Concordia University MIGS

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A new trial

My friends sought to improve my situation and boost my morale which had completely deteriorated. They truly wanted to help me so that I would not have to work in haupt-baustelle (construction), doing much hard work. Once they came to me with a suggestion. A block head had been punished because he had bought himself some "luxury" items such as cigarettes, better clothing and fruits. In addition, he had corrupted young children whom he bought and used, paying them with bread and soup which he stole from the rations. My friends intervened with the camp head, who was a political prisoner, to give me his place. The slaves of that block were overjoyed to hear this suggestion, that I should become their block head, however, they were all bitterly disappointed. My friends heard a categorical no from me. I thanked my friends for their efforts and for their friendly attitude towards me, but regrettably, I could not accept the post. I gave them my arguments: I have resisted many such temptations and I will resist this one too. For four war years I suffered from hunger and was exposed to great danger, but I persevered. My morality did not allow me to be ensnared by all kinds of temptations to reduce my suffering for the price of serving the Nazis, to be a servant of theirs, so I certainly would not do so now when the war is ending. My friends started to argue: "You're not right. Everyone wants you to become block head. We used all our influence and connections to help you so that you should survive this critical period when the end is near. You do not have to be a bad block head. You'll be a good one who will help your brothers at this difficult time."

I argued with myself, trying to convince myself that my friends were correct, that they are sincere in their desire to help me, perhaps so that I should be freer, to be able to read and delve more into politics, in order to later be able to comment to them about the situation. But, after a struggle between the bad and good inclination, the good inclination won. It warned me: You will not be strong enough to resist the temptation when you will apportion the food so that you will not leave the thickest part for yourself--and when you will apportion the bread, you will not be able to resist having a larger portion for yourself. Besides, you are not alone, so you will be responsible for the misdeeds of others, giving way to your instincts. There are also various bad elements in the block who are trying to avoid work, who are trying to steal from their friends the little piece of bread, and you, as block head, will have to react to this and punish the wrongdoers.

So, I firmly decided: Let happen what may, but I would not accept such a position from the Nazis, even if it will mean that I will die. I survived up till now without besmirching my name, so I will continue to withstand further difficult temptations no matter how hard it will be for me.

The last night, before coming to this decision, I did not sleep the whole night, but was listening to the "debate" of the pros and cons which tore my heart from both sides. On the one side, the evil inclination confronted me: To drag myself long kilometers back and forth, to and from work; the sacks of cement, the dust from it which blocked my nose and settled on my lungs; the iron frames and hard blocks, the blows and curses from the Kapos and foremen. On the other hand, I saw the peaceful life in the block when the kommandos march out, eating in peace and resting after eating, the possibility of "organizing" food supplies in addition to the rations, the contacts with the camp leaders and the possibility of getting better clothing and other things.

But the good inclination would not give in. It kept showing me the poignant eyes of the starving slaves who wait in line for a bit of soup, for a piece of bread, who see in the block head their torturer, the privileged one of the SS kommando, and the collaborator with the German torturers. I could picture my helpers, the house servants, who hit and tortured the slaves, make them go to work even when they have high fever, and punish them severely for the smallest misdemeanor. It seemed to me that I hear the curses and bitter complaints of all the mistreated falling on my head.

I finally decided by pre-dawn that my answer is a categorical no. It was a bitter disappointment for my friends, but for me it was a relief that I overcame the bad ideas and that I had the strength to pass the difficult test. I went to work that morning in a good mood, calmly, as though I had won a battle.




Destiny bequeaths me a new chance

My friends did not give up. It hurt them that I had to work so hard on the main construction job. They saw how I was collapsing, how I was getting skinnier from day to day and was hardly able to walk. Furthermore, they regretted that I no longer took an interest in politics and did not give political commentaries on the situation in the world. Tired and exhausted, I collapsed every evening, like a rock, because before dawn I had to get up and drag myself anew to slave labour. My friend, Feitl Lenchner, had a friend in the kitchen, a butcher by trade, who came from Chrzanow. I cannot recall his name, which I regret, because he was a good, quiet fellow who did a lot of favours for friends, and his name should be immortalized. Feitl used to bring me some potatoes in their peel from him and sometimes a carrot, a bit of soup which I enjoyed very much. I restored my soul with this.

One day, however, when I returned from work, very despondent, because the Kapo had it in for me and assigned me to pour cement which arrived loose and required us to fill sacks and boxes with it, resulting in my nose getting blocked and my eyes stuck, my friends had good news for me. They managed to convince the camp head and the head of the kommando of the horse stable to take me into that kommando which is, according to them, a "golden kommando," because often one rides out with the horses and oxen, so opportunities arise to "organize" something to eat.

I greatly rejoiced with this news. I recalled that once, when I had passed by the horse stable, there were sacks of dry beets outside, the remains of what was fed to the cows, so some fellows tore out, with their nails, some of this, and I also stretched my hand out and helped myself to some. The taste was still in my mouth. Now, when I will be close to the treasure, I will have more chances to steal from the cows.

The following day, I was taken to the stable and handed over to the Kapo of it. He was a horse dealer from home, whose name was Krakovsky. I was also introduced to the other colleagues of the kommando, all healthy specimens, with firm muscles and ruddy complexions. As they looked at me, they tried to make fun of me, and asked me if I knew how to clean up from the horses. They saw that I did not know anything about horses, so each one of them tried to crack another joke at my expense, but Krakovsky got up, shouted at them and scattered them.

"If he doesn't know yet, he'll learn!" he shouted. He took my hand and led me to an old donkey with a pair of large ears, and said: "You'll stay by this mare. It's an old one, a quiet beast, so you'll groom him, keep him in shape, and ride out with him. I'll teach you what you have to know."

He gave me a brush and a metal comb with which to care for the mare because often the head stormtrooper would come in and brush the mare with his gloves, and if he found dust on the hair of the creature, he would get very angry and dish out punishment because a German cannot stand when an animal is not clean and well looked after.

When I was introduced to my mare, it turned its old head with the blind eyes towards me, and scoffed at me, blinking with an eye and swishing its tail. I guess I did not make a good impression on the mare, still, it allowed me to comb and brush it when I offered it something to eat. I quickly felt comfortable with my mare and even gave it a name--Shlomo Natan. This was a creature which had lost the wildness of an animal, did not revolt or protest when I put on the harness and all. It shook its head the way a Jew (let us make the respectful distinction) at prayer. It was very lazy, though, and did not like to pull any loads, so from time to time it would stop and say that it was not going any further. I took pity on it and did not want to whip it. Nor did it help. It would turn its head towards me, wink to me with its blind eyes as if to say: "It won't help. If I say I'm not going, your lashes won't help because I'm not moving." So I begged it, "Shlomo Natan, may your mother be so well, take a few steps. Why make trouble for me. After all, I'm your friend." That helped. It turned its head towards me as if to say: "Now that you're talking like a mensch, I'll listen to you."

Slowly, I got used to my new trade and became a bona fide wagoner. My mare did not last long though. Once, on a cold snowy winter night, when I was driving with a load of wood, it stood still, started to neigh heavily, and would not budge. My whipping did not help, nor did my gentle voice. It tried to pull the wagon but stood still again. Night fell. The SS who was accompanying, started to shout, pouring out curses, and started to whip the mare himself because he was in a hurry to get home to the warm canteen, but the mare did not move from the spot. After another few whips from the SS it lay down on the ground, its eyes staring blankly, and its mouth foaming. It threw back its head in resignation, as if to say: "I've had enough. Let whatever has to happen occur," and it happened that shortly thereafter the mare expired. The SS tired of whipping, resigned himself to the fact, and said to me:

"It's no use. The beast is dead."

I pitied the beast when I saw it dying. True, it was only an animal, but I had gotten accustomed to it, as to a friend. I used to pour my heart out to it. Sometimes I would cry my bitter heart out in its presence, and sometimes in lucky moments, when I succeeded to "organize" some food, I would share my joy with it. The mare, naturally, kept quiet, would silently listen to my chattering and would express its "feelings" through its long ears which it would start to move. At the time I saw it expiring, it opened its blind eyes which were covered with a moist mist, as though it wanted to ensure that I am there watching it as it lets out its last breath. Then it re-closed its eyes, this time permanently.

In the meantime, I also became friendly with other animals, with the horses and oxen. The Kapo, Krakowsky, helped me a lot in this respect. He respected me as an intelligent person who is a poor wagoner, unsuccessful in horse husbandry, but in other things in which he is not very knowledgeable, he understood that he can depend on me. He liked to converse with me more than with all the others in his kommando because "what do the horse heads understand?" he used to complain to me. He told me that he comes from high pedigree, who, for many generations, were horse dealers, since his grandfather was an employee of a Polish nobleman. He looked for nice descriptive words, "intelligent" words, in his conversations with me, not such words as he used with other "young guys." When he needed something brainy to say to the chief guard when he would come and make any inquiries, he would ask me for something intelligent to say to him.

I grew even more in his eyes when he saw the "in group" come to talk politics with me and paid attention to what I said. He was proud to have such a "wise one" in his kommando. For this, he protected and did not let others make trouble for me. He himself taught me how to handle the horses and oxen, how to harness them, how to open and close the nose attachments, and how to adjust the straps. If there was any way of getting hold of something good to eat, he informed me and shared with me. The others ground their teeth, begrudging me the special treatment, but they could not do anything about it when the patron was on my side.

Once, the Obersturmbannf¸hrer came in and asked the Kapo if there was anyone in his kommando who can do the accounting regarding the feed for the horses and oxen, in order to prepare weekly reports about the consumed feed products, calculating how much it costs for each animal per week, and how much it is necessary to order for the next fifteen days. The Kapo immediately pointed to me, indicating that I am quite knowledgeable in such matters. The Obersturmbannf¸hrer looked at me questioningly and asked:

"You know mathematics and bookkeeping?"

"Jawohl" I answered boldly, standing tall.

I guess I pleased him because he told me to come immediately after noontime to his office, which was outside the camp, on the other side of the road. The Kapo was very proud of my appointment, of the way I answered, and of the way the Obersturmbannf¸hrer was pleased with me. He was particularly pleased that now he would have his own connection with the Haupt Kommando of the camp, which opens the door for special influence to the camp leadership. I was also pleased that I received a good post as a functionary in the administration of the camp. This would make it possible to alleviate my constant condition of hunger. I also received different recognition in the camp, as one of the privileged who is in personal contact with the Obersturmbannf¸hrer himself. Even my colleagues from the stable regarded me differently, as one "close to royalty."

Upon arriving in the afternoon in the office of the Haupt Kommando, all the guards already knew that they should let me through because I have been appointed by the Obersturmbannf¸hrer. The friends who saw me go out of the camp without a guard and go into the barrack of the Haupt Kommando, envied me. It was no small thing to be able to go unaccompanied into the Haupt Kommando where only the SS have access. The Obersturmbannf¸hrer was awaiting me. He sat me down at a table, put all the papers in front of me, all debit and credit notes, and explained to me what I have to do. My hands and fingers were no longer used to handling such delicate items as pens, typewriters and adding machines. He told me to prepare the calculations, balances and statistics. He arranged with me to come here twice a week with all that prepared, and present it to him.

This Obersturmbannf¸hrer was not a typical soldier, a stiff and stuffy military man. He appeared to be an intellectual. He was short, thin, with a pair of mild blue eyes and a soft voice.




