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Part 3

I remembered I saw the same circle back in Zeitz just before they destroyed the factory there. I began to run toward the camp at a pace I had never ran before; while running on the road I noticed that all the SS were in the ditches beside the road with their guns pointing at me. They screamed at me and were shooting over my head. I thought I was a-goner for sure. While I was running, I tried to make up an excuse for the main gate SS guard as to why I was late coming in. To my luck, all the guards at the gate were gone, probably hiding in their bomb shelters. I ran straight through the gates without stopping; while running across the Appel Platz which was adjacent to the main gates, as big as a football field. When I was across the field, about half way, I fell to the ground from the air pressure of the falling bombs about 500 yards away in the factories.

I lay there stunned for a while; when I opened my eyes, I was in my block laying on a cot and Franta, our block leader, was standing over me, asking me, "What in hell happened to you?" I just looked at him and said, "I don't know!"

Later I found out, since our Block was just 1 block away from the Apell Platz, you could actually see the main gates from our barrack. They saw me running through the main gates when I suddenly fell flat on my face. They actually thought that I was shot while running across the Apell Platz. They ran out and picked me up and brought me in. I stayed on my bunk for the rest of the day. I couldn't move because of the running and the bomb pressure. The factory was blown to pieces, not one building was left standing.



January 1945

Most of the concentration camps in Eastern Europe were being evacuated away from the advancing Russian Armies and a great number of their inmates were brought to Buchenwald. All the Jews left in Czentstechov were brought to Buchenwald. The camp was over-filled with prisoners by the thousands. Since the factories were out of operation, we stayed in the barracks and I had the opportunity to go and see father again.

Father was very pessimistic about the whole situation. He told me that all the people from his barrack were being transferred from Buchenwald in order to make room for other incoming prisoners. I felt a cold shiver going through my bones. The Americans were already occupying part of western Germany; in only a few weeks the war would be over, and we would be free. Father took me around and hugged me for a while. I could feel his tears running down my neck and he said, "If you are spared I want you to tell the world about our destruction. And don't let the world ever forget the murder of the Jews!"

With a kiss on my forehead, he said goodbye, and walked away waving to me. I was left sitting on the ground in front of my barrack, dazed. I wanted to cry out and scream. I just sat and watched while dad was walking away towards his barrack and kept waving all along. The next day when I returned from work, I hurried to see father in his barrack, but he was gone. They were all removed the night before and taken away to a unknown destination.

I returned to my barrack with the gift I had made up the night before: a package with a pair of warm socks and a piece of bread and a chocolate bar we received from the Red Cross the week before. I had saved it for a special occasion and I brought it all back. I sat down on my bunk and was shocked from the bad news. I knew in my heart that father was gone forever, and I couldn't do a thing. I cried like I never cried before; my tears were forming like rivers all over me, somehow I blamed myself, thinking that maybe I could have helped father somehow, but everything happened so fast and he was gone forever.

With all the new arrivals, the camp was overloaded and the food supply was cut in half. People from the new transports were half-frozen and most of them were dead when they arrived. The crematorium that had not been in use most of the time while I was in Buchenwald those last four months, but it began operating 24 hours a day; the smell reminds me of Auschwitz when we first arrived there and that was something I wanted to forget.

Our barrack was close to the main gates and we watched in horror while the bodies were being carried through the main gates to the crematorium for cremation.

The population in Buchenwald swelled from 15,000 to over 50,000. The food supply was poor; some days there was no food.

Trainloads of people arrived daily from the evacuated camps. It was mid-February and the temperature was 25 below freezing; most of the people were frozen stiff; the only ones that hid under the frozen bodies managed to survive. The crematorium could not keep up with the multitude of dead bodies: the bodies were now just in piles, like lumber, on the road to the crematorium. It was scary to look at this ugly site, bodies in the thousands, piled about ten feet high and there was no end to it; more and more transports arrived daily with the same results: mostly frozen and dead.

We lay on our bunks, hungry, and with no supper for the second day. Luckily we had something saved from the good days, and we shared the little food that we had managed to gather with each other. Back in our minds we thought about how this was going to end. There were rumours in camp that we would be evacuated as soon as the front lines came closer.



March 1945

The rumour became reality and the evacuation of the camp began. Thousands of people were lined up in front of the main gates; they each received some bread and they were marched out of the camp on the famous death marches that were recorded in many of the post-war Buchenwald reports.

