs!”

Soon, we were standing one behind the other, ten to a row.

At six o'clock, a block leader came and counted us twice. After roll call, we were led to the bathroom. There, everything started all over again. Once again, we had to strip naked. The clothes were put into the delousing chamber. All this took place with the accompaniment of caning.

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The cold showers were the worst. Outside, a cold, wet autumn wind whistled. The windows in the bathroom were broken, and the draft chased over our emaciated bodies. All of us shivered and snuggled up to one another.

After we took our bath, we were herded into another large hall, where everyone was given their clothes. Now, after the bath procedure, we were led to blocks “two” and “three” in the camp. These were two blocks for Jews only, with special discipline and special leaders. We had to wait out the roll call longer than anyone else. Sleeping was even worse than in Auschwitz, on a narrow military bed, where four of us had to sleep: Two at the foot side and two at the head side. Immediately, when we tried to stretch out on the beds, most of them broke apart and one fell on top of the other. The beds were three-tiered. When the top tier broke, all four fell down to the middle tier. However, from the impact, the middle tier also bent, and so all eight people fell onto the bottom bed, which of course as a result also collapsed.

No one had known or heard anything about the “Stutthof” camp before. But now, we felt the rigor of the camp, which could well be called “camp of the dead” on our backs. Here, too, there were women who worked at cleaning the clothes of the captured soldiers. The women's camp was separated from the men's camp by a high electric fence. It was very strictly forbidden for women to stand next to the fence and talk to men. There was a crematorium here as well, just not on such a huge format as in Auschwitz. Rather, it was an ordinary stone house with a tall chimney, wrapped with iron hoops, to keep it from falling apart from the heat. The crematorium was enclosed by a high, opaque fence. A brick-paved path led to the door. There were not as many people working here as in Auschwitz, just twenty, but all with different nationalities. Only the Jews were gassed; people of other nationalities were burned, when they were already dead. The majority in the camp were Poles, from the Bialystok area. I even…

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met a Pole from my shtetl Krinik [Krynki], a former assistant policeman of the Germans. When we met and I asked him, “Edzhik Tsarnyetski [Czarnietzki], you are also here in the camp?” he lowered his head and asked: “Jeszcze żyjesz? – you are still alive?”

The Pole furnished me with greetings from my shtetl Krinik. He told me, what had happened to those, who had fled into the forest, and about the surrounding peasants.

Those, who had hidden in the boiler of the bath at that time, he said, had been caught and shot in the middle of the market. Several peasants were also shot.

About himself, he told me the following:

After our shtetl had already become “judenrein”[50], the former ghetto commissar collected everything that the Jews had left behind in the last “two camps”. He collected the clothes and linen in the large “Bes-Medresh”[51]. The Polish assistant policemen had to take care of it. But once, when he had been standing guard alone, he went inside and took out various clothes. During this “work”, however, he was caught by the ghetto commissar, and, as a punishment, he was taken to the forest camp at Stutthof.

* * *

The work of the prisoners in the forest camp took place in several military factories, such as shoes and weapons factories. Several hundred people worked there. The camp numbered 6000 men and 4000 women. Other prisoners worked unloading ships coming from the port of Gdansk. The forest camp was located 30 km from Gdynia, and those, who worked in the harbor, usually left every day at 5 o'clock in the morning and returned at 8 o'clock in the evening. Every day, they brought back dead and wounded from the hard work, which consisted of unloading stones and cement.

The Jews in our camp were mostly from Vilnius and Kaunas. We were the first to arrive from the Auschwitz death camp. Most people of our transport

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had already been in Auschwitz for up to two years. Therefore, we already knew better how to wriggle out of both blows and hard work.

In particular, two camp policemen distinguished themselves by walking through the camp with large wolf dogs. And the person on whom they set the dogs, knew only too well that he would not survive. Those who still managed to survive the bite wounds in their arms or legs, among others, were taken to the crematorium, where they were gassed and burned. Every day, victims were usually brought to the crematorium. For this purpose, a special cart with four large wheels had been constructed. This cart was pulled by ten people, driven by the sticks of the kapos, who walked alongside. Every day, hundreds of sick people were taken from the women's precinct and led to the crematorium. Burns were performed even when there were no sick people. Because according to the order of the camp commander, 100 women and all sick people had to be burned every day.

Of our transport, which numbered 1,200 people, dozens were missing every day. The cold, the wet, cutting winds from the sea, the hunger – all that was breaking the remaining bit of our health every day. All of us had only one hope: The liberation was already knocking at the door!

Knowing that the Nazis were already perishing now, each of us wanted to live all the more. For so long, we had endured all the heavy, terrible torment, and now that we were already on the threshold of liberation, we did not want to die, after all!

Each of us had only one desire: To experience the day of liberation – and then it should be what it will.

But it was very difficult for us to fight against nature, against the biting winds and rains that tormented us 18 hours a day. In the camp, we became recruits again. There, too, we were quarantined for a week, which was much worse than going to work.

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Then, everyone was assigned to specific work. It goes without saying that Jews were called in to do the heaviest work, but especially ourselves, who had just joined the group. I had to go to the harbor and unload sand from the ship. This work – under sticks – was very hard. We were driven to and from work. But they didn't do that for our relief, but to make us work more hours.

I decided to leave, on a transport to another camp. Maybe it would be better there. Transports were frequent, because any small labor camp that lacked workers, could buy them at the Stutthof forest camp for very cheap money.

Civilian companies, such as Krupp, Müller and Kaiser[52] can also buy people at low prices. If a leader of such a company comes to the camp to buy 100 or 200 slaves, then things can get better-or worse. But we'll worry about that later. For now, the main thing is to get away from the wind and rain. And I, too, am determined to leave for another camp. Maybe I can even escape from there, because here, it is absolutely not possible, and after a few weeks, I will have no more strength to do so. Every day that passes in the camp, is like a whole year. Each of us, standing tired and broken by the hard work, knows what awaits him after work, when returning with his last strength to the camp. Then, everything starts all over again. The SS, the block leaders – they don't care whether we worked all day or not, since it would be us who had to pay for our “debt”.[53] In the evening, at roll call, after returning to the camp, we usually stand from 7-9 o'clock. The count dragged on for a very long time. At 9 o'clock we were then lined up in a “goose line”. There were shoving matches and the murderers usually took advantage of this. After all, everyone wanted to be the first to return to the block in order to get their portion of bread with jam spread at the entrance, whereby the latter was usually smeared on the nose. When distributing bread, the same tactics were used as in Auschwitz: The victims were the sick and the weak,

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who could no longer stand on their feet. They were not given any more portions of bread.

