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Ciechanow Jews in Auschwitz (cont.)

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A Woman's Transport for the Gas Chambers, Amongst Them My Sister and My Bride

It was mid-December, 1942. The new arrivals told me that it was Shabbat-Chanukah. I worked in the kise komando (gravel pits). This komando was working on the route through which the transports were brought for gassing and burning. There were no finished crematoriums yet. They were being built. Those who were brought were taken into a white barrack that had a sign above it “Badeh Tzimer,” (Bathroom), “Eingang” (Entrance) and “Oisgang”(Exit). Nobody exited from there. There all were gassed and removed to be burnt in the pits.

It was around twelve o'clock noon. A snow smarted in the face. The foreman didn't pay much attention to the work. We spoke amongst ourselves about what we used to eat on Shabbat-Chanukah. The greater the hunger, the more one talks about food. My neighbor pointed out to me: “Look, a large transport is being taken to be burnt.”

Since I was working beside the railway, I had the opportunity to observe. I was stunned to see a transport solely of women, all dressed in Russian thin clothing. I noticed a lot of familiar girls from my shtetl amongst them. All with eyes red from crying. I heard desperate cries: “Why must we die so young?”

I shiver from the cold. Tears stream from my eyes. What's happening here? Suddenly I hear a shout: “Be well, Laibl,” and someone tosses gloves to me. That was the last time I saw my sister and my bride. They weren't crying, but huddling to each other, their eyes looking at me. Their faces were as white as now. It must be that from so much crying they had no tears left. I heard desperate cries: “Revenge for our innocent lives that they are extinguishing.”

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I had no control over myself that day. I felt very weak. Right after roll-call I thought about going over to the electric fence. There stood a German guard. He will notice me, and thinking that I intend to run away, he will shoot me. Fate wanted me to live, however. I stood in front of the barbed wire and the German didn't shoot. He merely shouted “Up” and again “Up.” I lost consciousness and fell down. I lay there all night.

In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.


To Eat to the Fill Just Once and Then Die

Sunday, December 20, a few acquaintances met: the brothers Kostsheva, Sholem Stolnitz and others from Ciechanow. We decided that since our lives were aimless and without any chance, we shouldn't go on suffering. We should sign up for Block 7. This is the easiest death. Of course I agreed with this proposition, but since I was told that on the Christmas eve each one gets a loaf of bread (if it wasn't long to then), I decided to wait. At least once in my life to eat to the full and after that, die. I lived to that day…

The first day of Christmas, at 7 in the morning, the familiar shouts were heard: “Roll-call. Whoever won't line up will be beaten to death.”

We all lined up. Who could know what the bandits might do with us on their holiday. We were led outside of the lager. There we were commanded: “Everyone take in your clothes some sand and carry it into the women's lager.”

From both sides the block-leaders and elders arose, kapos, kapos' assistants, foremen, Poles, Russians, Germans, also S.S. with dogs. Together they built an aisle, a passageway of sorts. Through this space we had to pass with the sand that we were carrying.

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It's easy to imagine what a hell this was. How could we save ourselves from the brutal blows? Nothing helped. Blows struck from all sides. The dogs bit. I thought that from this hell I wouldn't come out alive.

During all this the two brothers Galgiel (their correct names I don't remember) came close to me and said: “Laibl, get an additional man and as soon as one will get struck with a blow and fall down, the four of us will grab him and immediately take him into the lager. In that way we'll avoid the blows.”

It only took a few minutes and one got a blow with a club on his head. He got covered with blood and fell down. Since he had stopped the “march” we grabbed him right away and carried him into the lager. We informed that he was dead. That Christmas night celebration of the Germans cost 148 dead and 200 beaten, but no whole loaf of bread was seen.

On the second night of Christmas this was repeated. It cost us more victims. I managed to hide. A Slavic Jew helped me -- Engl, a very good person.

On the 28th of December Mandek, the block-elder, went away. As his replacement a German block-elder with a red insignia arrived. His name was Tzimer, a terrible murderer. His friend was Alfred Kihn, also a German from Block 17, a cold-blooded murderer. He murdered the brothers Wolf and Aaron Kostsheva and Mordecai Shirensker. The first two were his barbers. After they shaved him, if something displeased him, he immediately killed the barber. He beat to death more than 100 Ciechanowers. Itche Bergson he also murdered. Let his brothers and sisters who are still living know that their brother's murderer was Alfred Kihn. He was tall and strong.

The first Sunday when Tzimer became block-captain he called for a roll-call and told everyone to run like horses. Four hundred Jews (most of them from Germany) who didn't run properly he immediately sent to Block 7 to their death. He had a particular weakness for murdering brothers. He killed the two Peretz brothers, two Slod brothers. As soon as he killed one brother, this German would seek the second one and strike him dead. It was a miracle that Block 16 (my block) was taken away for a komando that was called “Canada.” Who they were, whether people from Canada or others, I didn't know at the time. Only later did I get to know them better.