During these line-ups for the evacuation, some people changed their minds about leaving and just stepped out from the group and ran toward the main camp. We in block 8 witnessed this daily since we were situated next to the gathering place. The SS pursued the runaways and shot at them like animals as they ran, but nothing stopped the runaways; they just kept running. The evacuation of the camp, which did not separate the Jews from the other prisoners, continued daily.

But on March 21, 1945, they announced specifically in German: "S”mtliche Juden Antreten." (All Jews must report to the main gates.) Since most of the Jews knew by now that separation of prisoners meant certain death, they hid their identity by switching their coloured triangle from the yellow, indicating Jewish, to the red triangle, indicating political prisoner. They were easy to obtain from the block leaders. The flow of Jewish prisoners reporting to the main gates went down to a trickle. Block 21 was first at the gates, they were the Jewish tradesman mostly from Holland, Belgium and France, since 1943, a few hundred young men in their twenties and thirties that were mainly in the building trade building new facilities in the factory and who also worked in the camp. They were treated much better than the rest of us.

A cousin from Ungwar, about 40 km from Munkacz, was among the young men from Holland. He was studying in Amsterdam University when the war broke out and decided to stay in Holland, he was later taken to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He was in touch with father while he was still among the living in Buchenwald. My cousin was much older than me. I had no real connection with him, other than that he sometimes brought me some bread as a treat. He also told me the day after father had been was removed from his barrack, "Tell your father to get out from that block fast, since that block is on the list of liquidation," but he was too late with his advice: father's block was already gone.

After the liberation we were told that block 59 was shot in the woods of Buchenwald the same day they were removed from their barrack.

Most of the Dutch boys were saved, since most of them were in good physical shape, and they also had food to take with them on the march. I found that out from my cousin's sisters when I lived in Liberec in late 1945 and most of 1946. Aranka Herskovics, she was beautiful, my brother Leo, who was still in his Czech officer’s uniform, had an eye on her, but he later married an even more beautiful girl, Rose from Kivjazsd. The next sister was Loli, about twenty years old, and the youngest we called Tatus, since she loved to eat chocolates and talk at the same time, her real name was Agnes. They told me that their brother survived with most of his friends from Holland and lived again in Amsterdam teaching in the University of Amsterdam.

The next blocks to report to the gates for the march were Jews from block 61 and 62. The order from the SS Lager commandant was very poorly observed. He then ordered the SS to check every barrack in camp for Jews in hiding. The SS, with pistols drawn, were running towards the camp. Since our Block 8 was next to the gathering area, we witnessed these happenings with great anxiety.

In the meantime our block leader made sure that all the kids had their proper red labels sewn on their lapels. More SS reinforcements were running toward the camp, we could hear some shootings from all over the camp and things looked very scary. Since Block 8 was a children’s block, our block had SS soldiers assigned to check the daily roll calls, they were always the same soldiers. Franta, the block leader, was always friendly with the two SS that used to come to our block for roll call. This time when they came looking for Jews, they lined us up for inspection. Since we all had our triangles changed, everything was going smoothly as planned, except one 13 year-old young boy did not have his label on. The SS grabbed him and yelled at him "You are Jewish;" the kid did not reply; he shook him again and said, "What are you?" By this time, the commotion on the camp was so serious, shootings were heard in sequence without stopping. They said something to Franta and ran out to the gates, heading toward the shootings in pursuit of the runaway crowd. We were returned to our barrack and Franta said, "This was very close". The Jews that were gathered on the Appel Platz, about 10,000 of them, were given a slice of bread and led out the gates for the "death march".

The statistics in post-war documents state that only 10% of people survived the death march after walking for weeks without food or water and with very little sleep, if any. People not able to walk were shot on the spot and left lying wherever it happened. They walked through towns and villages, German towns and German villages. The German population saw what was happening in front of their eyes. The war was practically over and these people just acted as if nothing of great importance was happening. They even buried the dead left behind, in order not to be blamed by the American forces for these atrocities.



April 1945

The camp was operating on a day-to-day basis, food was a rare occurrence. The warehouses were emptied by the Germans into big trucks and hauled away daily. The kitchen was not functioning every day. Every second day, we receive a bowl of soup and a slice of bread. But who cared? The bombing and the loud shelling were now steady without interruption. We were going to be liberated any day now! At night we could not fall asleep because of the excitement. What have these Germans got planned for us; maybe they will destroy the whole camp just before the on-coming Americans enter this hell and see the dead bodies piled up by the thousands. They might want to destroy the evidence.



April 11, 1945, 8 a.m.

Russian P.O.W.s come running into our children's Barrack Block 8 and ordered all the kids to get on the floor adjacent to the exterior wall.

