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[Page 428]

In the hell of Auschwitz

by Israel Rozen

Translated by Avi (Abram) Stavsky

Until the deportation(s), things were more or less quiet. Later, in the autumn of 1941, they began to take people for forced labor. The young were sent [off] to work camps. On the 2nd of May 1942, the deportation Aktions began. The Judenrat offered lists of [so-called] qualified persons to the support office. At that time, 650 Jews were chosen for deportation. When the Germans entered Dąbrowa, there lived then [about] 4,000 Jews. People were selected for various infractions: like some for deliberate obfuscation; buying bread on the private market; etc. The detainees were taken by the Gestapo to the orphanage in Będzin. There Jews were concentrated from the whole of Zagłębie and sent off to unknown destinations.

The third Aktion took place on the 12th of August 1942. There, on one day and at the same hour, some 60,000 Jews were rounded up from the entire district. At 7 a.m., Jews were ordered to assembly points throughout Zagłębie. This happened also in Dąbrowa Górnicza. The head of the Sonderkommando, Kuczyński came and began to segregate the populace. Three areas were designated: the first, for those intended for work details; the second for examinations, while the third area was for deportees. The people from the second area were later merged with those in the third area. They were deported. Then it was again quiet for a time, until 1943. On 6th of June 1943, new selections began, resulting in six thousand being taken from Będzin and two thousand from Sosnowiec. That day [however], there was no Aktion in Dąbrowa Górnicza. Another selection was held on the 22nd of June 1943, again in Będzin and Sosnowiec. This time many elderly and children were hidden away in bunkers. Because of this [i.e. an insufficient quota?], the Germans seized 8,000 otherwise healthy people who had hitherto been spared for work locally.

[Page 429]

In the meantime, the “Bautrupp” Company sent me and other workers to Auschwitz. Because we had no place to sleep, we went to the Schutzpolizei to sleep – and be arrested. When we'd go to the washroom to wash up, there were pieces of torn rags in place of hand towels. In Auschwitz I met civilian [employees], who worked together with prisoners. They told us there was only a small number of young people [working there], but elderly and children not at all.

Out of the three ghettos of Dąbrowa, Będzin and Sosnowiec was formed a single larger ghetto in Środula (an area of Sosnowiec). There were sequestered 5,000 Jews from the Zagłębie area.

After this concentration of Jews from the area, on 1st of August 1943, at 4 a.m., the Gestapo arrived. We soon saw that the entire perimeter was surrounded by SS and police personnel. Few were successful [this time] in escaping. The Aktion began and people were apprehended from the streets as well as from houses. Between 2,000 and 2,500 people were shipped to the rail station and herded on to cattle cars. Trains followed trains. The Aktion took 8 days. Four thousand Jews were deported. A small number hid themselves and another few remained behind in the area of concentration. The Judenrat and Jewish police in the Zagłębie-Dąbrowa area behaved poorly, slavishly following the orders of the Germans and Gestapo. Meryn became the leader of the all the Judenrats in Upper Silesia, the headquarters of which were in Sosnowiec. [But] during the final Aktion, the Judenrat as well as the Jewish police were taken as well. When the first transport had been sent, attending was the Gestapo commissar [named] Peikert, for whom I was employed. He protected me because he was pleased with my work and said if I were transported to a camp, I shouldn't worry. I was thus taken on the final transport [from Dąbrowa].

We arrived at Auschwitz on the 1st August, 1943. As we were being herded from the [cattle] cars, we were told, “put aside your belongings, you won't need them anymore.” We were approached by the so-called “Kanada Kommando”, which was made up of criminal perpetrators. They helped to empty the wagons, and wrested babies from their mothers. They would fill sacks with the effects and toss them on to waiting vehicles. The segregation began while we were still on the ramp: “to the left!” and “to the right!” Women were separated from men. Then both sexes were further segregated by age, with those [appearing to be] 20-30 years old. They were taken away in vehicles. The rest of us, myself included, were taken away to an “effects room”, where we were stripped of everything: clothes, money, jewelry and even bread [for those who had any]. We were then removed to be bathed, disinfected and tattooed and finally brought to a political barracks. We were given pants and a shirt; the short people were given large sizes, while the tall ones were handed small sizes, so that we'd appear comic [to our tormentors]. Barefoot and hatless, we were driven to Field “A”, which was the [so-called] “Quarantine.”

We were taken to our Block. The Blockältester, a Jew, soon acquainted us with the regulations, which were virtually impossible to live by. Some 5-600 Jews were crammed in each Block, sleeping on bare concrete floors or [the lucky ones] on wooden planks. For being late, [punishment was] 25 strokes; for not responding to one's number, 25 strokes. Other penalties were similarly meted out for various infractions. Some were “exercises” that had to be carried out in the mud outside.

[Page 430]

After two days, we received an allotment of bread, but instead of 300 grams [i.e. the usual amount], we were given only 150 grams. Margarine or marmalade we did not receive – these were stolen by the Blockältester or the Kapos. We were awakened daily at 4 a.m. by the gong signal summoning us to “Appell”. We had five minutes to be in line [or face dire consequences].

An SS man, Perschel was present and anyone who did not stand perfectly on the line or who was otherwise not correctly lined up was shot. We often had to stand 4-5 hours, barefoot in the mud. Many caught colds or influenza. People got foot sores and [various] foot aliments, which, because no medication was available, would never heal.