After a three weeks' stay at Stutthof, a civilian master came to demand 1200 Jews to work. I was one of them. Almost all of those, who had come from Auschwitz, were selected for this transport that no one knew where it would take us. The 1200 people were divided into two groups, 600 each. Again, we were led to the bathroom. Everyone was given new clothes: black coats with red stripes on the shoulder.

On October 15, 1944, we left the Stutthof forest camp.

 

Tai(l)fingen Airfield

There are sixty of us in the wagon, guarded by two SS-men. Everyone gets a piece of bread with sausage, and we are leaving snowy, white fields behind us. We set off in the evening, and the longer we drive, the more we feel the frost. Everyone huddled together. On the first night, four people in our wagon froze their feet off. One of them was my comrade, a Bialystok lad, Itshe Suraski, who was crying in pain. On the second day, there were already twenty people who had frozen feet. So we drove for four days. Every day, we got 200 grams of bread and one liter of water. On the fourth day, we arrived at a small train station with the signage “Tailfingen”.[54]

There, we stayed for the whole night. The next morning, the “buyers” came to look at their “purchased goods”. New murderer faces surrounded the train. Then, we were ordered to leave the wagons and line up in fives. Those people with frozen feet could not move from the place.

I also had a toe frozen off

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my left foot, but I was able to walk. Again, we were counted. A tall, skinny SS officer showed us his long “nageike” [whip] and waved it in the air. We were still standing in the row, when he, in front of us, gave a speech. He introduced himself as the camp leader, and made ten of us responsible for one, meaning that for one escapee, ten would be shot. Among other things, he also spoke about the discipline that would prevail in the camp. Finally he asked, if we had understood everything.

Those whose feet were frozen off were loaded onto a truck. The rest of us walked to the camp, which was located three kilometers from the railroad line on an airfield. No people were housed there yet; we were the first to live there in the new camp. The camp consisted of a large hall (hangar), where broken aircraft were repaired. When we entered the empty, large hall, we were all shocked: only an earthen floor and no beds; the roof and walls were riddled with machine-gun bullets, being fired every day by the Americans and the English.

Without beds, without water – this is how the new camp presented itself to us. The commander, who looked like the “wild Tarzan”[55], with big, shining eyes, gave us a speech again. He informed us that what we could see was all they had prepared for us. If we wanted to have beds, we should build some by ourselves. And if we wanted water, we should build a well ourselves.

Around the hangar, there was a wire fence with several high towers for the guards, who were already standing there with rifles pointed at the hangar. A small hut was standing at the side, called the kitchen. All around, there was mud up to the knee. From among us were selected a camp elder and several Kapos, plus four people for the kitchen and a cleaning person. On the same day, the work squads of 30 to 40 people each were formed, and each squad was given a name.

The carpenters got

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to work right away. Boards and nails were available. The camp leader, to whom we gave the name “Tarzan” right at the beginning, left the leadership of the camp to several people, and thus something like a “Jewish government” came into being. In the evening, the first roll call took place on the street. Everyone was up to their knees in mud. The camp commander counted us off, and whoever moved his head, received a blow with the nageike ([whip]. Standing at roll call for two hours, some of us fell over in the mud.

Among us were Jews from Poland, Greece, Holland, France, Belgium and Germany. The leadership of the camp fell into Polish [Jewish] hands. Now, we were deep in Germany, between Stuttgart and Tübingen.

The first night in the new camp, we slept on bare, wet earth. Everyone covered himself with his own coat. The snow stormed inside, but we all slept well, because we were all dead tired from the exhausting four-day[56] journey.

At four o'clock in the morning, we already heard the whistle of the camp leader. After five minutes, all of us were standing in rows of ten on the street. The sky was black. The full moon laughed down at us as if to tell us: “Children, your plagues are all in vain, you will not live to see freedom anyway!” A shining star beckoned us down from the sky: “Hold on, kids! Your freedom is dawning already!”

Again, they counted us. Everyone stood there frozen, not moving his head, because we already knew what else awaited us. Of the 600 people, 70 already did not come out of the “block” today. Most of them had frozen feet. The sick were all lying in a row, so that they could be counted (as) well.

At 5 o'clock, the camp leader's shout went up, “Work squad, form up!”

SS-men had already been standing at the gate – with their hats pulled down over their ears and knocking one boot against the other.

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They are waiting for us. Among those, standing there with their guns, are Russians, Ukrainians and Poles. The Ukrainians are wearing uniforms of the organization “Todt”[57] with a red ribbon on the right arm, on which a swastika is shining.

Camp leader Tarzan is standing with a paper in his hand, calling out the names of the squads. The work crew I am standing in is called “Rasten [Reusten] Number 2”[58], which is the name of the quarry, where we have to work. Our crew consists of twenty people. When we are already standing on the other side of the gate, six guards grouped around us with rifles at the ready.

“Ahead, march!” one of the guards yells wildly, and the others are prodding us with their rifles. We are marching on a snowy white path, between two forests. Nobody knows, where we are going. Around us is deep darkness. Every crunch of a step is echoing. We walk cuddled up, the heads lowered between our shoulders, our eyes fixed on the night.

So we have been marching for two hours, until it has become light already. Now, we see high, rocky hills in front of us. We pass small villages. The farmers are casting cold glances at us and quickly get out of the way, making room for us. Behind some windows, a curtain rises, revealing a glimpse of us. Quickly, the curtain falls back down again.

Before marching into the village, the guard elder has announced that whoever left the line to pick something up would be shot immediately. On the side of the road are lying frozen turnips and potatoes. Fixing this [food] with his eyes, everyone wants to gulp it down. Thus, we have passed three villages; and in each one the same is repeated. Behind the third village, there is a small wall with a tall, white, wooden building, around which are heaped mountains of small and large stones. There we stop.

Two civilian masters are looking at us, smiling at each other. The guard lines up around the building. Two civilians assign us to work, which consists of drilling deep holes in

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the rock of the hill, into which dynamite is then poured to cause a blast, which would create larger and smaller stones. And these stones we have to work with. The large stones are pounded with heavy hammers and loaded into small wagons, which we take away to the “stone machine” to prepare small rock for the building of highways and airfields. Work is proceeding at a rapid pace. The master is not interested in whether we are hungry or full. He demands what is due to him. None of us has drunk a single drop of water today. We will get lunch at the workplace. Everyone is already waiting with great impatience for the truck to bring us a little watery soup.

