Translation edited by Lisa Newman
We arrived at the end of all worlds,
The exile of Poland, staccato stripes.
seven tons of hairs,
countless pairs of glasses
a pile of lonely suitcases,
a whole nation gone extinct, in an orderly process.
We come to you.
We come to you, the torturers of torturers,
to hear death's silence in your fields.
infinity of human and scientific humiliation,
lines over lines of chimneys
which never warmed you rat ridden rooms,
left as bloodmarks in cursed fields.
O the lord, a compassionate God,
when will you be our revenging God.
Four millions, Four millions
a tapestry of Jewish bones
placed in death's plains,
shreds, layers of ashes
that was created in god's image.
This cursed earth will never cry.
Yoselach, Moishelach, Yenkelach,
Zieselach, Leahlach and Mieralach.
your strifed silence
shudders at the sound of a shofar,
in the burned down silence of a thousand souls,
and a handful of Jerusalem's soil.
Ellul of 1943.
for we were disturbed at the sight of our eyes,
we have reached the end of all worlds.
Nomi Goldfeld Fogelman
Nomi Goldfeld Fogelman
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
| I. Seven generations,
we had been mourning, for seven days.
before us, a torn scroll,
and we are not invinted,
We have become a torn scroll
of crying hugs
in an occasional meeting
of Jews in Katowice.
II. A black sunrise, in Katowice.
Earth, do not cover their blood.
But you have given you word to our fathers?
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
From November 1939 on, I worked for Katowice's Jewish community, which had 11,000 members. On September 3, 1939, Katowice was conquered by the German forces and on September 7, the community's former choir conductor, Mr. Szteiniz, was appointed head of the Judenrat by the Gestapo. Mrs. Goldberg was appointed secretary, and I was made the committee's secretary.
Our first order was to count and document all the Katowice Jews, including those who had converted. We published a notice on the community message boards. Meanwhile, the Gestapo carried out general property confiscation. Our reports were checked every hour. By Friday, September 8, 1939, close to 500 Jews had been listed. The community hall was searched 4-5 times a day.
On Thursday evening, the Judenrat was assembled: the builder Szalsza, Bertold Kochman, Grinpeter, Dyrektor Klajn and the wood retailer Szindler were all previous members of the original community committee. They were joined later on by Robert Ziminauer, who was appointed a second manager, as well as by Finkelberg and Lederer.
The curfew for Jews was set for 19:00 on Friday nights. Gestapo officers showed up at the synagogue at 17:30, and demanded to speak to the Christian caretaker, who had to open the doors. He and his family were taken to the Gestapo headquarters at the Savoy Hotel, from where they never returned. We saw many barrels of gasoline rolled toward the synagogue area. I was the last person to leave the building, at 18:30, and I locked the doors behind me. The synagogue was set on fire that very evening.
On Friday morning, at 7:30, I got to the community hall. All the doors were broken into, and the building was crowded with people. We managed to evacuate it only after we called the Gestapo for help. We worked with loaded guns put to our heads, and we had to finish the work on time.
A couple of days later, the newspaper published the following story: supposedly, 60 Jews had locked themselves inside the building, and shot at the German soldiers who were outside. The soldiers had to burn down the building, and the Jews were burned alive. This story was, of course, an outright lie. The head of the Jewish department of the Gestapo at the time was Sergeant Gunther. his successor was Commander Dreier from Berlin. Their first deputy was Krunau of Gleiwitz, known in the past as Kukushka. They received help from various local inhabitants of Katowice itself, among them Kalos, the helper of Gestapo official Freitag. These two were later known as cold-blooded killers, who participated in all of the ghetto evacuation operations in our district. The Katowice community had three early victims: a father and two sons of the Pozmantir family were executed by a field jury, after they supposedly shot at Germans from their house. Only the younger son was saved, throwing himself on the ground just before he was shot.
On October 13, 1939, we were ordered to transfer 20% of all Jewish property to a closed account; Mr. Szteiniz was responsible for executing this decree. The Judenrat salaries at the time were: 250 German mark for him, 150 for Mrs. Goldberg and 50 for me. Others earned between 200-100 mark a month. After our bank and saving accounts had been blocked, no one was allowed to earn more than 125 a month.