The Klausenburg Rebbe

My work with bookkeeping of the Tiere Versorgung (supply accounting), occupied me only twice a week, a half day each time. The remainder of the time, I continued to work in the stable, scrubbing and cleaning the horses and oxen and from time to time I would also ride out to bring various supplies, but still, in the camp, I had the status of a "prominent" one. I once again resumed my political commentaries, but now for a select group of friends. I now had more opportunity to read the German newspapers which I would come across in the Schreib Stube. I gathered up pieces of newspaper, wrapped up various books in them from the "bookkeeping," and read them and composed my commentaries which I would share with my friends. All this gave me status, and I got respect

I got along well with all friends, helping each one as much as I could. I had many friends amongst the French and Dutch Jews, but less with the Greek Jews, because they were false and brutal. If there happened to be a Greek Kapo, he was cruel, though amongst them there were also decent and intelligent people. It was most difficult for me to get along with the Hungarian Jews because we could not understand one another. Most of them spoke only Magyar and did not understand any other language, so that it was difficult to communicate with them. Due to the language problem, they were often isolated, since they did not understand what we were saying and we did not understand them. I often felt sorry for them because they walked around like deaf and dumb, not being able to participate in our discussions. Because of this they suffered doubly. They felt lonely and abandoned in a strange world.

Amongst the Hungarian Jews there were two kinds of people: either very religious or assimilated. The religious understood some Yiddish, especially those who came from the region that bordered on Rumania, Hungary, and Slovakia. Yiddish was the Esperanto of the camp, which unified and brought close the Jews of various lands, so that even the Dutch and Greek Jews learnt to chat somewhat in Yiddish. The religious from amongst the Hungarian Jews were fanatically so. For example, there is the following: Once, I got a command to ride out with a group of approximately twenty women and girls to a village to pick some vegetables in the fields, to be used in the cooking of soup in the kitchen. This had calories. I was the driver. An SS man and a SS woman accompanied us to lead the kommando.

I remained sitting on the wagon or fed the horse, while the girls did the gathering in the field, putting it in sacks. The major part of the women were Hungarian. The SS man and SS girl, meanwhile, went into the huts of the peasants to do as they pleased. From the distance, I saw one of the girls standing straight the whole time without moving. When I saw the SS girl coming, I feared that she would grab this girl and beat her harshly. I ran into the field as though to pick up a filled sack, with the intention of pointing out to the girl that the "devil" is coming, and that she should bend down and pretend to be working. The girl did not answer me though, but quietly moved her lips. It was a friend of hers who told me that she could not answer me because she was saying the Shmona-Esrei prayer.

The Klausenburg Rebbe was a wonderful personality who suffered terribly both physically and mentally. His beard had been shaved off, probably forcefully. He did not want to eat, under any condition, the soup and salami that was distributed once a week, so he lost his strength and got thinner from day to day. There were a lot of people who complained to the rebbe for carrying on in this "foolish way." Here, everyone had to save himself any way he could, they argued, and not try to keep the dietary laws of kashrut. Others even accused him of "being theatrical" in order to attract pity. There were others who mocked him and tried to hit him. I saw, though, and felt that he was sincere, that he is not a phony and is not putting on an act, but he is simply prepared to die of hunger rather than eat non-kosher food. He would exchange his soup and piece of salami for a dry piece of bread. He let himself be cheated this way because the soup was worth far more than the bit of bread that he got for it. When there were no customers for such an exchange, he gave away the soup for nothing, without touching it.

From time to time, I would supply him with a piece of bread or a few potatoes, sometimes even raw ones. Since I had some pull with the kitchen staff head, I would beg of him a few potatoes, a carrot or a beet for the Klausenburg Rebbe. I felt that I was actually helping to keep him alive. His townspeople told me that he had lived through a great tragedy previously, when his whole community was destroyed and later when his wife and children perished. Still, he did not complain. He accepted it as a punishment from God and accepted his suffering with love. The whole tragedy was reflected in his eyes, though. His dark eyes were always soaked with tears. He spoke very little, never complained. He prayed and recited Psalms. In the prayers he found hope and comfort after his suffering. He would stand in a corner, in front of a tree, so that nobody should notice him, and he prayed his prayers.

Once, I took the risk on his behalf, and asked the Hauptbaustelle that he be removed from the hard work kommando and that he should work in the block as a house aid. He used to go around the block and sweep with a broom, straighten things out a bit, and return to his prayers. He was thankful to me for my intervention. Whenever he had a problem, he would look for me and ask me to give him a hand. I did this quite willingly, if it was at all possible.

During the High Holiday, 1944, we set up a minyan (quorum for prayer) in Waldlager. We arranged it in a round barrack which was amongst the first ones set up in the camp. There were, amongst us, some who oriented themselves and knew when the holidays were. On the face of the Klausenburg Rebbe we could recognize that the High Holidays were approaching. His face assumed a deathly earnestness. His eyes were looking back endlessly to a time of long ago, and his lips were constantly murmuring. He looked like a person who was preparing for a great trial.

A few slaves agreed, amongst themselves, to conduct prayer services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, but, since there were no High Holiday prayer books in the camp, the Klausenburg Rebbe promised to pray on everyone's behalf because he knew nearly the whole prayer book off by heart, without the later poetry, of course. So, he would pray out loud and the others would repeat after him. During the day it was impossible, of course, to have a minyan, because everyone went to work, but at night we gathered in the barrack and prayed. It is interesting that at Kol Nidre there were Jews from all the blocks. They found out that prayers would take place in this barrack, so Jews came from all sides and filled the barrack to overflowing. I believe that all those who experienced that Kol Nidre night in Waldlager, if they are still alive, will never forget it.

The Rebbe started quietly, and, as though his voice was coming from a hollow container, began Kol Nidre. The assembled ones picked it up and accompanied him with a deep hum which developed into a lament, as though all hearts were letting everything out. From the lament, the voice of the Rebbe continued: "V'asurei, V'shevuei, V'charumei," and the well of tears could no longer be contained. People reminded themselves of Kol Nidre night in their former homes, in the circle of their family, in the synagogue, recalling at the same time what happened to the family, home and synagogue, not knowing what tomorrow held in store for each one--if there will be liberation from this hell, so everyone cried. The tears flowed. The only one who did not break down was the Rebbe whose voice got stronger and stronger. When he sang out: "M'yom Kippurim Zeh, Ad Yom Kippurim Haba Aleinu L'tovah," it seemed to everyone that the Rebbe became hopeful and that he had eliminated any evil decree. He continued with a clear encouraging voice: "Sh'vikin, Shvitin, B'talin U'mvatalin, Lo Sh'ririn V'lo Keiyamin."

Everyone was deep in thought. So absorbed were one and all that even the one who was standing on guard outside did not notice when the camp elder came along and asked: "What's going on here?" When it was explained to him, he understood, because he himself was a prisoner, but he asked us to disperse since the SS guard might notice and consider this a manifestation of opposition to the powerful, which could lead to tragic consequences. The assembled ones went home, each with a deep pain in the heart, because the wounds had opened and had made the suffering sharper. People stole back to the blocks, laid down on their hard boards, and tossed and turned for a long time before falling asleep




The "good Germans"

Much is said about the "good Germans", that not all Germans were degenerates who agreed with Nazi murderers. Possibly there were some such "warmhearted" Germans who could not stand the bestiality of the Nazis, but they did not manifest themselves, nor were they ready to fight against this evil. The first years, when the German army reached spectacular victories, conquering one country after the other, all the Germans, even the "good Germans", blessed their "F¸hrer", who wiped away the German humiliation and turned it into a "Herren Volk," a power that has an important part to play on the international arena. They were prepared to forgive him all his sins, covering their eyes to many of his crimes against humanity, especially against the Jewish people. Later, after the war, all the Germans had one ready answer, that they had no idea what the Nazis were doing; that they did not protest or rebel because they did not know the facts. But this is not true. They did not know because they did not want to know. It paid for them not to know. The fact is that it was very well known what was happening in the concentration camps and what happened to the Jewish communities in Europe. It was not only the SS troops who participated in the actions, but also Wehrmacht divisions and even O. T. (Organization Todt) work battalions, whose families most certainly knew what was happening there. I want to tell about one such case.

I, being in the stable kommando, often had the job of going out with "toilet waste". This was a container with a pump that pumped the waste out of various larger toilet reservoirs, and later it was spread on the fields as fertilizer, so that the produce should be better and more plentiful. An SS man always accompanied me. This time an O.T. man, an Austrian, as a matter of fact, accompanied me. The peasant woman who saw me working all day without eating may have had some feeling of pity, or maybe she sought some sort of alibi, that she was helping the slaves with their work. By then, it was quite clear that Hitler had lost the war. At this point many Germans tried to do something so that later they would have witnesses for their good-heartedness and sympathy for the slaves of Hitler. The peasant woman left three apples on the side, giving me a sign that they were for me.

On the way back, I picked up the apples and was refreshed. The O.T. man noticed this. When I returned to the camp and had not yet unharnessed the horse, I was called to the SS headquarters where I was charged with accepting food from the civilian population, which was forbidden, according to the law. For such a "sin," I deserved a bullet in the head. But in this case the Obersturmbannf¸hrer, whose functionary I was, and who needed my technical work, protected me. Since I was his "bookkeeper," I got away with a threat only, that if this will ever be repeated, I will get my due penalty.

I also pumped out the toilet waste in the main kommando of the O.T. This was a large lot for exercises, surrounded by barracks all around. In the barracks were the offices of the administration of the organization. The windows looked out on the open lot. Whenever I came to pump out the waste, a gentile woman stood by the window to watch me work. She would also call over her friends to come and look at me as though I was an exotic animal. She never dared, though, to send something out for me to eat. She only took satisfaction in seeing how a Jewish slave empties her toilet. After the war, when the Americans captured Ampfing, the O.T. camp was converted into a hospital. I was the chief trusted one by the Americans then because I knew the whole area and who the criminals were. That time, the same gentile girl came to me for help to get her a job, reminding me: "Do you remember when you used to come in the yard of the O.T., how I used to look at you with pity and sympathized with you in your difficult situation?"

Yes, they sympathized, satisfying themselves with a glance, but they were not ready to do anything to ease our suffering. They saw and knew what was happening in the camps of the neighbourhood. They met us and observed our slave labour on the Haupt Baustelle (main construction site). At the beginning of the war they justified it all because the F¸hrer decided it all, so it was completely for the benefit of the "Third Reich". Later, when they saw that they had lost the war, they "felt sorry for us" but did nothing to help us. It was convenient for them to say that they neither heard nor knew anything.




The last winter in the concentration camp

The last winter in the camp was a difficult and critical one. The cold and snow penetrated to the bones, causing sickness, and often death. Food was also scarce because the Germans were also suffering from hunger. They could no longer rob the other countries. There also were not people to work in the fields. The harvest from the fields was hardly enough to feed the army, so the civilian population also suffered from hunger. This had its effect on the camps which were left without provisions and people died like flies. The weak and sick were no longer transported to the gas chambers and crematoriums. They were left to die in suffering. The infirmary was full of people sick with tuberculosis, diarrhea, anemia and blood poisoning. There was a shortage of medicaments, not even bandages for wounds, so the sick wasted away until they died. People wanted to live, at least until the day of liberation, so as to see the defeat of our enemies and torturers, but death showed no mercy. It was often my responsibility to carry the dead to the mass grave in the forest. This was a large pit in the middle of the forest where the dead were dumped the way garbage is dumped. They were covered with lime. Every few days a wagonload of dead was taken out.

We, in the Stable kommando, were best off of all because we swiped some food from the horses and oxen. In the food mixture of the horses and cattle there was a mixture containing dry beets which we chewed on and we gave some of it to our friends. We also went to the villages for animal feed, so we "organized" for ourselves a few potatoes, carrots and beets, to feed our hunger. One day, I returned from work in the office of the headquarters with news that one of the young pigs, those which were raised by the SS, got sick. The Obersturmbannf¸hrer told me that it had to be removed from the sty to prevent it from contaminating the other pigs. He told me to ask the Kapo of the stable, a specialist of cattle and livestock, what he advises him to do with the sick pig. This news brought joy to the stablers because they were expecting to have the dead pig as food.

