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Volume 8

September 13, 1993

Although the journey out of the ghetto did not last very long, it gave me a chance to ponder over the almost four years of fenced-in existence. It was very strange to be inside a railway carriage. I had not seen one for over 5 years. After the ghetto it seemed odd to see the train rolling along, not even knowing the direction that we were going. A desire to recall past days from pre-war years to immediate days prior to departure, got hold of me. I started recounting many events of my life. When I last took a journey it was the summer of 1939. We went then to the last SKIF camp near Tomaszow. I was then a 15-year-old youth. Now at almost 20 years, I was travelling again towards an unknown destination. So much suffering and pain and dissolution of the compact family life took place, that all those events started crowding in on me. It was an avalanche engulfing me. Thoughts on the future were somehow not forthcoming. One couldn't even tell if anybody on that journey knew what lay in store for us. I saw myself transported to the clearer pictures of bygone days. Maybe others did the same.

There I was in the SKIF camp. Our leaders were forever thinking up recreational and cultural and political activities. We were trying to penetrate the intricacies of world politics. Fascism and its Nazi partners were marching triumphantly. We sensed danger, but were not able to stop the dark forces in our own land nor abroad, from growing into monstrosities. And then the war and the hope for solidarity and succor from the western allies. The restrictions in our lives, when the country fell apart. We were beginning to be tossed around like objects in a storm, unable to find shelter nor meaning to life. Everybody around us got to discourse only about calamities. Before knowing exactly how things were happening, we were already counting casualties. There was not enough time to recount the despair of any one situation, when new ones were already overshadowing the events that were just taking place. A constant rolling of time with nothing but danger in its wake. No time to assess yesterday's events. Just a plain scramble to arrive at the next event. The whole social fabric of an age-old order was being unravelled. There was really no spare minute to contemplate our situation in a calm manner. I was starry eyed about the war and the outcome. My thoughts were in keeping with the trends of the older ones around me. Nobody foresaw or forecast any images of hell let loose. It was totally bewildering to be faced without respite, with inhuman actions and illogical deeds. It did not make sense, whatever the occupiers were putting us up against. We and I personally could not reconcile the evil unleashed, with simple humanity, nor with any desire to use the conquered people for the conquerors' benefit. It was a situation of sheer madness. Nothing in my life prior to the war prepared me for the onslaught of the gang of crazed Jew-haters and depraved criminal bigots. I had to adapt alongside all others to unheard of situations .When I was a little boy, people around me were forever talking of progress and equality. I grew up knowing only such people. Their children were my friends. I used to be playful and mischievous. Soccer and plain running were my favorite pastimes. I did fairly well in school. Everything seemed geared to a productive life and enhancement of knowledge. I could then already feel at one with the motto of productive work for a healthy living. In such a state of mind, full of dreams and expectations, the war caught me almost unaware. I saw in those contemplative hours on the freight train a life filled with high hopes and a hunted animal, trying to avoid dangerous situations. My family went from being closely knit, to being fragmented and desperate. When I left the ghetto, I felt as if I am waking up from a horrible nightmare.

In a state of stupor, with no thoughts on the future, the transport arrived in the Polish industrial city of Czenstochowa. The city was well known to me from Polish history books. It was this city that was associated with the miraculous defense against Swedish invaders, several hundred years ago. It is still the centre of Polish pilgrimages and catholic spirituality. With wonderment and trepidation as to what lies in store for us in this new destination, we embarked on the far from finished journey through the war-torn lands of Europe. In Lodz I left behind a life and a despairing mother and sister.


September 14, 1993

Upon arrival in this new place, I experienced a bit of a culture shock. Again, after the absence of over 4 years, the Polish language and the Polish people became a visible and present reality. In the ghetto we were isolated from all other people around us, except of course the German overlords, very few of whom ever came face to face with us. Surely, under the impact of those traumatic ghetto years, we the ghetto Jews, were almost feeling a sense of isolation from all people. Not having had any living contact with anybody but our own people, we became conditioned to interact with Jews only. Of course in our minds we knew of what is going on and what went on in the past. But this ghetto life was very heavy with the survival psyche. The living world outside was already a distant memory. Since the Jewish community consisted of many distinct groupings, the ghetto life at first followed in that direction too. The constant threat to life made the people less aware of the linguistic, cultural, religious and political differences. As one ghetto community we slowly became one isolated, contactless crowd of hunted Jews.

