Concordia University MIGS

Back to Holocaust Memoirs | Back to MIGS

Part Two


My personal fate

Now for the description of my personal fate, my own struggle to avoid death, in whose claws I was so often nearly captured. Some mysterious hand always seemed to save me. When people ask: "How did you save yourself?" I do not know what to answer. I certainly was not stronger or smarter than many of my friends who did not escape death and could not save themselves. It was pure coincidence, a pre-destination, or my private fate. I was amongst the few who were meant to be saved. From my description, you will see how destiny sometimes decided the most unnatural outcomes, because tens of times I was in the clutches of death. Perhaps, it was because I had to stay alive to be a witness of the horrible events in order to tell about them later, to write about them as an historical memorial. I, therefore, consider it my debt to record the horrible events, to describe the inhuman scenes, to recall names and tell about the witnesses of the tragic period of the destruction and the acts of bravery, so that it will serve as material for future historians who will research the history of this great destruction in Europe during the Nazi epoch in the years of the Second World War, which left a soil bloodied with six million Jewish victims.




I fall into the grasp of the Gestapo

When I came back to Sosnowiec, the first days of November 1939, I started to liquidate my business. I saw that it would not be possible to continue the undertaking, a wholesale of plate glass. It was obvious that the Germans would soon grab it. During my absence a lot had been robbed away, but since it was not a matter of food supplies or clothing of any kind, the thefts were not too significant. My storage rooms were full of glass stock so I quickly sold whatever I could. I had already been informed to prepare a balance sheet, listing everything I had on hand and present it to the supply officer. I also had to sign that I "voluntarily" donated everything I owned to the state. The situation became worse with each passing day. It was under these conditions that I decided to leave Sosnowiec and join my family. Whatever would happen to them would happen to me. Above all let us all be together. Since it was quite a distance to Ostrowiec, I decided to make Krakow my destination. There I had a married brother and a large part of my relatives. Although Krakow was already on the other side of the border and belonged to the Generalgouvernement, nevertheless, it was close to Sosnowiec, a journey of two hours. I, therefore, thought that first of all I would be close to the family and should it become necessary I could quickly reach there. I started to prepare for the journey. I sold everything I possibly could, bought gold and jewelry with the money so that it should be easier for me to carry, and at any moment, change it for cash. Jews could not obtain passports but for money one could buy such a "document." Yosel Landau, a friend and neighbour, introduced me to an intimate friend, a former partner, a Volksdeutscher from Katowitz, a certain Pole, who declared himself ready to accompany me safely across the border for a fat fee. We agreed that on February 8, 1940, at the break of dawn, he would come to my house from where we would leave together for the train station, which happened to be close to our house. That is what occurred. On February 8, seven o'clock in the morning, the man came to my house. I gave him a large part of my valuables, removed my arm band with the Star of David, and we left for the station.

It was a lovely, sunny winter day, quite frosty but nice to walk through the snow. Close to the station I noticed two civilian clad men walking back and forth. Instinctively, I was disturbed because I had never seen these people before. These strangers made me fearful. I thought: Oifn Ganef Brent Dos Hittel (a guilty man is always self-conscious). After all, what is the connection between myself and these two people?

We purchased tickets, entered the train which immediately started en route. I sat on one side and my accompaniment on the other, to give the impression that we do not know one another. Right away, however, these two strangers entered our train car, appearing to be looking for places. They went into another car and came right back as though they had not found seats there, and sat down in a corner near us. I was very anxious and inexplicably afraid. I felt that I was feverish and short of breath. I felt danger in the air. I tried to enter the toilet, and came out again, but I was bewildered and couldn't find a place for myself.

In the shtetl Szczakowe we had to change trains for the one which was to take us to Krakow. As we descended the train I did not look at my accompaniment at all, but blended into the crowd as though wanting to hide, to disappear. Suddenly I felt a strong hand grab me. I turned around and saw the steel face of one of the two strangers. He commanded me in German: "Come along with me!" It was as though I beheld the Angel of Death. I got dizzy. My arms and legs became limp as though I was going to collapse. Immediately the two spies took me under the arms and led me into the office of the train director. They also brought in my accomplice. The first thing they asked me was if I was a Jew.

In the meantime the Gestapo representative, whom they had informed, arrived. They took me to Sasnoviec to the headquarters of the Gestapo, Piervshego Maya. My accomplice was immediately freed. As I later found out, it was this Pole who notified the Gestapo that he is bringing to the Generalgouvernement a suspicious Jew who is carrying a lot of valuables. The second suspicious character was his own son who also served in the Gestapo as Volksdeutscher. Thereby he wanted to show his loyalty to the fatherland in order that later he should be well-rewarded and be put in charge of the Jewish businesses. His son was probably also decorated for his devotion.

I was examined, in a naked condition, and searched for everything. I had stuck valuables into my clothes and even in my most intimate parts. As I was undressing, I slipped a three carat diamond ring into a finger of my glove. Soon they brought all the things from my house: documents, papers, letters and my writings, all tied up with the straps of my phylacteries.

The first inquisition started.

While looking through my personal belongings one of the SS, a redhead, who was sitting and writing, called out to me:

"Jude, weisst du was man mit misseh mishina meint? (Jew, do you know the meaning of the expression 'hard luck'?) That's what you are going to get today."

They started to roll up all my papers and writings. As they tore up each bit they tortured me and tore at my flesh. They were determined to know with whom I was in contact and what sort of underground missions I had performed, whether I have contact with the underground and whom I knew in that movement. These were experts at torturing and forcing explanations. It was not only the inquisitor who beat me, but also the two special whippers, and the inquisitors changed shifts.

They also read my writing and poetry, searching to see if there was any evidence that I had participated in the anti-Nazi campaign. I was scalded with hot irons. My nails were pulled out and I was administered electric shocks. By various torturous methods they wanted to force me to talk but I did not talk. I was as silent as the wall. My head was already swollen, my eyes full of blood. Bruised and battered as I was, I could still hear them speaking amongst themselves: "Der Schweinhund will nicht reden. Mir werden ihn aber reden machen." (The swine doesn't want to talk, but we will make him talk). Outside, when they found out that I was arrested, that I was being questioned by the Gestapo, many people hid, cleared out, because they were afraid that I might betray them, that some secrets would be extracted from me. After all, I was familiar with the whole underground and youth movement and knew many secrets. It was also known that the Gestapo had specialists for extracting information. It is true they tried every means, good and horrible, trying to convince me that as soon as I would disclose the names of the members of the underground, even if only a part of them, I would immediately be freed and even be given protection against attacks. At one point they even threatened to shoot me. They took me, naked, into the yard, in the snow, and told me to face the wall to be shot. I ran as though the devil was chasing me.

I pleaded with my torturers: "Shoot me, because I can't endure any more", but they teased me. "You will die when we're ready." They were wild, like beasts let loose to roam. When they heard from my mouth only the words: "I don't know. I can't," they tore at my flesh. Blood was running from all sides but I did not succumb and did not surrender. I thought to myself that anyhow I am going to die. There is no help for me because there is no way that I will escape from these murderers. If I will betray others they will only extend my agony and will drag me to more and more questioning and confrontations. It will not help the situation at all but will only make matters worse. I made a firm decision not to say anything more. When my head was already swollen, my eyes covered with blood, I heard, more by instinct than through my ears, as though through a fog, how one said to the others: "He will have to talk. We'll make him talk. He knows a lot."

In this fashion they tortured me a whole day on February 8, 1940, until nightfall, without ceasing. Also, for an hour they put me into a narrow, dark chamber where it was impossible to sit or stretch out. I had to stand with sharp stones protruding on both sides. In the evening I was thrown into a jail cell the way a pack of broken and bloody bones would be thrown. This was a cell where bandits, criminals and violators of the worst kind were kept. When they saw my condition, they knew how cruelly I had been handled because they could see my bloodied body, so, taking pity, they washed the blood off me and applied cold compresses to my wounds.

The following morning I was again led out for questioning. Once more they started to torture me with new means and inquisition methods, desiring to extract from me declarations. I prayed for death to bring my suffering to a quick end.




Those in the prison

When one finds oneself in prison, behind bars, one encounters a whole new world which is so different from the outside world. Up to that time, I had not encountered criminals. I had read a lot about prison life, had heard a lot about life behind bars, but when one finds oneself behind narrow barred walls of such a prison in actuality, one then realizes the horror of such a world which becomes reduced to a few cubits of damp and foul air. Above, there is a small strip of sky and only seldom does a ray of sunshine enter.

I sat in a cell together with political prisoners and criminal elements. The criminals were the elite here. They were the ones who had the upper hand in everything. They were the ones who set the tone, who classified the prisoners into categories, and they were the ones who decided on the function of each and every one. The worst criminals were the most prominent. They were the ones who made armed attacks, who attacked police quarters, co-operatives and banks. The others, the minor criminals, were those who had broken into private homes, who only struck and wounded their victims. These had very little influence. These looked up to their important colleagues like students to their professors. Still, they had a higher status than the petty thieves, foolish attackers such as pocket thieves, insignificant robbers and those who got into fights. Among the thieves there was also one who had been arrested for stealing chickens. Though he had a sharp tone, he was quickly silenced when he was called mockingly, "chicken thief." He shamed the trade, therefore he had to keep his mouth shut and just listen to what others had to say. Political prisoners also had their categories. Anyone who was accused of high treason, for spying, was considered on top, "Prominent," because such were in danger of receiving the death sentence.

At times someone would be removed from the cell at night and never heard from again. There were also political prisoners who were arrested because of former deeds when they had participated in anti-German manifestations. There were also Polish patriots and political opponents of Nazi-Germany. These were regarded with contempt, because they were often politicians, diplomats, people in high positions and directors of factories. The criminals regarded these as the ruling class with whom they had old scores as defender of the law and order who mistreated them and gave them heavy sentences.

From time to time we would hear the screeching of the hinges of the prison doors and locking of the cells. At such times, everyone's eyes centered on the doors because we knew that new victims had been brought. As soon as the heavy door slammed shut, the "leaders" of the cell started to question the new arrivals in order to find out who they were and why they were being imprisoned. Oftentimes the victims were in such a state, both from the questioning and from being in this new ambiance that they began to cry or mumble incomprehensible words. If such a new "guest" did not find favour in the eyes of the "prominent of the cell," he was given a spot right beside the slop-pail, which he had to scrub and clean. The most influential one in the cell, the "president," was a Pole, around thirty-five years old, with a scar over his whole left cheek and half a head. He had already spent more than half his life behind bars. He had been an escaped criminal a few times, hidden in caves, and fought with police with arms. This time, when he was confined, it was because he was in the process of robbing a bank and the police caught him by taking him by surprise and carrying on quite a struggle during which he shot one dead and wounded three others. A trial was awaiting him. He wasn't overly concerned with his fate, though, because in prison he was already "one of the gang" and had certain privileges. His helper was a young blond gentile, around twenty-seven, with a moustache. He was caught during the "hot job" of breaking into a jewelry shop of watches and gold. He, together with three other colleagues, shot the security guard, followed by a shoot-out with the police during which two were shot by machine gun and the third was wounded lightly.

He was a sympathetic gentile with a pair of laughing eyes and always in a good mood. His beloved was also behind bars in the women's section for participating in a different attempt. Oftentimes he would mount the shoulders of a friend in order to peak through a hole at the front of the cell through which the outer yard could be glimpsed, in order to see if his beloved was there cleaning the furniture and carpets of the prison supervisor. He was mocked by remarks that the prison supervisor was replacing him as his bride's lover. He answered the kibitzers that their wives were not sitting home waiting for them to come home, but rather, were enjoying themselves with other benefactors. "If I knew that my wife was having intimate relations with the police supervisor I would strangle them both," he said.