The listing of the Jews was claimed to be needed for their planned tranport to Lublin. The community was ordered to fill three carts with equipment, clothing and food sufficient for a 4 week trip. After the train left, the supplies were cut off and stolen by the Gestapo. On October 19, the first transport, called Umschulungs-transport, was sent out, with 500 Jews, They had to show up at the riding hall, on Raciborska Street. Those married to Christians were released on the spot. The same thing happened again with later transports, and for the final Judenrein, but the order was only valid in our district, Upper Silesia, which was a part of Germany before 1914.
Mr. Merin, manager of the high Jewish council in Sosnowiec, was very unhappy with this order, but there was nothing he could do about it. The passengers boarded the train around noon; the community provided them with cooked meals to sustain them until that evening. The train left on the morning of October 20. Seven days later, another transport was sent, this time in cattle carts. They were treated brutally, like animals.
The total number of Jews listed reached 3,500 by the end of October. Some tried to escape, returned and left again. After the two transports had gone, and counting the few who escaped overseas, there were about 900 Jews left in Katowice. Most of them were women and girls, men who were a part of the community administration, and those who were children of mixed marriages Jewish and Christian. All of the gold was confiscated on December 15. Every Jew over age 10 was obliged to wear a Jew-stripe on his left arm.
The final banishment of the Katowice and Chorzow Jews was scheduled for December 15, 1939. At the last minute, the Judenrat managed to postpone it to an unknown future date. The weekly allowance for women who were left without their husbands was 3-5 marks. In addition, they received food from the community kitchen and a supply of charcoal. In March 1940, all copper dishes and ornaments had to be given up. In April the Jewish cemetery was locked; from then on the Jewish dead were buried in Sosnowiec.
The final transport date was set for May 15, 1940. It was planned to relocate approximately 900 Jews: 600 to Chrzanow, 150 to Szczakowa. The rest left independently to Sosnowiec and Bendzin, among them elderly, ill and disabled people who were brought to the local Jewish institutions.
Every family was allowed to take furniture for one bedroom and one kitchen, one lamp, one table per person, one chair, and a set of underwear. All other belongings were considered the property of the state and were confiscated immediately. Breaking of this new law resulted in prison. The Judenrat was in charge of the transport, which had to be completed within 14 days, but actually took about 6 weeks. Some Jews were still not banished at the time (specifically, families with foreign citizenship), but later on all were arrested and taken away. When the operation was completed, the Katowice Judenrat was disbanded and its authority passed to the Sosnowiec community.
In the summer of 1941 a new law was passed: Those in charge of or owning previously Jewish businesses or property had to pay the past owners, if they still lived in the district of Upper Silesia, a monthly allowance as follows: for a man, 15 marks, and for a wife, 4 marks. Extra help was paid 6 marks, and for every additional family member- 2 more marks. I was in charge of collecting and paying the money to the families.
In September 1941 there came a new police order: Jews must wear a badge (the yellow star) to be recognized. Not included in this order were Jewish women who were married to non-Jews and had no children, or a son who died in the war; and Jewish men who were married to a non-Jew and had no children. According to the Nuremberg laws, they weren't considered full Jews. The final recruitment of mixed-married Jews to labor in the mines in Katowice-Zalenzie began on November 1, 1944; the men and the sons of mixed families were sent to forced labor in Germany earlier.
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
During August 1939, I stayed in Krinice with my aunt and cousin, and was supposed to return home on September 1. On August 30, we were all celebrating the end of our vacation with our friends in the hotel, when around 11 pm we suddenly heard sirens; we didn't know what was happening, and we ran into the street. The word was that a war was coming, and that a general recruitment would be announced.
We packed our bags instantly and left in my cousin's car early in the morning, for Krakow. My aunt and cousin stayed there, but I wanted to go home to Katowice. Unfortunately, all passenger trains to Katowice were canceled, except for the longer routes carrying soldiers. Everyone I talked to warned me not to go to Katowice, since this was where the war was most likely to begin, but I asked the soldiers to take me with them. After many requests, they let me on the train, though I had to leave my suitcase in the station.
Quite late on August 31 we arrived in Katowice. One of the soldiers even walked me home, because the streets were empty and dark. My mother and brother were excited and relieved to see me, knowing that at least we would be together through whatever was coming. An alarm was heard again that night; because the city wasn't prepared for bombings and there were no public shelters, we were taken to the Marahac & Szuc porcelain factory, a few blocks from our house. We stayed there all night with other neighbours and didn't hear bombings, just shooting noises from the street. One bomb fell in the early morning on a house nearby, on Stawowa Street.