On January 4, 1943, I, together with all the inmates of Block 16, was transferred to Block 15. The block-elder was a Pole called Vladek -- tall, blond, a priest. His assistant, Yuzshek, was also a Pole. The block-elder was a terrible bandit. To this day I can't understand how a person who is a priest can change so drastically.

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Before roll-call and after it, we stood “knees bent.” To get our food we had to approach on our knees, ten in a row. When he chased us into the block it was the same all over again: in a row and on bent knees. He was most pleased when he could inform about a larger number of dead. He instructed that they be laid out in a row and with great pleasure he walked by them and then came into the block like a hero. In March, 1943, in a transport of Poles that went to Germany, he was murdered. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.


Tortured Jews Try to Help Their Suffering Friends

On January 10 I got sick. I was feverish and didn't know what was happening to me. I was working in the new lager that was being built. Every day I gave my ration of bread to the foreman so that he would let me sit on my knees which I was making the bricks. At night I felt so bad that I decided not to go to work the following day. Come what may, let them take me to Block 7.

Itche Lindberg from Ciechanow took an interest in me. He was a neighbor of mine back home. He came to the lager with two sons, boys of 16 and 18. One of them lost his life at work and the second was taken to the “Shtrof-komando.” There he was hung. All the Jews who were in the Shtrof-komando were hung in a row.

Itche said to me: “Laib, I have lost everything. You are the only acquaintance who remains. Hang in there. It will pass. I'll help you.” He really did help me. He brought me some hot coffee and in the morning a bit of soup.

Since I was sleeping in my clothes and had “dirtied myself” Itche brought me a pair of pants right away. He had removed them from one of the dead.

Twelve days passed that way. My fever disappeared but I was very weak. In addition, my left foot had suffered frostbite. I got wounds. I couldn't tie my shoes and go to work.

At that time we were transferred to Block 14. A transport arrived with people from Bialystok and Grodno. Transports started to arrive from Czechoslovakia also. It became more crowded. On a bunk where six people formerly slept, sixteen to twenty now had to sleep. For roll-call 1200 people lined up. We were awakened before dawn. Until seven the house-kapos were busy arranging the rows.

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After roll-call they arranged the komandos. Itche and I went to the work of gathering the dead. We hid amongst the dead. We lay that way until ten o'clock. Later we went elsewhere where we stayed until roll-call.

We existed this way for four weeks until once, February 1, a large action took place. All those who had hidden from work were sought. We were caught. We were eight men in hiding. We were pulled out. Blows struck us from all sides. That's how we were chased to Block 7.

I knew that I was lost and didn't know where to run. My heart told me, “Laibl, save yourself.” The question was how. We were surrounded on all sides. As we were running we passed Block 14. There Moritz was standing, someone I knew, a house-kapo. He was standing on guard as I shouted: “Moritz, save me.” He replied that he can only let me through. He told me in which direction to run. Itche and I went through. But I couldn't run because of my wounded foot. Itche went in. Russians with clubs encircled me. They struck me on the shoulders and head. They chased me in the direction of Block 7.

As I was running, desperate, with blood trickling down on me (wishing to lie down in the mud and die) I heard a shout in Polish: “Leave him alone. He's my worker.” This was the shout of the kapo of the wood storehouse. He knew me also. He took me in, gave me water for washing myself and told me to work. Later he told me that I could go out to roll-call. There I met Itche, Mordecai Singer, Pshigoda and Peretz. Here's how they saved themselves: they grabbed sticks and pretended to be foremen. In this way they succeeded to avoid death.

In the middle of February, 1943, we found ourselves in Block 13. The house-kapo was Adek, a French Jew, born in Poland. He was brutal.

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There were seventeen men sleeping in one bunk. Whoever was sitting couldn't get up. Whoever was laying down couldn't stretch out. The hunger was great. The lice ate us up alive. We were always hungry. Noon time we were given some raw green vegetable. We all got dysentery from this. There was nothing we would do about this and we were helpless.

Every day the block-captain commanded: “Whoever can't go to work, stand aside.” Around ten in the morning everyone was assembled, undressed, and without footwear all were taken to Block 7. From there people were led en masse daily to the gas-chambers and then to the crematorium. We couldn't go to work, but as long-time inmates, we already knew when the record-writer comes to write things down. That's when we went away.

Some time passed in this way. Itche Lindberg's and the brothers Galial's dysentery got worse. At the end of February the Germans took them to Block 7. They comforted the unfortunate ones by telling them that as soon as they would get better they would be returned. That's how I lost my only and best friend.

I appealed to the record-writer, Engel, whom I knew, to send me to Block 7, but he didn't want to, and assured me that better times would come.

