The Last Chance to Remember
Chapter 15. KAISERWALD at RIGA
or the name of the camp Kaiserwald. Half of our transport went somewhere
else. We entered this famous camp with uncertain feelings. Here were
mainly German Häftlings (Slaves) or prisoners from Vienna. They
had been here for years so we heard some horror stories of what they
had to live through. They let us wait, but to our surprise we were given
striped jackets and some rags for our head. There was a new registration
again with new numbers. We received some blankets which we had to guard
or they were stolen by the new group.
such a long time I cannot remember every detail, but in a nutshell this
is how it was.
place where we could lie down was wooden and dirty. Here I befriended
a lady Häftling from Vienna and she presented me with a sewing
needle, a real needle but without any thread yet. For time being I owned
a needle and it was a very good feeling that somebody was humanely nice
also received a plate and a wooden spoon. Our chief inquisitor was "Karla,"
a half Jewish woman from Hamburg, who was more strict than any male
guard. A huge person whose voice was always heard, very loud, yelling,
shouting, hitting. She had no feelings at all. She looked after herself
pretty well, cooked fine things in front of our eyes and we had to smell
them! Our empty stomachs couldn't take all this and made us dizzy.
still see the used soapy water, when it ran in front of me trough the
wooden floor, after she washed herself. And we had to listen to her
splashing herself in her bath water which for us was unattainable, out
of reach. Alarm was always very early around 3:30. We were rushing into
the washroom to try to clean ourselves without soap and towel. We used
sand instead the soap. Then we had to line up for some soup which was
inedible. People who had been there for a longer time tolerated it.
There was nothing else and they learned already that to survive it was
of vital importance to eat whatever we found. We were very hungry but
our stomach just couldn't take all this yet, accompanied with physical
and mental tiredness, as well. But the time came when we couldn't stand
it anymore and slowly giving in, we tried and ate up everything in sight.
Just to watch our remaining energy.
heraus zum Appell, aber schnell, sonst werdet ihr etwas erlebenn, sonst
komme ich: los, los!" (Everybody out but fast otherwise you
might experience something, or I will come myself! Go, Go, move on,
(my aunt) and her friends were working somewhere else. My sister and
I were working in the daytime. Kaiserwald was a smaller camp of all
nationalities. But still a concentration camp!
had an early appell, working the whole day and there was no rest at
(rest) was the loud order from Karla at about 10 o'clock, but she herself
made such a noise for hours that it was not possible to sleep. If a
new transport came in the middle of the night, Karla pulled our blankets
away from our exhausted bodies and gave them to the new arrivals. She
announced new orders for us that we should move closer to each other
so we would warm up! Later on we learned from our experience and lay
down on our blankets, not covering ourselves until it was dark enough.
We were cold and wore the same clothing day and night! The nights were
cold and the food was the worst imaginable. It was unbelievably difficult
to keep ourselves clean with only cold water and without soap.
a few weeks a doctor made the dreaded selection in Kaiserwald. This
was the time when older or sickly people and children were separated
from the rest and taken to another barrack. There they were guarded
until the next morning, when in a closed truck they were taken away.
Nobody knew where or what happened to them. We could only see that the
truck left a couple of times always packed and returned empty. Among
those were many from our home town; the wife and daughter of Dr. Rabbi
Enten, Mrs. Barkany and many others.
was no news for the others; only we didn't know what is going on! The
older residents made such a scene that it was heartbreaking. We saw
men who were tortured for the slightest "violation" then they
were transferred to the Vernichtungslager, from which there is no way
to return. We heard the devastating rumours, that before our arrival
18,000 Häftlings were executed.
was a shortage of coal; there were no railway trains; but for us they
found time and possibilities to send us here and there. Where is the
logic? Our lager was in the forest which was full with ammunition. About
in August the Russians started to attack Riga, but we were not afraid.
Only the hope that some day we will be freed kept us alive.
were thinking always, only of our dearest ones and through tearful eyes
we saw them everywhere.
learned many new things; how to mix cement, how to straighten and widen
the road. Here we had an SS man, Herr Bauman, he was from the Sudetenland.