Early in the morning of September the 1, the German army entered Katowice. Three days later we were given food vouchers, as the stores were all closed by then. Curfew orders were given right afterwards, stating that Jews weren't allowed on the streets after 6pm. All Jewish businesses were now under the control of non-Jewish supervisors.
My 19-year old older brother wanted to leave for eastern Poland, and ultimately to cross into Russia. He left with two of his friends. Polish soldiers, who boarded the same train as they did, heard them speaking in German, and
the soldiers immediately shot his two friends. My brother managed to escape.
On September 15, the Germans set the great synagogue on fire; we lived nearby, and our windows were shattered from the explosion. The next day, the Germans justified this deed, claiming that Jews were hiding weapons in the synagogue. Following that came the demand to give up any gold or silver goods we had. Three days after the occupation, all the signs were replaced with ones in German. Every day brought new orders: Christians weren't allowed to work for Jews, all furs had to be given away, and so on.
On October 15, all men aged 15-50 were ordered to gather in the eastern train station; they were all sent to the Russian border, where they were sent straight to the front. My older brother was among them, and we heard everything from him. A week later, boys over 13, and men up to the age of 63 were all taken as well. Many of them died of cold or hunger, as well as of diseases like hepatitis and typhus. The winter was cruel.
After that came a short period of quiet, but in early 1940 all remaining Jews were imprisoned in Chrzanow ghetto. They were allowed to take only one suitcase with belongings, as well as one bed and one cupboard per family. After they left, all their apartments were locked and sealed.
My younger brother was taken with the second transport of men. He managed to get to Lemberg, where many Katowice refugees lived. He was welcomed by friends, and they took care of him after he got hepatitis. My grandparents were sent, along with other old couples, to a home for the elderly in Sosnowiec. My mother and I left Katowice as well, and entered the ghetto in Sosnowiec. An old friend of my mother's, a young Christian man, helped us and let us rent a room. I found a job immediately, because we weren't allowed to bring with us more than 1,000 marks per person.
An anonymous testimony
Given on April 15, 1945
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
After the Germans invaded Poland, the Polish part of Silesia district was attached to the Third Reich. Jewish property was confiscated, and the last of Katowice's Jews were sent to Chrzanow. According to the Nuremberg laws, special rules applied to mixed-marriage families, those consisting of one Jewish parent and one Christian. They were divided into two sorts: Jewish families, in which the husband was Jewish and the wife was called judenfrau, and Aryan families, in which the husband was Christian. The Gestapo usually tried to convince the Christian partner to get a divorce, promising to hold no further claims against them afterwards.
In the case of a Jewish family, all property was taken way. The Jewish husbands were given lesser food vouchers, and no clothing vouchers. Many of them were imprisoned or taken to a concentration camp. Activity against mixed marriages became harsher over time, and came to include the Aryan families as well. Christian husbands of Jewish wives were likely to lose their jobs, if they held government positions.
Jews born to mixed marriages weren't allowed to leave town. Contacting Christians was banned, and many were sent to camps for that crime. The Jewish husbands received a Jewish ID card. Their children weren't allowed to attend high schools or college; they were only allowed to finish elementary school, and were considered to be Jewish for all matters. Hiring them was up to a manager's good will and nothing more.
The situation became gravest in the spring of 1944, when all of the mixed-family members, parents and children, were sent to labor or concentration camps. By the fall, all Christian husbands were sent to labor camps in Germany. The Christian women, as well as the remaining Jewish men and women, were sent to do even harder work at the coalmines. They were in constant danger of being sent to a concentration camp, because their Christian partners had by then already been banished to Germany, and they remained with no formal protection whatsoever.
Dr. Jakow Meir Lipszyc
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
That day, I was working late in the Steinhope factory lab. On May 3 in the evening I went out to the main street, where I could just barely move: the street was packed with crying people, soldiers, and orchestras. National flags were everywhere, and signs saying, We want the territories beyond the Olze river back!. This demand was shouted through microphones and by groups of people. The government directed public opinion on this point through the press and through organized public gatherings in the previous week. They supported the demands of Germany, which was then already engaged in tearing the Czech state apart.
I wanted to shout to the crowd, Patriot Polish citizens, you are making a mistake! This shouldn't be our demand from the world. The arrangement must be settled legally, quietly between the Polish and the Czech governments, definitely not through German intervention. But I held myself back at once. Who am I? A Jew, with no right to express any political opinion, for or against the government. I remembered the prophets of old, who foresaw upcoming disasters while the crowds cheered and celebrated, unaware of the dangers to come.