The living encounter with both Polish and Germans in the new place, broke the spiritual syndrome of isolation. We also encountered guards that were Ukrainians, Latvian and Lithuanian collaborators with the occupiers. When I awoke from the almost unreal departure and the subsequent journey, I could not at first reconcile myself to the forced labour camp "Warta" that I landed in. Of course everything was real. My years in the ghetto and prior to the ghetto were the progression from a normal family based life to one of constant uphill fight with the destructive forces, unleashed by the Nazis. The thing that mostly hurt in all those years of the sojourn in the hell of the ghetto, was the big question mark, that still haunts me today. Why was I, alongside my whole family and the Jewish people, made to feel an outsider to normal human pursuits? How could any human brain conceive of excluding other co-inhabitants of this world from living a normal life? Where lies the embryo of such ideas? It wasn't at all human nor rational. One could attribute such wild ravings to a demented, unbalanced creature. But there were so many followers of this madness. Why did so many follow such a leader? Was it for the simple fact of having lost the real human spark or was it because it meant under the circumstances, to be at one with the winner?

We didn't know then what we know now. If ever we did get an inkling of what went on around the Jewish people, we usually gave the benefit of doubt to doubt. We probably couldn't fathom the real truth. We thought in terms of the hellish life that we had to endure. Further thoughts on destiny were relegated to a distant future. We knew and sensed the catastrophic reality. We didn't know its scope. Upon contact with other Jews that were already in the camp and with their looks and stories, we slowly but surely became privy to the horrible truth.

Our first encounter at the railway siding was a mixture of disbelief and anxiety. Was this a concentration camp, the existence of which we didn't hear of before? Or was it a labour camp? Nobody amongst the guards let on as to where we really were. We were counted and marched off to a public bath and delousing station. There, we encountered the first people that were talking Polish in a matter of fact way. It was pleasing to be amongst Poles, our neighbours for the last thousand years. It was a departure from our previous usages. Even the warm shower and delousing was a new experience. With little more than the few meagre items of clothing that we wore, we marched again through the streets of Czenstochowa to a factory somewhere in the city. Up till this day I don't know more than the physical fact that a narrow river ran through the factory grounds. That river was the Warta.


September 15, 1993

The novelty and the responses and the regime of the labour camp Warta did at first seem strange. We were housed in an old warehouse, converted into barracks. One huge hall with sleeping bunks two stories high. No relieving features anywhere. No chairs, no tables, no privacy. All activity that went on, was in full view of everybody. This was true of most of the inmates. The camp favourites had lots of privileged spots, even in such drab surroundings. At first we could hardly fathom the new reality of a labour camp. Who were the elite of the camp? They were Jews who spoke our Yiddish language. But what function did they perform? What was their duty? What were the German staff and the guards like? The main theme of any inquiry was the expectations of the staff. What kind of work was being done in that huge factory adjoining the barracks? Only after some replies from the veteran inmates, did the curiosity switch to those very veterans.

Where did they come from? How long were they already in that camp? We the people from the Lodz Ghetto were also a curiosity to the old inmates. We looked emaciated. But we wore as yet clean clothes and shoes. They, the old inmates, were wearing rags compared to our attire. They didn't look as famished as we did. Of course, the elite was well dressed and certainly not starved. There was even an elder, on the same standing as Rumkofsky. He was only a little fish compared to the elder of the Lodz Ghetto. There were Jewish policemen and Jewish Kapos. Kapos were the so-called foremen of the various working teams. There were Jewish barrack elders. The working parties were directly under German bosses. These first inquiries did not tell us about the real regime in the labour camp. We were trying to get acquainted with the new situation. The ghetto with its terrible legacy of misery and death was still the most frequent topic of talk amongst the Lodz Ghetto people. There was an overpowering desire on the part of people to extol their and their family's standing in learning, commerce or position.