On March 1, 1943, an order was issued: “Lunch is to be eaten at the komandos, that's to say, at work.” This was bad. What were we to do? I asked Moritz what to do. He said that he has no advice for me. “You have already lived through so much,” he said to me. “Summer's approaching. Things will improve. Maybe a miracle will happen.”

I consulted with the last two from Ciechanow: Singer and Pshigoda. We decided to go to work in the crematoria-komando, number 4. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.


The Stubborn Struggle for Life and Existence

After six weeks of avoiding work I once more went out, as though for the first time, to work. The musical orchestra had grown meanwhile. It was playing to the beat. The lager head was standing at the gate. The one in charge of reporting, the well-known bandit, Shilinger, treats me better than before. After all, I'm an old hand. I have an early number and I'm treated better. I get easier work. I just have to be careful that the kapo and the head-kapo don't find me standing idle.

[Page 356]

It's a little warm now but the pain in my foot does not ease. The wounds are tied up with various rags. I've been suffering this way since January 15. Everything is sticking to the wound. As soon as it got a little warmer my foot acted up and I felt the smarting. I was as thin as a stick - a candidate for Block 7.

At the next reduction when the komando was reduced, I was thrown out. Then I had to go to a “fishing place Kenigsgroben.” It was 4 kilometers away. The foremen, who were all Russians, took away our bit of bread for every little thing. Whether we worked or not, they told everyone to bend down and gave everyone 10 strokes on the behind. Once more things were bad.

We were taken to Block 15. There the roofers-komando was, amongst whom a few Ciechanowers worked. I appealed to them for help because I can't endure any more.

I went out to work with the roofers for the first time. This was in the women's lager. It was said that there it is possible to “organize something,” that's to say, one can manage to get a piece of bread, a bit of soup. Women didn't interest me at that time. We worked in Block 3. It was an empty block. It was already lunch time. The work is light. My landsleit do everything possible so that I won't have to do heavy work. But I had nothing to “organize.”

After lunch the kapo calls us over and gives us a wagon. He told us to transport bricks from Block 25 to Block 27 to make a floor. There were three of us. On the way, while we were bringing the bricks, the block-elder from Barrack 21 says to bring her bricks then she will give us bread and marmalade. We accepted her suggestion and worked speedily. One wagon load went to her and one to Block 17. At Block 25 a Polish woman came out and asks me in Polish if I want to sell her the wagon. She needs it to bring meals and coffee to the sick. I didn't know what to reply, and told her that I would give her a reply later.

My working companions went to Block 21 to get the bread and marmalade for me as well. When they returned I asked for my portion. One of them told me that they didn't want to give the bread. The second one was the representative and he said: “Take a look at him. He wants bread and marmalade. It's his first time in the komando and already he wants to eat like us. Can't you eat bricks?” he shouted. “I'm going right away to tell the kapo that you don't want to work,” and they all went away.

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Later the woman came once more and asked if I'm selling the wagon. I answered “Yes.” I suddenly became brave and didn't ask anyone. In the evening my working companions told me that I should take the wagon to Block 17. I took it to Block 25 instead. The woman brought me an apron full of bread. I hid the bread wherever I could.

The next day we were divided into two groups. One group went to do roofing in the gypsy lager, the second -- in the women's lager. I was afraid to go into the women's lager because of the wagon, so I asked to go to the gypsy-lager.

It was already warmer and once more one wanted to live. The work was light. The noon meal was somewhat better and more and the komando, a good one. But what does one do when I was told that with sick hands and legs one could go to Block 12. There, there are doctors who can help. Where to take water, though, to wash my feet? How do I get rid of the lice? I'm ashamed to go to the doctor in such a condition. Still, I want to live.

One Sunday evening I took the shmates off my foot, together with the bandage that had already been stuck to my wound for three months. I started to shiver throughout my body when I saw that my foot was covered with wounds on which there are parasites…There was no water so I washed the wound with my own urine, cleaned off the parasites and put on another pair of slippers that I got from Yehuda Kalfus. He worked in the Canada-komando.

Early the next morning I went to Block 12. There Dr. Caplan saw me. He bandaged my wounds and told me to come every second day. If not, I will develop gangrene. I went bandaged up for a long time and the wounds on my foot started to heal. Meanwhile, I started to suffer from something else.

A transport of Greek Jews arrived and they brought with them a contagious disease which I caught.

* * *

[Page 358]

On April 10, 1943, the situation in Birkenau improved. The morning roll-call no longer took place. It was no longer permitted to inflict blows. New toilets and bathrooms were installed. There was more water. I don't know why the situation took a turn for the better.

On the first days of Pesach we didn't work. We were taken to the bath. For the first time I got underwear. In short, I once again thought I would survive. Why the situation improved I don't know to this day.

I was very weak, thin, and all kinds of ailments struck me. No wonder I got sores. I couldn't walk. An operation was done on my foot. I got three days rest. But the sores increased and I couldn't walk.

