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[Page 423]

Experiences in concentration camps during the Holocaust

by Regina Lis (Cygler)

Translated by Avi (Abram) Stavsky

My father died young and left [a family with] 8 small orphans. Half of my family fell victim in the war: 3 sisters and one brother died in the German concentration camps.

Two brothers and two sisters found each other shortly after the war, and all [eventually] came on aliyah to Israel. The eldest brother, Lejb, died in 1960, having been in Israel together with us for only two years. Our second brother died in 1967. Of all 8 children, only I remained with my sister, Sala.

In Dąbrowa, we lived and worked at the factory area belonging to the Klajn brothers, (my father) who were killed.

With the outbreak of the war, the Germans confiscated the factory and expelled all the Jewish workers and from the factory dwellings. From the first days, we felt the tragedy that later befell us.

Dąbrowa Górnicza, the city of coal mining companies and iron foundries (Huta Bankowa) employed thousands of workers and one single Jew, an engineer.

From the beginning of the war, it was felt that the Jewish population was doomed.

On a hot summer day in 1940, we were all commanded, without exception, to assemble at the Hitler Band Commission, where it was immediately decided about death or life for the Jews of the city.

We were intensely watched and guarded by the Germans. My mother's brother, the director Klajn, ran to warn us that we shouldn't present ourselves. We listened to him and hid ourselves, and in this way, we were temporarily rescued.

The “Aussiedlungsplatz” etched itself sharply in my memory for the rest of my life. Everything [seemingly] conspired against us: the sun beat down mercilessly, without so much as a drop of shade from anywhere. No water or food was given and thus people waited in place. Women and children collapsed. I witnessed this black day, where the Germans encircled both those who waited and those who fell, and so the selection began. The Germans instituted three rows; a portion [of the people] were lucky: they were freed and given a “Sonderkarte” for work. Women, children and old people were selected for deportation. I can still hear the crying of the young children, who begged for a piece of bread. This was the first transport of 25 thousand Zagłębier Jews, who were sent to their deaths.

We returned to our rooms with a painful heart. In the city it was Yom Kippur. This was the first net with which the old people were caught. Those remaining few went joylessly back home, [sometimes] parents without their children. In this way those innocents departed in the general deportation of Jews from Dąbrowa and the surrounding area.

My mother was [thus temporarily] saved, but in the year 1943 she died from pain, sorrow, worry, hunger and bad tidings. My two sisters and two brothers were in camps. My brother Hersz-Ber was nabbed on the street when Jews were rounded up and brought to the kehila [center]. He escaped from internment by a rope out of a window to freedom. [He was later caught and] both of them were deported.

[Page 424]

One grandson committed suicide in the Markstädt camp [Laskowice Olawskie]. He first tried hiding in a burial pit, but when he was found, he later hung himself.

Details of life in the camps

In Spytkowice [Spytkowitz] was a camp for male prisoners with [some] 350 people from France, Holland and Belgium. 13 girls were sent as camp personnel, but [eventually] all 13 were sent home again, I among them.

In the above-named Spytkowice camp, one of the inmates went berserk. He was supposed to go to work upon arising, but his friends left him in the barracks with a young brother because he wasn't able to work. The unlucky fellow [however[ left the camp and got lost. When all of us came back from work, we were counted again, but of course one was missing. As punishment, we all had to stand for 4-5 hours in a frost of 5 degrees until 12 midnight, eating no food, not at work and now, not after work.

The police judged him insane and promptly took him out to be hanged, so that all would see and hear [what happens to such people]. As he was being hanged, he cried out, “this is the nicest day of my life!”

dab424.jpg [33 KB] - A Jewish mass grave
A Jewish mass grave

Many men were beaten for the smallest offence. It was enough if an SS man informed on someone [caught] smoking a cigarette; the guilty one received 50 lashes in punishment. We could hear the lashes through the walls.

In the space of 3 months, about a hundred men (of 350) died, and some 110 sick were deported.

When I developed a fever of 41 degrees, the doctor sent me to the kitchen to work, or I would have been counted among the sick and deported to Auschwitz. When we'd ask where the sick ones were being sent to, the answer was “to a healing camp” – this turned out to be Auschwitz. New victims were continuously brought to replace those deported.