We were desperately hoping that he would be a decent human being, because
he had a dove, a real dove sitting on his shoulder when he came out
to roll call. It was a good feeling to watch this bird, partly because
it is the symbol of peace and partly because we liked to believe that
its master could not be a bad man if he liked animals.
we were working on the road and he was walking by, he was thinking aloud
so it didn't look as though he was talking to us. He never gave me bread
or any food but he called me: die Schwarze and prepared a sun-clock
for me in the sand. One day he came by and told me that if I would be
very careful he would give me another assignment. I could take another
girl with me and since my sister Olly was with another Kommando, I choose
a girl from our city (Karp) who lost her husband and two children.
sent us ahead on the road to check the work and to prepare the measurements
for the width of the highway. But we had to watch for unwanted visitors!
We went ahead and sat down relaxing a little bit. Suddenly we heard
some rustle behind the bushes. We stood up hurriedly and started to
work seriously when out of nowhere a group of German SS officers showed
up. They hardly noticed us, then walked towards the whole group busily
we discussed our constant problem, our hunger. Since we were somewhere
around the countryside, we could bump easily into somebody from the
village. I had some ideas that I rushed to tell to my friend, that if
somebody could walk by, we could try to ask for some bread? (Horrible)
She agreed, but gave me the first opportunity. I was very polite and
told her to make the first step. While we were debating the subject,
a village woman showed up and my friend pushed me forward. While I was
nearing the woman, I changed my mind and decided, that I will tell my
partner, that the woman had nothing. It just didn't come out on my mouth
to ask for food. But this brave woman was faster. As she saw me approaching
her, she quickly took out something from her basket and threw it to
the ground before me. I quickly picked it up, and took it to my friend,
we opened it and there were two pieces of beautiful, home baked brown
bread, wrapped in newspaper. She never looked at me and left quickly,
disappeared! This experience was bitter, but it was a good feeling to
bring something home. Hunger is a big boss and doesn't allow one to
shared the big fortune with the others in our hut, needless to mention
how much was left for us.
never knew if there would be a tomorrow. When we arrived in this place,
we were so skeptical about our future, what can be their aim? Our bad
feelings were just growing, it was so frightening to come to such an
abandoned place. Even after we climbed those low mountains and were
hoping to figure out something, why is this place so deserted.
is in Latvia and this was the place where we spent the following weeks.
There were no barracks so we were accommodated in tents, seven people
for one tent. Here at least we had fresh air. To our amazement we discovered
something new. Here the nights were only semi dark.
was the place where Goldstein Rezi, from our home town, who had been
mentioned before, had a chance to be a human being. For a short period
of time she became the Lager Alteste and she enjoyed some privileges.
were in this lager for about one month and were working on the highway
most of the time. Whatever work we did, next day we could start all
is undeniable that our present Lager Alteste didn't care or tried to
understand our hardships; she did not help us at all! All these scenes
are vividly in my memory even after so many years. How could she put
those heavenly pieces in her mouth in our presence in front of starving
was not only incredibly cruel, but how can anybody be so heartless?
Her parents were among the most respected people in town, widely known
the camaraderie was great most of the time. At one time I was not feeling
well enough to do the required job which looked complicated to me. We
had to dig square, deep holes to prepare for planting young trees. The
measurement made it harder and I was just about to give up, when somebody
jumped in front of me, took my shovel from my hands and finished the
was a girl from Humenne and knew my grandfather; so out of sympathy
she helped me. Of course I did the same if it was needed or if I had
the opportunity and ability!
we were working in the forest again and the order was to cut some of
the trees. Just when was the last time we had a chance to do something
like this? We had to judge which tree had to go and of course we had
no idea?! Then came the real hardship, the physical part, and we didn't
have the faintest idea where and how to start the whole procedure? The
other problem was that we had Latvian guards in SS uniform and they
were trying to save their trees. On the other side the real SS men were
pushing us for the assigned order and work, and the endless "los,
los" was heard the whole day. So it went, day by day. We learned
this skill too. We learned a lot, also trying to help ourselves with
all kinds of small or bigger problems, like to improvise, when some
unusual sound was in the air, so the Aufseherin listened carefully and
suddenly was behind me, shouting and yelling: what is it, what does
this mean? Very quickly I remembered where I was and quietly admitted
my sin and was prepared for the worst. But to my biggest surprise she
ordered me to go on but louder so everyone could hear. She didn't have
to ask me second time. I started with Schubert's Lieder and went on,
because it meant rest for everybody. The girls were leaning on their
shovel and reminiscing, our thoughts were with our past, with our dearest
ones. The Aufseherin was a tiny woman with piercing eyes, black eyes
so we honored her with the title: the rat.