The Kapo told me to inform the Obersturmbannf¸hrer that he must not allow the sick pig to remain for even one day more in the sty because an epidemic could break out amongst the pigs. The following day I took along the Kapo to the pigsty to get the "sick one" and to find out what to do with it. The pig lay on the ground with faint eyes and breathed heavily. The other pigs stood at a distance, gazing at the sick pig. The Kapo, Krakovsky, looked at the pig, as though he was an expert, examined it from all sides, and uttered his instruction that the pig must not remain there even one day more because there is a chance of contagion. It should immediately be slaughtered and buried. The Obersturmbannf¸hrer then asked the Kapo to take care of the matter and immediately remove the pig from the sty. We brought it into our stable and, that very night, killed it and cut it up into pieces. The Kapo himself took care of this mission with the help of two more butchers.

The following day, I rode out with a horse and wagon to bring coal for the camp. When I returned, I found a festive mood. Preparations were in progress for a feast. A bucket which was used for watering the horses was rinsed. The cut-up pig meat was put in it. It was filled with water and put on the fire. Each time someone else went to have a look to see how the cooking was coming along. The Kapo, though, would not let anyone get close because he felt that such a "holy duty" belonged to him. When it was ready, the butchers sat down on the ground and the Kapo gave everyone a portion. They ate with great pleasure. It is a pity that there was no artist to paint the scene. They looked like cave men. Their faces shone from the fat and their eyes lit up as though they had achieved the greatest joy.

But, even in the stable things were not good. Many times there was very difficult and painful work to be carried out. Once I was transporting a wagon full of bricks through the forest to the camp. By the time the bricks were loaded, it was already night. I was hurrying the oxen because I myself was also very hungry and frozen from the cold. The kommandos had already returned to the camp and here night had already descended. The SS guard was fuming with anger and cursing the damn weather. He wanted to be back in the warm canteen all the sooner so he rushed, shouting, "Mach, mach junge, das soll schnell fortkommen!" (Hurry up, get going quickly!), but it appeared that the oxen did not understand German or they did not take to heart either my pleas or the prompting of the SS. They were also hungry and tired so they moved slowly. When I tried to give them a whipping they stopped completely. They were not budging, no matter what. Maybe it was my fault too, due to lack of experience. I did not give them enough to eat all day and did not shelter them from the cold. I tried with mildness to plead with them but in return they tossed their heads as though saying: "Don't bother us."

Now the SS became madly enraged, probably not being able to bear the hunger and cold. He grabbed a branch and started to thrash the oxen with such harshness and bestiality that they broke away from their yoke and ran off in the midst of the trees. If not for the trees, they would have escaped much further, but as it was, they remained standing there. From their mouths a mist came out and saliva ran down. They stood like mad beasts, but obviously pleased with their latest accomplishment.

The situation became critical because at such a late hour it was impossible to call for help. The SS went wild, but what could he do with rebellious oxen? After a brief consultation, we decided that we have to leave the wagon on the spot and bring the oxen back to the camp. We came back to the camp very late that night, hungry, cold and shaken. In addition, I was afraid of punishment lest all the blame be put on me, because the oxen could not be punished. Besides, animals were much more important to the Germans than a human being. When a human being died, they paid very little attention, but when an animal is hurt, God have mercy. This time too I got away with fear only.

A second time something happened which nearly cost me my life. I was not a trained wagoner, so I did not know all the habits of the animals. I did not know, for example, that donkeys are stubborn animals and that they can attack from behind, so when I went to take off the harness, one of the two donkeys gave me such a kick with his hind legs that another five centimeters and he would have reached right to my heart or head and killed me. My friends, the experienced wagoners, watched me and laughed at me, the fool who does not know the first thing about treating a donkey.




News from the front

Though I was inexperienced in this work, my colleagues from the stable treated me quite decently, regarding me as a "better person" who does not know much about horses and donkeys, but, therefore, is knowledgeable in other things, cultural and political, which they can never attain. They respected me, first of all, because the Kapo was on my side, gave me respect and consulted me. He was pleased that "prominent" ones from the camp come in to his stable to find out what was going on politically and to discuss news about the war. Since I worked three times a week in the Schreib-Stube, I had a chance to gather up old pieces of newspaper, making it look as though I needed them to wrap up my books and writing material. Later, I would read these scraps to find out what was going on relating to many things we knew nothing of in the camp. Though the German newspapers did not tell the whole truth because they did not want to create a bad mood or panic amongst the civilian population, I read between the lines.

In August 1944, I already knew about the Allies landing in Normandy, France. When the Germans wrote about bitter battles and "heavy losses which were inflicted on the enemy," I understood that they were in grave trouble. Also, when they wrote that thanks to their good relationships between the Swedish Consul-General and the German general Von Scholz, the destruction of the city of Paris was avoided, I understood that Paris was once more in French hands. In September 1944, I found a piece of newspaper on which was written: "In accordance with that which was promised a few days ago, clearly and dramatically, the total Krieg Einsatz, all theatres, circuses, concerts, exhibitions and congresses, all cultural life is ceasing. No more books are being printed except for school books. Even the very popular Nazi publication, Strength Through Joy ceased publication. It was then that I saw the demise of the German economy.

I later told a group of friends about this, people whom I could trust, commenting that the German army, though still consisting of tens of well armed divisions, panzer troops and bomber planes, will shortly be defeated because these forces were cut off from reinforcements and devoid of specialized skilled workers in the war industry. Besides, the Allies were ceaselessly bombing the German industrial sites, ports, railways, paralyzing the whole supply line and connection to the front. In December 1944, a military report announced that "Strong German forces are on a wide front on the Western Front, after a short but powerful battle, and are now on the offensive to chase the enemy out of German territory."

But even the Germans themselves did not believe these stories, knowing that they were fabricated to lift the morale and fighting will of the people. The people lost their belief in a victory, as well as their trust in the F¸hrer. More and more one could see their sour faces and gloomy eyes. Only the dogged Nazis still believed in victory, in a miracle, that the F¸hrer would lead the people out of the jaws of the enemy and lead them once more to marches of victory.

The Nazis were bitter, enraged, so they let their anger out on the Katzetler (concentration camp inmates) hitting, beating and torturing them. The food also became more and more measly. There was no more meat, fats and bread also started to become scarce. On the other hand, the slave labourers were required to work harder than ever on the construction of the underground airplane hangar. Due to the heavy bombing that was taking place night and day, they wanted to finish the hangar all the sooner in order to protect the bomber planes against enemy attacks. As a result, people started to die like flies. The infirmary got full, so that there was nowhere to put the sick. There were no medical supplies for the regular sick who were suffering from serious illnesses and were breaking down physically.

They also heard the hopeful news from the front, that the war is nearing its end and that liberation is not far off. Unfortunately, though, they did not live to see the day. We heard the news of the liberation of Yugoslavia and Greece, and in December, I brought news that Budapest is surrounded by Russian forces. The Hungarian Jews, when they heard that their proud capital was being stormed, felt a reawakening of sentiment for their homeland and murmured with joy in their eyes: "Pest, ...Pest", and sang patriotic songs.

I was also on the scene when a French Jew was in his death throes, letting out his last breath. Someone wanted to give him encouragement, to awaken in him the desire to remain alive, so he reported to him that Paris was liberated. His eyes lit up and with his lips, which were burning from fever, he meekly uttered: "Paris, Paris, le coeur du monde." ("Paris, Paris, the heart of the world.") Immediately after that he died with a smile on his lips which ceased to move.

December 31, 1944, on New Year's Eve, the F¸hrer Hitler, may his name be blotted out, and his propaganda minister, Goebels, spoke to the people, trying to give them hope and spirit to fight on. At that time, the German army still numbered approximately 2 million soldiers. In Austria and Italy alone there were 22 divisions with approximately 900 thousand men. The far-reaching V2 rockets also entered the action. They bombed Britain where they did enormous damage, but the soldiers no longer had the will to fight because they saw how close their defeat was and how everything was turning to dust. The German Luftwaffe also collapsed. It could no longer counter-attack the mass attacks of the allied air forces which had started to attack day and night. The attacks were made upon military targets and essential war industries, airplane and ammunition plants, as well as train and plane positions. The newly invented radar equipment went into effect, the most important one of which was the Fido from England which pinpointed with precision the aim for the strikes, even in the worst weather conditions.




The rescue operation to Munich

Once, our camp got an urgent order to send a kommando of slave labourers to clean up the train station in Munich which had been heavily bombed. Quickly, a kommando was formed. I felt that this could be interesting work for me, so I tried to get into this kommando. We were dispatched by train to Munich. This was a wonderful spectacle for us. We reached Munich at dawn when people were rushing to work. There were no young people to be seen, only old folks, mostly women, because the young ones had all been taken to the front. Their faces were gloomy, depressed, from spending many nights in the bunkers. When they saw us, the slave labourers, fear struck them, because now they saw their defeat. We were delighted with the scenes that we saw: Ruins on all the streets. High-rise buildings with their insides blown out, ceilings hanging down, bent iron beams. The sights recalled Warsaw for us, the Warsaw ghetto, its destroyed Jewish streets and houses. Our revenge-thirst was quenched somewhat. This was the payback for the destruction of Jewish homes.

Dead and wounded were carried out of the wreck. Women were crying and wringing their hands. Their homes were wrecked, their possessions turned to dust and ashes, and their nearest and dearest buried in the wreckage.

We were led to the train station which had been bombed the previous day by Allied planes. Wrecked trains with the wheels upward, and on the tracks goods were scattered: Flour, sugar, potatoes and parts of machines. Red Cross ambulances were speeding. Badly injured people were being taken in and out. We were given the job of gathering the scattered supplies, loading them in boxes and sacks, and taking them to a railroad storage room at the side. We did this with great pleasure and satisfaction. I went to the scattered bags of sugar. I filled my mouth and stuffed my pockets. People also raced to the scattered potatoes, bit into them with their teeth. We were doubly satiated, both from the scenes and from the food. It was sweet in our mouth and in our soul.

We saw that every sin gets its punishment. It is just a shame that millions of victims did not see the scenes. Their shattered hearts would have been pleased. It is quite possible that in these wrecks our murderers once lived, the ones who had, with their hands, wrecked and destroyed other homes. God paid them for their sins. We worked hastily all day, as though a new strength had awakened within us and given us courage to work. We could not talk amongst ourselves because we were closely watched, but each one looked at the other and our glances spoke enough.

At night we were led back to the camp, but before we got into the trains, sirens started to go off again, indicating another attack. The Germans scattered in panic to the bunkers. Our guards also sought somewhere to hide, but we had time and did not hurry. We wanted to see what would happen here. The SS guards shouted and cursed, but we took our time. We felt like shouting: "Leave us alone. These are ours."

The air attacks became more and more frequent and more powerful. When it was foggy, we only heard the roar of the motors and the explosion of the bombs. This was the most beautiful music for us because we knew that these motors were bringing closer our liberation. But, when it was a clear day, we saw the silver birds in the sky in the hundreds and in the thousands. They ruled the sky because the Germans no longer had competent aviation to repel the Allied air forces. Only the anti-aircraft tried to shoot the planes down from the ground but they did not reach the silver birds which flew very high. As soon as they saw where the anti-aircraft was coming from, they immediately swooped down to quell the response from the ground. For me, these were the most beautiful scenes I ever saw. To this day I picture the Allied plane squadrons which looked, to our eyes, like white angels which God himself had sent to punish our torturers, those who wanted to annihilate our people and our lives. During the night, we listened to the noise of motors and to the explosions. Our huts and bunkers shook from the crashes. We rejoiced and were restored with the music.

Quietly, sinking my head into the dirty straw mattress, I prayed to God to let me live, to let me survive the war, even if only for one day, so that I would be able to see with my own eyes that complete defeat of the wicked Hitler government; that I should be able to go out and about as a free man, eat my fill and sleep on a clean bed. I greatly feared that the bastards would not let me live, that they would finish us off so as not to leave anyone as witnesses. Rumours were spreading in the camp that the SS have plans ready in case the situation becomes critical and the end is near, to lead us out to the nearby forests and finish us off. We wanted so badly to live, though, because we saw clearly that the war was ending, that the Germans had lost the war and freedom was so close.