I am working with the heavy hammer, which is almost as heavy as I am. I no longer have the strength to pick it up, but the fear of blows from the guards helps me to lift the hammer. All of us can barely keep on our feet. But that is none of the civilian master's business; he cares little. For him, the only thing that matters, is that we work and still get more done. As soon as he realizes that one of us is lagging behind, he reports it to the guard, who then “pays” us for it immediately with butt blows over the back.

We have worked thus until one o'clock; then we had lunch. For 20 people, there were 15 liters of watery soup, consisting of beets with water and bitter grasses. The lunch break has lasted an hour; then – back to work. Now, the civilian master himself takes a stick in his hand, driving the work to a faster pace and yelling that we had eaten, so now we would have to earn our food with work!

“You dirty, lazy Jews”, that has been the only shouting of the master. But his yelling did not annoy us as much as his rough stick, which he has used to accompany every word.

“Ah, may the time of reckoning come! But how are we to experience it? Even if it is only for a minute! Then we, the slaves, who now walk with heads bowed to the earth, will, with revolvers in our hands, speak to the old ‘Jekke’, who now feels himself a hero over 20 human shadows”.

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Kry247.jpgg
Gassed Czech Jews in the death wagon of Munich –
40 wagons with people arrived on the day of liberation

[Page 248]

And the longed-for minute will come! But none of us knows whether at least one of us will live to see it. All of us are between the teeth of the wild tiger, and, close to the moment of being gobbled down, each of us is fighting with his last strength for every day, for every hour. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, the longed-for freedom will come!

To others of us, this just seems like an empty dream. We don't even know, if there is a world at all beyond the fence, on the other side of the guns. We don't know what's happening in the world – as if we were living somewhere on a discarded, wild island, among savage people. Only one thing gladdens our tortured hearts: the silver airplanes flying in large groups over our heads, accompanied by sunrays to the big German cities and factories. When we hear the familiar sound, we bless those, who are gliding across the skies,[59] determined to bring us freedom. We see, how the faces of the great “heroes” are turning pale, as they shout, “Airmen! Airman alert!” And, how their hands are trembling together with their guns!

Only when the sky is covered with airplanes, we pause from work. We worked until 6 o'clock, and it had been really dark, when we lined up five to a row. Four rows of five under rifle. So, we have been starting the march back again. No one of has the strength anymore to endure this life. We are hungry and broken, with heavy wooden shoes, to which the snow is sticking, hindering walking. Our hearts are crying. We do not speak a word to each other, as if we were mute. Our imagination reflects to us only one single thing: a piece of bread! The whole twenty of us think the same. No one thinks about freedom anymore. Everything has died off. Only one thing is still alive in the world. Just one: That is a piece of bread!

So, we march with slow steps. No one is listening to the shouting of the drunken guards, who scold and shout that we should go faster. We no longer hear anyone. Not even when one gets a butt in the side does he feel the pain.

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There is no more spit in our mouths. Our lips and palates are dried up, and our tongues are swollen from the cold. “Oh, a piece of bread! How happy a man is, who has a piece of bread to eat!”…

One of us has fainted; he cannot go on. His eyes are half-open, his head tilted back. Everyone stops. The guard is giving the fainter a kick with his boot: “Get up, damned pig-Jew!” But the fainter no longer hears the wild shouting. Four men take him on their shoulders, and we are marching on. In the evening at half past nine, we arrived next to the gate of the camp. The others, who came earlier, are standing in the street, in rows of ten, at roll call. The whole camp is waiting for us. The camp leader is gnashing his teeth like a wild wolf, shouting and scolding with the dirtiest words. We lay the half-dead on the ground, and all are lining up for roll call.

“Stand still! Caps down!”

We stand transfixed. Recounted. The camp is in order. Now, everyone is lining up for his portion of bread.

Tired, we return to the large, cold hall where there are no stove and no beds. Only wet, black earth, and for covering only one blanket for five people. Through the holes, the snow is falling in. In a corner, there are already several dead bodies, over which white chlorine has been poured. The one of our squad who fell over, is also already lying among the dead. The murderous “Tarzan” had smashed his lungs with the tip of his boot, shouting: “Lazy dog, you're only pretending that you can't get up!”

Comparing this camp with the previous ones, we were very disillusioned. In Auschwitz, each of us thought that things could not get any worse. It was the same at Stutthof. But now, when we came here between fields, into this big hangar, where 600 people were herded to build highways, but were not given any water and no beds to sleep in, with just 200 grams of bread to eat with a little cold watery beet soup…

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this is really unbearable now. On the very first day, there are already so many dead and half-dead people lying there!

We worked this way for two weeks, and out of the 600, 400 of us remained. Thus, the camp leader Tarzan somewhat improved our situation. He brought beds and straw, and a blanket for each. The food also improved. But it was already too late; the majority of the camp was dead sick. Every day, the mortality increased. After six weeks, 300 tortured, debilitated prisoners remained.

Both the cold and the snowfalls contributed to the destruction of the camp. After two months, we were no more than 150 people fit for work. Every day, the American and British planes flew and strafed the camp. During a night shelling, when we were not allowed to go out on the street, 60 people fell. The pilots did not know that this was a camp with Jews inside. For them, it was a military point that they used to bombard daily.

When there were no more than a hundred of us left being able to work, ten people were selected, among whom was myself. We were to work in the “bomb crew”, digging bombs. The work consisted of driving over the towns and villages and digging out the bombs that had not exploded. We were very content with this work. First, we were given more to eat and second, we were able to “organize” something on our own. The work was very dangerous. Every second, we risked death. Just a small movement with the shovel in the bomb, and it would explode, if it still had a detonator. The Germans usually did not approach the places where we were working. Therefore, we used to work as we liked.

My work involved unscrewing the igniters. My hand

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wasn't even shaking, because I had nothing left to lose.

Then the camp in Tailfingen was disbanded. The healthier persons were transferred to another camp, that is, a small labor camp: Steinberg [Schömberg]-Dautmergen.