September 1, 1939
It was a warm, sunny morning, an ideal morning for war. I was alone in my apartment on Zamekowa street. My family had travelled to Krakow to visit relatives 5 days earlier. I had got my salary the day before, and taken a vacation. The factory owner had been in Warsaw with his family for a week. The city's population was divided into two groups: the Germans and the original citizens, who lived in Katowice before 1922, stayed. Many Polish families, who came to the area after 1923, including most of the Jews, did their best to leave the city, and remove their property and belongings to Krakow or Warsaw. Many men were recruited to the army. Notices published the day before stated that men who weren't called to service or who couldn't find their units should travel east and find the recruitment centers there. I intended to take the early train to Krakow.
I woke up early, and heard on the radio that the war had officially started. I locked the apartment and went to the train station. On my way I met Rachel Kling, a secretary in our factory, who wanted to go to her parents in Krakow, Dr. Kasowic, a chemist originally from Prague who was banished to Poland, Dr. Engelsztein, a young doctor who was banished from Ostrawa, and Dr. Jonas Fisz, who owned a medical lab in Katowice. The three doctors planned to join a refugee transport to Lwow, and Miss Kling and I were headed to Krakow. The streets were almost empty; the stores were closed.. The atmosphere was tense and hopeless. For the German citizens those were hours of confidence in the German occupation.
On the train, Dr. Engelstein told me about the Czech army's good days, as they had been preparing for Hitler's attack for weeks. They were well equipped and in high spirits, until one day the disarmament order came and they all just returned to their homes. In the following days, whole districts were given up without a fight to the neighboring countries- Germany, Poland and Hungary.
The train left a couple of hours late and arrived in Krakow at night. I never saw any of those three doctors again. I heard that Engelstein fell in the battle of Stalingrad. In early September, Katowice and the entire district were made a part of the German Reich. In 1945, after the camps (Mauthauzen, Linz, Berg) were liberated, I stayed in Katowice again for a few days. The city wasn't seriously damaged during the war, neither by German nor by Russian fire. Only one or two houses were ruined in air-raids.
Sometime in July-August of 1942, we were a group of 60 Jews from the Krakow ghetto, who came to work at the Waks metal factory daily, and were supervised by a Volksdeutsche guard. The factory employed about 20 regular Polish workers, men and women.
The factory manager was a good looking SS officer of about 25, named Unkelbach. When on shift, he would usually sit in the office, and was rarely seen. His younger brother, who had the appearance of a retarded man, worked as the guard. He talked to Jews openly, not only regarding work, and was willing to perform small services for money. Unkelbach had a friend, an SS Gestapo officer named Pilarcik, whom we didn't know back then. He later played an important role in taking care of the Jews inside occupied Poland (General Government). He would sometimes visit Unkelbach, and sit in his office for hours, but he never visited the factory itself.
One evening, after we had finished the day's work and were already washed and dressed, the guard told us we needed to stay in the factory for another hour, because Mr. Pilarcik had something he wanted to say to us. We gathered in one of the rooms and waited: what did he have to say to us? We knew that, as Jews, we weren't a propaganda target. Among us were three lawyers, four engineers, ten merchants, housewives, and the rest were untrained young people. All of us had been working at the factory for 6-12 months. Pilarcik must have gone through our personal files in the office.
We were already past the terror of the general banishment from Krakow, including the murders we had witnessed. We had no information regarding other refugees. A Polish railway worker, who was paid by Jews to seek information regarding his parents, returned to tell us that the train arrived to a tightly guarded area, and that no one in the nearby towns knew anything about the passengers. Some of the factory staff were sent away as well, mostly weak and old people, including the previous owner, old Mr. Waks. His young daughter-in-law went with him, as they had never been parted before.
At around the same time, one Wehrrmacht officer asked a Jew on the street in Krakow where the Jews lived. He then told him, that on his way to the conquered Russian territories, he met on the road a poor-looking group of people, who told them they were Jews from Krakow brought to work there, and that their living conditions were relatively bearable. The officer gave the Jew a note with names and greetings. When the Jew brought it to the ghetto, it was understood that those were some of the people who were transported in May. This news relieved us, because almost everyone had lost someone in that Aktion. Some skeptics didn't believe the note was authentic, and believed it was some trick of the Gestapo's.