Speaking of the weather, we had to spend hours lying or marching at the Appell-Platz. Because there was no water, most of us got head swelling from the heat. Some tried to alleviate this by tying rags dipped in dirty lime-water [from the latrines] and tying them to their heads.

On the third day, we were taken to a ramp to carry [heavy] stones. Those who couldn't do this were set upon by dogs.

After three weeks, we were visited in the quarantine by a camp doctor, Fischer, and the Lagerführer, Schwartzhütte. All the Blocks had to assemble for a special Appell and a new segregation took place. A bunch was taken to a new work location while the rest remained behind.

Of some 9,000 men, a work transport of 700 left our area.

Two days later, the Lager doctor came again and carried out another selection. This time 3,000 men were taken and, as we later learned, to be gassed. It was at the quarantine that we first learned about the gas chambers and crematoria.

We also saw and smelled, by day and by night, the stench of burning bodies and hair.

After the fourth week of quarantine, we were taken to the delousing center. We walked through an area separating the men's camp from the women's camp. We could see through the barbed wire, perhaps 10,000 women standing at the Appell-Platz completely naked. The chief doctor and Lagerführer were carrying out a selection. In the evening we saw [about] 4,000 women being taken away. Their cries were terrible.

After a long time in the quarantine, I went out to a second field for work; there, through acquaintances, I learned about the existence of the unbelievable Sonderkommando, whose only job was to removed the bodies from the gas chambers and cremate them.

The Sonderkommando was kept apart from other Kommandos and guarded by special SS contingents. Every 3-4 weeks, the Sonderkommando itself was liquidated in the gas chambers and their places were taken by a new Sonderkommando contingent. In order to keep the people quiet as they entered the gas chambers, [the chambers] were disguised as bath-houses (showers). The undressing rooms were separate for men and for women. Steps led from there down to dark hallways – these were the gas chambers. In the chambers, men and women were herded in together. When the chambers were full [the doors were sealed and] the gas was administered through a small opening. After about ten minutes, the adults were no longer alive; children lasted a bit longer.

I learned the details from a member of the Sonderkommando, who, despite their isolation, managed to meet with me.

[Page 431]

From time to time, selections were carried out from the “Stammlager”, (from whence people were taken out to work). The sick and those with fevers were [ostensibly] sent to the Krankenbau (camp hospital) for healing. However in the meantime, they were included in a gas-chamber selection. In order to fool those being sent away, Dr. Fischer ordered that they be given jackets to wear, so that they don't catch worse colds…

But everyone understood this trick. I myself was often witness to the farewells of fathers and sons. Dr. Liberman, the director of the Sosnowiec Hospital, departed from his own father. Also Miodownik from Dąbrowa Górnicza, blessed his own two sons. After 3-4 months, I had to search in order to find someone from our town of Dąbrowa Górnicza.

I was fortunate to find the means to save myself when the Gestapo commissar Peikert came looking for workers for building projects in the camp, to which I was suited.

In Auschwitz I was one year and three months, from August 1st, 1943 until November 9th, 1944. It was during this period that large transports of Hungarian Jews arrived [at Auschwitz]. From these, about 35% were considered able for work while the remaining were gassed. As it was not possible to burn all those bodies in the ovens, cremation pits were dug in the nearby forest. The fires were visible as far as 60 kilometers from the forest. It was during this time [that I saw] a Hauptsturmführer grab small children by their hair and shoot them with his revolver.

During this time I lived in the Gypsy Camp, close to the crematoria. I saw myself how Hungarian Jewry went up to the sky in flames.

In November 1944 I was sent out of Auschwitz to Arbeitslager Günthergrube, in the neighborhood of Lędziny, not far from Auschwitz. This was a work camp, where we received better food and clothing. There were rumors that the gassing had stopped. I was at this camp until the 18th of January 1945. Then evacuations to Germany began via a route close to the Czech border. We were marched without food in a frost of -25C [-13F]. Every day we had to run some 40-45 kilometers.

dab431.jpg [42 KB] - In the Auschwitz crematorium
In the Auschwitz crematorium
Israel Rozen was witness to the incineration of several Jews from Dąbrowa Górnicza

[Page 432]

Those who could not keep up the pace were shot. When we began the forced evacuation we were about 1,200 men, but only around 650 of us arrived at Landshut [Bavaria]. Since we had no sleeping quarters, we were herded into a ravine. After being there an hour, we were permeated by the dampness. We tried to step out but those attempting this were beaten with sticks and then the SS shot any who approached the top. Those who could struggle to be near the top [of the ravine] because it was asphyxiating to be at the bottom.

dab432.jpg [25 KB] - Sonderkommando
“Sonderkommando” [Special Squad]
for incinerating human beings

At that time, 69 persons died, while more than 300 were exhausted [to a point of near death]. We tried to save the unfortunates – there were some doctors among us. By the next morning another 150 had died.

We were again marched forward and kept going until the 8th of May 1945, when we came to the Sudetenland, and a town called Raspinan (?). Here arrived about 100 persons and another 120 from Günthergrube. Most of the rest died by shooting along the way.

Among the dead was also Dr. Kovacs from Slovakia. He had been a doctor in Auschwitz and saved many people from the selections. He expired in Steinergrube

On the 9th of May 1943 at 4:30 a.m., we were again wakened by an SS man and told to get ready. We were sure we'd be made to continue the march, but then we noticed an argument among the SS personnel. The people on the side began to distance themselves from the column, yet the SS managed to shoot another 10 or so. The rest of us scattered and in this way I was saved.

(Received from “Yad Vashem”, Jerusalem)

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