I was accepted by the prisoners with pity because they saw my condition. When it became known to them that I didn't succumb to the questioning, I became even more respected in their eyes. I was given a place not in the first rank amongst the "prominent" but also not near the slop-pot, but amongst the minor prisoners. I was dreadfully confused and in great pain. From the corridor outside the sound of a transistor radio could be heard. News from the front in France was being broadcast, informing that the Germans had broken through the Maginot Line, had crossed the border and were conquering one city after another. This depressed me even more. It seemed to me that the whole world was going under. The successful German advances shocked me terribly. I was full of pain. It did not take long and I fell asleep.

My greatest wish then was that I should fall asleep and not wake up any more. My mind was as sharp as a knife. I kept thinking of what would happen in the morning when the murderers would once more take me for questioning. I must have fallen asleep very late because I had hardly slept before I was awakened. The lights were turned on and in the corridor were heard shouts and the noise of the hinges as well as the cursing of the guard. The air in the cell was very bad. There were between 60-70 people in one cell of approximately 60 meters, which also contained the overflowing slop-pail that people went to use all night long. The air stank and was very bad. The first thing the "prominent" did when they opened their eyes in the morning was to tell what they had dreamt in order to try to solve the riddle of what this foretold. The old "cats" were experienced at this and knew how to interpret dreams. Then they started to command the "dupes" to quickly clean the cell and get rid of the contents of the slop-pail. Anybody who thought himself a little higher and mightier and did not follow orders was severely beaten.

After "coffee" we were sent out to the prison yard for the morning walk. We marched in a row and afterwards had to run and sing. Though all my bones ached and my head and eyes were swollen, I breathed easier out in the open. It was a cold snowy morning. When we were ordered to sing I reminded myself of the "Avinu Malkainu, chanainu v'anainu, ki ain banu ma’asim" (a Hebrew prayer). I sang it with all my heart, as though wanting to cry my heart out to the creator. I also reminded myself of my name, Elkana, which has the Hebrew horoscope: "Fortunate is the one who notices the poor, because in a time of misfortune. God will notice him", so I prayed quietly to myself: "God, observe this poor beaten man and protect me from evil." For a moment, I forgot myself and started to sing aloud: "Avinu Malkainu." The guard heard me and halted me and asked: "What's that your singing?" I got confused but quickly came to my senses and answered: I'm singing to Almighty God that he should protect us from evil. The guard gave me a shove with his keys and answered: "Fool, your God is dead. Get going!!!"

Soon we were led back to the cells. The criminals had already made contact while outdoors. The blond gentile also saw his beloved from the distance. He sent her a note. Quickly they started to call people out for questioning. My turn also came. I was shown new documents which were found in my house and office. They started to beat and torture me anew. Suddenly I heard, in the next room, Yosl Landau, my neighbour, who had put me in touch with the Volksdeutsche Pole, the one who turned me over to the Gestapo. I understood that they would give him false information regarding my declarations in order to draw out from him information that could compromise me and put me in new trouble, so I started to speak loudly and sharply, repeating what I had already told so that Landau would know that I had not told anything. The Gestapo immediately realized my intentions. They gagged me and pulled me away to another room nearby. It was, however, too late. I had already loudly proclaimed everything I wanted Landau to know.

Again, it took another whole day, without ceasing. This questioning and beating. They kept bringing new ones to beat me and new interrogators. They tried by good and bad means, but they could not break me down. They would have gladly killed me, not bothering with someone as unimportant as me, but they hadn't given up hope of finally forcing me to speak. Once a prisoner came into our cell who seemed to want to become friends only with me, the criminals immediately realized that this is a provoker who had come to find something out from me. They gave me a signal to be careful with what I say. A few days later that one disappeared from the cell.

Once they brought nearly all the former city council of Dabrowa Curneitza. They were suspected of conspiracy. In particular, their enemies accused them of relating to the Germans with hatred. Our "prominents" received them with spiteful joy. The oldest, the former prefect, was immediately sent to clean the slop-pail. They hated former government aides like these, those in high positions, judges and police commissioners. They were especially badly treated by the others who were seeking revenge for their former persecutions. If they fought back, tried to reason and protest, they then got beaten even more, to the accompaniment of vile insults and curses. One of the ways of punishing them was when washing the foot basins such a "one" would be given a paddle. Each one let the water run on his side, but as soon as they got close to one another in the middle of the cell, the criminal gave the "disfavoured one" such a shove that he fell to the ground and banged his head on the wall, resulting in a swollen head. The prefect of Dabrowah got this treatment. The audience, like in an amphitheater, rolled with laughter. At times, during the night, the doors would be hastily opened and Gestapo and criminal police would enter and call a few names to take out. These were never seen again. The very same night they were executed. Once a scrawny figure appeared in our cell, with sharp facial characteristics and piercing eyes. He looked like a Jew but never admitted that he was of Jewish ancestry. The "interrogators" in our cell could not figure out why he was arrested. They could not "catch" him with even a single word. It could, however, be discerned that he was an important person who had something to hide. He got friendly with me and I gained his trust. He admitted to me that he was actually a spy; one who researches the economy of the country and gathers statistics about the production. A few times he was called for questioning and later was taken out of the cell at night and led away to an unknown place. As he was leaving he cast a grimace at me for the last time. Another time, two Germans were brought to our cell. They were from the first storm troopers who broke through the Polish border with their motorcycles. They shot left and right. They were caught sinning, though, while having sexual relations with Jewish women, so they were brought to trial for shaming their race.




The cell for the Jews only


Exactly on Passover eve, 1940 an order suddenly arrived to gather all the Jewish prisoners and put them in one cell, separating them from all other prisoners. Nobody knew the reason for this order. Immediately two groups developed: the pessimists and the optimists. The former believed that the intention is to separate us from the Aryans because we are sentenced to death. Others saw some hope in this. Since it happened to be the eve of Passover, the Judenrat must have managed to see that we are supplied with matzos and other Passover foods and that was the reason why we were separated from the non-Jews. Because of this many of us didn't sleep that night in the all-Jews' cell. We were aware that we could possibly be removed during the night. Both possibilities did not materialize though. No food was brought in for us. The Judenrat had more important concerns than to provide Jewish prisoners with kosher food and matzos for Passover. Neither were we immediately removed. They merely wanted to have us together for any eventuality because Jews had a special status.

One person who was not afraid and did not lose any sleep was a known Sosnowiec underworld character and professional card player by the name of Wolf. He was a tall, handsome blond fellow, with blue eyes who had already been in prison for criminal charges. When he was free he was a specialist at card playing. There were a few like him in Sosnowiec, elegantly clad, who mixed in high society, earning a living playing cards. They extracted money from the "suckers." "Suckers" like them, Wolf said, proliferate over night. Here, amongst the criminals, as soon as we got friendly, he passed on to us some of the secrets of how to always win. They had signs on the cards, tiny markings, that always let them know what cards their partners had, when to buy a card and when not to buy. Even on brand new packs that were freshly unwrapped, they already had their signs. He told us also how they used to service other men's wives, how to ensnare them and later blackmail them.

Every day new "guests" were brought into our cell. One, for dealing with "illegal" goods, another for having hidden forbidden possessions in his house, a third for not declaring everything he owned and so on. They informed us of news from outside such as of new decrees and who had been transported. The "eldest" from our cell was, indeed, this same Wolf who had as his aides two suspicious persons who had been imprisoned for forgeries and similar crimes. Actually we were glad that we were all in an all-Jewish cell because we felt uncomfortable amongst non-Jews. There were criminal elements amongst them, wild ones and homosexuals. Scandals frequently broke out at night because these characters would look for victims for their sexual orgies. Many of the thieves also had venereal diseases. One night a scandal erupted because one of the criminal prisoners attacked a youth and wanted to have sex with him. The boy screamed. The guard entered with two policemen and they took the perpetrator to a punishment cell. The second one, the one who had been attacked, also had to be removed, otherwise the colleagues of the one who was going to be punished would have killed him. Afterwards, it turned out that the perpetrator had syphilis and it was already in the most advanced stage.

Amongst Jews, however, one felt better, more secure and more friendly. On the Sabbath we would sometimes quietly hum a melody, one of the Sabbath hymns, and tell one another stories. Amongst the prisoners there was a Jew from Sosnowiec, a certain Pinchovsky, a feather dealer, who knew Hassidic melodies. There was another with a crippled face who could tell Hassidic tales. Once, a young boy was brought to us whose name was Lieberman. He was from a known Sosnowiec family. He was caught falsifying documents. He was later hanged in a garden on Mandzever Street. He had a beautiful voice so we would listen to his sentimental melodies.

From time to time, we would get up and start to walk. We imagined what streets we were walking through and what our destination was. In this way it was easier for us to endure the prison atmosphere. The relatives from outside would also, from time to time, send in food parcels which we would divide amongst ourselves. Twice I also received food parcels. To this day I do not know who sent me the parcels because I did not have any relatives. For the smokers it was the greatest joy when they got some tobacco. They would extract some cotton batting from their clothes and light a fire by rubbing a stone in a glass until sparks arose and the cotton batting caught on fire so that they could smoke. I had a lot of trouble with the cotton batting. I have already told how, during the interrogation, I had managed to slip a diamond ring into one of the fingers of my glove, but afterwards I was afraid that maybe the glove would be taken away from me and then the ring would also disappear, so I quietly took it out of the glove and buried it in the cotton batting lining of my winter jacket, but as soon as the smokers started to pull cotton batting from my clothing, I was afraid that they would also pull out the ring.




My mother appears to plead my case

The prison window outside of the bars had a tin covering that shut out the outside world. In this tin someone had made a hole through which it was possible to see a bit of the street. More than once I would stand beside this hole and look out in order to see, longingly, how free people were going about. Once, while looking out of the hole, I got the shivers from shock. I could not believe my eyes. I saw my mother, accompanied by my aunt, looking up toward this tin. How did my mother get here? I couldn't understand this. An old, sick mother came from so far away to see her son. My heart rejoiced on the one hand while on the other I was full of sorrow. I thought I was dreaming. I was looking at her gentle face, her tear-filled eyes, and it was true that this is my mother, but who brought her here?

She had found out that I was arrested so she had no peace. Sick as she was, she set out. She locked her house and started to wander. Jews were not allowed to travel by train so she traveled in wagons, often times walking on foot, crossing borders illegally, until she came to Sosnowiec. First she arrived in Olkush where her sister lived. From there both of them came to Sosnowiec to save her son, her youngest son, from prison. That's what a mother is capable of. She sat there so long, doing whatever she could, knocking on doors, parted with her last few groshen until she freed her son from prison after he had been sitting there for four months for interrogation by the Gestapo.

Exactly on the eve of Shavuot (Pentecost), June 6, 1940 I was released from prison. My mother was there waiting for me at the gate. She fell into my arms and covered my face with tears and kisses. We proceeded directly to Olkush, directly to our relatives, where we joyously celebrated the festival. My mother radiated joy at her success in freeing me from prison. The only thing I could give her was the diamond ring which I dug out from the lining of my winter garment, with much love and thankfulness. My mother remained with me for some time but later returned to her home. I promised her that as soon as I would liquidate my business I would also come to Ostrowiec, but, unfortunately, this was not possible because travel became increasingly dangerous. Meanwhile, a German commissioner had been assigned to my business. He employed me as his administrator and stock keeper and so it was that I never again saw my mother. As it was told to me, she was later deported to Sandomyeredj and from there to Treblinka where she died a martyrs’ death after terrible suffering. May the Almighty avenge her blood.