Amongst the SS there were some who understood the situation, so they changed their attitude towards the concentration camp inmates, and started to show a little humanity, to rehabilitate themselves a little in our eyes. They sometimes uttered a good word to us, and sometimes gave us a piece of bread. But there were other embittered Nazis who still believed in the F¸hrer as in a god; that he will yet perform a miracle and lead them to new victories, because if this could happen in Stalingrad, why not in Munich, in Frankfurt. They were bitter, so they let out their whole frustration on us. They tortured and beat us. They imagined that because we were not working fast enough, they were losing the war and also because they were powerless to do anything against the steel birds who ruled the sky as though in their own kingdom. For all these reasons they let out their anger on us, wanting to show that they still had strength to beat up unprotected slaves.




Mercy, or fear for the future

As I have already told in the previous chapter, I often rode out, with a horse and wagon, accompanied by an SS guard, to neighbouring villages to bring food for the camp: flour, potatoes, cabbage, beets, and hot soup. This time I rode to a village over the Inn. The village was called Yetbach or Gittenberg. I cannot recall the exact name. I remember, though, that we had to cross the river Inn to reach it. This river stretches from the Swiss Alps to Austria. We rode into a large estate of a landowner to load up a wagon full of potatoes. Meanwhile, at lunchtime, my guard and I got hungry, so he commanded me to unhitch the horse, feed it, and I myself should go and sit down in the large barn which was closed on both sides, and the door led to the entrance of the house from the barn. Through the barn there was an entry and exit to the large four-cornered yard which was closed like a chest, with only a narrow opening through which to pass.

In these storehouses were the storage bins of grain, potatoes and fruit, as well as the stables of the cattle and horses. Outside, the wagons and ploughs were standing, with covers, so that the rain should not wet them. Below the roof, on top of the stables and storehouses, were garrets filled with straw and hay as well as hen, geese, duck stalls and cages. The guard was afraid to leave me outside for fear that I would escape. He put me in the barn and asked the old servant woman to watch me while he speaks to the master, eats his fill, and freshens up. I sat there, thinking about my fate and how I would survive until the end of the war. The mistress of the house kept a watchful eye on me the whole time, observing me. She caught sight of the open door, and noting that the SS guard was deep in a discussion with her husband, already consuming the second mug of beer, she slowly moved towards me and placed beside me two apples and a piece of white bread and said:

"Hide this. It's for you."

I hid it right away, out of sight. She did not leave me though, but looked at me with damp eyes and said, still looking at the unlocked door:

"The war won't last much longer."

I looked at her in astonishment, knowing that there was more she wanted to say, to give me encouragement, so I tried to give her courage and said:

"May your words come true, madam."

She moved even closer to me, pulled out another apple from beneath her apron and handed it to me, saying in a tearful voice:

"You are so young. You haven't lived yet but have suffered so much. It's a great pity that you should die when you're still so young, now when the war is about to end."

I was very touched by her words. It was the first time I had encountered someone who spoke with humane, considerate words, and was showing me empathy. For so many years I had not heard such talk nor seen such motherly concern. Tears appeared in my eyes. The woman became more courageous and said:

"Save yourself, young man! It's a shame for you to perish. I know from a reliable source that you are all going to be murdered, shot, so that you won't live to be freed. Save yourself. Run away."

I was completely stunned by this talk. I choked on my tears and started to talk to the woman as to a mother:

"I would run away but where can I run to in my camp clothes. I will immediately be discovered and caught. Then I will be sent to my death for sure. I have already lived through so much, endured so much, so now, when it is such a short time until the liberation, should I risk my life and attempt such an adventure, not knowing where to run nor who will help me?"

"Run away and come to us in the village. You'll come into the property through one of the cracks. Go right up to the haystack and hide there. Later, you'll find a way of letting me know that you're hidden here and I won't let you go hungry. Perhaps that way you'll get through this critical time. Did you understand me?"

As soon as she finished speaking, she went away as though she was afraid of her own words. She went into the house, and immediately thereafter the SS came out, flushed from beer, satiated. He threw me a left-over from his meal, a few pieces of hard bread and butter, and said:

"You've lazed around long enough. Load up the potatoes!"

We loaded the potatoes, hitched up the horse and rode off. The old house servant followed me with her sad eyes. I responded with a friendly smile and parted from her.

"Auf Wiedersehen!" and I was on the way.

I left there in a state of shock, both because of the sympathy of the old woman and the warm feeling she had shown me, as well as from the bitter news she had given me, that our end had been planned. Her suggestion to me, that I should hide in her haystack, also would not leave me. I thought of how to realize her plan. I started to spin all kinds of thoughts and plans which occupied me the whole way. I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I did not even notice that my horse had taken a side road. The SS noticed that we had gotten on the wrong road and he started to curse me. However, he soon calmed down because the sirens were sounded and we saw several squadrons of Allied bombers approaching. He got off the wagon and dragged me into the forest too. Other wagons also remained standing in the middle of the road because all the wagoners went deep into the forest. The SS got wild, like a beast, but for me it was a spectacle, and I had no desire to hide, but he immediately pointed his gun at me. Later, when the air attack was over, I saw how wise it was for us to escape to the forest because the potatoes were shot through with bullets from machine guns.

When I returned to camp I did not tell anyone what had happened to me but my mind had no rest. All night long I did not sleep. I was making plans for my rescue. I wondered whether it was worthwhile to run away alone or whether I should take somebody along. I also wanted to find out the truth, whether the woman was really motivated by humanitarian feelings or whether she wanted to assure herself of an alibi later on. What is her actual reason for wanting to save a slave from death? If this was actually a truly humanitarian act, why had it never happened before? Why is this the first time that someone offers to help me, to show good feelings and to lend me a hand in my misfortune? Where were they until now, these "kindhearted people"? On the other side, I saw the honesty and decency of the woman who was even willing to risk her own life to help me. It is possible that at the time that Hitler was continually winning, and it appeared that he would conquer and rule the whole world, these same people who then believed that he would bring the German nation to the status of Herren Volk, pretended that they did not see anything and were not willing to risk their personal fortune. Now, the approaching end of the Nazi adventure whereby Hitler brought death and destruction not only to other nations, but misfortune to his own nation, causing terrible destruction to German cities and towns, they are ready to do something, to manifest themselves secretly, even prepared to take a risk only to provide an alibi that they were not Nazis; on the contrary, they even wanted to help to save the slaves from annihilation, because they, the residents of the area in which tens of camps were, knew how to reckon that as soon as the Allies would conquer their land, when the camps would be emptied, the people liberated, they will be ready to plunder, murder and take revenge for their pain and suffering.

Nevertheless, no matter what the case was, whatever motivated the woman to lend a helping hand to me in my plight, the fact remained that for the first time, someone offered to help me and I should use the opportunity to save myself, in the last days, from the great danger. In my mind, hundreds of plans were floating around for my escape from the camp because the whole area was full of soldiers, Gestapo and SS, since the front was getting closer and closer. In my frequent trips to the villages of the area from which I brought provisions for the camp, I met foreign workers, Poles, Yugoslavs, Romanians, Ukrainians and Hungarians who were brought from their countries as slave labourers. They also sought to free themselves and return to their own homes, to their families, so maybe it was worthwhile to make connections with them, to establish contact with them in order to be able to run away. They were already half free. They could move about more freely, so maybe establish a partisan group with them! So it was, that the ideas kept spinning in my mind, not giving me any rest. All night they plagued me. Nightmares and dreams started to torture me. I dreamt that I ran away, that I am chased and being shot at, and I started to scream. My neighbours awakened. They shook me and asked, "What happened to you?"

"Nothing. A foolish dream upset me", I replied.




The front gets closer

The spring of 1945 started very early, as though to order, so that the Allies would be able to carry out their operations all the sooner. In the Schreib-Stube, where I did my work, I did bookkeeping, prepared the balance sheets, but I did not see what I was writing at all, because my ears were attuned to what was going on at the fronts. I could tell from the faces of the Germans that the situation was very serious. They were going around worried and distraught. My Obersturmbannf¸hrer looked as though he had been pulled out of a bunker. He probably listened all night to the radio and probably had his own telephone communication, so he was not rested. He was angry and sad. They shut the doors so that I should not hear the radio, but in the movements of the SS, in their faces, I could recognize that the situation is critical. I found part of a newspaper in which I read that on February 13, 1945, the German troops "cleared" Budapest and drew back to further defense lines. From December 10th on, the Germans hung on to the Hungarian capital against the massive attacks of the Russians.

Hitler had issued an order that, no matter at what price, the front must be held. This was supposed to be the second Stalingrad where every house had to be fought for. Hitler wanted to prevent the breakthrough of the Russian forces towards Austria because that was his place of birth. He stationed his best troops there to hold back the Russians from a breakthrough to Vienna, but on February 13, the front was broken through. This was a sign that the war was lost. This had a fatal effect on the German troops. The Western Front was also no better. The Allied air force conquered the airspace of Germany. In March 1945, the British R.A.F. started to drop 10-ton bombs, causing total destruction of the German factories and industrial centers which worked for the Wehrmacht, as well as fuel installations.

The largest German cities were subjected to constant air attacks which did not cease day or night, having a fatal effect on the civilian population. The German high command tried to mobilize all forces, in order to mount a counter-offensive and save the fatherland from complete breakdown. They had just discovered the V2 Rocket, with which they had attacked Britain, and caused great destruction. They were preparing newer discoveries to influence the war. The project of a new type of airplane was completed, which was supposed to have great speed and fighting power, but the Allied air force destroyed it all. After the loss of Rumanian oil fields and the bombing of their own refineries, the airplanes and tanks did not have any fuel so they could not operate. That left the defense of the whole country to the anti-aircraft installations. Roads were also impassable, because of military transports which no longer had gasoline, and remained immobile like scrap metal. In January 1945, the wide-ranging Russian offensive started on all fronts.

Marshall Koniyev started his march in the south from Poland, Marshall Dzukov in the centre, and Marshall Rakazofsky in Northern Poland. From these three directions they met on German territory. Up until January 19, the main arteries of Poland were captured: Radom, Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow. Rakozofsky, supported by the army of General Tchernyakovsky, cut through to Eastern Russia and reached the port of Danzig, and Marshal Koniyev and his forces broke through to Oberschlesien and Unterschlesien and reached the gates of Breslau. I had knowledge of all this information because I was in the Schreib-Stube, but when the Obersturmbannf¸hrer saw that it is no longer worth his while for me to be close to the headquarters where emergency measurers had to be taken, he sent me away, saying that for the time being he does not have time to do bookkeeping. He will leave it for later and will let me know when to return.

I regretted that my source of information was cut off, but on the other hand, I was glad that the situation had become so critical. I used to bring the information to the camp where it was impatiently awaited, as were my commentaries. Often, my friends would grab me and start to kiss me because I gave them new hope. Though the treatment kept getting worse, the news fed the soul, learning that the troubles would soon be over. Work on the Haupt Bau Stelle got more difficult from day to day. The Germans wanted to finish the underground hangar all the sooner in order to protect their remaining planes and war industries from frequent air attacks, but the Allied commanders soon found out about the underground caves. Once, when we were watching the squadron of steel birds, which flew in groups of a hundred, in symmetrical formation as though they were a host of angels, one of the planes suddenly left the formation and swooped down. It seemed as though it was descending right in our camp, but soon we heard a powerful explosion not far from us. They had descended on the Bau Stelle and blew up everything which had been built up until then. Many Germans who were working there were killed as well as many of our friends who were buried in the rubble.

The Germans wanted to erect a strong defense line at the Rivers Oder and Neisse, and in the mountains near Czechoslovakia, the Tatar and Carpathian Mountains, but they could no longer oppose the fiery lava that was pouring down on them from all sides. The Russians broke through on all fronts. From Budapest they pushed forward to Slovakia, to Prague, and then to Vienna. From Warsaw and Radom they pierced through to Breslau, Opelln and Frankfurt. Rakosovsky made a road through to Stettin and marched forward to Hamburg. The British and American troops started their new offensive in the Ruhr area. Coming from France and Belgium, they quickly marched towards Koblentz. Here they crossed the Mosel and stormed Worms and Ludwighafen, encircling the German troops in the Saar area and Pfaltz. Immediately following, they crossed the Rhine, took Maintz and Frankfurt. With this the fate of Germany was sealed.