In this same Spytkowice camp was a Lagerführerin who liked to be entertained at our expense and to amuse her comrades. The scene played itself out in the mess hall. The German woman put up a list of 15 girls who were scheduled to receive punishment of 25 lashes for being lazy at their jobs. Around a hundred girls who were concentrated in the mess hall broke out in mournful cries. I alone didn't cry, as I didn't want to give the Germans the pleasure of seeing my own pain. Because of this, I was ordered given an additional 10 lashes with the cane. I didn't cry so much from the pain as from the discouragement. It was later given out that I was punished for failing to report to work on time, which was complete fiction. The factory had no list whatsoever. The Germans simply made up excuses with which to beat us.

From the Spytkowice camp we found a way to contact home via a Polish worker. He worked daily at the camp and went home every week. Through him I'd exchange letters and not just for myself. I also helped a correspondence between two Belgian Jews and their kindred [living] abroad. One was a medical student (at the camp he worked as a doctor).

[Page 425]

dab425.jpg [30 KB] - Next to the crematorium in Auschwitz
Next to the crematorium in Auschwitz
[after the war]

He received an answer from his father in Belgium. I [also] helped a cook make contact with his wife.

My sister, who [had] remained at home, made contact with a Pole living in Belgium, and letters would also arrive to the address of the aforementioned Pole. He brought the letters smuggled in one of his shoes.

When I brought the letters to these two persons, they wept for joy [at receiving some news] like two small children.

The Judenälster, who found out about these contacts, warned me that continuing in this would result in [my being sent to] Auschwitz if I were caught.

In the camp I survived several harrowing scenes. Once a “Muselman” was persecuted, i.e. a living skeleton who was just flesh and bones. He had been draped with a black blanket and his two bare feet looked like two white sticks emerging from it that could barely support him. He was driven into the bathing room and there injected with some substance directly into his heart. The unfortunate soul screamed that he wanted to live, but this grim picture was his end. It is difficult to write about, these scenes in the work camps; how much harder is it to write about one's experiences in the death camps?

In the Landshut [?] camp, one of the inmates lost his mind – he was immediately sent to Auschwitz. A friend of mine was told by a German that we should hold out, that the end of the war was not far off. The next day she was sent to Auschwitz. In this same camp of Landshut [?] I rescued the life of my friend, Esterke. At night she fell into a deep faint. No one wanted to wake the Lagerführerin in order to summon help. I woke the German up, who screamingly ran for our sanitation person. The sanitarian was able to apply a technique that woke my friend from her dead faint when nothing else would help.

[Page 426]

One friend tried to get on the list for the Peterswaldau camp [Pieszyce], where all those who could not manage to be on the German evacuee list were placed. I managed to dissuade her, as apparently the Peterswaldau list people never got there, but instead were transported to Auschwitz and [thus to] certain death.

The Germans, who during the war wanted to segregate all the Jews from the general population, [began by] ordering them to wear a yellow armband with a Star of David.

An “expedition” to Auschwitz

After the war I took my first expedition to Auschwitz. The eyes could not believe nor could the brain grasp the tragedies perpetrated by the German Hitlerite beasts.

It was ghastly when the commandant of Auschwitz was brought to trial and shown the horrors perpetrated by his Hitlerite bandits. Just the mention of the word “Auschwitz” brought shudders and fear to every human being.

As we were explained to [on the tour] the first building we saw was called the “Happy House.” We then saw some of the other buildings, where people laughed [ironically] their moments of pain and suffering.

On the other hand was Block 11, which cries out for revenge. This block was built on the destroyed and burned corpses, which were thrown into mass graves. There we saw a table, a small sanitary cabinet and a bench, where the barbarians in their white medical uniforms injected deadly toxins directly into the hearts of living people. This same Block 11 had a cellar cubicle where a single person could barely stand up. Inmates were thrown into this pit for the smallest infractions, there to linger for a day or more, without food and sometimes in temperatures that were below zero.

We were also shown a wall covered in bloodstains. This wall was called “the Jewish wall that cries with blood.” Upon command, the Jews to be shot had to turn and face the wall. Those who had more courage or those whose sanity had snapped sometimes met their fate on the electrified, barbed-wire fences [surrounding the camp].

We also visited the women's camp at Birkenau. There hundreds of thousands or perhaps a million women met their fate. The German barbarians would constantly think up new and novel ways in which to more speedily liquidate the prisoners.

Among others, blood was often taken from the little Jewish prisoners had in them. When they fell, the sadists would bring buckets to drain the corpses. Rivers of blood flowed from that eternally-cursed camp.