On May 10 I was taken to Block 8. There I lay until May 23. To my good fortune, an order was issued at that time not to gas any prisoners with early numbers who are in the lager. My friends gave me food through the window.

I left the “hospital” but two days later I got sick again. A terrible swelling developed on my operated foot. The 12th of June, 1943, I had to go to Block 8 once more for another operation. I suffered terrible physical pain At that time the Poles, Czechs and other Aryans had the right to receive parcels from home. In Block 8 (hospital) I got a bed near the Aryans. There I became friendly with engineer Tolochko, a man of 72, a fine man. He got many packages from home and he helped me a lot. Noon meals I got from the Ciechanowers who worked close to Block 8.

I started to regain my strength. I felt that I was getting stronger. My wounds started to heal gradually. I could already walk. The old lager was moved to a new block. Where we had been, women were put in. The “sick-house” was transferred to a new lager – Block 6. Two Jewish doctors headed this block-hospital, Caplan and Antesko -- a Rumanian Jew who came from France.

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The doctors told me that they can't keep me any longer in the hospital. The house-elder, someone I knew, and Tolochko, promised to find me easy work. It so happened that at that time a barber and a tailor were needed in a newly-formed block. I went there. It was quite good for me. I did tailoring for the block-elders. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.


Dr. Mengele Sends the “Sick” Jews to be Gassed.

The Heroism of a Jewish Girl

On August 8, after midnight, I was sitting in front of the block when I noticed that all those who had left the lager in the morning were returning. I asked what had happened. I was told that Mengele had chosen all the Jews and had sent them back. Everyone knew nothing good could come from this.

An hour later the same Mengele came with the lager-elder and gave an order: “All the sick must get out of the block.” From Block 15, 115 Jews were removed. The same in other blocks. From the lager healthy and sick were brought (mostly healthy). They were stripped naked, led to Block 14 to the empty barracks.

In this way more than 1400 people were gathered. They were kept in the washroom until ten in the evening. The following day, when autos with S.S. leaders arrived, they were all taken to be gassed and burnt.

That same August, nine transports arrived from Obershlesia, Zaglembia, Bendin and Sosnowiec. A small number went to the lager; the remainder, around seventy per cent, were taken directly to the gas chambers.

At the beginning of September one of the largest selections took place in the lager. I saw how all were stripped naked and Mengele, together with the lager leader, Shwartzhober, stood there and all the skeletal survivors pissed in a row in front of them. The lager leader indicated with his hand: “Left,” “Right.” Right was designated for the gas-chambers. Those to the left had their numbers recorded and were led to the blocks for work.

Sunday morning, I saw the terrible scene of the Jews being led to the gas-chambers. An S.S. officer went in the front with a pistol in his hand. Following him were four S.S. with upheld guns ready to shoot. Every five feet at the sides, S.S. with dogs, and the unfortunate went in the middle. In rows, and with terrible cries, the screams: “What did we do to deserve to die?” I had the opportunity to count 1700 Jews, that is 17 groups, all from the lager. They went on their last way to the gas-chambers.

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In September, 1943, many transports arrived that went directly to the gas-chambers. Since Block 15 was close to the gas-chambers, not more than thirty steps away, I could observe everything.

When the German mass murderers had everyone assembled in the yard of the crematorium (approximately 1500 people). They were told to strip and that is how they were led into the bunker of the crematorium. First to go were the women and children. Horrendous screams were heard and calls of Shma Yisroel. Some shouted: “Murderers, kill me. What do you want from my child? What sort of crime did it commit?” Others called out: “Save my children.” These cries were superhuman. When they were already inside a “subordinate” came over, dressed in a gas-mask. He opened the two small windows and through them inserted the poisonous contents. Then he closed the windows and left.

Afterwards the doors were opened and the dead were thrown out. The mothers were holding their children tightly. In crematorium number three there were sixteen ovens. In every oven five people were thrown. Fat ones burned for fifteen minutes, skinny ones -- half an hour. The Sonderkommando already knew how to regulate so that the burning would not take more than twenty minutes. They put in two people: one fat and one skinny. In this way eighty people were burnt in the crematorium every twenty minutes.

One night we were all shocked. We went down from our bunks and saw a transport that had arrived from Cracow. The unfortunate ones probably knew that they were going to their death. I heard two young girls singing the song: “Was I born from a stone, was it not to a mother that I was born?” Others sang Hatikva as well as the Internationale. The S.S. murderers laughed. The blood froze in my veins. I didn't sleep all night. I lay awake thinking: Why are so many of us dying? Why are we being tormented?

I asked to be sent back to the lager. My request was granted and I was sent to Block 29. There I met Shaya Kalfus from my transport. I was given food and a place to sleep. It was better for me than before.