this all happening to us, are we the same people here in the forest
now, who not long ago lived in homes and could come and go as everybody
else? Now we are some kind of prisoners, only we don't have the slightest
idea for what and why? It just cannot be in the 2Oth century that something
like this should happen?
world must have gone berserk; that is for sure! All this is happening
in the wide open for the whole world to see and hear! But the simplest
way is to look to the other side! We had all this treatment in a country
which used to be the center of culture and knowledge! We watched the
birds and bees flying all over, free, nobody watched them. Where did
these people learn all these devilish skills? And how did they have
the brutal strength, the plain physical strength to deal with all this
barbarism day after day. There was no rest at any hour, night or day
was a temporary bridge for the soldiers only which was built in haste
and of course we were not allowed to use it. To this day I will never
understand or believe how we did that? But the order came that all the
girls had to form a human chain, take off the shoes and hold them high,
and we started into the rough and swelling water, a the dangerous journey.
The river bottom was full with smaller or bigger rocks which created
hazards. The river protested angrily, we were invaders, but were strongly
holding on to each other. The soldiers watched us from a distance on
safe and dry land and enjoyed our struggle. Finally, unbelievable as
it was, we reached the other bank of the river. Wet, exhausted and excited.
We tried to rest, and put our shoes on; not a chance. The shouting and
yelling started anew, we had to go on! Los you verfluchte Juden,
Los! Hurry, move on! (Go on, move already you damned, cursed Jews!)
and Rechlin were the next camps where we had to enjoy their hospitality.
In one of them I had an almost pleasant experience. We were assigned
to work in a huge SS vegetable garden. One SS man, who was watching
my work, came closer, bent down and using his beautiful pocket knife
cut off some of the vegetables which I was working with. It had a special
taste, like mint, also smell. He ordered me with his note and with the
green leaves into the SS kitchen.
my surprise he wanted me in his office which was full with guns on the
walls and then he ordered me to sit on a chest which must have been
full with ammunition. I didn't feel safe at all among all these unfriendly
and strange things, with my host an SS man, an alive and real SS man.
Of course I didn't have any idea what his plans might be, but it was
better not to guess. I just sat there, frozen and motionless waiting
for my fate. He left me there alone and suddenly emerged with a bowl
of milk soup, warm, and he carried it himself with both hands.
was a real, real delicacy and he ordered me to spoon it, in front of
him of course. The green mint vegetable was used in this heavenly prepared
meal, which made the soup even better. My first thought was of course
to share with my sister, but he yelled at me, that I have to finish
right there under his watching eyes. With trembling hands and heart
finally I took 2-3 spoons, I couldn't have more. He urged me to finish
it and with the most severe and strict looks he warned me, that he lets
me go, but I have to shut my mouth, otherwise I will see the consequences.
there we were put in cattle trains again and the box cars were roofless,
the usual torture with rain and sun. The train stopped many times but
nobody knew why and where we were heading. Being inside in the closed
box car was like being in an oven.
nerves were frayed already but the constant togetherness, the press
of the bodies made the situation unbearable. There was no place to stretch
out even a little bit. With the smallest move we bumped into somebody's
head or body, so the intolerance just grew. Kicking, pushing from every
side in the overheated, tightly closed box car was something unspeakably
horrible; praying aloud for help which never came! How we could survive
such a trying time remains another miracle.
Finally we started to move; it was still better than standing in one place in such a hopeless situation. Such travelling took about 3-4 days, and nights. Just a miracle that we arrived alive, just to experience again something that is unforgettable!