We all put our thoughts to resurrect the life that was just left behind. I wasn't any less inclined than the others. The picture of my home city and my youth and childhood stood out in sharp relief. I didn't lead, even as a youngster, a life of only playfulness. Hand in hand with the natural youthful tendencies, I also developed from earliest childhood a sense of communality and idealistic longing. I can't remember any time in my life that wasn't somehow imbued with concern for the movement, for the Jewish working people, for socialism. This preoccupation with ulterior causes, plus my desire for advancement, guarded, as far as I am able to discern, my entire life. The departure to a new place meant also to loosen the ties that bound me to my past. I could not do it in any easy way. I felt, though instinctively, that a new type of life was before me. I could not as yet see where it will lead. The first contact with the labour camp reality was a disturbing event. So many things were not understood as far as the new setup was concerned, that it left a cloud of both horrible expectations and inner hope for easier ways to survive.


September 16, 1993

The reality of camp life was taking over at a fast pace. Out of the heavy impression of the long ghetto atmosphere and its ways and byways, I was confronted with the setup of the forced labour camp environment. The Jewish policemen and Kapos were not at all shy to impose their rules on the inmates. They were rough characters. They had behind them years of life in labour camps elsewhere. The food was not too bad, compared to the ghetto rations. There was more of the essential proteins and vegetables than we saw in the ghetto. We also quickly realized that there was a fair amount of smuggled food circulating around. Through direct contacts with Poles and even civilian Germans, the camp was much better fed than the ghetto was in general. Some of that abundance was also coming our way. I think that most of the ghetto people were without any money. We did not have any Polish or German money for years. All monetary transactions were conducted in rumkies as the ghetto money was designated. That money was issued by Rumkofsky on the instigation of the ghetto administration. It carried no value outside the ghetto. Maybe some of the people that were in my transport had valuables. Such items could be sold to some Poles. I didn't have any sort of possession save what I wore on my back or old shoes.

The camp was set up by the Germans to provide a labour force for an ammunition plant. That plant was still being built when we arrived. It used to be a textile factory, before the war. The old machinery to produce materials was being hauled out. New machines kept on arriving from Germany. The whole work force of the camp was engaged in this operation. We were told by the German (camp commander) in charge of the camp that we will be required to work 12 hours daily, 6 1û2 days a week. We will be given food, shelter and some medical care. The rules of camp would be strictly enforced. Deviations would be severely punished. There was a Workschutz detail that guarded the compound. They were mainly Ukrainian and Lithuanian helpers to the Germans. They were led by German noncommissioned officers.

There were hardly any parties going out to do occasional assignments outside the camp. When such groups did go out, they would come back loaded with bread and other foods. I never went on such assignments. I was detailed to be working on the hauling and installing of the ammunition machinery. At that time, that is approximately two weeks after arriving in the camp, we were given each a postcard. It was a blank card with no address on the card, as to where we were. We were told to write in Polish or German. We were ordered to inform our families of our safe arrival and of being well in the new place. Of course we all did that. I also know that these cards arrived. We did not get any cards or other responses. We were glad for that little chance to let our beloved ones know that we are alive. It meant a lot to everybody.


September 17, 1993

As the work routine was established, we started what would be known as a "camp normal life". We were woken up early in the day. After being given some kind of a coffee-coloured brew with our daily ration of bread and now and again some marmalade, we marched off to the nearby factory complex. The work was hard. Very little mechanical help was available. Most of the hauling, carrying of machine parts, of positioning was done with sheer muscle power. We were not overtly mistreated. We were not beaten too often. Now and again someone was kicked or whipped. I don't recall too many instances of being abused. There were also few occasions when anti-Semitic venom was dished out. I would call the work place a matter of fact slave compound. There were even a friendly few words exchanged sometimes between the German master and some inmates. Some other masters were dyed in the wool anti-Semites. The bulk of the German staff was an elderly lot and army exemptees. They were thinking very often about their families in Germany.

Soon after our arrival, the camp got a contingent of women. They were brought to the camp from various other labour camps. Their appearances were more in line with our own looks. Quite a few women managed to keep a sexy look about them. There also came to our camp some married couples. They were people from the same city. They were at one point located in another factory. By the time summer rolled around, the camp was a mixture of people, men and women from a number of localities. The work of installing the machines and preparing the tools for production, was going ahead at full speed. When a comparison with our ghetto existence used to be made, we did come to a conclusion, that from many points of view it was an improvement. The food given to us and the occasional bit of extra got through a kind master or Polish co-worker, helped build up our strength. We missed our homes and families very much. But the quest to survive was the driving motto.