 

Steinberg–Dautmergen

Between two dense forests, not far from the large city of Balingen, there is a small town, called Steinberg [Schömberg][60]. Two kilometers through the forest, you would come to the small village Dautmergen. There, in the forest, a camp with 7 barracks and a kitchen had been erected. The majority of its inhabitants were Poles. The camp elder, Manek, was also a Pole; he was a sadist and murderer. Every day, he would murder two or three Jews with his own hands. Most of the Jews in the camp were from Lithuania. On January 18, our “bomb squad” was transferred to this camp. As soon as we arrived, we read in the pale, emaciated faces of the Jews what miserable conditions they had to endure.

The work in the camp consisted of building large “oil factories”[61]. The oil was extracted from the rocks of the mountains by means of large pipes. This was hard forced labor. Even the strongest prisoners did not last more than 3 weeks. Very often new transports arrived with people of many nationalities from other camps, including Russians and French. There was no crematorium. The dead were buried not far from the camp on a hill where large pits had already been dug. The dead were taken away on a cart; this work was done by certain people of the so-called “corpse crew”.

Once a week, the sick were taken away to unknown places. From the work sites, every day dead and half-dead were brought in.

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I had only one plan: Escaping from the camp. But there was no day for implementing it, because the guard was very vigilant; and if a fugitive was caught, he was tortured to death.

I did not work at the rock [quarry], but in the squad “Lilienfein”. Our work consisted of camouflaging the factories as protection against air raids. It was not hard work; we had to weave straw and green leaves. I worked together with my friend, Mr.[62] Zlotogurski, who encouraged us to hold out until liberation. Zlotogurski, a French Jew, was talking every day with French prisoners who were informed about the latest news from the front. Now we knew that the days of our camp life were numbered, “one way or another”… Each time we saw the flocks of planes covering the sky, it was pure joy for us. We also knew that the Allied armies had already marched across the Rhine and were advancing at a rapid pace on German ground. All this gave us courage and strength to fight for our survival. Each day we left behind, brought us one day closer to liberation.

We were all too aware that the tiger could still devour us at the last moment. But after all, we knew one thing for sure now: our killers were already lost, and their days were numbered!

On April 12, twenty-two people were led into the camp in shackles. They all wore full hair and were in civilian clothes. After a few hours, we learned what kind of people they were:

Eleven French partisans, eight Russians and three Poles[63]. After being held in the camp for wo days, they were sentenced to death by shooting. The verdict was carried out just as American planes were flying overhead. It happened after work, at 7 o'clock in the evening. A truck was lighting up the camp street. The whole camp had to stand on the side and watch everything.

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Eleven SS-men with rifles on their shoulders were standing in the middle of the street. Soon we saw two rows, each with eleven men tied together, being brought in. The condemned walked with their heads bowed, wearing only their shirts and no shoes. In the middle of the street they stopped. Two murderous officers looked at their victims. There is a dead silence. In the air, the sound of airplanes is arising. Suddenly, the surrounding silence is shattered with the Russian exclamation of one of the condemned:

“Comrades, we die for freedom! Death to the murderers! You shall take revenge!”

Soon an order is given, “Prepare the gun!”

The eleven SS-men are taking position behind the backs of the bound men.

Another command: “Gun to the neck! One, two, fire!”

Shots rang out from 11 guns, intermixed with a final scream: “We die for freedom! Revenge, revenge!”

The other eleven stood to the side, watching their comrades lying in a pool of blood.

Another command: “Gun to the neck! Fire!”

And so the others are lying on the ground, in a pool of blood. The murderers, rubbing their hands, are satisfied with their “victory”.

But shortly after, everything is disrupted by a loud noise from a squadron of airplanes.

“Lie down, lie down!” the “heroes” who just a minute ago have shot 22 young people are yelling. The surroundings are lighting up from a rocket. Each of us is praying silently: “God, may you send down some bombs, mixing up the earth with us and with the murderers!”

The planes turned around three more times, before they flew away, leaving a white spot in the sky. The 22 shot were immediately handed over to the “corpse command”[64]. The earth was soaked with the blood of young lives who had fought for freedom.

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On April 15, an order was given to send away all sick and weak prisoners. No one went to work that day. The camp numbered 12,000 people, from which 9,000 sick and weak were selected. The reason for the selection was that people could just in time be taken by train from the camp to Dachau. The others would have to walk, and those who could not keep up on the way would be shot immediately. Promptly, I decided not to take the train, come what may! I wanted to walk, and maybe would be able to escape on the way.

The next morning, April 16, the people on the list were led to the transport. The camp became empty. We went to work, being aware now, that the days until the decision were numbered. Moreover, we were informed about the American President Roosevelt's death. Every hour that passed now, brought us closer to the decision. Together with some comrades, among them Abraham Fenigstein and Izak Vaserzug[65], I decided to escape at the slightest opportunity during the march out into the forest and wait there for our liberation. There is nothing to lose now. Anyway, the murderers would not let us fall alive into the hands of our liberators. But meanwhile, we are working as before. Many squads have disbanded due to lack of workers. Already, work was being carried out “with heads bowed “: The civilian engineers waved their hands in resignation, since after all, everything was lost. On April 17 we heard the first echo of cannon shots.

 

The Liberation

The Schömberg-Dautmergen camp was considered one of the worst camps in southern Germany. On a hill, in a mass grave, were lying 15,000 dead. The SS had another special camp, which

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adjoined our camp. Most of the SS had left with the sick; only about a hundred SS-men remained.

Every day, we could expect an order to leave the camp.

The cannon fire was getting closer every day. But we did not know exactly where the front was. Every day, two or three planes flew over our heads, but even during their descent over the barracks, they would not fire a shot, but moved away.

The SS walked around with their heads down. We used to stand for hours at the roll call, without a block leader coming to count us. If he finally did come, he used to count only quickly, just to disappear again. Together with my comrades, I worked out a plan to escape. We absolutely needed civilian clothes for this purpose. All of us wore striped camp clothes after all. During work we were no longer beaten and driven to work faster. Each individual from the SS was only concerned about himself. The civilian masters comforted us with the words that we would not stay in the camp much longer and would soon be liberated. The Allied armies would make good progress and capture new cities every day. We, however, knew all too well that the murderers would never allow us to experience the moment of liberation. We had to take freedom with our own hands.

On April 18, just like every day during our camp life, we got up at 4 am. The roll call lasted until 6. Then we formed up to go to work.