We, in the camp, did not know how far the Allies had advanced. After I was sent away from the Schreib-Stube, I no longer had exact information regarding the front. We saw how angry and worried the SS were, but did not know how far we had progressed. In the camp, rumours started to spread once more that the Germans want to evacuate us deeper into the country. Others told that huge pits had already been prepared in the forests where we would all be shot and thrown into. Everyone came to me, asking if this is true, as though I had the key to all the news. I tried to comfort them, saying that now, when their situation is so critical, they will not permit themselves such acts any more, in order not to increase their guilt account which is already so great; that on the outside it is known how many slaves are working there, therefore, they will not allow themselves to carry out such mass murders at the end of their rule.

In my own heart, though, I trembled, feeling that the Nazis are capable of such bestiality, precisely when they see that they have lost the war, so as to leave as few witnesses as possible, bitter people, who are awaiting the day of revenge. Now, I thought in earnest about carrying through my plan of running away from the camp, but when I spoke to my closest friends, confiding my secret to them and asking them if they wanted to accompany me in my plan, they discouraged me from setting forth on such an adventure because we might pay with our lives at the last minute of our captivity, that it is best to wait. Perhaps when we would be evacuated it would be the right time to try to run away. They tried to convince me that the regime was getting weaker, that many SS were taken to the front and in their place older men had been brought from the Wehrmacht and from the Organization Todt, a sign that they are not considering shooting us.

Our Obersturmbannf¸hrer was also sent to the front and in his place there was a Hauptmann from the Wehrmacht. He took over command of the camp. He was an older man, more than 70, very strict and mean. But in my heart there was fear for the last days, lest some provocation would occur that would bring about our liquidation. I recalled the words of the old German, the house servant from the opposite side of the "Inn," who had warned me that a terrible end awaited us. I was nervous and distraught. A rumour also reached us that the Stamm Lager in Milldorf was already evacuated, so probably our turn would soon follow. Meanwhile, the Allied forces are moving ever closer to us. Berlin is already encircled on all sides. Rumours were circulating that the F¸hrer has committed suicide. The situation was tense. We found ourselves in a clamp and didn't know what tomorrow would bring.




The devil trips me up

The tenseness in the camp continued to grow. Each time someone else came with a different story which he had just heard from a reliable source. People with wild imaginations who wanted to make the impression that they are important, that they have contact with the authorities, made up all kinds of stories, and they were snatched up by those who wanted to hear some news. One told that the Americans had already taken over the Stamm-Lager of Milldorf. A second one told that Hitler hung himself. A third one said that this very night we were going to be taken to the forest and murdered, that the pits are ready for us.

Our nerves were stretched to the point of breakdown. We did not sleep all night. The following day--it probably was April 24 or 25, the Hauptmann came into the camp, told us to get ready for roll call, and declared, "You should know that the war has ended. If you will remain calm, nothing will happen to you. We will wait until the Americans arrive and will hand over the camp to them with everything in the best of order. I have already given an order to the guards to lay down their arms, to use only light arms, just to keep order."

When we heard the news, we hugged and kissed one another for joy. People went crazy. It appeared that the Russians had already captured Berlin, and Hitler had committed suicide, together with his beloved Eva Braun, in the bunker of the Reichs Chancellery. A group of officers revolted against the rulers, established a revolutionary council, and declared themselves ready to deal with the Allied forces regarding capitulation, in order to prevent further loss of blood. The revolutionaries took control of the radio station, appealed to the people about the capitulation and appealed to the armed forces to stop fighting and surrender to the invading troops. According to the radio appeal, our Hauptmann decided that it is pointless to wage any opposition, but to wait until the conquering troops will come in so that they would hand over the camp with the H”ftlingen (slaves), at that time. Amongst ourselves, we had decided that we should remain calm and not allow chaos in order not to cause a provocation and not endanger the life of the camp inmates. We ourselves appointed the ones amongst us who would keep order.

Meanwhile, a guard from the Haupt Kommando came and approached the Stable Kapo to get a horse and wagon for him because two doctors had to be brought to the camp from Milldorf. It appeared that most of the h”ftlingen had been removed from there, but since there were some critical cases there, they needed doctors, and telephoned to our kommando to lend them two camp doctors. I stood, listening to this conversation, and I was trembling that I should be appointed to this Yazdeh (trip). It seems that the Kapo deciphered in my eyes my strong desire to leave the lager, so he pointed to me to prepare the wagon and take the doctors to Milldorf. Later, when the watchman went out, the Kapo told me that he wanted me to go because I will surely bring back some news for which he can depend on me.

I prepared a small horse and wagon and seated the two doctors, Hungarian Jews. An SS also sat down with us, but unarmed. I felt that I was boiling inside, that I am cracking up from my tense nerves. The heat beat down on my head. I lost my mental balance. I could not stop talking, screaming, laughing and crying. I got hysterical. I told my accompanier that he had nothing to fear because he was always decent to us, never hit us or tortured us. I would, therefore, defend him, but what need does he have for the insignia of the SS, such black snakes, I asked him, telling him to tear off that dreck. I started to tear off his insignia. He smiled, did not stop me, but let me go ahead and do whatever I wanted with him. I got off the wagon, got back on, shouted, screamed, filling the village with my words: "Hitler is dead! He crapped, the dog that he was! We are free! Free!!! The war is over! The blood spilling is finished! No more slave labourers!!!".

Everyone came out of their houses, watched the crazy guy and applauded, bravo.

I no longer knew what was going on with me. I lost all my balance. I stumbled like a drunk. I sprang around and caused an uproar in the village. The SS tried to calm me down, tried to speak to me very politely, telling me to control myself and not be so ecstatic, but I could not calm down. I could no longer control my hysteria because I was crazed with joy.

Finally, we arrived in the Stammlager, headquarters of Milldorf. Here, also, it looked like before a wedding. The concentration camp inmates were running around confused, not knowing what had happened. The SS were also running around, angry and depressed. They looked around to see if anybody was going to beat them on their heads. The inmates, seeing our wagon, crowded near us and started questioning me, wanting to know what was happening outside. I told them what I knew, so once more buzzing started, like in a beehive. One passed the news on to a second one. Others came to check with me and commented. The SS guards came and pleaded with the inmates not to gather in groups, not to cause confusion, and go to their block. But nobody could remain calm. They ran around the camp, sharpened their eyes and ears to catch any news from outside. When airplanes flew overhead, everyone raised their heads skyward, trying to guess what planes they were and where they were headed.

After spending three hours in Milldorf camp, we returned to the Waldlager. Outside, people were moving around with quick steps, looking around all the time to see what was happening. We also saw a lot of military personnel on transport trucks and on foot. They were loaded with full armour. With the approach of the front in the area, strong military garrisons were thrown up, trenches were built, and positions erected.

In the middle of the way, an SS stopped us and asked to be taken part way. We made room for him in the front near the other SS. All three of us sat together in the front, I at the left, the SS in the middle, and the O.T. man on the right. I listened to the two of them talking to one another. The O.T. man was telling the guard the latest news which he had just heard on the radio, that there had been a putsch, that a group of officers had revolted, had taken over the headquarters and the radio station through which they announced the news, at the same time making an appeal to the fighting forces to lay down their arms, stop fighting and surrender to the invasion forces.

As it turned out, however, these were traitors, bought off by the enemy, to demoralize the army and betray the F¸hrer. It did not help them though, because the army and the SS security guards immediately encircled them, took them as prisoners, took them before a court, and sentenced them to death for betrayal. They were shot. "The war continues", they proclaimed. "We trust the F¸hrer." We are hopeful that we will soon drive the enemy from our land. The F¸hrer is preparing the great spring offensive which will soon start to roll full blast. We fooled the enemy forces into our territory in order to beat and defeat them here."

When I heard such talk, my stomach started to churn. I thought that everything in me was turning upside-down. My SS did not even want to look at me, afraid to look me in the eye. I drove slowly, not having any reason to rush. My head started to work like a computer. I started to spin plans for an escape. I thought about escaping mid way, but this was too dangerous because now I had two guards, so they could catch me immediately. Besides, military men could be seen passing by all the time, so I probably would not be able to get very far.

But one thing I did know, that I must not return to camp that day, because after what I did with the SS, and after the commotion I had caused in the village, I would be shot right away. The SS also sat as though on hot coals. First, he felt guilty for the scandal he allowed me to cause in the village. Hundreds of people saw and heard. He is the one responsible because it was his duty to guard me and hold me back. For such negligence he could be judged by a court-martial. Second, he was scared to death that I might dare to run away in the forest. He took out a revolver from an inside pocket and put it in a front pocket, making sure that I would see.

There was a bitterness in my mouth and my head was spinning. I could not conclude what to do. I felt, though, that something must happen now because I must not come into the camp this day.




My last chance--Run away

When I arrived in the camp, I had to unharness the horse outside, in front of the camp, between the headquarters of the Hauptstab of the SS guards and the camp. The SS went into the Schreib Stube. The doctors also went into the camp. At the same time as I arrived, another wagon also arrived, brought by a friend from the Stall Kommando. His name was Ernest, a German Jew of around 20 years of age. While we were unharnessing the horses I had a talk with him:

"Ernst, we are in a very difficult situation. According to the information I got, they are preparing to finish us off within the next few days. Ernst opened his eyes wide and said:

"Wie so?" ("How can that be") "The Hauptmann promised us that he will hand us over to the American victors."

"Don't be a fool" I got boiling mad. "You still believe what the Germans, your landsleit, are telling you? Will you later call them liars? Will you be able to take them to court in the heavenly tribunal, and call me as a witness?"

He looked at me with a pair of calf's eyes and shot out: "Ach, Quwatsch!" (Nonsense!)

I started to work on him and told him the whole story. I even spiced it up a bit because I wanted to convince him to come with me. It will be better if we will be two together, I thought. I tried to prove to him that this was our only chance, that we must run away. If we will not save ourselves now, our life is in danger. I also told him that outside I had already prepared a hiding place. Ernst, hearing about running away, could not conceive of it at all. He immersed himself in thought and started to look at me as though I was not normal. Possibly, I also looked not normal, because I was totally enraged. When I thought that I had made some progress with him he turned to me and said,

"Mach doch keine Dumheiten, das d¸rfen wir doch nicht." (Don't make any dumb moves. We don't need that).

I got madder, and started to talk more sharply: "If you will wait for what you need and what you don't need, you can say goodbye to the world. Maybe you need an invitation?!" Then I started to appeal to his understanding, to his heart and mind: "We've come through so much suffering, barely stayed alive until the end of the war when the longed-for freedom is in sight, should we be murdered on the eve of this great event? Now we have a chance. We should use it because we won't have another chance like it." I could see that it was starting to penetrate his mind, but he has not yet decided.

Meanwhile, we put the horses in the stable and came back outside to clear the wagons. I looked around to see how we could run away. We were between our camp and the barracks of the camp administration. That is where the wagons were. In order to ride out of the camp, we had to pass a watchman. But between the barracks of the kommando and the gate of the barbed wire which enclosed our camp, there was a sort of rampart at the edge of a forest which stretched for tens of kilometers. There was always a watchman standing on this rampart, observing all movements in the camp, because from this lookout there was a view of the whole camp. I also saw how the watch was rearmed. The guards on the observation towers were also more armed, with heavy machine guns, so I understood that the situation was once more serious, and that the O.T. man's talk was justified. I kept looking at the Haupt Kommando in case they were coming to call me. I was shaking all over. I was flushed with anger. I felt that my fate is now in the balance. My mind became sharp as a sword. I decided to take advantage of the last chance: Death or bread. I went over to my friend and said to him:

"Ernst, wait a moment. I'll try to talk with the watchman who is on patrol." I went closer, sat down in the middle of the sector and started to engage the SS in a conversation. I said to him:

"There has once more been a change. This morning the Hauptmann told us that the war has ended, that we only have to wait for the inmates. Now, as I see, there has been a change. It appears that the war has not ended."