Our bunks were quickly removed from the room and they opened a trap door in the middle of the room.

A number of P.O.W.s lowered themselves with ropes below the floor and were bringing up machine guns, anti-tank guns, and grenades by the buckets. We could hear them yell in Russian, "Careful, these grenades are no joke. They are all alive, be careful!" Our hearts were pumping like crazy; what did that all mean?

After about 15 minutes, the shooting started and it sounded like we were being attacked; the smaller children were crying now, and we, the older ones, were scared to death. We heard Franta's voice: "Nothing to worry children, the shooting that you hear is from our side: they are destroying the guard posts and the SS that are within them. Within a few hours we will be able to really say that we are free." We were all relaxed and somehow a quiet moment came over us and we all burst out crying without being able to stop.

After about two hours of shooting the loudspeaker in the barrack makes an announcement: "We are Free! Our boys control the camp and the surrounding villages." We all jumped from the floor; we hugged each other and cried some more

"We are Free! We are Free!"

At about noon time the loudspeaker calls again. Attention! Attention! This is your Lagerf¸hrer speaking. I just received a call from the SS chief in Weimar to fulfill the order to start destroying the camp.

I told him to go to hell. We are in charge now! And you can go, and blow yourself up! Imagine, we found out from the reports that all of Buchenwald Camp was undermined and we were supposed to be blown to pieces before the surrender of the camp to the Allies. We were relieved that we were saved from destruction.



April 11, 1945, 4 p.m.

American army tanks entered the camp through the rear of the camp wire fences. The roar of the tanks made us shiver from happiness; the tanks proceeded to roll towards the Apell Platz next to the main entrance. Everybody was running towards the American liberators, hugging and kissing them; they were practically tearing them apart. Everybody wanted to touch them and embrace them.

Tears were running freely from everyone, including the big strong black Americans. People were dancing and screaming: "We are free! We are free!" American planes were overhead dropping balloons with the American flag attached to them. The skies were full of parachutes with food supplies dropping all over the place. What a sight! People were going wild tearing the supplies apart and having a feast. Singing and crying at the same time, without realizing that their stomachs were not used to that much food.

More trucks entered through the main gates with G.I.s in full gear, most of them black and Jewish men. They just stood there in amazement, seeing people acting like hungry vultures. Within minutes they realize that these vultures were professors, scientists, doctors, lawyers, writers, poets, singers, rabbis, cantors, businessmen, tailors, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, but the German Nazis, with their brutal actions against the Jews, managed to make them all look alike. Furthermore, history will show that such brutal behaviour from a civilized people was never seen before, and may never be seen again.

The soldiers were handing out their rations to the crowd, including chocolate bars that we had not seen for a long time. They tasted like something from heaven.

We were having trouble communicating, since very few of us spoke English. A few Jewish G.I.s that spoke Yiddish were standing with a group of Jewish men. Survivors. You could hear the crying from the individuals giving them the reports. They killed my children, my brothers and sisters, the whole Shtetl. They were all lined up and shot like animals in the woods of our little town, buried in a mass grave that they had to dig for themselves. One horror story after another. The G.I.s couldn't take it any more; they walked away with their faces swollen from tears.

In the meantime, the people that ate too much were getting sick, they just lay on the ground and nobody cared, there was no order yet in camp; everyone was out for themselves.

The number of sick was rising, you could hardly move on the Apell Platz where everyone was rejoicing the liberation, and there was no control over this mass of sick and hungry people. After a couple of hours of celebrating our liberation, we were told to return to our barracks and wait for further orders from the new management. As we all left the Apell Platz it looked like a battlefield. People in the hundreds were lying on the ground, some were dead, some were sick, and some of them just asleep.

The main kitchen was opened, and food supplies were being brought in by the truckloads. Within a few hours food was being distributed and people were so wild and hungry that they attacked the food carriers and dove into the large food containers head-first, just to satisfy their hunger. They ended up sick from too much food, and were all carried away to the hospital screaming with pain. Back in our block 8, the children were singing and dancing, celebrating our liberation. Our leaders from our barrack told us about all the ammunition that was stored in our barrack by the underground special group assigned to bring small quantities of gun powder and other parts of ammunition, that was all later assembled and stored in our barrack for the final moments to liberate us before the Germans could do more harm. And they assured us that we would all go back home as soon as the war was over.


April, 14, 1945

General Eisenhower and his staff arrived to inspect the camp in Buchenwald. We all ran out to greet them as they walked in through the main entrance gates. General Eisenhower and staff were shown the great piles of human bodies, piled like lumber, stacked 10 feet high.