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In the evening, for roll-call, Victor from the work-assigners came and sent me to Block 28 in the “Watch” komando. The block-elders were Jews. One was called Shafron. Conditions in this block were better than in the old lager. In the morning we got coffee. The main person in this komando was Mendl Goldberg at that time. He received me well because I had an early number. He took me into the tailors where sacks were sewn. The work was not hard. I was able to endure. I got two liters of food. The hunger was no longer so severe. I started to get used to this life.

In October, 1943, it got “cozier” in the lager. A transport solely of Americans arrived. These were Jews who hadn't managed to return home in 1939 when war broke out. The International Red Cross interested itself in them. They got help as internees. They were gathered and were supposed to be taken to Switzerland. That's what they said. The Gestapo had told them so. But they were taken to Auschwitz.

Once an unusual case happened. In the transport there was an American artist, a beautiful woman. When a group of Americans were told in the evening that they are going to bathe, she asked: “Where are those who want to bathe before us?”

Near her stood the bandit, the report leader, Shilinger, pistol in hand. The woman was very beautiful and she didn't want to strip naked in front of them. She covered her breasts with her dress, and asked the murderers why they don't go away, since she's ashamed to strip in the presence of males.

The German bandits, though, had very little regard for the innocent blood of the victims. They wanted to mock the figure of the beautiful, refined woman. One of them went over to her and tried to pull her skirt off. She, quick as lightning, grabbed a stool and struck the German on his hands. The revolver fell from his hand. At that moment she grabbed it and shot at the Germans. Shilinger dropped dead immediately and the second one got badly wounded.

After the death of the bandit Shilinger, things eased up somewhat in the lager. The second report-keeper was somewhat milder.

I was still working in the “weaving shop.” In the month of November, 1943 men started to be grabbed -- women as well.

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The report-keeper, together with the lager-elder, chose whoever they pleased and sent them to Auschwitz. There the men were castrated. Many familiar men started to appear, castrated. They said that after such an operation there's no point in further suffering to survive. The fear of this operation and its aftermath was tremendous.

In December the castrations eased off somewhat. Christmas was again approaching. The “Aryans” received many packages from home, but we continued to go hungry. The first day of the holiday we didn't go to work. It was much better than the former Christmases and at the same time very sad. In the lager those whom we knew from 1942 were no longer living.

That's how 1943 ended, a bit easier than the past year. I was also able to breathe a little easier. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.


A New Year and New Transports to be Gassed

The first of January, 1944, the kapos made a roll-call only for Jews. We, the old inmates, already knew what this signified. They already needed new victims. They can't culminate their holidays without drinking some more Jewish blood.

Everyone was gathered and shoved into the “washroom” where they were forced to strip naked. Then, as before Mengele stood with his subordinate -- Obershturmfuehrer, who was also a doctor, Tila. They pointed “right,” and “left.” This didn't take more than fifteen minutes. From the small number that we were then, they chose 560 to die. The following day the kapos and block-elders chased the victims who ran naked, and put them on trucks, taking them to the gas-chambers.

In this gruesome, horrible way, the new year started for us in Auschwitz, after we had already suffered so much. We felt that a hard year was in store for us. I had a premonition that the bandits wouldn't give us any rest, for they want nothing less than to finish off all of us. Rumors were heard that the Russians are attacking the Germans heavily, causing the Germans to pull back. Since they can't win the battle against the strong enemy, they'll take the Jews, the weak and despondent.

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On January 18, 1944, there was talk that the following day none of the Jews would go out to work. We understood that this means another selection.

On January 19, three o'clock after midnight, I couldn't sleep. I was thinking about two years in Birkenau lager where we had suffered so much; so much beatings and tzores. I feel somewhat healthier but who knows what kind of plans the German murderers have prepared in order to finish off the last remaining Jews in Auschwitz. Never before had this thought plagued me as much as that night. Who knows if this is not my last night of life?

Finally we had to get up. I washed myself, ate well, wanting to appear presentable on “Judgment Day” that would be in a few hours. It's possible that I suffered in vain so much for so many years. But maybe…

At 6:00 a.m. everyone appeared for work, all except the Jews. Once more they are waiting for their turn for life or death. At seven o'clock the block-elder announced that all Jews must line up, completely naked, and wait until the commission will decide whom to send to work. In the lager there were very few Jews at that time in the same healthy condition as I was. The whole Block 28 stood, in this way, from seven in the morning until one in the afternoon, six hours they stood naked and waited. We were 148 Jews.

At one o'clock we heard: “They're coming.” My heart was beating. I want to live. I'm capable of working. After surviving for two years in Birkenau, I want to live to see better days. And then -- the wink, the short word: “Right,” “Left” will soon decide whether I'll live or not.

“Achtung,” the block-elder shouts. The bandits get closer. The lager leader, Shwartz, comes over. Obershturmfuehrer Tila, the lager boss, two block-heads. All these constituted the commission. Each person goes up to them, stands at attention, and turns around: that was all, this was decisive. In those few seconds one's fate was decided.