He replied: "The war is continuing. There's no other way but to keep fighting."

I: "You believe, Herr Wachtmeister, that the war can still go on for long?"

He: "The whole war is an insanity, a Scheisse, from which we can't break loose."

I: "It doesn't make sense to fight any more when the Allies have encircled us on all sides, when the main defense lines are broken. Why the bloodshed? Wouldn't it be better to sign a peace agreement?"

He: "As far as I'm concerned, the war could end today so that I could return to my family, see my children, and goodbye to the whole adventure."

I: "That's what you say. Imagine my situation. It's the fifth year that I'm a prisoner, a slave; I've lost my family, my home is destroyed, my belongings ruined, and I myself am a physical and mental wreck."

He: "It's not much better for us. Many of our homes are destroyed from the senseless bombings, and how many millions perished in Russia and Africa!"

I felt that I had broken the armour of the watchman, that I had reached his humanitarian heart, that he was softening up. I looked around to see if anyone was approaching. Below, Ernst was standing, pretending to repair the wagon and regularly casting a glance my way. I decided to continue and go all the way:

I: "I would so badly like to live to the day of liberation. I'm still a young person. I have suffered a lot, born all the suffering, so I don't want to die now when the war is about to end. In my opinion the war won't continue much longer. Perhaps it will last another few days, but certainly not more than that, so who wants to lose their life in the last days?"

He: "You just have to be patient. Just bear the last crisis until it's over."

I: "It's easy to say to bear it, to be patient, when there are so many dangers hanging overhead. I'm afraid that we're going to be finished off."

He: "Nonsense, that won't happen."

I: Ja, if everyone was like you, I wouldn't be afraid that the war would soon end, but there are also others, fanatics, who are still living with dreams, who can't win on the battlefield, so they want to show their heroism over defenseless people. Furthermore, there's a chance of more bombardments. Who knows if a few bombs won't fall on the camp, in which case we may be the first victims? If the war was over, as the Hauptmann said today, a few days won't make any difference. We have already suffered so much. We would be able to survive another few days, but as this turns out to be only an illusion; when the military kommmando has decided to continue fighting, so the war will continue with a terrible force from both sides, who knows how long it can continue and how many more victims will fall?"

He: "I don't believe that the war will continue much longer. I hope that a cease-fire will be reached. To continue the war under such circumstances is crazy."

I: "I wish that was true. Sure, if people like you, sensible and realistic, were at the helm, things would look different. The trouble is that at the helm stand fanatics who believe that the F¸hrer will perform a miracle; people who have no pity for the thousands of victims who die each day."

He: "Die Vernunft wird noch siegen". (Common sense will prevail).

I: "I thank you for your words of encouragement and for your humanitarian feelings. Don't think that we don't know how to distinguish between those of you who behaved decently and humanely towards us. I always used to comment about this to my comrades, telling them that you and certain other SS, even though you belonged to the SS and SA regiments, never lost your humanity and always treated us humanely. We know how to value that and we will never forget you for it. If it will be necessary, we will bear witness for this at every opportunity."

I saw and felt that I had broken him down. On his face I could see that he was pleased with what I had told him. Probably, each one of them was thinking about what would happen to them later when the Americans would enter and take them as prisoners. So it was, that I decided to go further and launch a direct attack.

"You have already helped us so many times. If you were to lend me a hand now, I would never forget it. I don't want to endanger my life in the very last days, so if you would let me go into the forest, to disappear with my friend, you would find that we are your best friends and defenders."

The watchman's eyes opened wide. He did not know what to do, whether to get strict with me, chase me away, or treat me with understanding, in order not to forfeit the chance of a good reputation and a valuable alibi. He secured his gun on his shoulder, as though to clear his thoughts, and said "Mensch, don't be stupid! You will soon be freed."

I decided not to give up, though, because I could foresee how the scale was tipped. I took the last step to tip the scale in my favour.

I: "The war can't last much longer. It's ending. Every sensible person can see that. It's just a shame that we're still being tortured here. You are a person with refined feelings. We always felt that, so why shouldn't you lend me a hand in such a decisive moment? You were always decent to us. We'll be ready to testify on your behalf at all times. You have a wife and children. I also have a wife and children." (I wasn't yet married at that time, but in order to make him more sympathetic, I thought up a lie.) "They're waiting for me at home. A mother is also waiting, with her trembling heart, for her son, so why should you refuse me at such a moment when I want to save myself from death? Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to save you from danger because one hand washes the other. I beg of you, don't refuse me right now because you will be earning yourself every good word."

I could see how the ice was melting. He was debating with himself, thinking what to answer me. Finally he said quietly:

"As far as I'm concerned, I don't see anything." He turned around and went to the other end of his watch route.




The leap to freedom

I, hearing what the watchman said, giving me the green light, was quickly down to give my friend Ernst the good news that the watchman gives us permission to escape. Ernst was still undecided, afraid to risk his life. He also did not believe that I was capable of carrying out something like that. He started to argue with me, telling me that we should not risk such a thing, but I did not hear what he was saying. I grabbed him with such force that he could not move. I myself do not know the source of that strength, but something superhuman overtook me. I was all nerves and wrought up like a wild animal. I took him with me and both of us went into the forest. We ran for a few hundred meters and we collapsed like dead. I could not move any more. Ernst also started to foam at the mouth. He cried out to me: "You're a devil! What's going to happen now?" I encouraged him: "The main thing is that we're out of the barbed wire enclosure. Now we'll look for a way to the village across the "Inn" where we'll be able to hide for a few days until the Americans arrive."

I knew more or less the general direction in which we should run in order to reach the river "Inn". After we rested a while, we started to run. Meanwhile, we heard someone walking so we quickly hid in a pit. From the distance we saw an O.T. who was striding through a forest path into the village. We waited until he went away, then we started to run again.

We ran a whole night until the break of dawn. It was a clear, cool morning when it started to get light in the forest on April 25, 1945. Night disappeared. It started to get brighter and clearer. We came out of the edge of the forest and saw a village. The houses started to emerge from the darkness of the night, and we saw the streets and houses of the village.

I started to look around, to try to discern where we were. Finally, I recognized the place as Pirten, a village where there lived a blacksmith who sometimes used to forge the horseshoes of my horses when one of them would break. I knew that at this blacksmith's place there was a Polish slave labourer with whom I used to talk when my horses were being shod. I knew that the blacksmith was a P.G. (Partei Genosse) whose membership insignia hung on his wall and of which he was very proud, but at that moment there was no time to think or speculate because we had to get out of the forest before daybreak while the village was still asleep. I knew the exact direction of the blacksmith's place. I thought that if we would be successful in hiding near there we would establish contact with the Polish gentile, and he would probably give us a hand at such a critical time.

We slid through the streets and houses. Suddenly, a dog started to bark, so we quickly moved from there, begging the dog to stop barking. Finally, we reached the house which was hedged in by other structures. On one side was the blacksmith's shop above which were garrets. In the middle was the stable and barn and on the other side were the residences where the blacksmith lived with his helpers. We remained standing like lost souls, not knowing what to do, nor where to hide. Suddenly, I saw a ladder leading to the garret.

"Wait here, Ernst," I said to my friend. "I'll see if the garret is open."

I went up, shoved the door and it opened. I winked to my friend. "Come!" We went in to the garret which was full of hay. I made a hole in the wall from which to look out onto the blacksmith's shop. We went into the hole, covered up with hay, and relaxed somewhat from all the tension. It was only then that we felt that every bone in our body was aching, especially our feet which were swollen. First of all, we had to rest because we did not know what awaited us. My friend fell asleep right away and started to snore. I could not fall asleep, though, because my mind was overloaded with impressions and future plans. I thought that this was the first station and that at night we would have to run further in order to reach the village Yetenbach, where the kindhearted woman had offered me a hiding place. The village, though, was situated across the river "Inn" and we first had to spy out to see if the way was free.

Meanwhile, hunger started to plague us. Ernst awakened and started to complain of hunger. It was nearly twenty-four hours since we had tasted anything. All the while that we were running in deadly fright, we forgot all about eating, but now, when we were lying in the hay which teased our appetite, the hunger became stronger and more painful. We had not yet accustomed ourselves to eating hay. I calmed Ernst, telling him that as soon as I would see the Polish gentile, I would give him a sign to come up and he will probably bring us something to quiet our hunger.

I sat at the cracks, looking to see if anyone was coming. Finally, I saw the Polish gentile carrying buckets of food for the livestock and horses. I envied the cows who had someone to worry about them. The luck of animals. I whistled. He looked around, and not seeing anyone, continued on his way. I told my friend not to show himself at all so as not to scare my "saviours." It will be enough if they see one, not two at once. If I will get something to eat, I will share with him anyhow. I waited until he came back from the barn. When I saw him, I whistled again. He again looked in all directions and did not see anyone, so I whistled again and again until he oriented himself that someone was whistling from above. When he came up, I got up from the hay and approached him. He, upon seeing me, crossed himself and was full of fright. I started to speak to him in Polish: "Do you remember when I used to pass by here with provision for the camp and when I had the horse's shoes repaired? You know that we are in a camp not far from here by Ampfing. I ran away from the camp because I am afraid they are going to finish us off in the last days before the liberation. Now, I'm in your hands, brother, because we are both Poles, both enslaved to the Germans, and we have to give one another a hand."

The Pole got completely bewildered. His eyes started to blink and, choking on his words, he said:

"But what do you want from me? I myself am a slave, a stranger."

"I know that very well," I started to play up to him. "I know your situation. You also were dragged away from your home, from your family, and you are forced to work for pennies. But our enslavement will soon end. We will soon be free and they will be the slaves. Now we must stick together. After all, we are brothers, both Poles, grew up on the same soil, under the same sky, under the same culture of Slovatzki and Mitzkevich. Though I am a Jew, my nationality is Polish. We grew up together like brothers. Together we built the fatherland which is now enslaved by the Nazis. I just want one thing from you. Don't let me die of hunger."

He looked at, thought for a moment, then said:

"Unfortunately, I can't help you at all. I won't risk my life on your behalf. When it will be discovered that I helped someone from the concentration camp, gave him something to eat, they'll send me away like a dog."

I started to plead with him all over again, not to let me sink, that at night I would be off again across the "Inn" because there I have a place to hide. But in the meantime, I pleaded for something to eat because I won't have strength to run further.

The Pole shrugged his shoulders, avoiding to look me straight in the eyes, and said: "You have nowhere to run because you won't get across the bridge which is heavily guarded by SS who fear saboteurs and parachutists. You have to find another place, because I won't risk my life here on account of you. If you won't leave here, I'll have to denounce you to my boss who is a Party man."

I continued to talk, appealing to his conscience, to his Polish patriotism, for him to give me a hand in my misfortune, because the war is ending. I will later make it up to him, repaying him more than double for his "good heart". Nothing helped though. He was unrelenting. His grey eyes shone with a steely murderous look and it was impossible to awaken any mercy in his heartless soul. Since I saw that I would not achieve anything with him, I decided.

"Good, call your boss. I want to talk to him. But don't tell him beforehand what it's about."

I saw that I had freed him from a heavy burden. He agreed to call the blacksmith to come up, but he did not neglect to load my heart first:

"Remember that he's a Party man and that he can turn you over to the Gestapo."

It was now all the same to me because anyhow I would die of hunger here. I already heard that it was impossible to cross the bridge because it is heavily guarded, so I started to use my last card.

The Pole went down. He was gone for some time. Meanwhile, I went to my friend, told him of my conversation with the Pole, because he does not understand Polish. When he heard the result of my failed intervention, Ernest was frightened, and started to throw at me that I had brought misfortune upon him because here we would be turned over to the Gestapo, and we will be shot. It would be best to leave here because it is too dangerous to remain.