It is a beautiful spring day. The sun is warming our limbs. We are marching out of the camp, everyone to his work. Arriving at the work site, each takes his tools, one a shovel, the other a hammer. Like the other last days, we are working comfortably. The civilian master is walking around as if he were drunk, he is unrested and has a scowl on his face.

At 10 o'clock the camp leader appears on his motorcycle.

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He calls the Kapo and the civilian master to him, and soon an order is given:

“Fall in, five in a line!”

We don't know what suddenly has happened. The camp commander, a tall, middle-aged man with a long face and two gray, murderously piercing eyes, is now looking like a front-line soldier. His eyes are red and sleepy, his clothes are splattered with mud.

“Quick, quick, you filthy rags”, he yells, giving one of us a shove with his boot. Standing in line, we are counted. Then the command: “March!”

We march to the camp, the camp leader driving in front. The sides are obstructed by SS guards. We arrive at the camp, which is full of people; everyone is on the street. Coming in, the camp leader commands us, to prepare for the set off. We will leave the camp soon. Everyone is carrying a sack. Shoes are prepared so that they do not rub. Soon, we see two trucks with clothes: New sweaters, new boots from the SS, with nailed soles. The camp elder announces: Whoever wants to, should take a pair of new boots and new underwear. Everyone is running there quickly, it's a stampede, everyone snatches the things out of each other's hands. Soon the order comes to empty the food stores. Indeed, this is already done in an orderly manner. Each is receiving a liter of jam and a kilo of lard, plus a loaf of bread. All of us have filled our sacks now. One takes a blanket, the other two at once. The majority is walking in new SS boots, but I – still in my old, torn leather shoes. I know all too well how obstructive new, heavy boots can be…

Suddenly, we hear the siren whistle: air raid warning!

Everyone is running. The SS-men are yelling, “Lie down, lie down!”

Above our heads, two French planes appear, flying low over the barracks. Everyone lies there with their heads sunk into the ground.

The SS-men quickly run into the air bunker, but the two pilots have noticed them immediately, and one has already dived down. A shooting and a crashing blow can be heard: A bomb has hit the SS camp. Our camp remains untouched. Later we have seen

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dead and wounded SS-men being carried away; a total of nine dead and four wounded SS people.

Shortly after, an order, “Line up five!” We are counted. The SS stands ready, loaded with heavy backpacks. Equipped with hand grenades from head to toe. Several times we are counted through, again and again to groups of a hundred men. For every 10 people, two SS-men stand at the side.

Quickly the camp gate is opened: “In step, march!” the camp leader shouts. We march out through the gate. Behind us, the SS camp is smoking. The dead SS-men are left unburied. Each of us is satisfied with the incident. The camp remains empty. Two dead Russians lie in the middle of the street. The camp leader shot them in revenge for laughing when the planes bombed the SS camp.

The two planes have not flown far; they are turning around opposite the second wood, where the tall chimney from the cement factory is standing. We hear two loud impacts: The chimney has collapsed! A black smoke rises up to the sky. The SS-men are shouting: “Lie down, lie down!” We're lying on either side of the road with our heads sunk in the grass.

The planes are making their laps right above our heads. The SS-men are pale, lying there with trembling hands and feet. The planes are descending to us a couple times, just to rise again, as if they were playing with us. We are not far from the camp. The planes return to our camp; now we hear another loud crash, and clouds of black smoke are covering the barracks. The whole camp is on fire. Just 5 minutes ago, we were still staying in the camp. Now, It's on fire!

The planes are moving away in a different direction. We step back in line. The SS-men are screaming and beating us. We march quickly, at a running pace. The camp commander is driving ahead of us. We have to follow him on foot.

Night has fallen. The SS are getting tired from carrying their heavy backpacks; they hand them over to us. With bowed heads, we are marching through the night darkness. Behind us,

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shots can be heard from time to time. These are shots of the SS on those who step out of line.

It is now impossible to escape. We decide to wait for an opportune moment.

Thus we march until daylight; no one knows in which direction. All of us are already tired, most of us have chafed feet, for which the new boots are to blame. The morning cold is getting into everyone's bones.

Most of us suffer from diarrhea, which is caused by the jam and lard. Our situation is getting worse with every passing moment. The strong become weak, the weak can't go any further. The roads and highways are taken by running German soldiers, some with and some without rifles. Most of them are black as the earth. With every minute, the confusion is growing. We don't know where the front is and if there is one at all. The minutes of the decision are approaching. All our lives hang in the air, balancing on a scale. Now, we can't think about escaping any more: The side roads and forests are occupied by soldiers. We learn that we are running towards Munich.

And again, as in the night, the same two planes appear, flying over us, high in the sky.

There comes an order, “Lie down, hide!”

We fall into the deep grass, and each of us prays to God that the planes may not fly away. May they be the protectors of our lives! The longer we can lie and rest our swollen feet, the more chances we have to experience the incredible freedom we have been longing for so much! Still, it is only fantasy, an empty dream. The planes slow down their speed, as if they had heard and understood our prayer. They are descending to us, flying over everyone's heads. The SS-men are pale as lime. They have lowered their heads deep into the grass. The pilots can see us clearly because our striped camp clothes are easy to recognize, and they know right away who we are.

All our hearts are filled with joy and happiness, as we realize how the planes are protecting our lives, and how they are playing

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with our killers. As a result, each of us is getting more strength now to endure the last hours. These are French planes; we can clearly see the French flag and the white shining star.

We have been lying thus in one spot for two hours.

As soon as the planes have disappeared, another wild command is given: “March on!”

But after we have gone two kilometers, the planes reappear. We lie down again in the green, fragrant grass.

Thus the planes were playing with us until the sunset. The night has fallen. We are marching in the darkness, not knowing where to go.

Suddenly a motorcycle approaches us, with an SS officer on it. He reports that we are not allowed to march any further because the road is cut off by the French. The French are not far from us!

The murderous camp leader is studying the map to find a way out of our fix. Soon, his order comes that we should march in a different direction. The SS-men are getting even wilder than before. We are marching past small villages and towns. Everything is shrouded in darkness. A rain shower falls, soaking us to the shirt.

An order is given that we should go into a barn. No one understands the reason for the sudden kindness of our murderers. We lie down in the dark barn, one next to the other; most of us fall asleep right away.

After two hours of lying there, we get another order to march on. The rain is getting heavier. The SS-men are standing at the exit of the barn, herding us with sticks like sheep. Everyone is shivering from the cold. We notice that the SS-men are even more evil than before.