In the meanwhile, rumors of blood and murder came to us from everywhere in conquered Poland, stories of whole ghettos and communities eliminated, death trains, mass murders of children, destruction of the weak and old. We thought that Pilarcik might have some news regarding our families or our hometown friends.
We waited standing in the hall. The office was right above us, separated from the room with a glass door. In front of that door was a small podium, 5-steps higher than the floor level. The door opened and Pilarcik stood at the podium. He was a handsome young man, about 25 years of age, with bright hair and eyes. His face was calm and wise, and it was impossible to guess from his appearance that in a short while, he would murder mass numbers of Jews with own hands, and that he may have already done so. He said:
I've been following you all at work for a while now, and I like what I have seen. The factory is satisfied as well. We want to do everything in order to make your life easier. You may expect extra food, and all the documentation you'll need to prove that you're necessary at work. This will protect you throughout future aktions.
We now have a heavy war to win. The world stands against us, but we will prevail, just like we did so far. Presently, we must use all means we have in order to win the battle. Many have to suffer. German citizens now live in strife and hardship just as well. Do your work quietly. When we prevail, a better time will come for you as well; not here, because the party will determine whether the world's Jewry will be gathered, in Palestine or Madagascar, or elsewhere. There you will found a state of your own, under German federated government. The plans are being made while we speak. You've already seen with your own eyes, and you know how precisely we make plans, for war time and for peace.
After this speech, he returned to the office without another word. I never saw him again, but I heard about executions he performed by himself in Plaszów camp, and in other towns in Galicia.
First days in Mauthauzen
I was with a group of 6,000 Jews who were transferred from Plaszów to the prisoner camp Mauthauzen on August 9, 1944. There were four wooden shacks, one for each 1,500 prisoners. Each shack was divided into four parts: two for the use of the block attendant and his assistants, and the remaining two for the use of all 1,500 prisoners. Before and after the day's work we were left to sit or stand in the asphalt yard. We got our first meal of the day, 150 grams of bread, a tablespoon of jam, and tea, only around nightfall. After the horrible bread we had in Plaszów, this bread tasted delicious to us. The jam was rather good, and as for the tea, we just couldn't recognize the leaves it was made of. The tea-cups were lent to us, and we had to wash and return them after each use.
750 people never could have fit into the small living space in the shack. There simply wasn't enough room. The block attendants let us in one by one, hitting us with a stick to make sure we squeezed in as tightly as possible. The prisoners sat on the floor in lines, legs open to let the next prisoner sit between them; we sat, line after line, until the shack was full. Then the lights were turned off and we were ordered to keep quiet. Of course, it was virtually impossible to lie down or even stretch without touching other people, and usually there were fights because of this.
The prisoners weren't allowed to use the bathrooms, so as to keep them clean. Instead, we used the open sewage pits, in the asphalt yard. At night a special permission to go outside had to be given, and we had to return immediately to the shack. We were warned not to stay outside longer than necessary, because the SS guards spread along the fence could see everything and would shoot at any suspicious figure.
We were in Mauthauzen labor camp for a couple of days. At night, 1,500 people slept in half a shack. In the morning, we lined up, and we got tea. Those who saved their bread from dinner could eat it then. Then we rushed through the forest, down the damned 186 stairs and to the mine. We walked in lines of six, one officer for every 200 people, and SS soldiers guarding us from the sides. Until the Allies' victory, we walked every day through the regular camp, where we saw seemingly satisfied prisoners working in peace. We were told that after each death transfer, a number of essential workers were kept- among them carpenters, tailors, construction workers as well as doctors, accountants and others. We also saw a brothel with a garden, for the use of non-Jewish prisoners. Some of the ladies were seen lying or sitting by the windows, or tanning in the front yard. Sometimes we could see an immaculately dressed prisoner coming out of the house, probably an important person, wearing a content expression... Then we would continue from the camp through the woods and to the stairs. We ran down as fast as people in lines of six can.
When we got down, we saw the regular workers, who already prepared for us a pile of stones (which were used for construction), created by an explosion. We were rearranged in lines, and were all ordered at once to run to the pile and grab a stone. It was a run for our lives, because we had to find a fitting stone as quickly as we could, and return to our line. Those who took one that was too light were hit by the guards and sent to get a heavier one. Those people hardly survived the beating. Those who grabbed a stone that was too heavy weren't able to carry it up the stairs and were again beaten to death, or shoved to the pit, by the Kappo or the SS men. Every day, 10-20 of the prisoners were killed this way. We walked to the mine three times a day before noon, and two or three more times in the afternoon. I managed to stay alive due to a precise working method I developed after the first two days, to which I stuck all along.