Dr. Tila indicates with his finger, holding one hand between the buttons of his coat with only the index finger showing: life or death. In the course of ten minutes he had sent 120 to their death and 28 to live. I was amongst those assigned to die.

I had survived here for two years, gone through tens of selections, had regained my health, and now when I'm feeling better I must die? No, I'm not resigning. I tried to appeal to my landsleit. They had money, and with money it was possible at the last moment to bribe the bandits, but the landsleit tell me that it's all the same. Tomorrow we'll all go. I try to convince them that we must fight and not lose hope.

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All day I ran from one to the other. I appealed to Herbert, the record-keeper from the weavery where I worked. He said that he would do everything possible to save me as a good tradesman.

After the roll-call, the sentenced ones were taken to Block 27.

In the evening of January 19 I was led into the block of the sentenced ones. That night I'll never forget. There were 375 Jews. At first everyone was arguing. Each one wanted to fight, destroy, burn, but not die easily. Everyone knew that tomorrow trucks would come and, naked, we would be taken to the gas-chambers.

The terror was unimaginable. A Jew from Bendin was standing and shouting: “Jews, in what way are we better than our wives, children and parents? They all died as innocents, so why should we live? What's our life worth anyhow? There's no point in fighting for a foolish existence when all our dear ones are gone.”

Gradually everyone calmed down. People wanted to sleep one more night as human beings because tomorrow there won't be a sign of us. The crematorium burns everything. I couldn't sleep, though. All night I was plagued by the thought of gas-death.

It was seven in the morning. People drink. I'm amazed at everyone as I watch them drink so close to death. I don't want the coffee because the pleasure of drinking just adds to my desire to live. I want to get it all over with and let there be an end to this cursed life.

At eight in the morning the lager-elder, Daniash, entered and called out a few names of tailors, cobblers, locksmiths. They are called back to work. Once more my heart starts to beat quickly. Perhaps I'll be amongst the lucky ones. Maybe I'll have pull and I'll stay alive for the time being. The lager-elder comes once more and calls other numbers. I see that I'm not called.

I start to resign from life. My waiting seems long and foolish. Totally exhausted, I fall on the bunk, sum up my life in the silence and prepare to die. Resigned, I think: It's useless to fight. Naked, watched by so many S.S. who are armed with the most modern weapons, what can I do? I try to imagine myself being gassed. I'm choking. I'm being burnt.

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From Death Row Back to Life

Suddenly I hear a call: “Laibl!”

Mendl Goldberg from the weavery is here. I get up. It's true. They're calling me back to work.

At twelve noon, January 20, I was rescued from death. I returned to work at the weavery. I live, but for how long I don't know. In the evening everyone from Blocks 20 and 27, 850 Jews, were stripped naked, guarded by S.S. arrested Reichs-Germans: political, criminal, block-elders and kapos. With clubs in their hands, the unfortunate ones were driven to death. The helpers of the murderers often beat the naked ones more fiercely than the S.S. themselves. The helpers carried out their “work” with satisfaction and attentiveness like beasts. These were Reich's Germans, political and criminal elements, who carried out the work of murdering the Jews. On their conscience rests the lives of tens of thousands of murdered Jews in the lagers alone.

After the selection of January 19 it felt like a cemetery in Birkenau. The remaining Jews were downhearted. Each one thought that these were their last days. There was no escaping death. I worked in the weavery. Life got a wee bit better. I had enough to eat, to wear, and gradually the mood picked up.

All this was thanks to a girl from Ciechanow, my relative, Rosa Robota. She made an effort to meet me in the weavery, gave me advice and food. We also spoke about the most recent selections and about our situation. The family members of Rosa Robota, those who find themselves in America, should be proud of the heroic deeds of this woman. It is a great privilege, for me also, to belong to this family who nurtured such a woman as Rosa Robota.

She was a beautiful young woman, nicely built, 23 years old. She fought for her life until the very end against the bandits and she perished as a heroine.

[Page 366]

In 1944 she was working in the clothing section near crematorium 1. In the Sonderkommando of Crematorium 1 there were people who had started to “organize” arms in preparation for an uprising. Rosa Robota came to an understanding with the girls of the “union” komando who manufactured ammunition for the Wehrmacht. She got ammunition from those girls and handed it over to the organizers of the uprising.

Of course, every move could mean death, but this ammunition led to the uprising and to the destruction of the crematorium, which made a great impression in all the Auschwitz lagers.

After the liquidation of the crematorium in Birkenau, the S.S. arrested a girl and she betrayed it all. Rosa and two other Jewish girls were arrested. For months the S.S. tortured her, beat her body with clubs so that she was beyond recognition. All the brutal torture that the S.S. could think of, she endured. She didn't betray anyone. In the last days of December, 1944, she was hung. Proud, to the extent that her strength would allow, she went to her death like a heroine. Honor to her memory!