We are marching thus into the next day, when again our protectors, the two planes, are appearing!

The day turned out even better than yesterday. The pilots

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understood that we were more tired than yesterday, realizing our emptier rows.

Today is Sabbath, April 21. During the night, we haven't been able to go any further, because we were told for the second time that the road was cut off.

Sunday, April 22, very early in the morning, our protectors have been appearing. The paths were full of running soldiers, some with shoes on their shoulders, some without shoes.

At 12 noon, we notice barricades on the street. Our mood is getting happier with each of us knowing that now the decision is very close.

The running soldiers are throwing bread to us. Everyone has become a good person now, only the SS are not getting better – but just the opposite – even more beastly than yesterday. They know only too well what is waiting for them. But we can't do anything yet, because each of us is sick and tired.

At five o'clock in the evening, the camp leader gives the order to leave the highway and lie down in the grass, which we quickly carry out.

The transport leader is informing us that he, together with an SS group, is going to a village to get bread and potatoes for us. A group of 30 SS-men have left for the village. The others are standing around us.

Suddenly we notice all the SS-men removing their “skulls” from their uniforms. Around us, it is getting more deserted every minute. The SS-men are moving apart and mingling with the running soldiers.

After half an hour, we no longer see any trace of SS around us. We are no longer guarded! We look at each other, our eyes shining with joy. Cries of joy in all languages are to be heard: “Guys, we are free! We are free!”

Pure joy is written in our half-dead faces! We fall into each other's arms; most of us are crying with joy, others are lying in the grass, unable to move from the spot. “Free! Free! We are free!”

We are lying there until night falls. Nearby, we hear the shot of a tank. An officer of the Wehrmacht approaches, telling us

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that we should go to the surrounding villages, but not to steal anything or touch any civilians.

We are making our way to the villages. The shootings are getting closer every minute. Together with two comrades, I am already in a small town, Altshausen. We are lying in a cellar; the town is on fire.

So we have been lying there until the early morning. Then we decided to go out on the road.

The streets are immersed in flames from the burning houses. On the streets, we recognize people from our camp. Everyone is happy. Soon, we learn that the town is in French hands. We walk to the center of the town, where a French tank and three black tank leaders are standing. We fall around the necks of our liberators. Everyone cries with joy.

Our liberators are sharing cigarettes and chocolate with us. After several minutes, more tanks are appearing. Our liberators' faces are beaming with joy at the successful victory.

They fall around our necks screaming: “Friends, you are free!”

It is difficult to describe the extent of joy which is now embracing us. The French soldiers are providing us medical assistance. The sick and weak people are taken to a hospital. I feel very weak, weighing only 40 kilos. My feet are swollen. We move into German apartments and receive support by the army.

After seven days of bed rest, I get up, feeling healthy. I am already able to walk with firmer steps. One aspect has given us all strength: The feeling to be free men!

We have not yet been able to get used to the idea that Nazi socialism was defeated. And that we, actually, have experienced the incredible freedom!

 

Nekome

This chapter, written while still under the impression of the unspeakable horrors and trauma to which the author was subjected, is entitled Nekome.

Nekome is a Yiddish term that has its roots in the Hebrew “Nakam”; it is commonly translated as “revenge” or “retribution”. However, I am convinced that this translation is inadequate in its meaning and scope when it comes to defining such a multi-faceted term.

However, out of respect for the complexity of the term and since I am aware that the term “Nekome” underwent a shift in meaning in isolated instances in later years, I will refrain from translating it at this point.

(Beate Schützmann-Krebs)

We have one desire now! Nekome!

Nekome for us and our fathers and mothers; for our brothers

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and sisters who died with the word “nekome” on their lips! After resting for eight days, we, a group of Jews and Christians, reported to the French officer, who was the commander of the little town, and asked to be allowed to voluntarily join the French police to catch our murderers. The officer immediately agreed. A police force of 30 men was created. Everyone was given weapons, either a rifle or a revolver. The first task was to clear the surrounding forests of Nazis. Every day, captured soldiers were brought. We had the job of handing over all the soldiers to the French. My comrades and I decided to shoot each captive when we had the chance. After a few days, a military Rabbi came, taking care of us. “Take nekome for our brothers and sisters,” he said.

The first ones we managed to catch were two SS murderers from the Auschwitz camp. It was at night. We were already marching from the forest into the town, when we suddenly came upon two SS-men lying there, sleeping comfortably. We decided to shoot them without waking them up first. No sooner said than done. A press of the trigger, bang, and they were both already lying in a pool of blood.

We walked on leisurely. That was our first act of nekome. Every day we became bolder and braver. The civilian population lived in mortal fear. The streets and yards were empty both during the day and at night. Every smallest demand on our part was immediately met.

After a few days I recognized the camp leader of Dautmergen on the street, who was walking in civilian clothes. We decided not to shoot him, because this death would have been too easy.

We stripped him naked in front of everyone and locked him in jail. All night long he was beaten by people taking turns.

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Everyone learned to box… At eight o'clock in the morning he breathed his last.

After two weeks, I together with two comrades were sent to a village to take over the rule there.

As soon as we got there, we took the most beautiful house in the village. We were given two motorcycles for our “cleaning work” that we were to do in the surrounding villages.

The first thing we did was to arrest all the former soldiers who had put on civilian clothes. They were usually sent to work in France. There was one incident during the night. The three of us were bringing five soldiers to the little town. They were tied together, walking on foot. We were driving. When we reached the forest, all five fled in the darkness among the dense branches. We quickly drew our weapons and shot all the bullets into the darkness. Near us we heard a whimpering croak and went there. All five were lying there, entangled with each other. Three were dead and two seriously wounded. We decided to bring the wounded to the town (village) and report the case to the military command. Before we had brought the two to the town, one of them had already died on the way. We reported it, and the next morning all five were buried in the forest.

We received an order from the commandant to drive over the surrounding roads to find all the comrades who had been shot. In accordance with our order, those who could be taken to the Jewish cemetery for burial had to be taken by the peasants to the small town. The others, who could not be moved from the spot, we buried in their place.

After three months of free, tumultuous life, saturated with the feeling of nekome, all three of us were called to the Justice Ministry. There we were proposed to take over the work as secret police officers and to search for all Nazis known to us. With the greatest pleasure we immediately accepted the proposal.