Only professional construction workers, or exceptionally strong people were able to survive this. Physically, I wasn't one of the strongest, and I soon realized that unless I did my utmost to survive, this is where my life would end. In order to run better, I would take off my wooden shoes on the way out and hang them on my throat. As a young boy, I walked barefoot in the woods a lot, so my feet were used to bumps and thorns. This is how I managed to reach the mine faster than most of the others. During the two minutes in which our lines were rearranged, before we were ordered to run, I would pick out a rock that looked right, to which I ran like mad seconds after. I always held them high, even if they were a little heavier than the usual, and returned to the line quickly. As one of the first people to return, I was able to pick a spot in the middle of the line, in order to not stand out and get attention from any of the guards. I made it. I never got caught with a stone that was too light, so there were no incidents.
For three days I was still with my brother in law, Poldek, and my uncle Yosef. In the previous months, both of them had worked in a large tailoring workshop in Plaszów. This profession was considered honorable by the prisoners, and highly essential to the camp supervisors. They tried to convince me to enlist as a tailor like them but I didn't want to, because I was still listed as a chemist. This professional listing proved to be crucial. Three days after our arrival, I returned to that camp from work and couldn't find Poldek and Yosef. They were taken out with a group of a couple of hundred others. I discovered Yosef's date of death after the war. It was just a few days after this transfer. Poldek died in March 1945, in Gozen. I was left on my own. I lost my wife during the birth of our son, shortly before the war. It was a tragedy, and because of this shock I passed the years of the war emotionally incapable, and wasn't able to make friends easily.
That morning, we walked as usual from the camp, guarded by armed SS soldiers and supervised by the Nazi officers, who were shouting loudly. There were visitors- five tall civilians, dressed in brand new sporting clothes that were marked with Nazi symbols, and gave orders to the kappos. Eight prisoners were lined in a front row. They spoke German. through the march, the new prisoners tried desperately to blend in, and we could tell that their destiny was likely to be worse than ours. They were relentlessly cursed and beaten, and were forced to march first. By the time we returned to the camp, none of them was alive. Some of them were beaten to death with clubs by the officers, others were shot by the guards. After we gave in our stones, and passed by the office we saw the five civilian Gestapo officers from the morning looking for the dead bodies, that had to be brought to camp immediately. From the loud orders we learned that this was the Linch gang.
I saw some of their faces, and learned that they were all men aged between 30 and 50 years, whose expressions were benign and educated. They were chased brutally, and none of us, the Jews, were able to help them. For the first time in my life, I saw Germans murder their own people, simply because of their different views, and their actions were referred to as criminal. Only years later did I learn of Staufenberg's failed conspiracy against Hitler, and of the mass arrests and death sentences that followed after. I now believe that the Gestapo's eagerness to kill and torture these men suggests that the Linch gang was linked somehow to the conspiracy.
My day off in Mauthauzen
After ten more days of hard work and regular murders, when each of was on the brink of a violent, tortured death, I was so exhausted, mentally and physically, that I decided to take a day off at all costs. It had to be planned carefully. I was in block 22. The attendant was German, a prisoner wearing a triangular green badge, which meant he was a criminal. He had three assistants, one Pole and two Ukrainians, who were in charge of the discipline of 1,500 Jews. When we left for the morning's work, the attendant would go to rest or to his office, and his helpers would take three more Jews to clean the block. When we returned to camp, we weren't allowed in, and we stayed standing in the yard. In the evening, as described, we were tightly squeezed in, 1,500 people sitting in one half of the shack. No one was allowed to stay outside. Those who had to go out to use the pit had no place when they returned, and had to sit on other prisoners, who obviously beat them off. I made my plan taking all of this information into account.
In the evening, when everyone was sent in and ordered to sleep, I stayed in the yard and lay down on the floor. I mumbled something at the guard, and ate all the food I had, including the part I usually saved for the following day. He ordered four prisoners to carry me inside. At first, I found a corner that wasn't too crowded. Then the guards left, and everyone stretched and tried to catch some extra space for the night. Many got around my spot and asked how come I'm lying so comfortably. Some answered that I was either seriously ill or dead. They started saying that the smell of the dead body was already spreading, and they carried me out to the yard.