I struck up friendships with a few fellow inmates. I even knew a few people from the Lodz ghetto and from before. In the confines of the almost devoid of privacy barracks, we did attempt to rekindle a spirit of Bundist comradeship. I didn't feel totally alone or lost in this new environment. I even made acquaintances among people from other towns and some from Lodz, whom I never met before.

As time went by and work was being done on sample lots, I was assigned a machine minding position. I met new people there. Somehow the camp kept expanding, with Jews being brought in from many places. This gave us a chance to exchange news and reminiscences. We found out a great deal about the fate of those people and their towns, and their families. We shared with them our own past. It was a great event, this mixing of Jews from many parts of Poland. But we also became privy to a terrible tale of woe and destruction. Many things that were unknown or little known before, suddenly appeared right in front of our eyes.


September 18, 1993

We got slowly accustomed to be ruled by a combination of German masters, Jewish kapos and the administration of the camp life; by Jewish barrack elders, the Jewish elder of the camp and the Jewish camp police. Each one of those rulers exercised a certain authority in their respective fields. The overall authority was vested in the German camp commander. He was a ruthless tyrant. Luckily for us, his fame to bestiality was earned in another camp near Cracow. To us he was brutal, but not as bloodthirsty as he was in the other camp. There was only one execution in the camp. We had to witness the dumping of the corpse of someone who was supposed to have tried to escape. But beatings were very frequent. Almost all those who wielded authority used to carry whips. They used them on many occasions. Jews whipping Jews was not an infrequent occurrence. We, the people from the Lodz Ghetto, were told by the others who were veterans of many camps that the present regime in the Warta was benign, compared to what they witnessed before.

As time moved on, we heard from some German masters and some Polish workers, that the invasion in Europe had already started. This invasion, long sought after by all oppressed people in Nazi occupied Europe, released a lot of emotional anticipation. Coupled with this electrifying news, came the big surge forward on the Russian front. We started hearing of places that were already on Polish soil. Although there was no access to radio communiquÈs, we read between the lines, in the German and Polish press that somehow showed up in camp. Some of the German masters were essentially peaceful people. They did not display too much hostility. They used to drop the occasional hint as to what they thought of the war.

In the West, the allies were marching towards Paris. Although the French cities that fell to the allies were not always familiar to our knowledge, we nevertheless were able to figure out the progress of the allies. A feverish period of expectation gripped all of us. Before long, we saw new inmates. They were brought in from areas closer to the approaching front. Again, we encountered new people with new tales of tragedies that befell them and their families. It was becoming clearer by the day, that the fate of those deportees that were taken out from the ghetto for several years by then, was a very tragic one. We were not ever immune to such stories. I always felt my whole personality being shaken out of its roots. And yet, there was still a tiny flicker of unexplained hope. The old adage of people not being able to comprehend their own and their families' destruction, put up a barrier to total despair. Events were chasing events. The general expectations which were very rampant all over the world, also communicated to us. The staff of the camp started showing signs of nervousness. We heard from Poles, our co-workers, of partisan activities in the woods nearby. Nobody that I knew had any news from Lodz. We carried on our work in a state of euphoria and high hopes for a speedy resolution of the war.


September 19, 1993

Not much was going on in the Warta works. The factory was already in a semi-state of productive capacity. From the rumour that was being spread around in the camp, we heard of faulty tools and dies. These highly accurate parts of the production process were apparently being made somewhere in Germany. Because of the scarcity of first class steel, they were being produced from ersatz metal. It made the full production of the factory a constantly delayed event. These tools and dies used to break down. The output of bullets was not of very good quality. I did not hear much of sabotage, but it is possible that this came into play. The work force that was already minding those machines were constantly being blamed for faulty products. I too was subjected once to a whipping punishment for such an incident.

The constant pressure for the production of acceptable bullets was the main motif of all the Germans' concerns. Amongst them were masters with mediocre qualifications. For those of them engaged in this war production meant to be released from the call-up for front line duties. They wanted the factory to work well. So, while we were really innocent bystanders, they got very nervous and concerned with every mishap. Mishaps there were plenty. The camp inmates kept their distance from the irritated Germans. I don't know very much about the eventual capacity of this factory. It couldn't have been great. There were too many hold-ups.