The noose around the neck gets tighter and tighter and tighter

Life in the ghetto became increasingly difficult and unbearable. Even though I was given a position in my own business, because the German who had taken charge of it needed my expertise to teach others where to buy and to whom to sell, how to run the business and how to keep stock, I already felt that as soon as he will have suitable representatives who would be able to carry out my functions, he would let me go, because it would not pay for him to retain the former owner of the place, nor to even have him around. Naturally, I did everything possible to prolong the process, but I knew that the day would come when I would no longer be needed and I would become dispensable. There was also no way I could clear myself from the Gestapo. Even a half-year since they had let me out of prison, they were still calling me to court to judge me for all the sins I had committed by attempting illegally, with a false passport, and without a Jewish arm band, carrying a full bag of jewelry and gold, to cross the border of the Generalgouvernement. It was a miracle that much of the gold and jewelry ended up in the pocket of the Gestapo themselves, so that made my case somewhat easier. It had also cost plenty of money to prevent me from getting an even more severe punishment. That was why I got four month imprisonment less the time I had already spent in being interrogated. Since I had already completed the four months in prison, I was set free, but according to the German precision, I still was short three and a half hours to complete the four months, so I had to enter prison to stay for another three and a half hours.

Some time later, when I came into the shop, I was informed that the Gestapo was searching for me. This was not the Gestapo from Sosnowiec, but Gestapo from the Generalgouvernement. Since I was not at home, they left a note stating that they would return and that I should be ready. When I heard the news I trembled. What more do they want from me? Haven't they tortured me enough? Where should I hide? My first decision was to leave home. I understood, though, that if I remain in the city they would manage to find me. If not they themselves, then the Jewish militia. I decided to go into hiding so that I could find out why I was wanted. Until such time, I had better clear out. I fell upon a plan to go to Olkush to my mother, a distance of approximately 80 kilometers from Sosnowiec, but since I was not allowed to travel by train or minibus, I set out on foot with the hope that on the way some means of travel would become available. It was winter 1941, very cold outside, snowing and poor visibility. I covered myself in such a way that my Jewish star was not visible, but in order not to be noticed by passing patrols and police on the roads, I followed closely a wagon carrying bricks, pretending to support the wagon, in order to make it look as though I was part of the wagon. I arrived in Olkush at night, more dead than alive. My aunt, when she answered my knock at the door, had the shock of her life at the way I looked. I told her the whole story and asked her permission to stay there until I would ascertain why the Gestapo was looking for me and to see if there was any way to bribe myself out of the situation. My aunt pitied me, but I could see in her eyes, and even more in the eyes of my uncle, that they were not pleased with the whole matter. The Gestapo, while searching for me, might find me in their house. This would mean that they were hiding a "criminal" and would put their own lives in danger. For such a "crime" they could all be sent to Auschwitz. My uncle gave me to understand that a German "loyal" who was commissioner in charge of his lumber supply adjacent to their house, was billeted in their house. They told me he was a treacherous Nazi and if he discovered my presence he was likely to turn me over to the Gestapo.

I explained to them that it was only a matter of a few days, only until I would find out what they want from me. Not having any other choice, because they would not throw me out into the street, they decided to tell the "German" that I was a relative from a small shtetl who got sick and had come to see a doctor in Olkush. I was given a meal, took a bath and went to bed. The following morning when the German commissar came they told him the story. He also saw that a doctor was called for me and medicines were placed around me. He was a short blond man with a shock of hair over his eyes, but he knew how to talk non-stop. He introduced himself to me as one of the chief "heads" and heroes of Germany who was responsible for the whole economy of the German Reich. He was conceited, impudent; a fast talker and bragger. He was constantly making plans re what he was going to do after the "sieg" (victory). He was sure that a province would be put under his jurisdiction because he was one of those closest to the F¸hrer. He was constantly running home and bringing new things which he stole from Jewish houses. Once he came home, bringing a German newspaper with news from the front. It seems that he read a notice that the Russians had launched a counter offensive so he got up on a chair like Napoleon, shook his shock of hair and called out:

"Ja, now I'm going to the front. I'll show you how one fights".

I forced myself not to smile.

I could not remain any longer in Olkush because my presence became suspicious. I did not receive any good news from Sosnowiec because nobody could find out what I was accused of. I only got promises from friends of my aunt that they would look after me. My aunt and uncle did not chase me out of their house, but I could detect from their faces that they were full of fear and would like to see me out of the door, so I decided to return and report to the Gestapo. Whatever will happen will happen. An opportunity was provided for me to get a ride on a coach wagon and I returned to Sosnowiec. First I had sought out one who "knew how to arrange things", who had connections with the Gestapo. I gave him a sum of money and he promised to look out for me. When I came to the Gestapo they immediately took me in to the officer of the SS who was the contact for the Generalgouvernement. After questioning, they put me in a private cell where they kept me for a few hours. They led me out and put me on a wagon and the SS rode off with me. I do not know where he was taking me. It was only at the German area and the Generalgouvernement when the officer reported to the border guard, pointing to me as his "catch" that I noticed that he was leading me in the direction of Krakow.

Upon reaching Krakow, I was immediately imprisoned on Senatorca Street near Gradzskeh Street. The following day, I was called for interrogation. It was only here that I discovered what I was accused of. It turned out that amongst my papers and documents, when I had been arrested, they found various notes regarding goods I had purchased in Ostrowiec and which I had afterwards transferred illegally to Sosnowiec. I had completed this transaction when I went to visit my mother. At that time, when I traveled back to Sosnowiec, we had to make a stop at Scardzisko.

When we found ourselves at the station where we waited for the connection, the police and Gestapo encircled the building and started to group the travelers, removing the Jews from there and packing them into freight cars. I then felt the danger, saw hell before my eyes. I also was carrying a large sum of money and valuables. At the check point, I saw that several represented themselves as Volksdeutsche, and as such were immediately allowed to pass, so a thought flashed through my mind that one must take a risk. I knew how to speak German, so I gathered courage, went boldly to the guards, and told them that I am a Volksdeutscher who had visited my family in Generalgouvernement, and now was returning home to Oberschlesien. The officer looked at me, examined me, and asked:

"Where do you live"

"In Katowice," I answered boldly.

He returned to me the document, which was also false, and told me to go through the barrier. The train soon arrived. I sat down and we set off. After they found the notes in my house, they had started to investigate the matter in Ostrowiec and also took me for further questioning. It was my good fortune that this was not a political case but a question of taxes. I was tortured and questioned for a day and a half. Then they freed me and ordered me to leave the city within 24 hours. To this day I do not know what their excuse was for letting me go free. Someone certainly must have intervened for me. Maybe it was Elijah the Prophet.




"If a misfortune is destined, it will come right into the house."

I worked for a time as a stock-keeper in my business which continued to grow. When the Germans penetrated deeply into Russia the cities and homes were severely damaged from the bombings; so it was necessary to reconstruct all this. Since the glass producing factories there were also damaged, it was necessary to send glass from here to the Russian cities. Many wagons of glass were dispatched from my business to the Ukraine as far as Charkow. I had to prepare, sort and specify the transports. Thanks to the fact that this was a vital war business, my "position" was an assured one, and I was saved from being transported for all of 1942. The business was on a good track and kept growing, thanks to which much bank credit was required. Once, an inspector from the Dresden Bank arrived to take stock and make an inventory. This was a person of approximately 50 years, a very settled and serious individual, who took an interest in my situation. He sincerely sympathized with me. According to his manner of speaking and appearance, one could trust him. He spoke to me very frankly and condemned the Nuremberg decrees. Being alone with him in the storage room, where I was sure that nobody could overhear us, I risked asking him:

"I see that you are a refined, staid and liberal man who shows me so much sympathy, so I want to ask you: How is it that you have the insignia of a P.G.? (Party Comrade)" I had seen such an insignia on him. "Are you in agreement with the Party's ideology?" He smiled and answered,

"I was never a Party man and never let myself be drawn into the Nazi party. I was even an opponent of the movement because I am against extremism and terror, but once, when Hitler came to our city, a colleague of mine dragged me along to hear the conference. I then listened to his speech which was so convincing, so patriotic and so logical. In addition, he enchanted me with his speaking talent and so powerfully affect me that I decided to become a follower and registered in his Party. True, he's a demagogue, a showman and an extremist, but the Germans saw in him a saviour, because he undertook to pull the Germans out of their depression and raise them to a worthy nation with national pride which is preparing to become a great power. Therefore, all the downtrodden, hopeless and helpless joined his crowd which was growing from day to day."


So long as there were still the country's Volksdeutsche as commissioners in my business, I still had the chance to remain in my position, but later, when a new commissioner arrived from Riga, a certain Plaetzer, who took over the management of my business, my chances deteriorated greatly. In l942, he decided to buy the business from the government because he had come with significant capital and the bank financed the rest. When he had already become the boss of the business, he wanted, all the sooner, to get rid of me. I, as the former boss, was like a spider in his eyes. He prepared a team of people who could replace me. I could see and feel that the ground was sinking beneath my feet. I went about worried and tearful. Once, going out of my yard, I encountered a woman acquaintance, to whom I always had warm feelings. She had once been a neighbour who always teased me with her beauty and grace. She was a brunette with a fair complexion, and a pair of mild coloured eyes and a pleasing figure.

Before the war, many men pursued her, but she didn't succumb to any of them but merely perplexed them. Among her admirers there was also a wealthy fellow, the son of a dry-goods businessman, who was crazy about her. He was, though, amongst the weakest candidates because he was a simpleton, fat, with a pair of cow's eyes and a thick nose, but during the war, when the girl's father became impoverished, and the son of the wholesaler became a bigshot, he sent matchmakers and good friends to the father of this girl, N.J. He pursued the business so long that, offering wealth and success, the girl finally agreed to marry the fellow. Everyone considered this a "Pot of Gold"--a match for wealth. It didn't take long, though, before the gold ran out and all that was left was a big hole. The wealthy wholesaler started to be a victim of those who wanted to extract money and gold from him, until he became a poor man. The young man was sent to a concentration camp as soon as he no longer had the money to bribe for his freedom. The young wife was left alone, exposed to the angst of influential tough guys who had pull and influence with the Judenrat. Moishe Merin cast his eyes on her and wanted to force her to become his mistress. All his efforts proved useless, as far as this woman was concerned. She despised him and did not want to be one of the gallery of mistresses of the "Juden King." Besides, she was embittered against him because she felt almost certain that he was the one who had been responsible for her husband's deportation so that she herself would remain alone and unprotected.

When I met this woman coming out of the gate she stopped. Her eyes lit up and she extended to me a pale hand. It happened to be Sunday. She invited me to go for a walk and we went in the gardens which were planted by Jews behind the Agrudek in Ostrogurkeh. It was the Judenrat who arranged that the Jews should be granted a piece of a field, which had once belonged to Jews, for this purpose. It was built for poor Jewish families to tend and be able to consume its products so that they would have sustenance. Jews set to work. They ploughed and planted and the whole area sprouted. This was also one of the German tricks to convince the Jews that nobody sought to liquidate them but, on the contrary, to give them an opportunity to work and earn a livelihood. On Sundays, Jews used to spend the whole day there in order to breathe some fresh air. We strolled and enjoyed a few hours there. I had not known anything about the story with her husband or about his deportation. Also, about the annoyances of Merin and his ilk, I knew nothing. She poured her heart out to me, telling me how lonely she was because she isolates herself from those surrounding her, the "playboys" who want to drag her onto a sinful path, to participate in the orgies of the "prominent". But, since so many eyes started to look at us, she suggested that we should go home. I took her home. She insisted that I have supper with her, but since night was quickly approaching, we made it fast, in order that I should have time to reach home before it got too late. Thus we started to meet more often to enjoy one another's company. She was very thankful to me because she had somebody to talk to and with whom to enjoy herself. I came to her house and she would, from time to time, come to me, where I was living.