We also visited the crematoriums and their factories of death, where the corpses of millions of European Jews were cremated.

In the adjacent bath houses, set up with shower heads, water never emerged but [rather] poison gas. Our beloved ones were killed there was Zyklon B and other deadly gases.

We also stood by huge loads of clothes and personal effects [taken from the victims]. Among the most distressing was the giant pile of children's shoes.

Honor be to their memory!
(From the Polish: Abram Bajtner)

[Page 427]

An echo from the abyss

(Letters from Dąbrowa mothers)

by Josef Piwniczni

Translated by Avi (Abram) Stavsky

In the year 1945, the Jewish Committee of [Holocaust] Survivors in Dąbrowa received a letter from a Kryst Turkin, stating that had rescued a Jewish girl, and he was sending a letter from the girl's mother.

Josef Piwniczni, who was then a member of the Committee, produced a copy of that letter without any changes:


“My Beloved,

It is with a broken heart that I write this letter, perhaps the last letter I will ever write to you.

My dearest, I don't know whether you'll ever [even] get this letter, but if you do, you'll at least know how your nearest ones perished. My dear Andrzej, I want to begin with our mother, G-D rest her soul. Our mother, thanks be to G-D, died a natural death in the year 1942. According to the Jewish calendar, it was 6 days in the month of Tammuz. [I am telling you this so that] you can observe the Jahrzeit of our dear mother. Our dear father died three months later at the hands of the murderers. From the whole family, unfortunately no one else remains. From Czurik there are no signs [of life]. Now we are in a fresh danger, Andrzej. Remain strong, but there's no likelihood we'll emerge from this alive. Just remember to someday avenge us if you can. We have no recourse. We can't save ourselves because there's no longer anyplace to escape. We are hemmed in from all sides. I won't write any more because I don't want to cause you any pain. Our beloved mother and Hela with her husband and child are still with us, thank G-D. My dearest, if we survive, we'll write again.

Stay well,

Your sister, Natke.”

Dabrowa, July 23rd, 1943

“My Dear Sister and Brother-in-law,

I'm writing to you with the hope you'll someday receive this letter. From Icze we no longer hear anything. He was sent to another camp and I never hear from him. Szajndele I was advised to give over to Herrn [Mr.] Turkin. I was only introduced to him a few months ago. [But] I understand he and his wife are very ethical people. [And] nicer people than they I don't think exist. They have taken Szajndele under their wing, and will tell me what happens with her. [I hope] you will be good parents to my children. My dear ones, I'm writing this letter already during the last days. I am here with Wolwele and Nochele. We are waiting every minute for death and we know what kind of death awaits us. My dear ones, I am already 3 years without Icze. I became acquainted with the children where I work. I work in a shop10 hours a day. When I got home I continued working [housework] and so passed 4 years. It is coming to an end, and our end is bitter and tearful. But thank G-D I met Herrn Turkin, he is an angel, and I have no more words for him or his wife. In our whole family, there will never be another such as my child Szajndele. I hope she will survive. I am sure that Herr Turkin and his wife will guard my child. My dear ones, I am not prepared to stand before the Almighty. My dear ones, be happy that Herr Turkin has watched over my child. I am certain I already see the Angel of Death in front of my eyes. I don't believe there can yet be such a miracle as our survival. You should know, my dear ones, that I along with Wolwele and Nochele are the last sacrifices remaining.

[Page 428]

Aron and Szajndele are still here. Moszele and his wife and child are also still here.

My dear ones, I write this letter with blood instead of ink. I have a heavy heart, but I am happy at least my Szajndele will survive and I leave her in good hands, with fine people. My dears, I cannot help myself any more. Andrzej and dear Watsze, you should be healthy parents for your children and for my Szajndele. I can feel the moment in your hearts when you [will] receive my letter. We will die without sin, but this is how it is and it cannot be helped.

My dear ones, you should also inform our uncles in New York of the situation. [Tell them] we love and kiss them. I want to write more to you, but although I can fill paper, I haven't the enthusiasm to continue [writing]. I just wander around without purpose. My dear ones, it is very bad when one dies in possession of one's faculties yet one sees the angel of death in front of the eyes. I kiss and greet you, my beloved, and also my dear grandchildren. [This from] your hopefully not forgotten sister, Tajbele. My dears, it tears my heart and makes me weep that I must write you this kind of a letter.”

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