The internal atmosphere in camp was already full of expectations for a speedy end to the war. The war material production based in Skarzysko, a town not far from Czenstochowa, was being dismantled. Their geographic position was one of near proximity to the front lines, which were right in the middle of Poland. The camp received a large number of inmates from Skarzysko. We also received huge amounts of provisions from those other work places. Besides sharing information with the new inmates to our camp, we also had an unexpected windfall of meat, potatoes and other food stuffs. The only time that I had huge pieces of meat was in those days.

It's true that this was horse meat. It might not have even been very fresh. But I gorged myself on the huge chunks that I cut off the large sides of dead horses that were shipped to the camp. There was so much of it that volunteers were called out to help unload the meat. I certainly took the chance to eat as much as I could absorb. I even found my way of steaming that meat. The factory had many outlets for steam. I used to attach a cloth bag to the outlet and cover it with stones. As far as I remember, it never attracted the attention of the camp guards. It was an exciting period in our camp existence.

With so much going on around us, we came into the late summer. The news of the Warsaw uprising in August came as another sign of hope for a speedy end to the more than 5-year war. Warsaw was up in arms in feverish anticipation of the Russian armies already visible on the other side of the Vistula river. It was evoking memories of the heroic uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. We waited with trepidation for news of the developments on the many fronts of battle with the Nazi occupiers.


September 20, 1993

At about that time, i.e. in the fall of 1944, I had an accident. A short time before that accident I got transferred from the machine minding job to a small wood working shop. Since I had some experience with that sort of machinery, I felt the new work to be an improvement in conditions of work and in the regime that prevailed there. The German master in charge was an easygoing man. He never threatened anybody. He used to bring bread and even sausage for his workers. The work was not too hard. I felt a definite improvement in my situation. The aim of the shop was to provide the wooden utensils and boxes needed in the factory. I worked there for a few months. Unfortunately I inadvertently put my hand too far towards the knives of the planing machine. I got caught by the impact of the blades. The outcome could have been fatal. I escaped with a heavy wound on my left hand. That accident left me incapacitated for quite a while. The regime in the camp was at that time already not too gruesome. Although not spoken aloud, the news from the fronts all over Europe was very encouraging. The Germans felt the weakening of their war machine. I was probably lucky. There weren't any selections being made to eliminate the weaker or injured inmates. I walked around with an injured hand and suffered lots of pain.

At that time we heard rumours that the Lodz Ghetto had been liquidated. We didn't know any details. The news came from some German sources. The uprising in Warsaw came to naught. The Russians were camping on the opposite bank of the Vistula. But the allies and the partisans all over Europe were very active. Big parts of Europe were already liberated. Paris was free. It had the looks of the inevitable.

More inmates were brought in from areas close to the Russian front. In that atmosphere that enveloped the whole camp, we could hope for leniency from the already bewildered occupiers. Even the Jewish camp elite got the fever of the changes that were hanging in the air. Some of those in charge were quite bestial. They were very busy serving their overlords with zeal. I didn't get hit nor molested by any guards or policemen. I was nevertheless privy to a regime of terror and intimidation.

In the time that I spent in the Warta I also managed to participate in a few Bundist gatherings. By asking around, we found some Bundists from Cracow, Piortrkow and some from Lodz. We used to gather behind the barracks and share news, some bread and even celebrate the Bund's anniversary. I knew from before the war one Bundist. He was sent out of the ghetto at the same time as I. He did know more comrades than I. He was very active in the clandestine work of the Bund committee. He is alive. He lives in Toronto.

As the new year rolled around, the air was already charged with the currents of the march of events. On the 15th January 1945, without any prior official notice, we were woken up early and given some bread and coffee and told to pack belongings. I was in the first party to go. It was either the fact that I was a half-invalid or just by chance that I was amongst the first to arrive at the railway station. From all over Czenstochowa parties kept on arriving. There were 4 or 5 camps scattered in the city. We were loaded up on freight trains and sent away. The capacity was such that there was no room for all inmates. Those that were left on the platform were marched back to camp.

When our transport arrived in two days' time in Buchenwald, Germany, together with the German S.S. guards, were also some prisoners from this notorious camp to receive us. They told us that Czenstochowa is already liberated. It happened on the morrow of our departure. With a terrible heart ache for having missed so narrowly the Russians, we were counted and assigned to outlying barracks. Although on the verge of freedom, we were once again slaves in the German hell.

My friend from Lodz, that I knew from before the war, Lalek Lenkinski, was amongst the lucky ones. He was liberated on January 16, 1945.


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