I found myself outside on a warm August night, and I could sleep peacefully, as I was widely known as ill. I didn't get up in the morning, and the block guard gave the order to pick me up and let me lie at the end of the line. When the block supervisor arrived, he thought I had only just collapsed. He ordered to get my clothes off and splash me with three buckets of cold water. I got hold of my glasses, to make sure they wouldn't break, but their case, that was in my pants' pocket, got lost. All was in vain: I remained lying, motionless. The block assistants yelled. Some Jewish prisoners who knew me from Plaszów encouraged me: Mister doctor, please get up, they'll take you to the crematorium, please make an effort!
I hoped that as a young, able worker, I would not be sent to the crematorium because of a one-day sickness and therefore remained on the floor, mumbling incoherent words. In the meantime, the prisoners got their coffee and left for the mine. At this point I was already partially on my awarded vacation. Only the helpers and the three cleaning prisoners were left in the block. I was the only one sick. Then came two doctors. They were Christian Polish men, rude and uneducated, who might have learned basic medicine skills on the field. They checked my heart rate, my tongue, and yelled at me: damned dog, go to work! There's nothing wrong with you!. I stayed on the floor. They were running out of ideas. They decided to go away, dragged me to a corner and left. That is how I got my day off.
In the afternoon, when the prisoners returned, I blended in. No one remembered that someone had been dying this morning, and no one asked how I was. I was left alone. This day of vacation gave me physical rest and relief which I hadn't had in a very long time, but it also made me understand and appreciate myself better. It gave me the strength to go through an upcoming physical and mental test, that came to me shortly afterwards.
A few days later, we rushed to our fifth round of stone carrying in the afternoon shift. I leaped to my pre-chosen stone, barefoot as usual, and hurried back to the line. Suddenly we were ordered back to the stairs. After about 20 meters, I heard someone calling my name for help. I looked and saw a tall Jew trying to lift a huge stone off the ground. I recognized him immediately as a former magistrate, who visited the apartment we shared with four other families in the Krakow ghetto a number of times. He was the brother in-law of Dr. Grinberg, whose 5-year old daughter was a playmate of my son. Because we lived in such a small space back then, we made friends easily, and I learned that he really loved children. We stumbled upon one another later on, in Plaszów, and talked about the kids again...
All of this flashed before my eyes in a split second, and I had to help him. I jumped out of the line to him. The SS officer cursed and shouted at me to return to line immediately. I took the risk and called back at him: I have to help this man!. I instantly saw what the problem was. He chose a heavy rock and had to leave it on the ground. I helped him pull it back up on his back, tapped his shoulder and encouraged him, and then took my stone and returned my place. The SS officer seemed astonished, and probably couldn't believe that these Jews, who are considered less than humans, are still capable of helping one another. Unfortunately, after we returned to camp, I learned that the magistrate didn't survive the incident anyway, and he was beaten to death by the guards.
A Yad Vashem testimony
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
I was born on October 15, 1903 in Essen-Rohr, Germany. I lived in Katowice when the war broke out. The city was invaded by the Germans on September 2, 1939. Near the end of September, the great synagogue was set on fire and burned down, but the community hall right next to it wasn't harmed, and it was made the headquarters of the Gestapo's Jewish department.
The Gestapo published a notice, ordering all Jews aged between 14 and 62 to be listed. I wasn't listed until October 16. On the following day I received a call-up letter. We were gathered in the public gym, where we were divided into groups by profession or trade. Those from mixed- Jewish and Christian- families were separated from the rest, and were later released. The rest of us, 875 people, were loaded on a train, 60 people in every car. Every car was supervised by an usher, who wore an arm-band with a Star of David drawn on it.
The community brought us food and cigarettes. As we were officially being sent to work, the Gestapo also brought us shovels, hoes and wheelbarrows, but they took them away later on. The cars were checked, a check up that included curses and beating so cruel I cannot describe them. The train was full by about 11 am, and did not leave till 2 am. The following day we arrived in Nisko, where we got off. We loaded our handbags on wagons and walked about 20-25 kilometers, until we got to the neutral strip, very close to what was then the Russian border. There we met some Czech Jews. Standing in an open field, a German officer told us there was no going back- We could either cross to Russia or die. We had no idea how to do it. The Russians wouldn't let us cross the border, and we definitely couldn't go back to the Germans. We were a small group of relatively healthy men, and we wandered around for eight days, until we reached Lemberg that was then controlled by the Russians.
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