They just stood there in amazement, their faces turned colours. General Eisenhower and his staff removed their helmets and stood there in a one minute salute for the dead.

"Who would do such a thing to human beings? I can't believe what I see." Eisenhower said He turned to his staff and gave them an order: "I want the whole city of Weimar, all men, women, and children, brought in to see this tragic site." Again, he saluted the dead and hurriedly walked away from the mass of corpses toward the main gates saying, "I had enough, I think I've seen enough today."

The next morning we saw thousands of men, woman, and children from the city of Weimar, which was only about 10km away, being herded into Buchenwald through the main gates. They were then shown all the corpses and all the killing facilities in Buchenwald, some of them couldn’t take it any longer, some fainted, some of them were holding their hands over their eyes, but the G.I.s removed their hands and told them: "Look, look good and never forget what you have seen here today. Maybe you will be able to tell your children, and grandchildren, what your beloved F¸hrer Adolf did to mankind in the twentieth century. In your fatherland, and all over Europe."

When the exhibition was completed, they were all assembled on the Apell Platz, where Rabbi Shachter, the Chaplain of the American first and second division of the liberation Army, spoke to the German population of Weimar from the top off a military truck. In his hand, Rabbi Shachter held a young Jewish boy who looked about 6 years old.

He raised the child for everyone to see and with his great voice declared: "This child was your F¸hrer's greatest enemy! Can you imagine a greater enemy?" he asked.

Their faces were stiff, frozen and ashamed, being part of this devastation. Rabbi Shachter continued and said, "This child will be a witness to your persecutions, and also a witness, that over one million Jewish children never made it." The Germans were standing with their heads bowed and murmuring to themselves. We never knew about these atrocities. Some couldn’t hold back their tears, they were crying openly. We, the survivors, were observing this show of emotions and thinking quietly. How can a people stoop so low and deny that they knew what was going on under their noses, only 10 km away? Truck drivers delivering supplies to Buchenwald daily, plus the foremen in the ammunition factories, were all Germans from the once great city of Weimar.

Since 1939, Buchenwald had been a slaughtering place for anyone opposing the Reich. German people from towns and villages were brought here and finished off, never to be seen again. And now they were confronted with reality and had the guts to say "We didn't know".

We had no sympathy for them, they rather looked very low in character to us. The child held by Rabbi Shachter is Rabbi Lowe, now Chief Rabbi in the State of Israel.

The show was over and the people were told to disperse, except for some men and women that were selected for removing the thousands of dead bodies lying all over camp. The dead bodies were then gathered on a truck and taken to the woods, where they were all buried in a mass grave.

All Jews were invited by Rabbi Shachter to attend services and to eat Matza, since it was Pesach Sheini that day. The second Pesach, for Jews that couldn't observe the holiday of Pesach at the proper date. Rabbi Shachter brought Matzos and distributed them to every one. Rabbi Shachter started to deliver his sermon, when suddenly he was interrupted by a fellow prisoner. When he heard the Rabbi say, "We know what you have gone through" The man screamed and said: "No one, but no one, can dare say that he knows what we went through unless, he or she was there! Only they can say, I know what you went through!" He continued at the top of his voice with quotes from the Torah and other scriptures. He was no plain ordinary every day Jew. He spoke with authority. "Why did G-d forget about his children? And we were devastated, just because we are Jews?" he continued. "Before we make a blessing and eat this Matza. We want a Din Torah with the REBONEH SHEL OLAM (Hold Court with the All Mighty): Why? Why the little children?

They didn't have a chance to sin yet? Why so many thousands of true dedicated Talmidei chachomim (Jewish learned men), that were sitting and learning JOMAM VLAJLA day and night? You can take your matzos back to America. I don't want them, as far as I am concerned. The rest of you: you are free! You can do what your heart desires!"

Rabbi Shachter did not interrupt the man and he let him finish. He moved his fists towards his heart and said, "Chotosi Uvisi Pushati Lefonecha: Please, may I have your forgiveness?" The man raced up to the Rabbi and embraced him for a while. The rest of us just stood there in silence, and our tears did the talking. After that scene we all decided to have some Matzo anyway. We made the blessing of ACHILAT MATZOT in unison. I am sure that this blessing was heard in heaven, and all the Angels answered Amen.

The assembled crowd dispersed and all the children were gathered and were taken to other quarters outside the camp walls, into the old SS officer barracks, where we spent our stay until we departed for Czechoslovakia on our way to our cities and villages.

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