Meanwhile, Moishe Merin found out that N.J. had become a friend of mine and that we often got together. Once, a business friend of Moishe looked me up, a certain C. He was a handsome fellow who was a high ranking Judenrat member. At the same time he was the "Don Juan" of the "White House", as the main quarter of the Judenrat was called. He started to question me about my relationship with this young woman and asked me if I would like to come with her for Bibkes and entertainment of the high ranking Judenrat in which Moishe himself participates. According to what he said, I realized that he wanted me to convince her to participate in the orgies of this gang. He also made it clear that rejecting Merin's friendship could have negative results, sometimes fatal ones, for her and her friends. I replied that I did not have ownership over anybody. She was not my wife nor my lover, only a close acquaintance who seeks my friendship and company. If she wants to enjoy herself in other company, to participate in their entertainments, I have no objections, but I would not force anything upon her and fool her to join their company because that is not my way.

Once, during a conversation with my friend, I told her, naturally, in a light form, about the intervention of Moishe's friend. Later, others also came "accidentally," wanting to prove to me that I should be a little more friendly to Merin because it does not pay to be on bad terms with him.

I told her that if she decided to meet with that crowd, she should not let me hold her back, because nothing ties me to her except normal friendship. She got upset, started to cry and slammed her hands on the table.

"I don't want to! I won't. Even if I knew that it means dying of hunger. I feel a terrible aversion to that whole gang! And you," she said, looking at me with so much gentleness and feeling, "if you are terrorized by Moishe, I can release you from our friendship and we can stop seeing one another." Here she already wanted to make a coward of me, a deserter. I embraced her and said:

"Perhaps you misunderstood me. I won't chase you away from me because I know how important I am to you at such a difficult, bitter time. I won't leave you even if I know that it will endanger my life, my very existence. I just wanted to tell you that since this is such a dangerous game, from which your husband has already become a victim and your freedom is also in danger, and perhaps so is your life, if you are willing to fill their request, but I stand in your way, I can withdraw from the scene and leave you free to deal with this and to decide. I can endanger my freedom but not your destiny."

Again she started to cry and cuddled up to me, as though wanting to become one with me.

A few days later, when my friend was in my house, we were so busy talking that we forgot to look at the clock. When we reminded ourselves of the police hour it was already too late for me to accompany her home, so we continued to sit and talk. We had also completely forgotten that one of my doors leads directly into the living quarters of the Jewish police kommandant. There they probably heard the voice of my friend who was still in my house. Before long we heard a commotion in the next room and amongst all the voices we also heard Moishe Merin. They were allowed to go about after the police hour because they were responsible for keeping order in the ghetto. I understood that this was not a chance visit and that my carelessness would cost me a lot.




I get a notice to report to the Dulag

The visit, that night, of my neighbour in the house, soon had its repercussions. A few days later I got a note from the Arbeitseinsatz to immediately appear in the Dulag (transfer lager). This meant that my turn had also arrived to be sent to a concentration camp. I understood that this was an act of revenge on the part of Moishe Merin who wanted to get rid of yet another one so that he would have the opportunity to abuse the woman who rejected him. At first it put me in a mood of revolt and I did not want to give in. I hid in the stock room of the glass shop of which I had the keys. I slept there, bedded on straw. The Jewish militia looked all over for me, even in the home of my friend. I let my relatives know that I had received a notice to report, but that I had hidden, indicating my place of hiding. If it was possible for them to do anything for me, they should see to do this. Two days later my uncle came to tell me that all interventions were of no avail. I was to report immediately, because otherwise my name would be given over to the Gestapo who would search for me until they will find me and then my fate will be sealed. I felt caged, with no way out. I understood something else: If I would voluntarily report, I might be sent to a work camp from which I might be able to save myself. However, if I was captured by the Gestapo, they could shoot me on the spot, or in the best case, send me to Auschwitz from where there would be very little chance to get out alive. Therefore, I decided to report to the Dulag.

March 1, 1943, I reported to the Dulag at 5 Skladova, where I found a mass of people waiting for their transport. The official registered me and I was locked in a building from which I had no way out. Below, in the street, in front of the assembly place, stood a large mass of people--elders, women and children, all confined, who were trying to glimpse their last view of their relatives whom they were likely never to see again. I looked out, hoping perhaps to see some of my relatives. I was astonished when I suddenly spotted, in this huge mass, my friend, who looked up. Her face looked pale and her eyes full of tears. When she saw me she took out a handkerchief and started to wave, throwing kisses my way. Though she was the cause of my being deported, I was not angry with her. I merely pitied her, knowing that the noose around her neck was tightening. She would not be able to fight much longer and would have to give in to the beasts who had encircled her. I knew that I had become a victim of this same "gang" but I had nothing with which to fight them, so there was no hope or power for me. I had to come to terms with my destiny. Let the waves carry me and see where they would lead me.

Two days after being locked into the crowded, dirty rooms, the time came for us to be transported. We were lined up in a long corridor. Our names were called out one by one and the necessary number for the transport was ready. It is interesting that, with all the troubles, when we saw that our end was drawing near, for we were being transported to a place from which there would be no return, and when everyone had to reply "Here!" when their name was called, one of the crowd decided to joke and answered, "Iber der hur" (This is a word play on "here" and "whore"). Everyone started to laugh. The SS did not understand what the laughter was all about. It puzzled them that under such dire conditions there should still be a desire to laugh.




We arrive at a slave labour camp

We were taken en route to Niederschlesien in locked freight trains, until we reached a shtetl Otmet, where we were placed in barracks. The following day we were led out in groups to work. The majority were put to work paving a road from Berlin to Moscow. I was assigned to a group who was sent to a large shoe factory where mainly women worked, because the men were sent to the front. However, we did not stay here very long. From there we were transported to another shtetl, neighbouring Gogolin, where we were regrouped, segregated, and a large number were sent to Ober-Lodzisk in Ober-Schlesien. This was a forced labour camp for Hoch Bau (construction). Here steel plants were being built. A group of German construction projects did their production here. The largest were: "Borsick" and "National". We were let out to work pre dawn and were led back to the camp at night, totally exhausted.

Our meal consisted of a watery soup, 200 grams of bread, sometimes a bit of margarine and sometimes a piece of horse salami. The work was very arduous. We had to carry iron beams, blocks, boards and sacks of cement, but the worst part was to climb up 59 and 60 meters and hang in the air while fitting the beams, which is very dangerous work for which one needs to be trained and experienced. The first time I went up my head started to spin, so that I nearly fell. I clung to the iron beams so as not to fall. It is a miracle that I got down safely. Some of my friends could not manage this. They got dizzy and fell down, getting killed on the spot. The second time I did not want to go up. I pleaded with the man in charge: "I can't go up because I get dizzy and am not capable of carrying out my job". He, angry like a wild animal, with rage in his eyes like a tiger, started to beat me so mercilessly that I had no choice but to go up a second time and sweat it out.

Sunday, we were free from work, however, if trainloads of material would arrive on that day we had to unload them. Sometimes a block of us were taken out to unload wagons of coal, iron or other building material. Mainly, though, we rested on Sunday. We would gather, chat, remind ourselves of home and reflect on our situation. Here I became acquainted with a French artist. If my memory serves me well, his name was Mincov. He made a portrait of me, with a piece of coal, in a few minutes. Here I also met the Parisian doctor, Avraham Suchodolsky, with whom I became good friends. He worked in the camp as a doctor so he would often arrange for me to have days of rest. This was called Schonung (absolved from work) so that I would not have to go to work. One day I got an abscess on my right foot, right on the sole, so that I could not walk. In the camp it was forbidden to be sick. There were no medicines and no time for healing. From the moment when such a worker was no longer able to work, he was not played around with but was sent directly to the gas ovens. Doctor Suchodolsky cut out the abscess with an ordinary blade, cleaned out the puss, and healed my wound. He was also fed slightly better than the regular slave labourers. He sometimes got a roasted potato and a piece of meat or a piece of liver salami. From this he always hid a portion for me. We lived like brothers. He also told me about his student years in Paris which I found very interesting. He revealed a new world to me which, until then, was completely strange. He also told me about his bride to whom he was engaged for a short time. I also told him about my life, episodes of my stormy youth. We became very close. Dr. Suchodolsky had an assistant, a clinician, an older man in his fifties. His name was Hollander from Chushanov. If I am not mistaken, he was an agent in the diamond trade and during the last year before the war, he lived in Belgium. He was a very fine Jew from a Hassidic family. Dr. Suchodolsky wanted to give me his position but I did not want this because it would have meant that because of me an older man would have had to do hard labour. When this Jew found out about this, he shook my hand in gratitude.

Once, on a Sunday in the spring of 1943, when it was a bright, sunny day, I felt like getting dressed a little more festively. At that time we still had our clothes and our things packed in suitcases. I took out a clean shirt, grey trousers, a jacket and a red tie. When we were strolling thus in the yard, the camp supervisor came out, a nobody, a little guy, crippled, with red hair and a large nose. He brought a few soldiers along with him to gather 30 men to go out that Sunday to prepare the garden, to plough and plant. He stayed the whole time to observe us working. I cannot say that I worked with much enthusiasm. It bothered me that the Sunday, day of rest, was being disturbed, after a week of hard labour. I moved leisurely. I guess this did not please the supervisor, or maybe he did not like my elegant appearance, so he started to pick on me, telling me that I was not working well. He started to poke me with his fist so I started to move faster, but this did not help either. It appears that my smart-looking jacket and red tie aroused him and he sought to humiliate me and show that I am a mere slave and that as such I should look accordingly. He made my life miserable. When I straightened out and stood up, he looked like a lilliputian to me. This made him even angrier because he suffered from a complex because he was so short in addition to being a cripple. I asked him, at this point, when I was already angry: "What do you want from me? I'm working speedily." I thought to myself that if I would take him on I would cripple him even worse, but, unfortunately, I had to control myself because for resisting I could be shot. When he heard my words he was further aroused and shouted: "You dare to get fresh? You're endangering yourself. I'll teach you how to work!!!" and he wanted to grab me, but not being able to reach my face, he grabbed my tie and tried to pull me down to his level. He actually tore my tie but didn't pull me down. As punishment for this he gave me a function to sweep the whole yard and half the street, only with a broom. Three soldiers guarded me to assure that I would carry out my punishment. I never wore my festive clothes again.



The work on the construction got more unbearable from day to day. Together with us there also worked British and French prisoners of war, but their situation was much better than ours. They got better food rations, lived in better barracks, and they also got food packages from the Red Cross. We, on the other hand, were treated like slaves who were made to work for a meager salary, to starve and have our bones broken. We were regarded as worms to be stepped upon. Once, this was after April 19, we noticed that we were regarded differently than before. Surprisingly, we were being treated with more regard and respect. We could not understand what had happened, what was the reason for this sudden change, because we were completely cut off from the outside world. When we looked out through the gates and saw people moving about freely, we envied them. How fortunate they were!

A few days later, at work, I met up with a Pole who was working on construction. He whispered in my ear: "Your brothers are fighting like lions in the Warsaw ghetto and are exacting large sacrifices from the occupier." After hearing such talk, I gathered my friends in the evening and told them the news. That night we fell asleep with a good feeling, since Jewish honour had been saved. We started to get used to the life of slaves in the labour camp. Often, on Sundays and at night, I would write poetry and make notes in my journal. After a while I also got lighter work, constructing barracks outside the factory. There, it was possible to "organize" a few potatoes, a piece of bread and a few cigarettes which I would sell for a piece of bread or some soup. I thought to myself that if we would be allowed to live through the war this way, perhaps we would survive. It was not a too severe regime. Later the situation got a lot worse when one from our camp ran away. His wife appeared one day in front of the camp, signaled to him and got him out. We started to be plagued, being held for hours for roll call and getting reduced rations. Security was also strengthened. We started to be forced to work faster and were severely punished for any little thing.

Outside it was spring. Summer followed, but for us it was as though we had chains on our arms and legs. Before dawn we were chased out to work. At night we were returned to the camp, exhausted, with swollen feet and empty stomachs. It was hard to fall asleep because our stomachs were empty but our eyes closed from fatigue.