* * *

Meanwhile my life went on quietly. I worked in the weavery. There was food to eat. According to the conditions to which I had already acclimatized myself, it was good. Most important -- I had secured another shirt for myself so that I could change from time to time. Though I washed it with cold water and dried it beneath the bunk on which I slept. Transports for gassing came less frequently. By this time there were already fewer Jews in Europe. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.


The Ciechanow Transport From Theresienstadt and the Hungarian Jews

I found out that the festival of Purim was approaching. From experience I knew that at the time of Jewish festivals the bandits need some Jewish blood. Erev Purim there were already rumors that the whole Ciechanow (Jewish) transport that is in the “Czech” lager will be burnt. Who was this Czech transport?

In August, 1943, there was brought from Theresienstadt (Czechoslovakia) a transport of four thousand Jews. There were whole families. They were all taken to a lager. There they were divided into blocks, according to the families, and their blocks were called “Czech families lager” – lager B; our lager was marked lager D, a work lager.

[Page 367]

Those from Theresienstadt were very intelligent, well educated people. The women were lovely, the children clean, well-dressed. They were allowed to keep their hair. The men also didn't have their hair shaved off. They set up schools where lectures took place. When there was an “action” this lager B was not involved. One could think that the Hitler bandits want to let the Jews of this lager live.

In March, 1944, an order came from Berlin that the whole transport must be gassed. One more there was a panic. Every one of us understood that if the Czech transport is to be gassed and burnt, we also don't have any hope. We certainly want to emerge alive from this hell, I thought over and over again.

A day after Purim, that is on Shushan Purim, at night, S.S. once more were put on guard, armed with machine guns. Assisting them were block-heads (Poles), kapos, Germans. All of them surrounded the Czech-Jewish families: children, elderly, young, beautiful girls. With clubs they were chased onto the trucks that were as always readied for this purpose. That's how they were taken to the gas-chambers and, from there, their bodies were taken to be burnt.

One of the Sonderkommando told me about this. He worked at the gassing. The people went calmly to the bunker to be gassed. They kissed and said farewell to one another. They called out to the S.S. – “Today we are going to our death, but we are sure that you will come after us.” Singing Hatikvah and the Czech hymn, the Czech transport perished. This was in the month of March, 1944, Purim.

The month of April, 1944, it was just before our great festival of Pesach was to take place. What will they demand from us now? Very few Jews remained in Birkenau. Only in a few kommandos, where the majority were Poles, Russians and Russian prisoners-of-war. Very few Jews worked in the weavery. Many were sick in the infirmary. One saw few Jewish faces, nevertheless the Germans will find their victims, I thought.

[Page 368]

On the first day of Pesach all the Jewish women and children who were in the infirmary were loaded onto the trucks and taken to the gas-chambers. This wasn't enough for the murderers, though. They also needed the healthy ones who were weak from the work. These also were driven to death.

In the month of May the komando (of Birkenau lager) was building the railway line into the lager. The skeletal men worked day and night. A line was being built that was intended to connect Birkenau with the gas chamber and crematorium. Day and night whole train wagons of wood kept arriving. The crematoriums were put in shape. The ovens and the chimneys were enlarged.

Something was being prepared. Huge pits were being built. Those that the murderers covered up after the crematoriums were built were enlarged. Who are they now preparing to bring from Poland, Greece, France, Belgium, Holland, from Europe? I kept thinking. Were there still people left to destroy? Whose turn would it be next? But one didn't have to wait long for the answer.

At the end of May the first transports of Hungarian Jews arrived. I could observe their arrival very well from close proximity. The first transports came from Zibenburgen, Munkach. It had been a very long time since I had last seen these types of Jews. The older ones were frum, with beards and payes and arba-knafot, in long coats with their tallisim in their hands. They went together, apparently in family groups: men and women, holding children by the hand. They were separated on the spot: left and right, women separately and men separately. Every transport had 2000 people. In ten minutes the S.S. doctor decided the fate of tens of thousands of Jews.

From every transport approximately seventy per cent were sent to the gas chambers to be burnt and the rest to the lager to suffer. Day and night transports came and left. An empty train left and a full one arrived.

The crematoriums in Birkenau worked non-stop, twenty-four hours a day. At night the sky was lit up from the fires of the crematoriums. It was so bright in the lager that everything could be seen. Everyone could smell the smoke and fumes of burning human flesh. I saw the people enter and saw their end go up in smoke.

[Page 369]

Two months passed in this way: July and August, until the Germans had brought 450 thousand Hungarian Jews -- women, children, babes -- together with their mothers.

I also saw, in the lager, the Hungarian women who remained alive. These were mainly women between the ages of eighteen and thirty. In rows of five they were led to hard labor, slender, clean and well-dressed, in spite of all they had been through. They carried satchels or rucksacks with them. That's how they went when they were led to the baths as well, immediately after they arrived. There they were forced to strip naked. Their hair was cut off, their clothes taken away and dressed in sleeping apparel, striped pants and wooden shoes. After this procedure they were led back, in rows of five, from the bath to the lager.