I started to calm him, telling him that the situation is not so dangerous; that we cannot leave during the day anyhow because then we would be discovered; that we would leave at night if they will not allow us to stay here. He was upset with me for asking that the boss be called up because since he is a Party man, he would certainly turn us over to the Gestapo.

My heart was heavy. My mind started to work in all directions. It became sharp as a knife. In the meantime, the blacksmith came up with the Pole. He recognized me at once.

"You're from Waldlager. How did you get here?"

I started to present my arguments: "You know that the war is ending. Yesterday the Hauptmann notified us that we are free, that we only have to wait until the Allied troops will enter and he will then turn the camp over to them."

The blacksmith immediately caught on. "Ja, that was yesterday, when rebels took over the radio and gave false information about the war's end, but the traitors were captured and immediately charged. The war continues."

When I heard that he knows the whole story, I tried another approach. "You're a sensible man so you know that the war won't go on much longer. If not today, the end will come tomorrow because it's impossible to withstand such heavy pressure from all sides. I ran away from the camp because I was afraid of losing my life in the last moment. It could happen because of a bombardment of enemy forces, or one of the SS guards might lose his head, or maybe sometimes an order from higher up, when they see that they've lost the war, would order us shot."

The blacksmith heard my words and wanted to refute them:

"That's impossible. They won't be such fools."

I started to work on him right away, telling him that not everyone is like him, clearheaded, and with understanding such matters. There are also dumbbells who don't understand what they're doing. If everyone was like him the war would have ended long ago because it does not make sense to fight any longer.

He smiled at my words and agreed.

"Ja, Ja. You're right."

I did not stop, but continued my attack:

"When I left the camp I informed my close friends that I will hide at your place, because I know your character and your good heart which you always showed me. I was never afraid of your P.G. because you were never a fanatical party member, but a sensible person. You belonged to the Party outwardly, but in your heart you were always a democrat, a liberal person. It was probably worth your while, for business reasons, to be a member of the Party. When the war will end my friends will look for me here. If they won't find me, you will become suspect of having killed me and this, I want very much to prevent in order that you should not have to suffer. On the contrary, though, I will be the first one to rehabilitate you."

These words made the desired impression on him. He softened up, but he was still undecided. It was obvious that he was struggling with himself. He started to speak:

"True, I was never a fanatical Party man. You can ask Antonio" -- pointing to the Polish gentile. "I always conducted myself with tolerance to the foreign workers. I won't turn you over to the Gestapo because I don't want to cause anyone misfortune. You did wrong to leave the camp because nothing would have happened to you all there. But I can't keep you here because it's too dangerous. The hunde (dogs) are searching in every hole. If you're found on my premises they'll kill my whole family and burn my house. I'll give you food, provide you with clothes, but you must clear out of here tonight. You understand, because you're not a fool, but this is playing with fire."

I felt that I had succeeded, since he did not spurt out Nazi talk to me but tried to show some humanity. Possibly he did this to secure himself for the future. Two years ago, or even one, this could not have happened. He himself would have murdered me or would not have hesitated to turn me over to the Gestapo. Now, however, when they see that the war is over, they're thinking about tomorrow. He already heard that my friends in the camp know where I am, that I had gone to hide in his place. The Polish worker would also be able to testify against him, that he murdered me, so he wanted to get rid of me. But I decided not to give up until I would completely convince him. I started to speak until foam covered my mouth. I cried pleadingly:

"I'm still a young man. I want to live, so why should you send me away from your place to my death. Today you will save me. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be able to save you." I told him that a fine German woman offered to hide me because she wanted to save me from death, but her house is on the other side of the "Inn" and I can't cross over because the bridge is heavily guarded. I kneeled before him and begged him not to send me away, not to let me die during the last days of the war. You have children, and because of your merit they will also be saved from death. Later I will defend you. I'll tell the commanders of the Armed Forces how decent you were towards us, how you helped us and protected us. Otherwise, you will be accused of spilling my blood!"

The blacksmith found himself in a difficult position, not knowing what to do or how to decide the matter. Different forces for and against were battling within him. On the one hand he was afraid of being discovered hiding an escapee from the camp, also the patriotic feeling and Party discipline, but on the other, he was bombarded by feelings of humanity which I had awakened in him to provide himself with an alibi, especially when the end of the war was so near. He was wavering, actually pleading with me to leave his place, because he has an ill wife who will not be able to survive something like this. When he mentioned his wife, I decided that I should address the feelings of the woman who, in such cases, is always more humane, and I said to him:

"Go down and ask your wife. Tell her what has happened here. You'll hear that she convinces you to let me stay." He agreed to my suggestion and went down to consult his wife.




My fate hangs in the balance

When the blacksmith went down, I went to my friend Ernst and collapsed near him like a heavy stone. I was a pack of nerves. At that moment,I had no thought of food. I saw how our lives hung in the balance between life and death. I understood that if I will allow myself to be shoved out of here, we are lost. We will be immediately found and captured. There was a search going on at that time for spies and saboteurs who were dropped with parachutes, so we would immediately be grabbed and put up against the wall. If we could at least cross the river to the other side, I would manage to make our way to the place of the woman who wanted to hide me, but according to what the Pole told me, this is impossible because the roads and bridges are strictly guarded, and every suspicious person found nearby is immediately detained for questioning.

Ernst was very pessimistic. He tortured himself for allowing himself to be convinced by me to undertake such an adventure, but I was certain that I would break through the ice. If he did not act arrogantly towards me, he would bend further. I firmly believed that when his wife would hear the story she would have feelings of sympathy awakened. Secondly, they will want to have witnesses that they were not fanatical Party people who succumbed blindly to the F¸hrer, following all his demands. I waited with a pounding heart for the return of the blacksmith in order to hear what his decision would be. Meanwhile, my mind was busy supplying me with new arguments and fresh ideas. My mouth was dry because I had not had anything to eat or drink in over 24 hours. There was nothing with which to moisten my tongue. In my mouth, I had a most unnaturally bad taste. This was not a good sign. Nightmarish thoughts started to peck at my brain. "Maybe he is gone to denounce us. Maybe he is waiting for the Gestapo."

I was afraid to express these thoughts to my friend, but he probably thought the same, and was afraid to tell me, because he saw that I was in deep trouble. I simply said to him: "Ernst, you remain hidden, no matter what happens to me. Don't let them know that there's someone else." In the worst case he'd be able to look for another hiding place at night.

The minutes dragged on like lead, pressing themselves on my lungs, on my heart and on my mind. Finally, I heard footsteps. He opened the door and entered. I breathed lighter when I saw that he returned alone. I rushed out of my hiding place and ran to him with a smile. My smile quickly vanished, though, when I saw his appearance. He was as white as chalk, and was biting his lips.

"What happened?" I asked him fearfully. The blacksmith turned his head so as not to look me straight in the eyes, and started to tell me:

"When I went down and told my wife what happened here, she fainted. We hardly managed to revive her. She continues to faint and has a high fever. I had to bring a doctor who gave her an injection, and she had to stay in bed. Now I no longer have anyone with whom to discuss the matter."

My knees buckled. I felt that in a minute I was going to fall to the ground. I asked him to give me a sip of water because my tongue is not moving in my mouth. There was a white foam on my lips which was burning my tongue. He went down and brought me some water. I would have drunk it all because I was so dry and thirsty, but I remembered my friend for whom I had to leave a drink of water which smelled better than the best Tokay wine at ordinary times. I freshened up a bit and continued with my arguments and requests. First, I expressed my regret that my presence here had caused his gentle wife so much pain. Hopefully, she would soon recover. Regarding my leaving here, I would leave, though this could result in my demise. I regretted that I had told my friends in the camp that I am running to hide here. When they will be freed, they will come to look for me here. Then they might conclude that you drove me out, refused to lend me a hand in such critical moments, and you certainly caused my death."

The blacksmith wrung his hands and started to plead:

"I'm not chasing you out. I would gladly want to hide you, to rescue you from the dangers you are exposed to, but you see what has happened here. My wife won't survive this. I had to promise her that I will immediately send you away. I'll give you food, some clothes too, but at night you must leave, find another place, perhaps in the forest or back to the camp."

When I heard "back to the camp," I shook all over. I could not tell him why I could not return to the camp because he would have gotten even angrier and wild. But a new argument came to me and I immediately uttered it:

"Listen, my friend. Pardon me for calling you 'my friend', but up to now I haven't lost my belief in you, that you are my friend, otherwise I wouldn't have run to you. I hope that your common sense will rule your head and that we will remain friends for many long years. Now I need you to lend me a hand at such a tragic time, when my fate between life and death is in the balance. But tomorrow you may need me to lend you a hand and save you from great trouble. I have another plan for you. Listen well:

"You don't know that I'm here. You really didn't know. If I hadn't said to call you, knowing of your honesty and humanitarian feelings, you wouldn't know until the present that I'm here because I arrived during the night. I came up on the ladder and hid here without you or anyone of your family, not even the Polish worker, knowing. So you won't know anything now too. I promise you, even if, by a slight chance, I'll be found here, I won't, under any condition, even if I'm severely beaten, reveal that either you or any of yours knew anything about me. Now it's just a matter of something to eat. This won't be a great problem either. First of all, I've gotten out of the habit of eating. It will be enough for me if I'll have water to drink and a piece of bread. I don't want you to 'send food up to me' either, because you don't know that I'm here but you have a few hens and ducks up here, so soak a few old pieces of bread and put down a pail of water, and I'll share it. They certainly won't give me away."

The blacksmith squirmed like a worm. I had pushed him to the wall and given him two weighty arguments, making it hard for him to reject, but seeing how undecided he was, not being able to reach a decision, I decided to give him the last push:

"Listen. I have another suggestion for you. I'll remain hidden here for another two days without you hypothetically knowing anything about it. You can rest assured about what I told you regarding not giving you away. If, during the two days you won't realize that the war has ended, that it's only a matter of a few days, I'll leave here without putting you to any bother. According to my opinion, the war can't last months more, nor weeks. The most will be a few days. You are an intelligent person." I started to sweeten him up. "You understand the situation very well because you are realistic. If the Russians have already reached Berlin and the Allies have already crossed the Rhine and have reached Bayern, who can keep the front here, the few old folks and the children? I don't know if Hitler is still alive or not. If he is, he will be taken captive at any moment because there is no longer anyone to protect him, even if he would have the very best personal guards. If Hitler won't be around any more, that will be the end of the war. There are still a few fanatics who don't want to betray the F¸hrer, and don't want to surrender, preferring to die fighting, but their resistance will soon break down. I believe that very soon you'll need my help and you will be happy that you gave me the opportunity to save myself, something that I will never forget. I'm also fortunate that I met such a fine person who has empathy for another human being."

I could see that the German was softening up, becoming more responsive and friendly. I completely broke the ice. By his gesture, I saw that he had swung to my side because he started to smile and conceded that I was right. I gave him my hand and said:

"Relax. If, at the end of two days you yourself won't see the correctness of my arguments, you won't have to call me. I'll leave here by myself. Anyhow, you know about nothing."

He shook hands with me and left.




I won a battle

When the blacksmith went away, I went over to Ernst and we hugged and kissed. Ernst was carried away with joy.

"You're a magician! An artist!" he exclaimed. What you just accomplished deserves the highest marks for diplomacy."

I, though, felt like an exploded balloon. When the tension and nerve wracking left me, I remained resting after total exhaustion. I could not speak or move. I had only one wish: To sleep! Ernst was still talking to me but I did not hear him because I was no longer in a condition to absorb anything or to think. I felt as though I had just come through serious surgery when the chloroform wears off.

A little while later we heard someone opening the door from the other side. They busied themselves there. Then we heard the crackling of hens. When it got quiet, Ernst got up, because I could no longer move. He crossed over to the other side and it did not take long for him to come back with a few pieces of bread and a pot of water. We restored ourselves and fell into a hole in the hay. I was intoxicated from the smell of the hay and fell asleep. I slept that way until evening. When I awoke, it was already night, and through the cracks, we could see flickers of electric lights shining through. This was the second night out of the camp, but the first night of rest and freedom from the fear of death. I felt as though I had lived through a heavy battle which we won, but that other battles still faced us. I prayed that the two days for which we had permission to stay here would last forever. The mere thought that the war would not end in two days and that we would have to seek another hiding place, caused me much worry.