Though we had no calendar, we kept track of the date and knew when it was a holiday. I remember when, on Shavuot of 1943, in the slave labour camp in Ober-Lodzisk, during the lunch break, after the bit of watery soup, one of us reminded himself that "today is Shavuot." Each of us let out a sigh as we reminded ourselves of home, family, and how, during the beautiful festival of Shavuot the house was fragrant with dairy baked goods and vegetables. We became reflective, dreamed and sank into thoughts, until we heard the harsh, dry voice of the boss, "Auf" (Get up) and woke from our reverie. We dragged ourselves bitterly and painfully to our slave labour.

It was Succot time when news reached us that the ghetto in Sosnowiec had been cleared out and all the Jews, with Moishe Merin at their head, had been liquidated. Many were glad that the liquidators themselves were liquidated--that they also, the "decorated" ones, met the same end as the others. Still, it was very painful because we realized that the Nazis were determined to carry out Hitler's plan of liquidating all the Jews to the very last one. We understood that our turn would also come. As soon as our last bit of blood would be extracted for the Nazi war machine, we would be liquidated.




The day arrives

On a cold November day, after deep snow had fallen during the night, we felt a change occurring when we were awakened in the morning. We were not led out to work but were told to wait in the barracks. We felt that something terrible was about to happen but nobody knew what. As soon as it became lighter outside we were given an order to pack our belongings and go outside. Immediately we saw a bunch of well-armed SS and at their head their commander, Lindner.

We were lined up, our names called out, and kept in line until the transport trucks arrived. We were then packed into the trucks and driven off to an unknown location. We soon recognized the area when we passed, Chrzanow and Szczakova, and we knew we were on the way to Auschwitz. In another few hours we reached a gate above which we read Arbeit Macht Frei, so we understood that our final day had arrived. We clung to one another like sheep before the slaughter. We were shoved into a large area where we had to throw our belongings onto a pile. Around us we saw people with striped clothing. There were also some civilians who spoke Yiddish; but it was a disgrace, this Yiddish that they spoke. This was language that one did not hear amongst the worst underworld characters.

They searched us for gold, dollars and valuables. "Hand over your money and gold, because anyhow you're going to the ovens," they told us. They cursed us with the worst curses and made trash of us. Afterwards the head Kapo, the notorious well-known "Pinkus", delivered a speech to us, each word striking us like a hammer blow. He himself was a Polish Jew who had lived in France. When he spotted Dr. Sukodolsky near me, whom he knew from the transfer camp for French Jews in Drancy, he greeted him with a special "Mi Sheberach" greeting. He could not forget that there Dr. Sukodolsky was active as a physician and he was a regular prisoner. He so scorned and insulted him, telling him that not only would he go up the chimney in smoke, but he would slowly torture him first. Sukodolsky clung to me, as though wanting to protect himself from the sharp arrows that Pinkus was thrusting his way. Meanwhile, he found others to curse and shout at, with foul language. At the same time his "boys from the Himmel Kommando" searched in the pockets, in the clothes and in the shoes, and took out everything of value.

We broke down in spirit. Our arms and legs buckled under. A command was then given for us to remove the shmates because we were going to be "deliced." In the air we could sense the strong aroma of lime, matches and gases. We felt as though we were in hell. We did not even feel the cold air that enwrapped our bodies because we were completely on fire. We were lined up, passed by a barber who shaved off all the hair on our body. The razor was dull so it was more like having one's hair pulled out, not shaved. Afterwards, we were herded into another area where there were pipes which showered us with cold water. From there we were chased outside in the snow and told to run quickly to the accompaniment of curses and blows. We ran thus, in the snow, for around 400 meters, until we were chased into another area where each of us was thrown a package of apparel. These were the garments of those who had just been gassed. Each one got whatever it happened to be. A tall one got short pants and an undersized top while a short one got long pants and an oversized top from which he fell out.

When we looked at one another, we had to laugh at this tragi-comical situation. Later, I thought: How is it possible that we did not get sick, did not get inflammation of the lungs, running naked and barefoot in the snow after a shower? People dropped like flies. Only the healthy ones endured, because they were burning with anger so they did not feel the cold and snow. The weak, the old and the children had already been led off because upon arrival we had been lined up five across and inspected by Dr. Mengele and his staff. He eliminated the weak ones, keeping only those with muscles and capable of working for some time. The weak ones were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Mengele decided their fate with a movement of his finger. From his eyes there sprang a terrifying cold fire, mixed with a thin smile.

Near me stood two people. At my right, a boy of 17 by the name of Urbach, from Jaworzno, and on my left, the Belgian Jew, Hollander, who was 50 plus. These two were immediately taken out of line and I remained. They were sent directly to the Himmel Kommando. We were led off to have numbers tattooed on our arms and afterwards put into blocks at Birkenau, which was also a quarantine camp. I was assigned to Block 8 on a top bunk, together with another five people. We found ourselves like in a pen. There were three-level bunks on two sides and in the middle a stove of sorts to heat the barrack which looked more like a horse stable. Around the stove the Stuben Eltster (house elder) ran back and forth. Both he and his helpers made sure that the "animals are properly settled in their "stalls.""

Those who did not please him, or who did not feel well on their bunks, crowded like sardines in a can, he called out, pulled them down from their bunks and put on the enclosed long bench and there beat them so long, or pounded them with his feet, until they let out their last breath. Afterwards they were tossed out of the barrack like old rags. In the morning a cart collected all the dead and took them to be incinerated.




The first day in hell

I lay on the bunk like dead and violated. I felt downtrodden physically and mentally and had one wish: to die! To die as quickly as possible so that my suffering would come to an end because my life no longer had any worth. I could not fall asleep because I was so enraged, having lived through so much. The terrible scenes that I had witnessed all day kept replaying themselves in my mind. The experience of that one day was more than anyone could bear even the course of a year. When I had passed the gate with the overhead sign Arbeit Macht Frei (Labour Liberates), I already felt that I had entered the lion's mouth. I saw the barbed wire fence which was charged with high voltage electricity. I saw the watchtowers every ten meters, heavily guarded by the SS bandits who kept their fingers ready on their machine gun triggers and saw the guards with their wild dogs on chains. I realized that it is impossible to get out of here alive. What hurt even more was to meet up with the so called Jewish "helpers" who were there, exactly such slaves as we were, but who had come some time before and who had put themselves at the service of the Nazi murderers, helping them torture, humiliate and step on their own brothers and sisters. They themselves had become beasts and let the most lowly instincts rule over them.

I could not forget the crooked ugly face of the block elder of "Zogder Block" whose people were the ones responsible for receiving and sorting the new arrivals from the transports. In this command they only accepted people with tough character, brutal types, who had no feelings or sentiments. The weaker characters were liquidated immediately, and sent to the gas chambers, but the block elder, Pinkus--if I am not mistaken, his name was Pinkus Chmelnitsky, who came with the French transport, was the most notorious of all, a genuine sadist who enjoyed causing suffering to his victims and drawing their blood. Perhaps that was a reaction to the hopeless situation in which people found themselves. They could see what was happening to the H”ftlingen, that sooner or later everyone would be gassed and burnt, that there is no way out of here.

Since they were despondent and without hope, the Nazis gave a chance to those of low scruples who stood out for their heartlessness, to help torture others, even their own brothers. They were given an opportunity to let out their bitterness and desperation by beating and making others suffer, thereby helping the camp heads torture and liquidate the captured ones. Themselves being desperate and destined to die, they imagined that they still had strength, are still powerful, when they were capable of making others suffer, unloading their pain and bitterness on weak and powerless people.

For those in this block it was better than for others. For the time being they were left alone. They were fed better. They could dress elegantly, in the best clothing, suits, shoes, which remained from the people who were gassed, often wealthy and elegant persons. The more they tortured and beat the new arrivals, the better the SS treated them, because they carried out their functions. Pinkus, a "pip-squeak", fat, with a disfigured body, was dressed like a lord, in a new striped suit which made his crippled body more obvious, a pair of shiny shoes and an ironed shirt. His eyes were bloodshot like a bloodthirsty hound dog. His voice was somewhat hoarse. He must have been from the underworld because his vocabulary was so thoroughly vulgar that even a Cossack would blush from it. He cursed endlessly. His helper, a certain Ziduna, a Jew from Lodz, also excelled in his bestiality and cruelty. The transports that were sorted when they arrived were those who had been selected to work in the camp. They then became the responsibility of the Jewish murderers. They stole everything from the people, carried out the "sanitary" operations, and divided the people into blocks. The camp commander, the SS stormtrooper, Schilinger, stood and observed how speedily his Jewish servants were working. Pinkus walked around always looking for another victim to strike with his stick with all his strength. Meanwhile, he looked at his patron to see if he is pleased.

"Alle antreten" (All line up), he called out, making sure that he was making an impression. Then followed another order: "Four in a row! You dreck-sack! (Bag of shit). "Faster, faster you dogs! You never were soldiers, only merchants. Here you'll learn discipline. Soon I'll give you an example of discipline," and passing through the rows of new arrivals Pinkus would kick the one who was not standing straight, probably because he was in pain, not knowing what was happening to him. With his boot the kick would be to the belly, and below the belly, so that the unfortunate one would fall down.

"Aufstehen, du dreck-sack!" (Stand up, you bag of shit!), would come a command from Pinkus, and if he did not get up immediately, his helper dragged him away, never to be seen again. Then further commands came:

"M¸tzen ab! (Down!). M¸tzen auf!" (Up).

It had to happen quick as lightening. Those who could not follow the commands were immediately weeded out. When he got tired of commanding, he started speaking in such foul language that any decent person lowered their eyes. He disgraced humanity, destroying everyone's morale, and turned himself into a gruesome hangman. His abusive talk had a worse effect than his blows because it degraded and humiliated the people and broke them mentally. He made garbage of people, rags. The SS stood and rolled with laughter. Many people clutched their fists and felt like striking and tearing him apart, but as soon as he or his helpers noticed this look on a face, they immediately pulled that person out and finished him off. He continued this spectacle with "M¸tzen ab! M¸tzen auf!" until the Nazis tired of it, then he commanded:

"Stillstand! Z”len!" (Stand still! Count!), and he gave a report to the camp head, Schilling, and then back to the victims with his hoarse voice: ""Der ganze mist --Um! -- Marschieren!" (This garbage, -- turn around and march).

Also, I could not forget the cynical eyes of Mengele who, with a gesture of a finger, decided the fate of people. Actually, there was no difference, because the others who were still allowed to live were also going to be put to death. It was only a matter of drawing out their last bit of blood. Here, too, the Nazis had their calculations. By dividing the people of the transports, they wanted to create the illusion that people can save themselves from death if they will work speedily. This way the urge to revolt was subdued because they did not want the people to become so outraged that they would resist.

After the quarantine, there were hardly more than twenty percent of the people who arrived in the transports. People broke down from the hard work, hunger and beatings. Selections were always taking place. People were chased out into the street, stripped of their clothes, and examined to see if they were still fit for work. Those who had boils, scabies and wounds were immediately taken out of line and away to Block 7 or directly to the gas chambers. Most got sick with pneumonia, diarrhea and other illnesses as a result of undernourishment and loss of blood. Many of the people were also used for medical experiments, injected with various substances, to see what would happen to the human body's system. Many died on the spot, so they were thrown outside where the Leiben Kommando later removed them. Medical experts came from all over Germany to use people as guinea pigs for their experiments to discover ways to poison or heal people.