Whoever saw these women, these lovely Jewish girls, just a few hours before, could not recognize them after this: shamed eyes, sad faces. They held one another by the hand because it was hard for them to walk in the wooden shoes.

They were in lager No. 3, 12-15 women on one bunk. They slept on the bare boards, beneath broken roofs. The rain poured in, wind and cold -- a terrible hell for the women.

At four in the morning they were driven outside, almost completely naked. They stood hours long this way for roll-call. There was no water there. The toilets were open and the women had to relieve themselves in front of the eyes of the strange men who regularly worked there. Every second day selections took place amongst the women. They were forced to stand naked a whole day. We, who worked in the weavery, saw all this.

Since there was no roof on the bunks for all the women, many lay naked on the ground. The unfortunate women were led en masse to be burnt. Their burning went faster than usual because fresh transports were constantly arriving. Since the bandits were busy with exterminating the new arrivals, they left us alone in the weavery. In the morning I was found and dragged to roll-call. As the house-kapos were my acquaintances, they didn't beat me.

[Page 370]

Transports of Lodz Jews with Mordecai-Chaim Rumkofsky, the Jewish Elder

In September, 1944 when the Russian offensive reached Prague, near Warsaw, the Germans started to liquidate the last ghetto where Jews still worked. Tens of thousands of Jews, whole families, were then brought to Birkenau. Pale, weak, hungry, they were directly brought here, together with the workshops. They brought along the sewing machines and other working tools because they were told that they are being taken to Germany to work.

Sixty to seventy per cent of the Lodz Jews were immediately gassed. The remainder were scattered for work. Together with them arrived the Jew-elder of the Lodz ghetto, Mordecai-Chaim Rumkofsky. He and his family had to stand and see how “his” Lodz Jews are burnt. Then the Germans tortured the Jew-elder and his family and finally led them into the gas chamber and destroyed them all.

After the Lodz transports few Jews arrived in Auschwitz; the Germans reduced the Sonderkommandos. When the transports arrived 800 people worked in a Sonderkommando. Now the majority remained without work. Each time that a transport was gassed, the S.S. reduced the Sonderkommando by liquidating half of their crew. Many were liquidated on the spot. Others were transferred to Auschwitz to clean clothes of the gassed and burnt people, or to sort the clothes after them.

When the transports stopped coming and the Sonderkommando knew what awaited them, their people started to organize themselves and prepare for an uprising. It was all the same, though. They knew that they would be shot.

The three hundred men who were chosen for the “transport,” the majority from the Sonderkommando from crematorium No. 3, understood that they were being taken to their death so they disarmed the S.S. on the way and the battle started.

Those who rose up set the crematorium on fire by throwing in a few grenades. The crematorium started to burn. The arrested ones began to run away. The workers at crematorium No. 1 came to their aid. The men of this workforce threw the head kapo, a German, into the crematorium while he was still alive. They disarmed the guards, with pliers ripped open the barbed wire, and escaped.

Soon larger numbers of S.S. arrived with tanks and machine guns. A battle started. Thirteen S.S. were killed. Amongst the badly wounded of the Sonderkommando there was one from Ciechanow: Yankl Verona, who greatly distinguished himself in the uprising.

After the failed uprising the management of the lager, with the bandit Yosef Kramer at the head, started to liquidate Birkenau lager as well as the weavery, that is to say, my turn came.

On October 26, 1944, I was sent, with the last transport that left the lager Birkenau, to Oranienberg. We were 2000 prisoners, all Jews.

After traveling for two days we arrived at night in Oranienberg. We were taken into a large hall of a factory that had been bombed a short time before. There, airplanes were manufactured. It was a large storehouse of asphalt and iron. The windows were open and it was terribly cold, impossible to warm up. At night an alarm went off every two hours. We had to get up five times during the few hours and run out to hide in the forest that was near the lager. There was very little food to eat, but we did not work. We were in Oranienberg for two whole weeks. There our better clothes were removed from us, those that we had received at Auschwitz. We were given concentration camp clothes. There we found all kinds of prisoners: Reichs-Germans, criminals and political ones. Many of us got sick because our clothes had been taken away from us. Finally we were taken to Zackenhausen. We were there for only a few days.

This transport was divided in two: one part to Buchenwald, the second part, where I was -- to Dachau. We were one thousand one hundred men. We traveled by water for three days. Each one got half a loaf of bread and some cheese. That was all the food we got in those days.

It was cold and we were on the hard floor. We weren't allowed to get up because there was a watchman guarding us who checked our every move. Finally, after dragging ourselves for three days, sick and broken, we reached Kaufering near Landsberg. It didn't take long before we were liberated there.

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