The lieutenant who spoke to us had himself been

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Kry264.jpg
As a soldier in the French police

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a prisoner in Buchenwald for five years, and so it was him who gave us deep-felt[66] words that we will never forget: Remember the last words of our brothers and sisters!

We actively set to work. Every police authority had to come to our aid. Each of us had a motorcycle and received a salary. We drove from village to village, arresting every suspicious young person we thought was an SS-man.

Our work was met with success. We found many SS-men in disguise, against whom we filed charges. We also learned from an SS-man that they wanted to blow us up at that time when we went into the barn. There had been a vote, but thanks to five votes against, it was decided not to kill us. The camp leader, however, had at that time very well demanded to blow us up together with the barn.

Also, we grabbed the officer who had given the order to shoot the 22 partisans. This happened on the train. We recognized him and arrested him right away. He was given the death penalty by the military court.

The work was refreshing to us. Never too hard, although we were on our feet day and night.

Once I went to Stuttgart, in the American occupation zone. As soon as I left the train, I recognized a former “Unterscharführer” of the SS in civilian clothes. He was one of the most terrible sadists; a Volga German who lived in the Soviet Union.

I decided to arrest him immediately and turn him over to the hands of the U.S.CAC[67]. I stopped a military vehicle and we went straight to the headquarters. The murderer was immediately detained in the bunker. I went in to the officer, a Jew, and reported to him that I had brought a murderer who had tormented dozens of Jews.

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The officer instructed me to bring in people who could testify to this.

I immediately left for the camp, taking six comrades with me who had been in the Dautmergen camp, knowing the murderer well. At 11 a.m., questioning about the crime began. The officer forbade us to hit the defendant unless he ordered us to…

The murderer was led in. As soon as he saw us, he turned as pale as lime. His hands and feet were trembling.

The officer asked him if he knew what “knee bends” meant.

“Yes, I know”, was the answer.

“Well, get started!”

The killer began to do knee bends, but not in the way he had instructed us to do. We showed him how it had to be done...

The officer read him the charges we had brought against him. The murderer denied. He knew nothing about anything, it was all lies. He had never been in the SS and had only been a captured Russian soldier in a prison camp...

Listening to his speech, we were shocked at how confidently he made this statement. As if it were not him who was being talked about.

The hearing dragged on until 12 noon. Several times the officer put his revolver to his temple, but the defendant always answered the same, that he knew nothing.

Each of us gave him a few blows, but that didn't help either.

“Well, if you don't sign the indictment now, I will give you into the hands of the Jewish camp, and they will do whatever they want to you,” the officer shouted at him.
I then added that if we had him in our hands, we would cut out his tongue and pour salt on the wound.

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With tears in his eyes, he stood up and signed the indictment with a trembling hand.

After a few days, together with the indictment, he was handed over to the Russian NKVD [68]

After a few days, we caught another Russian murderer who had served the German power. We ourselves paid him his wages for his murderous deeds.

The call to nekome on the murderers of our eternally persecuted people grew day by day. Deep inside, I was feeling thirst for the blood of the Nazi beasts. With each SS-man killed, I felt a relief on my deeply laden mind.

Oh, if only our six million holy people could see what has become of the “supermen”! How fearfully they turn their eyes on us, begging us, the former prisoners, for mercy for their lives as beasts![69]

But the cruelty of camp life has erased feelings of indulgence from our Jewish hearts.

“Death to the enemy” — this had become the ray of happiness capable of illuminating my lonely life on the blood-soaked German earth.

Fortunately, I later met my friend and life partner, Rochele Zakheim. After many difficulties, we made our way to Uruguay, where we hope to live a normal, free and humane life.

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Kry268.jpg
The exhumation of our 32 holy people in the yard of “Shmerl the Kotlier”, carried out by Shmuel Wolf, accompanied by the new commandant in Krynki

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Kry269.jpg
At the Jewish cemetery, before the burial of our holy people from Krynki

 

Translator's footnotes:

  1. You can read some more about the system of “Funktionshäftlinge” (functionary prisoners) here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kapo Return
  2. natshalstve = ruling authority. It is meant ironically, because these are functionary prisoners who want to ingratiate themselves with the SS. Return
  3. parshe (Parasha) = a section of the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) Return
  4. breyshes (Bereshit) = “In the beginning”, Genesis, the first book of Moses Return
  5. hier: (German) = “here” Return
  6. shtubaves: I think these are those juvenile thugs mentioned above. Perhaps this word can be derived from the Russian “shtubov” (= stubs). But I think that it has more to do with the Yiddish “shtub” (house, room), that is, it affects the “staff” who stayed in the barracks. Return
  7. “buks” = “box”, the author's nickname for the “bed place”, a kind of bunk, plural: “buksn” Return
  8. To learn more about the “System of identification in German Camps”, see:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identification_of_inmates_in_German_concentration_camps#/media/File:Wikpedia_system_of_identification_German_camps.png Return
  9. Kapo = Designation for a functionary prisoner who acted as an “employee” of the camp management. For more information, see for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kapo Return
  10. “Blockführer” = The “Blockführer” (block leaders) were every day present in the camp, held roll calls and assigned the prisoners of their barracks (block) to “Arbeitskommandos” (work crews) or individual tasks. Read some more here: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schutzhaftlagerf%C3%BChrung Return
  11. Yeke = German Jew Return
  12. I am not completely sure with this translation. Return
  13. It is more likely that the name was “Arek”; however, I read it as “Adek” Return
  14. “aroysgenumen vern” = they were taken out to be killed Return
  15. German “Blocksperre!” = Block lock! Return
  16. “Galgen-Mengelyer” = “Gallows-Mengele”, Josef Mengele, also called the “Angel of Death”. Return
  17. Josef Schillinger: A survivor of Auschwitz, Tadeusz Borowski, wrote about him (I translated the original German quote into English): “The blow of his hand was as powerful as a cudgel, he playfully smashed a jaw, and where he struck, blood flowed.” His name was often mentioned in the same breath as those Auschwitz murderers, “who boasted of having personally killed tens of thousands of people with their fist, club, or gun.” Schillinger was shot in the concentration camp by a Jewish inmate, Franziska Mann, who was incredibly brave. She had previously refused to strip naked because she knew that she and the other women would be gassed afterwards. (Source of quote and information: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Schillinger) Return
  18. “Canada” was the name given to the “Effektenlager” (effects warehouse), where valuables and personal effects of the admitted prisoners were stored. The looted goods symbolized abundance and wealth, (also) hence the name “Canada”. At the latest when a prisoner died, his personal effects were transferred to the “German Reich” for further use. For the workers in the “Aufräumungskommando” (clean-up squad), there were not only better rations, but some of the prisoners also “organized” and smuggled secretly and under enormous risks things not yet registered, partly also under coercion by the Kapo. (source https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanada_(KZ_Auschwitz) Return
  19. a phrase which, in my opinion, expresses the fact that the old prisoners in question were already well acquainted with the customs in the camp, and possibly also had certain connections. Return
  20. I cannot exclude that the word “shap” in this context is a spelling mistake. In any case, the author was lying unconscious on the floor after the terrible abuse, possibly under the “bench”. Return
  21. The translation of this very shortened sentence is not entirely certain. But it arises from the somewhat later context on page 195, when “cold compresses are applied again”. Return
  22. The pronunciation of the name is clearly indicated as “Bana” by Yiddish vowel signs. However, I cannot exclude the possibility that “Buna” is meant: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/buna-subcamp Return
  23. Unfortunately, I cannot interpret this extremely abbreviated sentence. Perhaps it is a bucket of water with a substance, where you could relieve yourself. Return
  24. Margot Drechsler oder Dreschel, find more https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margot_Dreschel Return
  25. Otto Moll, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Moll Return
  26. My translation of this very shortened sentence is not quite certain Return
  27. translated a little freely Return
  28. leben vi “Got in Ades”= living grandly, in the lap of luxury Return
  29. From February 1943, Sinti and Roma arrived in Auschwitz and were housed there in camp section BII e. This was a large family camp in which the detainees initially had a special status. Return
  30. Blocksperre: time when leaving barracks by prisoners was prohibited Return
  31. This term originates from the “camp jargon” and refers to those completely debilitated and emaciated inmates of the concentration camps who had already lapsed into total apathy, or, in the course of their death throes, into agony. They were doomed to certain death. Find more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muselmann Return
  32. the tattooed numbers on the arms Return
  33. This sentence makes no sense to me. But maybe there is some reference to the biblical Samson, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samson Return
  34. lit. “Bane” = see also page 191 (“Bana”), I think that he means “Buna” or “Monowitz-Buna”, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/buna-subcamp Return
  35. assume that it was the “barrel” where you could relieve yourself at night, so a kind of toilet bucket. Return
  36. The camp prison was called “bunker” by the prisoners. Return
  37. My understanding is that he was transferred to the punishment wing and was isolated within the camp. Return
  38. He seems to have survived, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Boger Return
  39. Performing artist Franceska Mann (Franciszka Mannówna) Return
  40. Schillinger uses the formal form to address the young woman, but she addresses him informally with “du”! Return
  41. In the last sentences, there are again considerably faded words. In order to connect them meaningfully, I had to change them somewhat. Return
  42. Effektenlager = A store like “Canada”, where the valuables of the arrivals were collected, sorted and forwarded for reuse. Return
  43. His name is spelled differently, sometimes as “Fedyor”, sometimes as “Fedor”. Return
  44. He speaks German Return
  45. “komande-firer” = the leader of the command, that is, of the work crew Return
  46. I think it must be “nu, un vu iz er?” and translated it in this way Return
  47. Chaim Rumkowski was the “Judenrat” in the Ghetto Lodz, see also page 231 Return
  48. Rumkowski is said to have announced that the Ghetto Lodz was merely being “transferred”; in reality, it was a matter of deportation to Auschwitz. As for his cremation, some sources report that it was the Sonderkommando staff who killed him at the gate of the crematorium, after the arriving Jews from Lodz had told them about the crimes he had committed against the Jews in his capacity as Judenrat. A photograph with Chaim Rumkowski and Hans Biebow in the Litzmannstadt (Lodz) Ghetto can be seen here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaim_Rumkowski Return
  49. “Wood Camp Stutthof” Return
  50. cleansed of Jews Return
  51. Beit Midrash, house of study, explanation see pages 15-21 Return
  52. List of companies where forced labor took place during National Socialism, see https://ns-in-ka.de/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Liste_Unternehmen.pdf Return
  53. free interpretation of a very shortened sentence. Return
  54. KZ-Gedenkstätte (memorial) Hailfingen-Tailfingen, see https://kz-gedenkstaette-hailfingen-tailfingen.de/ see also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw-8 BSIuv mc Return
  55. “The camp leader for the subcamp Hailfingen-Tailfingen was SS-Unterscharführer Eugen Witzig, who had been a member of the commandant's staff of the Natzweiler concentration camp since April 1944.” (Quote of an information by Volker Mall) Return
  56. “fartogik”= early morning; I think it must be “firtogik” (four-day) Return
  57. The Nazi Organization Todt (OT), named after its leader Fritz Todt, was a paramilitary construction group for the realization of protection and armament projects. Its workers, often forced laborers or prisoners of war, were uniformed. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organisation_Todt Return
  58. Stone pit Reusten, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bXvHO9SaRk see also, https://www.kz-geden kstaette-hailfingen-tailfingen.de/2010-2020. php and find a film with the eyewitness Israel Arbeiter here https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=cULivKHypCo&t=136s Return
  59. lit.: “who hover in the air” Return
  60. The Author uses different spellings for this city, which today's name is Schömberg, see https://de.wikipedia.org /wiki/KZ_Dautmergen Return
  61. The Dautmergen concentration camp was one of a total of seven concentration camps that served the murderous Nazi project with the code name “Wüste” (“Desert”): Oil was to be extracted from oil shale for the armaments production of the National Socialist regime, more information here https://www.alemannia-judaica.de/schoemberg_kz_friedhof.htm or http://www.eckerwald.de/dok/Flyer-EN.pdf Return
  62. possibly letters are missing, maybe Her(sh) Zlotogurski Return
  63. As we learn on page 265, they were also partisans. Return
  64. List of those prisoners killed in the Dautmergen and Schömberg concentration camps 1944/45 see http://www.eckerwald.de/dok/liste-1.pdf Return
  65. Both friends survived and emigrated to the USA (information by Volker Mall) Return
  66. lit.: “two words” Return
  67. U.S. CAC = United States Army Combined Arms Center https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_Combined_Arms_Center Return
  68. NKVD = The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the interior ministry of the Soviet Union, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NKVD Return
  69. lit. “wolves” Return

 

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