Block 7

Block 7, which was the most fearsome place in the camp, was right next to our block. Anyone who entered that block did not come out alive. There was virtual hell. It was called the Lazaret, but in actuality it was the death block. The people in that block already belonged to the Himmel Kommando. Here, one could see the living dead who were waiting in line to succumb to death. People struggled with death there. Bodies were covered with sores, high fevers were burning them and they were gagging on their last breath. On all sides one could hear groaning and pleas for water. The brutal, heartless male house managers tore the shoes off the sick who still had a breath of life in them, all the time shouting in German: "You son of a bitch, hand over your shoes. What do you now need your shoes for? You're going to the Himmel Kommando anyhow." Even the piece of bread was taken away from them. This was told to me by someone who was also in Block 7 and who was saved by a miracle. An acquaintance of his from Paris noticed him, a young man whom Mengele had castrated, after performing experiments on him. In Paris he had been a butcher. He was young and handsome. His work in Block 7 was to bring the dead and the sick to the crematoriums. He also gathered the dead from the other blocks and brought them to be burnt. He recognized him and started to sob bitterly. He told him what had happened to himself and this totally wrecked his morale. He became like an animal with no feelings. He showed him his strong hands and said: "If I could choke someone with these hands, ignite the whole world, I would gladly do so." He promised, however, to save his friend. During the next selection, when the block head had to provide a number of victims for the gas chambers and crematoriums, emptying nearly the whole block, his friend threw him on top of a pile of corpses and half-dead ones, and covered him with dead bodies. The sick tried to get up, wanting to save themselves, but no longer had the strength to stand up, so they were thrown down and piled on the dead corpses. When everyone was already carried away to the freight trains to be taken to the crematorium, the acquaintance came back and pulled him out from amongst the dead, thus saving him from death.

He also told how the sick were taken to the gas chamber. He watched the horrible scene from a hiding place. The trains arrived, with an SS officer at the head, elegantly clad, with white gloves. The blockhead and his helpers stood and waited for an order. The German asked them cynically: "Have the sick received their rations of bread and salami which is for the trip? You're being taken to a sanatorium for the sick." Some of the sick wailed: "No, I didn't get , I didn't get"... At this the Nazi reprimanded the block elder and his helpers: "You bitch, how dare you withhold from the sick the bread and salami. Give it to them right away!" A hustle erupted in the block. The portions of the sick were brought out and distributed. The SS looked at the victims and said, "Distribute everything, you swine! I'll get even with you later."

And to the sick he said: "Now are you satisfied?"

"Yes, yes," everyone answered happily.

And to the block head and helpers he ordered:

"Let the sick slowly and carefully get on the train. No shoving."

That is how the victims were loaded onto the trains and the storm trooper then commanded:

"Start off, but slowly."

In a few hours the rags of the gassed ones were brought back to be washed in readiness for the new victims.

It was very rare for anyone to come out alive from Block 7. People were not healed there but were left to die a painful death. The lice ate them up alive. Around the lights one could see whole processions of lice which sucked out the last bit of blood from the victims. The block was always over full with the sick. There was nowhere to lie down. On one bunk lay five to six sick who became sicker from contagion one from the other. Those suffering from typhus were put together with those with diarrhea and diphtheria. There were no doctors, or if there were, they were not used and there certainly were no medicaments, so the sick were left to die, enduring terrible suffering, until they were finally relieved of their dog-like existence.

Often, the dead lay for two days on their bunks before being removed, because the block head wanted to cash in on their bread rations and the piece of horse salami. When there was no more room on the block the sick were dumped in the yard of Block 7, in the cold, under the sky. Hundreds of people were there, suffering from pain and burning with high fever. They cried, begging for a bit of water to ease their burning tongue and lips. The painful gaze of the unfortunate ones cut like knives. Many of them became convulsive. Others simply lay around motionless, like living dead. People did not have the strength to commit suicide by dragging themselves to the electric barbed wires, but they prayed to die. One man tried, with his gnarled hands, to shove a stone into his mouth in order to choke himself, but he had no strength and the stone kept falling out of his trembling hands. Many of the sick got diarrhea and it poured from them, causing a foul stench.

There was no water for washing, nor clean laundry to change into, so the lice, fleas and bedbugs multiplied and could be brushed off by the handful. Around 80 percent of the camp inmates got sick with dysentery which was caused by the poor nourishment which lacked fats and vitamins, but people avoided going to the doctor because that meant being sentenced to death. People tried to help themselves in their own way with whatever means they could contrive, but every few days there were selections, so as soon as the doctor noticed anyone's clothes stained with human excrement, he understood that the person was sick with diarrhea and sent him immediately to Block 7 and from there to the crematorium. There were others who had typhus, malaria, swellings, which were caused by dystrophy. Besides, they suffered acutely from scabies as a result of the filth, crowding and dreadful hygienic conditions. Yellow skin, covered with sores could be seen, eczema and what not. The sick were robbed of their meager rations of food by the block aides. Anyhow, the people were destined for death, so why waste the food, they thought. They sold the food rations for cigarettes or whisky. And so it was that the Kapos, block heads, functionaries and their helpers were dressed well, with striped suits and shiny boots, while the masses, the captured ones, starved from hunger.

Every person was allowed 350 grams of bread per day. True, the bread in the camp was awful, a mixture of flour and sawdust, but one was supposed to exist on this for a whole day. The block heads and Kapos divided up the 1400 grams of bread into 6-8 portions instead of into 4 portions, so each person got approximately 200 grams of bread per day. Each one was supposed to get a liter of soup per day also. It was supposed to be potato soup, with the meat of bones, but the "prominent" took the potatoes and the soup for themselves, leaving only the liquid, containing weeds and grasses, for the others, so from day to day there were more and more sick and starving people. Not only was there nothing with which to wash, nor water to drink, but there were also no eating tools--no bowls nor spoons--so everyone waited to be handed the dirty bowl from the previous person and taking it to his mouth, would drink the necessary water that was left. This should have dampened our sensory instincts, but it only caused abscesses in our mouths and made us otherwise sick too. Still, people waited impatiently for the bit of soup to warm their innards. It would often happen that when the house aide was bringing the pot of soup to the blocks, he would be attacked by skin and bone people (muselm”nner) who were intoxicated by the smell of the soup, and they could not control themselves so they ran to the pots and with their caps helped themselves to some soup in order to somewhat quiet their terrible hunger.

Often, actions would be taken against these and they would be locked in a barrack where they were deprived, for a few days, of food and drink and later led off to the gas chambers and crematoriums. Due to poor nourishment and lack of vitamins, people's bellies got swollen. So did their arms and legs, until it affected their brain. People went crazy and started to act wild until they were caught, bound and led away to the gas chambers. Later, when they were removed from the gas chambers, they were stored in a storage room where wood was cut, until their turn came for the crematorium. The infirmary workers did nothing to help the sick, on the contrary. It helped spread the sickness and increased the fatality rate. This was truly a liquidation camp where everything possible was done to root out and liquidate the people. There were enough doctors in the blocks but there was no interest in using them to heal the sick. Instead, they were left to endure terrible suffering and die. In Block 7 there were on an average 800 sick people. From these around 150 concentration camp inmates died daily. The sick did everything to avoid getting placed in Block 7 because from there hardly anyone ever got out alive. They went to work with fever, struggled in the mud and dirt, but did not want to report that they were ill because then they would instantly be sentenced to die.





Life in the blocks in Birkenau

The supervisor of the block was the block head who was the absolute ruler over 800-l000 slaves. He could do with them whatever his heart desired. The majority of them were Germans or Poles who were imprisoned in the concentration camps for major crimes. They wore green outfits which signified that they were criminals, murderers or robbers. Such a block head had at his disposal one or two young rogues who were called pipl. They were used for sexual means. The pipl lived together with him in his "boudoir" at the entrance of the block. He fed, clothed and protected him, exactly like a "lover." It was too bad for anyone who dared say a bad word to such a pipl. He was right up there, next to the "king." It was enough for him to point to someone who insulted him and that person was immediately removed from his bunk and finished off in front of the whole block. He was placed laying down, on a fireplace. A rod was put on his neck, and aids were put to step on each side of the rod so long until he was choked.

The pipl were so cruel that they often turned into sadists and sought their own victims for their enjoyment and to satisfy their low instincts. The block head used to walk around every evening, accompanied by his pipl and the house aide, and they would hunt out victims. It was enough for someone to catch their eye, one whose face they did not like, and he would be removed from the bench and made to suffer so long until he was dead. They particularly had their eyes out for handsome youths, healthy boys, because such were handsomer and stronger than them and this hurt their pride.

The very first night when we were brought to the block, when we were still like in chicken coops, the block head felt like putting on a performance. He gathered a few professional actors, musicians and singers, and commanded them to perform something. There were a few actors from Berlin, a few violinists and a few singers. Though I saw it all as though through a mist, I recall how the actors mounted a scene from the Crimilonka (a well known place in Berlin). It was a true farce which made the block head, his pipl and the house aides laugh till they held their sides. There was also a German-Jewish fiddler, a virtuoso. If I am not mistaken, his name was Schpitz. He played with so much feeling that the tones came out with all their sweetness. It is hardly possible to describe what an impression this made on us all who were lying there hurt, despised and ridiculed, crowded like herrings, and here theatre was being performed. This was as though a joke was being played on the victims, as though teasing their feelings. With beaten up crippled limbs, with high fever, and an empty stomach, we had to look at this spectacle. This was simply mocking the unfortunates. One of the victims fell asleep and started to snore. He was pulled down from his bunk, pulled into a corner, and made quiet for all eternity. He had insulted "art". The artist has not yet been born who can paint such a picture: A few hundred slaves, with shaved heads, terrified eyes, feverish faces, looking out from three levels of bunks to a humorous spectacle.

The following day, 4:30 before dawn, we were already awakened. Right away we had to get down from our bunks and go out of the block. Anybody who did not go quickly got beaten on the head with a stick. As a result everyone wanted to get ahead of the next person. Some got thrown down and many people, those who could not move quickly, were trampled on. In a corner there was a pile of dead who had died during the night. Fresh dead were constantly being added to the pile from those who had just been trampled to death. Soon there was a shout


"Apell! Apell! Los, los antreten"(Roll call, roll call! Line up). We lined up in long rows and waited to be counted. Sometimes, we could wait for hours until the top officer came and took the report. In the meantime, the block head walked around, together with the Kapos and the block helpers, quite pleased with themselves, as they guarded the slaves. Anyone who was not standing straight in the row, who happened to bend or stand crooked, was taken out of line and never seen again. When the top officer came, a thunderous voice from the block head shouted: "Achtung, m¸tzen ab!" (Attention, caps off!), and he gave his report which consisted of the number of concentration camp inmates alive, the number of dead, and the number of sick who await a transport. If someone of the block was missing we all had to remain standing until he was found, either alive or dead. If he was still alive, he was soon dead anyhow.




The work in Birkenau camp

The Birkenau camp was supposedly just a transfer camp, a sort of quarantine camp. In actuality it was an extermination camp. It was very rare to come out from that hell alive. There were a few in command there, mainly those who received the new victim arrivals each day on trains and transports. As soon as the transports arrived, often from Western Europe, with finely dressed men, women and children, with their suitcases, as though they were tourists, they were greeted with stick beatings and humiliations. It was the Sonder Kommando who received them and took them to the selection. At the selection, a small number of young, healthy males and females were left as workers. The rest, older men and women with young children and minors, were immediately taken to the gas chambers. From 60-90 percent of the transports went straight to their death. The remainder were handed over to the Kanada Kommando which was led by the notorious Pinkus.

They took away all the suitcases, clothing, underwear and shoes from the new arrivals. They were sorted and hidden in the "Effects Rooms." The others, who were assigned to the gas chamber and crematoriums, were under the charge of the Sonder Kommando. Those victims who were assigned for work by the SS generally did not live longer than three months. They were liquidated and a new group replaced them. The members of the Sonder Kommando were isolated from the others. They lived in separate barracks, isolated and surrounded by barbed wire. They were not allowed to speak with anyone. They were directly under the political division. They were better fed and clad.