In the meantime, I did not want to do any thinking, so as not to poison my spirit nor interfere with my joy. We lay in the hay and speculated how much longer the war could last. According to my calculations, the war could not last much longer. I figured that if Berlin falls into the hands of the Russians and the Allies capture the region of the Rhine and Ruhr, the Germans will be cut off from their supply lines and from any reinforcements. Then they will be paralyzed. In such a case, I concluded, the countries and people which were occupied by the Germans would rise up and finish off the occupier.

The following day, toward evening, the Pole came up to us, bringing me two hunks of bread and margarine, and he told me that the Germans are circulating in a state of shock because the news on the radio is so frightening. They had lost all hope of a victory. He also told me that the Russians, together with the Poles, are in the centre of Berlin, and that they are conducting pogroms on the Germans. A colleague of his, who listens to the underground radio, told him that on the "Voice of America", on which they speak in Polish, he also heard this. They are just waiting for something to happen here, and then they will get to work. About the boss, nothing is being said below. He just told him to make sure that no strangers approach, and that the garret should be locked. He himself, the blacksmith, did not show himself to us at all, but from the food that was left, supposedly for the hens, we saw that our situation was improving. We were already seeing a piece of fresh white bread, a piece of cheese, and a hard-boiled egg that the hen had laid.

The next day, the Pole again came up to us and told us that in Italy Il Duce, Mussolini, had been captured and hung. He also told me that it is believed that Hitler is no longer alive, because the Russians were looking for him, wanting to capture him alive, but in the meantime the fighting is going on in Bayern, not far from Munich. His boss, he said, is full of fear lest he be taken to the front, because the rest are being swept out so long as they can hold a gun in their hands.

At this point, I told him that I want him to know that I am not alone, but have a friend with me, and I introduced him to Ernst. He was not surprised, but he joked: "A boy has already been born?" I told him that though he is not a Pole, he is a regular guy. If, with God's help, we will be freed, we will all go together to make ourselves known to the American soldiers. In the meantime, I told him not to say a word, not even to his best friends, because that is very dangerous.

Meanwhile, the two days had gone by, according to the agreement I had made with the blacksmith. I feared that he would come up and require us to leave. I had already prepared fresh arguments in order for him to extend his permission, but he did not come up at all. He did not show his face any more. It appears that he did not want to displace us. He was not requiring us to keep our word.

According to the food that he left for the hens, I could see that he forgave me my debt. On the contrary. If I had decided to leave, he probably would not have let me go. I was his guarantee that nothing would happen to him later. I already found a piece of cake and some apples thrown my way. At the side, I also found a pot of milk. My joy was indescribable. Ernst kept hugging and kissing me. He asked forgiveness from me for causing me so much aggravation. He could see that I was right, but since the blacksmith did not let on, also kept quiet and did not bring up the subject of our leaving.




The downfall of the Third Reich

On the 29th of April, 1945, I was still hiding in the garret in the Bavarian village of Pirten, feverishly waiting for the salvation. Hitler’s "Thousand Year Reich" was about to collapse completely. The remains of the German army tried to save themselves so as not to fall into the hands of the Russians, but instead surrender to the Allied Forces. Himmler, on one side, and Goering on the other, tried to negotiate with the commanders and politicians of England and North America regarding a capitulation without the knowledge of the F¸hrer. When Hitler, who was already at his end, found out about the negotiation, he had one of his well-known hysterical fits and degraded his co-workers, appointing as his representative Admiral Doenitz, giving him total power to carry on with the German nation, and end the war. Hitler, bitter and disappointed, saw himself as betrayed by all his best commanders. Himmler negotiated with the Swede, Count Bernadotte, who was the contact between the German military and the Allied invasion troops. He wanted to sign a separate capitulation with England and North America in order to give them free hands to march quickly eastward. But the English and North American governments refused to deal with Himmler, the hangman of Europe, who was the chief of the SS troops and of the bloody Gestapo. There were no results from these negotiations. Goering, who was in the south of the country, also tried to contact Eisenhower, and negotiate a capitulation in the west to continue the war against the Russians with the help of the westerners. Goering, according to a decree of 1941, was supposed to be the successor of Hitler, if anything would happen to him. When he saw that Berlin was encircled by the Russians who were moving in the direction of the Reichstag where Hitler's headquarter bunker was, he felt entitled to take over the High Command of the armed forces. However, as the saying of our sages says: "The wicked have no fear, even when they are at the gates of hell". When Hitler heard of the negotiations that Himmler and Goering were conducting with the governments of England and North America, he became enraged because nobody asked him nor consulted with him, so he shut them out of the Party and took away all their rights, appointing Admiral Doenitz in their place. In his last order which he issued from his bunker on April 29, 1945, Hitler announced:

"To all Germans, all National Socialist, men and women, and all soldiers of the Wehrmacht, I command you to be loyal and attentive to the new government and its president, Admiral Doenitz, until death. For all purposes, I charge the government, the nation and the gefolgschaft to the painful enforcement of the racial laws and to the unceasing opposition to the world-poisoners of all nations, international Judaism," signed April 29, 4 a.m.

He even managed to wed his love, Eva Braun, and together prepare for death. The following day, April 30, 1945, they both committed suicide. Up to then, he had destroyed half of the world, but later he himself was buried under the rubble of the Reichstag which was Hitler's pride.

When the world heard about Hitler's death, it was understood that the war had ended. The German army also no longer had any power because it had no fuel, coal or ammunition. Those airplanes, which had not yet been destroyed, had no gasoline with which to take off. The tanks also remained immobile on all roads because they had no fuel. In spite of all this, some isolated German troops carried on a hard fight with the invading troops so long as they did not have an order to cease fighting. During the last days, thousands of soldiers still fell on both sides, but mainly on the German side, because the Allies were attacking on all sides and the air force was very active, destroying the last opposition of the German army. The English and American troops pierced through to Hamburg, Magdeburg and Leipzig, meeting the Soviet troops at the Elbe.

On April 30, 1945, the Soviet troops stormed the Reichstag and penetrated the inner chambers. They did not find Hitler alive, however. That same day, he made an end to his dog life. Those close to him dragged him out, together with his beloved Eva Braun, to the garden of the Reichstag, poured benzine over the two bodies, and burnt them. The war continued because the chiefs of the German army still hoped that they would succeed in signing a separate capitulation with the western powers, in order to ward off the Russians, with their help, from their land, but Hitler himself had destroyed this possibility by punishing the negotiators, Himmler and Goering.

The Russians entered Germany like a wild herd, destroying and burning everything they encountered on the way. They sought revenge for their destroyed and burnt cities and towns. There were also many Poles, Rumanians, Hungarians, Yugoslavs and Jews in the Soviet army, who all had reason to seek revenge for the death of their dear ones and for the destruction of their homes. Houses were burnt and destroyed, women were raped. They left behind ashes and dust.




The last act of German resistance

As I later found out, two days after we ran away, the Waldlager was evacuated. The Germans still had not given up the fight. Their plan was to carry on the war from the Alps. For this, they needed workers to dig trenches. So it was that the Haupt Kommando of the army decided to take the slave labourers out of the camps to build the trenches, under the hail of bullets and bombs. Besides, they wanted to remain loyal to the aim of Hitler who had undertaken to liquidate the Jews of Europe. The concentration camp slaves who had to dig the trenches and build new fortifications would later have to be sent away after they had finished their work. Only the sick were left in the camp. They could no longer move. A few functionaries also remained, amongst them some from the stable kommando who had to look after the animals. These were left, according to the plan, to be gathered in two blocks afterwards and burnt. Those who tried to save themselves were to be shot.

It appears, however, the Hauptmann who was from the Wehrmacht, opposed such a solution and did not let the SS carry out their plans. Those who left with the transport had their train attacked and many of the camp slaves were killed by the bombs.

After a day or two en route, the doors of the wagons opened and they were informed that they were free. The joy and celebration was tremendous. However, before they could turn around and had not yet managed to run away, a new order was issued that the war was continuing and everyone was put back on the wagons. Those who tried to escape were shot at, and many concentration camp inmates were killed. The pain was great, since this happened just before liberation. The train rode on, travelling aimlessly, until American tanks blocked its way and freed the hungry and suffering slaves.

We knew nothing about all this. It was precisely such a death that I feared all along. When there is a state of confusion and chaos, it is very easy to lose one's life. It is easy to be in the line of a random bullet, a bomb or a murderer who is looking for an opportunity to let out his anger and bitterness on helpless slave labourers.

On April 30, the Pole came up to us and told us the news that Hitler had committed suicide and had turned over the command to Admiral Doenitz, who is continuing the fight against the invaders. Although we had foreseen his end, we were taken by surprise when we heard this fact. Tears flooded my eyes. Finally the devil himself had let out his last breath. How many victims, though, did he first murder, and how many homes did he destroy before he killed himself?

At the break of dawn, a tremendous noise in the village awoke us. We heard crying, shrieking, orders being shouted, and shots. It was the gathering of the last reservists to be taken to the people's front. Children and old folks were pulled out of their beds and assembled in one place to be taken to the assembly points. The children cried. The old folks coughed and the women wrung their hands, seeing how their children and parents were being led away and not knowing if they would ever return. The whole village was standing in one place. We looked out through the cracks at the whole scene. Our blacksmith was also taken. He became an army commander. For the first time I saw the woman of the house, a thin pale and sick woman. She snuck a look up to the garret as though all her hope lay there.

Around 8 o'clock, the whole army was led off, and it once more became quiet in the village. Before long, though, we heard shooting and bombardment. The shots sped over our garret so that the roof was nearly ripped off. "Hold up the roof", I shouted to Ernest, "because we may be discovered."

The shooting continued all night of May 1 and 2, 1945. Apparently the entire operation took place at the banks of the Inn river. The Germans were on one side and the Americans on the other with the third army of General Patton. The shooting, however, did not last long. The air force came to the rescue and quickly quieted the German cannons and their anti-aircraft. It got quiet, but in the distance we heard the roar of the North American tanks which were already on their way from Milldorf to Ampfing. Soon the Pole came up to us together with the woman of the house who got acquainted with us and asked us to come down to her house. We were led like grooms to the wedding canopy.

Downstairs, there was a table prepared for us that did indeed resemble a wedding banquet. Everyone wanted to please us. The woman told us how she had risked her life for us and did not allow us to be sent away. We started to eat, but the food would not go down because, first of all, we were very emotional, psychologically shaken from the experience, and secondly, we were not used to such food which we had not laid eyes on for years. The woman begged us to eat and drink. The Pole packed away a meal, had a few drinks, and began to sing Polish songs. He wanted to kiss me, as though he was a brother. I became a "brother" whom he wanted to hug and kiss.

Ernst also drank a little too much and became flushed, but he did not talk, merely stumbled. The woman looked at us, partly with joy and partly with distrust. I drank very little, fearing to become drunk because I had to work out further plans about what to do and I had to look around to see what was happening. Ernst wanted to go out, but I would not let him because during the night it is safer and better to remain indoors. We were both led into the bedroom and given the owners' beds. Before going to sleep, I wanted to get washed. I had not washed for so many days that I was terribly itchy. There was no bathroom here, so they heated a kettle of water and gave me a basin so that I could wash and put on some clean clothes which the blacksmith's wife took out of her armoire. I felt as though I had cleansed myself of a bucket of dirt. My friend did the same and we went to sleep, the first time in so many years in a clean bed with sheets and comforters. However, when I lay down, I let out a scream because I felt as though I was sinking into a hole. The mattress of the bed sunk down. I wanted to hold on to the comforter, so I fell down. The same happened to Ernst. We were no longer used to such beds because our cots were always hard and dirty. The woman got scared. When she came in, we told her what had happened. She started to laugh and called in the housemaids to tell them about this most unusual wonder.

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