This Kommando consisted of 800-1000 people. As soon as they knew too much and got a little wiser, they were rounded up and killed. Those who were appointed by the SS to carry out the work, if they wavered or refused to do the work, were led straight to the gas chambers. That is how 100 Jews from Corso and 100 from Greece, who refused to carry out the commands, were annihilated the very same day. Once a rebellion took place in the Sonder Kommando when they wanted to explode the gas chambers and crematoriums. They succeeded in killing and burning a number of SS but the rebellion was squelched and nearly all of them lost their lives in the attempt. There were some kommandos who used some of the victims for skilled work: Carpenters, bricklayers, farmers and war industry workers, but most were occupied with non-productive work. They carried sand and stones from one place to another. While doing so, they were hit and pushed. They wore wooden clogs, sometimes too narrow and sometimes too large, so their feet got rubbed and they developed blisters from which their feet got swollen in the cold.

Suddenly, a gang of SS would arrive with sticks and clubs, accompanied by wild dogs and they would attack the hungry and naked slaves. The dogs would tear people apart, and others were shot for sport. Once, a transport arrived with Jews from Italy. They entered the camp singing. Each one was good looking, tall and straight, like film actors, but they immediately stopped singing. In no time at all they fell like flies. The Eastern European Jews were used to hard times so they were tougher and more resistant, but the Western European ones, like those from Italy, Holland and Hungary, who had lived amongst highly intellectual and civilized nations, could not survive the troubles and beatings and broke down right away from the tortures, both physically and morally. From all the Italian Jews only one remained as a sample. He was the son of the Fiumer rebbe who also came originally from Eastern Europe. Birkenau was a liquidation camp where all torture methods were used to put the people to death. They were brought down through physical and mental torture. After being in the camp a few weeks, without food, without hygienic provisions and inhuman working conditions, it was natural for them to fall apart. Then every few days new selections would take place when the weak ones would be carted off to the gas chambers. Birkenau was not a labour camp. It was an extermination camp.




A strange meeting in hell

People would, by chance, meet friends or acquaintances whom one could hardly recognize. Once, I met an acquaintance from the shtetl Apt which was near Ostrowiec. His name was Mordchelle Bernstein. Through his auspices, American Jews would sometimes send support to their relatives in the shtetls. I knew him very well because he was a friend of my relatives who also used to receive, through him, dollars from America. Upon entering the latrine, I met him and rejoiced greatly to see him. He gave me the tragic news about my mother with whom he was deported in the shtetl Tzoizmir (Sandomierz) when Ostrowiec and Opatow were liquidated. My mother was sent from there with a transport to Treblinka where she probably perished after much suffering. He was sent, with a different transport, to Auschwitz. Once, when the SS murderers came with their dogs and we ran in confusion, I bumped into a man whom I knew very well. He was a neighbour of mine, an owner of a large house and a giant grocery business in Sosnowiec, by the name of Zendel from 2 DeKerta Street. He was a very wealthy man, but a big miser. It was impossible to ever extract any money from him for a good cause. He was always busy, never had time to talk to anybody. Before dawn, when we went to work, Zendl was already busy with his warehouse. Late at night, when people returned home, they would spot him still occupied in his store. When someone came to ask for a donation, he chased them away. "Scram, you idle ones. Don't you see that I have no time?" he would say.

Later, I found out that he had sewn into his clothes and comforters large cash sums and gold, dollars and jewelry. All this was later thrown on the pile in the "Effects Room." When I suddenly spotted this Zendl, running like a pursued animal, a devilish anger arose in me and I called out in a voice that did not seem to belong to me, but as though it was bursting from me: "So Zendl, now you have time!" I immediately regretted my words but at the moment I could not help myself. The bitter reaction came of itself. His face showed his sorrow and despondency. I never saw him after that.

Although we were so close to the crematoriums, we were never allowed to approach the "slaughter houses." To that zone one could only enter never to come out again. We only saw the smoke from the chimneys and smelled the fumes of the zyklon gas and cremated flesh. A friend of mine, Simon Foigelgaren, who was called "Max" in the camp, had come in 1942 with the French transports. He told me the story about something he had witnessed and something I will never forget. I will try to retell it here as a witness if I will be capable of remembering it all. Coming out of Block 7, from where a friend of mine rescued me, I was assigned to Block 9. The block head was Ludwig and the house aide was Myetik Greenbaum. I was assigned to the planning kommando. The Kapo was a Pole from Galicia whose name I do not remember. The kommando consisted of over 200 of us. The foreman was a Jewish boy who had only one hand. How they allowed him in the camp with one hand is a mystery to the present day.

The Kapo, as I later found out, was, or rather convinced himself, an honest murderer. His "prime minister" was this boy with one hand. He did everything this other one requested. Apparently they were both from the same city, somewhere near Krakow. The slaves of the kommando were divided up to do various planning work, to level the land, to fill up holes, level hilly ground, etc. I ended up in the main division of the kommando where one could always find the Kapo together with his Jewish foreman. The divisions worked not far from one another so that when the time came to return to the camp everybody could quickly gather together. The Kapo always controlled the division and afterwards came back to his headquarters where his "lover" took over for him. This boy (I call him that because he was still very young), had intended to be a yeshiva student. He always had a little Siddur with him and a Book of Psalms, into which he always glimpsed. He also did not forget to supervise the unfortunate slaves. If he saw somebody standing for a minute, to pause for a moment of rest, he immediately called him over and made him stand, not saying a word to his victim. This way he could collect between 10-15 victims in a day, until the Kapo came. When the Kapo came, the victims were still kept standing until the pot of soup was brought at noon, watery as the soup was.

I can never forget the scene: The pot in the middle, from which steam rose, was the focus of all the hungry and thirsty. They looked at it as though it was the Messiah. The Kapo and his "Second to the king", stood near the pot and around them all the fortunate ones who had the good fortune to get a bit of soup. The Kapo, in Polish and a broken Yiddish, pointed to the "criminals" who were being sent to their death for not working speedily. That was why they had to be eliminated with a stick at their throat and then chocked like mice. He encouraged the kommando, saying that today everyone would receive an "addition" from the portion that would remain from those who were being punished. He also apportioned two liters of soup for those who would volunteer for the job of liquidating the sentenced ones. The boy, the "prime minister," kept studying his sacred texts, as though nothing had happened. We were all being teased and bewildered at what was happening. The victims were standing in a state of shock, awaiting their execution. What was going on in the hearts of the "witnesses" can hardly be imagined. On the one hand they sympathized with the doomed ones, but on the other, they certainly wanted the extra bit of soup. It is hard to ascertain what feeling was the strongest.

The Nazi liquidation system had resulted in the people becoming like beasts. Every human feeling was eliminated. While everyone was thus standing, the camp elder suddenly walked by. He was a German helper, a political prisoner. He also was known as a murderer who certainly deserved no praise. Observing the kommando standing in suspense, he called to the Kapo and asked him what was going on. The Kapo explained to him that it is a matter of workers who have sabotaged the work and have to be liquidated. The camp elder suddenly started to shout: "Quatsch! Du dreck. Sofort das essen austeilen." (Quatsch! You dreck, start dishing out the food immediately) To the Kapo he said, "You give me your word that nothing will happen to the H”ftling. If anything happens then you go to the 'Punishment Block'!" The Kapo and his religious helper were dumbfounded. They started to dish out the soup. Maybe there were some who regretted not getting the extra bit of soup, but the majority were satisfied, happy with the outcome. A spark of hope was lit in everyone's heart that perhaps all is not lost. That time I ate the dirty soup with such an appetite, as though I had won my freedom.

The following day, my friend continued, I wanted to get into a different kommando, but it was so destined that I ended up in the same group. I again lived through a very tragic episode which left me unnerved. I have already told about the Kapo and his Jewish helper. Nearly every day there were dead from the kommando. Our destiny depended on the mood of the Kapo and the boy with the sacred texts. Many tried to save themselves by getting into other kommandos, but the Kapo always grabbed new victims whom he found right after roll call, in order to complete his contingent. He sought them out from the new arrivals. The religious boy had a particular "eye" on me. He watched me very carefully and made sure I was in the head kommando, together with the Kapo and him, so that he could observe whether or not I was working speedily. Among the new arrivals were two men, a father and a son, as I later found out. It was very curious to everyone, the treatment they got from the Kapo and his helper. They were continually whispering and pointing to these two with great respect. We gave them extra places for sleeping, light work assignments and generally treated them respectfully.

The Kapo ran out with a h”ftling and came back right away with a chapter of the Book of Exodus from the Hebrew Bible which both of them had gathered near the latrine where there were piles of Torah Scrolls, Gemaras, phylacteries, prayer books, holiday prayer books, and so on. The father and son stuck it together, wiped off the dirt, and wrapped it up the way one wraps a newborn child. A change had come over the Kapo. He ran into the kitchen, brought special food for them: an onion, a carrot, a few potatoes and some boiled water, which was a rarity in the camp. They didn't eat the camp soup, neither did they work. Instead they devoted themselves to prayers all day. Nobody could approach them. The Kapo placed a special guard to make sure that no superior is coming to the kommando to grab them and punish them. One day and a second day passed and there were no dead ones.

I tried to get closer to them because this intrigued me, but the religious boy chased me away. He watched me carefully. Days passed this way. In the camp there was talk that the planning kommando is the best in the camp. Everyone wanted to get into it. We were confronted by a riddle and asked, What has happened? What sort of an influence did the father and son have on this notorious one? What sort of merit do these two people have that they were capable of exerting such an influence on the Kapo and cause him to change so much for the better and conduct himself so humanely towards them? As it later turned out, the old Jew was the rebbe in the same Galician shtetl where the Kapo had lived. He was very well known and respected by the whole population, even by the Christians. There he was called "The Holy Father" and many Poles asked him for advice. The Kapo recognized the father and son in Block l6, the death block of children and Dutch Jews, and he brought them right over to his kommando.

Their arrival actually revived us because the Kapo changed completely. He became more humane and understanding, and did not drive his slaves so hard at work. Things lasted this way for some time. The Kapo supplied them with food so that they would not have to eat the non-kosher soup from the pot and the blood salami. No more people were killed and no more dead were brought into the camp. The Messiah's era. But, one day, the Kapo got an order from the Schreib Stube that he should prepare a section of a field near Post 18, which was not far from the crematorium. The Kapo told us that anything we may see or hear from the crematorium we should keep to ourselves. We must not comment or tell anyone.

Between Post 18 in the crematorium and gas chambers, there used to be, before the crematoriums were built, large pits near where many people were shot and later thrown in, together with some who were still alive. These pits were later covered with lime. At times the hair of the buried ones could still be seen sticking out of the ground. From time to time the earth would heave as during an earthquake, from the warm blood of the victims. Later the dead would be exhumed and burned in the crematoriums. It was these holes that had to be filled and the ground leveled. The planning kommando was given the order to carry out this work. Because the Kapo had warned not to take note of what was going on there, everyone concentrated their eyes and ears on the crematoriums and gas chambers to find out what precisely was happening there. It did not take long before we had a chance to see the indescribable scenes which, even today, shatter the nerves and make one's blood gush to one's head. Each one who recalls the scene must revolt against everything and everybody.

The Kapo suddenly disappeared, leaving his substitute, the religious boy with his sacred texts. It didn't take long, though, and the Kapo returned. He called the boy over. They whispered to one another and then ordered us to move back a distance in the direction of the post. From here, also, we could see the crematorium. Suddenly, we saw the Sonder Kommando running. We heard orders of the Nazi murderers and saw SS running, as well as Ukrainians, Volksdeutsche and Gestapo, who encircled the whole place. This was soon followed by the arrival on the Lager Strasse, of transportation wagons filled with people. Soon we also heard the crying of children blended with the shouts of the murderers. The first transportation wagon of children between the ages of 5-7 arrived. A command was heard and the children were thrown out the way bags of coal or potatoes would have been dumped, the way garbage is dumped. The children were crying out for their mothers. The mournful cries reached to heaven. The children were pleading in Polish, French and German. Their cries are indescribable.

We saw the Sonder Kommando actually throwing the children into the crematorium, saw how the SS quieted the children with blows, splitting their heads open with rifles. The Nazi murderers shouted: "Shnell, shneller mit dem mist!! Schmeist rein den dreck!!!" (Quickly, faster with the garbage!! Pack the dreck in!!!). The ground actually shook from the screams of the children. The Kapo stretched out on the ground and told us to do the same, but still we could see and hear what was happening at the crematoriums and the blood froze in our veins. A second and third transport wagon arrived, also full of children and the same happened to them. The terrified screams of the children who were so murderously killed will never be forgotten by all those who witnessed all this. We also heard the beastly laughter of the post guards of the towers who calmly watched as this horrible spectacle took place. Suddenly, we heard a choked mournful outburst from our kommando. I looked around and saw how our rabbi and his son arose and stretched out their arms towards heaven and called out with all their strength:

"Reboinoi shel olom "(Lord of the Universe) vu bistu?" (Where are you?). "Vi kanstu tzukuken un shveigen?!" (How can you witness this and remain silent?!). "Nein, nein Yidn, es iz nishto kein Got!!" (No, no, fellow Jews. There is no God!!)

His voice cracked with tears. The Kapo ran over quickly, trying to calm their outcry. They tossed themselves about convulsively but could no longer scream. It shook us all through and through. None of us will ever forget this. The screams and wails are enshrined in our hearts forever.

It did not take long and it got quiet after these terrible goings on at the crematoriums. It calmed down there like after a storm and earthquake. The guards went away. The transport wagon trains probably left to bring fresh victims. Only single members of the Sonder Kommando could be seen cleaning up the place and sweeping up the remaining things such as children's shoes and clothing.

"Aufstehen!" (Get up!) our Kapo, who, himself was broken down from the scene and the incident of the rebbe and his son, called out. With all his strength he tried to lift up the two faint bodies, but suddenly a voice was heard from the post of his watch tower:

"Kapo, komm mal her! Was hat da passiert!"

("Kapo, come here! What just happened?")

The Kapo, with his broken German, tried to calm the guard but without success. He had to drag the two fainted bodies to the guard post. The Kapo had to step aside and a volley of bullets made an end to the two victims, the rebbe and his son. The volley resounded and pierced everyone's heart with pain. The Kapo, in a whisper, as though talking to himself, said:

"Bojeh, bojeh mai," (God, my God), and he broke down. The boy continued to look in his sacred texts and muttered some prayers.

The Kapo, in a broken voice, babbled: "Weiter machen!" (Continue the work). This murderer, to whom it was nothing new to see someone murdered or a human life snuffed out, broke down this time. A humane response awakened within him. He could no longer take charge of the kommando and handed it over to his representative, the religious boy. He helped carry the two dead bodies of the father and son. At the tower he announced, in a broken voice: "Planning Kommando, the number of helpers and two dead. The watchmen at the gate cast a mocking glance at the two dead bodies and an audacious laugh could be heard from the beasts who turned and shouted: "Weiter marschieren" (Continue marching).




I break down

The atmosphere at Birkenau had a catastrophic effect on me. I was more broken morally than physically. Turning people into worthless garbage, to be walked over and thrown about like dogs, broke me down entirely. I saw and felt that our work was not necessary here at all but they simply wanted to torture and liquidate us. The work was not constructive. The only goal was to hound us, to drive us and torture us until we would die. I believed that none of us would survive this hell. Some sooner, some later, but the same death awaited us all. The food was miserable. Not only was it without fat or meat, just a bit of watery soup, but even this was insufficient for a well person who went around all day with an empty stomach.

There were not even enough bowls for the soup. Spoons were not necessary, as there was no thickness to the soup, so each one waited for the other to borrow a dirty bowl into which the block head or his representative threw a bit of soup. If someone did not have a bowl ready on time, then one got no soup unless that person wanted to get the soup in his cap. The hygienic conditions were also horrible because we could never get washed. As soon as we were awakened in the morning, it was hell on earth, with beatings and hounding. It was rare to be able to get a handful of water. The lucky one who did get a handful could merely smear his face to freshen up a bit but not to wash himself. The lice started to multiply and suck our blood. Each day we got approximately 200 grams of sticky bread which was mixed with sawdust. At the beginning, I told myself that I would divide this ration for a few times, licking it from time to time, in order to quiet my hunger, but the struggle within me, whether I should or should not eat the rest of the bread was so powerful that it wore me out completely.

I could not pass the test, knowing that I still had a bit of bread and I do not feed it to my stomach which was cramping from hunger. That is why I decided that I would no longer hide the bread for later, but eat it as soon as I got it. Besides, there was also the danger that someone would steal the piece from my pocket. There were lots of hungry people who could smell who had a piece of bread in their pocket, so they would not hesitate to swipe it. In order not to risk my "fortune," I decided to hide it in my stomach.

Once, going about deep in thought, considering how to make an end to this horrible life, I heard someone call my name. When I turned around, I saw a good friend of mine from Sosnowiec, a certain Scharf, who had a cardboard factory. I used to meet this friend often in Sosnowiec, and enjoy the same company. We rejoiced greatly. He told me that he had been there quite a long time and had gotten accustomed somewhat to this life, because he managed to get into a good kommando, that is to say, in the kommando that cleans the latrines. There he gets enough food to at least still his hunger. I confided in him that I was dying of hunger because my stomach is empty all day and I am, therefore, in such pain that I can no longer endure. I was falling apart and wanted my life to end all the sooner.

He pitied me, took me into his block, uncovered his straw bag and took out a full bowl of food which was covered with dust and completely hardened. When I saw this bowl of food, my eyes lit up like lanterns, as though I had seen the Messiah. My friend said to me: "Here's a spoon. Eat it quickly before someone comes." I started to eat like a wild man, tearing pieces from the stale mass of food and packing it into my empty stomach. The food was cold, tasteless, and half-spoiled, but who cared about such trivialities. I did not take even ten minutes before I had the entire food in my stomach. I departed from him and wished him eternal life. Content and satisfied, I returned to my block as though I had won the greatest prize. I felt heavy, stuffed, my stomach overfilled, and I lacked air, but I was not hungry for the first time after so many months. Night quickly descended. I could hardly wait for us to be allowed to lie down because I felt exhausted and heavy, but as soon as I lay down on the thin straw mattress, I felt that my stomach was churning and that I had to run immediately to the latrine. I barely managed to reach the latrine when it started to pour from me. I also felt that I had fever. I started to look for my friend, Dr. Sukodolsky, but I did not find him.

Before I even went back into the block I had to run again. In this fashion, I ran all night. I could no longer hold back my excrement which kept coming out of me and stank terribly. I did not sleep that night. It must have been around two o'clock in the morning when I could not stand the stench any more. Besides, everything was sticking to me. It was then that I decided, in the middle of the night, to go out to the latrine and rinse my underpants so that it would not stink so much from me, because my neighbours protested and threw me off the bed. Outside it was snowing and freezing cold. In the laundry room there were a few people who came during the night when it is empty, in order to wash up a bit.

I removed my pants and my underpants and with my hands only, started to wash them and rinse the smelly filth off them. I myself was repulsed by it all. Not having any other clothes to wear, I got dressed in the wet garments. When I went out it must have been nearly four in the morning. Since I probably had a high fever, the frost overtook me. I started to shake convulsively. I had not managed yet to reach my berth when the house aide already was awakening everyone. We heard blows, whippings, and people started to run, tripping over one another. Not being able to move quickly, because my arms and legs were as heavy as lead, a few people ran by and knocked me over. Until the house aide arrived, they wanted to push me out of the way. They grabbed me and wanted to throw me on the pile of dead bodies which had accumulated during the night. I was lying amongst the dead, waiting to be taken to the crematorium. Suddenly, an acquaintance from Sosnowiec came by. His name was Faitl Lenchner, a horse dealer from home, with whom I had come together on the transport. He recognized me and saw that I was still alive but was amongst the dead, and he could not stand to see me die. He took me down from the pile and stood me up. I was upset with him for not letting me die. I wanted to die, to relinquish my soul, but Feitl would not give up on me. He took me out to the roll call, supporting me the whole time so that I would not fall. Later he took me back to the block, provided me with a white concoction to stop my diarrhea, gave me pills to bring down my fever and didn't go away from me until he had saved me. Later he sought out my friend, Dr. Sukodolsky, who helped me get on my feet again. I no longer had fever, but I was terribly weak. I could hardly stand on my feet. Though my friends cared for me, I thought that my days were numbered. The atmosphere had a destructive effect on me. I fell into the category of Muselm”nner (emaciated), becoming weaker and thinner every day. My friends feared that at the next selection I would be taken away because I was no longer capable of doing any physical work. At a meeting of my friends, they decided that I should be listed for the next transport, in order to get out of Auschwitz, because if I would remain, I would break down completely, physically and mentally. I was becoming thinner by the day. It was not wise to wait for a selection which used to take place every 8 to10 days, because then I would be a sure candidate for the crematorium.

I got signed up for a transport for which nobody knew the destination. It was only known that Polish Jews were not allowed on this transport. It was also known that many of the "prominent" privileged ones, those who had arrived with the French and Belgian transports, were signing up for this contingent. Even my friend, Dr. Sukodolsky, also signed up for this transport. The question was, though, what to do with me, because I was a Polish Jew. It was discovered, however, that in the central place, where the list was being compiled for the transports, there is a Sosnowiec boy working, a certain little fellow whom I knew because he was the groom of the manufacturer Frankl's daughter, who lived on Varshavsky Street, and who was a friend of mine.

The fellow was sought out and told about my case--that it is essential that I be sent away because here I will surely expire--that it is essential that I leave with the next transport. It is necessary, therefore, that in the documents I should not be listed as a Polish Jew, in order not to be refused. He promised to fulfill this request. My friends got me dressed, gave me food for the day, freshened me up and prepared me as though I were a groom who is to meet his bride, because I had to appear before a group of doctors whose job it was to decide if I was capable for this transport. I presented myself before the doctors, first pinching my cheeks so that I would have some colour. As a result of the anger and fear that I had, fearing that I might not be taken, I was burning. I presented myself, and luckily they approved of me. I was registered for the transport. The joy of my friends was indescribable. Particularly happy was my friend, Dr. Avraham Sukodolsky, because once more we would be together. Faitl Lenchner also managed to change his nationality and he was also signed up for the transport. And so it was that I already had a few friends with whom I felt more secure.

Before departing, we were given new civilian clothes which was an indication that we were not being sent to die, but to a new work place, but we did not know where to. I got a good warm red sweater and a jacket, but a thin suit. These were garments from people who had been sent to the gas chambers. Before getting into the transport wagons we were given bread, margarine and blood salami. It was snowing and the freezing cold cut through the face like a knife. I bundled up in my new jacket which warmed me up. It had been a long time since I had such warm clothing. Sitting in the wagon and seeing my good friends, I felt fortunate. First of all, I was happy that I was leaving this hell. I never believed that I would leave that camp alive. I did not care where we were being taken as long as it was away from here, all the farther from the gas chambers and crematoriums. It was already night when our transports started off. It so happened that on that night fresh transports arrived from somewhere. We saw the reflectors lighting up the place. We also heard the wild shouts of the SS and their Jewish helpers who shouted: "Heraus! Schnell, ihr Dreck-S”cke!" (Out, quickly, you dreck-sacks!) and the air resounded with the cry of children and women, fresh victims in Auschwitz

Back to Key Words and Abstract

Part 2b

© Concordia University