Memoirs of a Holocaust Survivor
Written by Ichac Weizman (Wajcman) in 1995
Annex A 1997
Annex B August 2003
Translated from Hebrew by Dikla Weizman née Yeffet
MY LIFE STORY
The bad news we that heard from the prisoners who passed by us in carts was: ‘You have come to the biggest and most dangerous concentration camp that the Germans established since they had decided on "The Final Solution" of the European Jewry. The railway station where you got off the train is far from the camp and was built especially for the human transports and for selection of the people: who will be a slave worker and go on living and who will go straight to the gas chambers and crematoriums which are working round the clock’. We were still standing together in trios, waiting anxiously for what was coming next.
From the distance we saw the long line. Young men were sent to the right side, the older ones to the left. On the second line of the women and children we saw heartbreaking scenes when the children were separated from their mothers or other relatives. Most of the women did not separate from their children; they went with the children in spite of being given another choice. The implication was clear - the fate of the children would be different from that of the young men and women that were able to work.
The S.S. officers were lying brazenly even at the Birkenau rail station. They still claimed that the children would go to the showers and then to sanatoriums and schools until the end of the war. They would come back safe and healthy.
I will never forget the scenes that were going on there - the pitilessness, the conscienceless behavior, and inhumanity at its lowest level. I was reminded of the moments that I had been torn from the arms of my mother and my sister a year ago.
After sometime the tumult quieted. Most of the transport was sorted and sent in different directions. Our turn came. We heard the S.S. men group’s head asking where we came from and other information about us. The officer approached us and asked who was weak or ill and needed rest or hospital. He added that hard work was waiting for us on the next day and that we had to be fit for it. Nobody answered. Even the wounded kept quiet. After a short wait the officer and his men began working. The selection was done according to their judgment. They took the weak, sick and wounded and loaded them on a lorry that waited nearby. The others were ordered to stand in trios and then start walking.
We marched for about an hour until we reached the camp’s gate. Already from a distance we noticed the gate on which there was the signpost "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" (in German: work liberates). We also understood that we were approaching a huge camp because we had been walking for a long time along a wide and high electric fence with concrete pillars and watchtowers stationed at a distance of about every 100 meters from each other, equipped with automatic fire arms and strong projectors. Inside the camp were huge, very long wooden barracks arranged in endless rows. We also noticed that inside the camp there were separate zones for men and women. After a long physical and mental struggle we reached the camp’s gate tired, exhausted and hungry. There at last we received a food ration, which consisted of “soup” and a quarter of a loaf of bread.
When we arrived it was already twilight. It started getting dark and it was the last minutes before the Appell – (roll call) that after which nobody was allowed out of the barracks. If someone was caught outside he risked being flogged or deprived of his food ration.
The tumult in the camp was great. All the people were dressed in striped “uniforms”, stooped, frightfully thin, hardly dragging their legs. It was hard to distinguish one from the other – they all looked the same, they were just skin and bones. We were frightened to death – it might be that we would have the same fate. I could not allow myself to get over emotional. I was prepared for the worst. In spite of the fatigue, the feebleness and the hunger I have not become indifferent or apathetic. I had not resigned myself to my fate although my power of resistance was weakening.
I started asking what was going on in the camp. I did not get answers from any one. We were only told that we were lucky to be in that zone of the camp and not in any other zone, because that zone was considered as a work zone while the others were only for selection and transporting.
We were brought into a huge barrack, so long and high that its end could not be seen. In the middle of the barrack there was a rectangular structure that divided the barrack into two equal parts. That structure was a heating oven but it was never operated. On the two length sides of the barrack were planks arranged in six stories. The space between the planks was very narrow, so it could be entered only by crawling. There was not any bedding, no mattresses, not even straw. The space between the boards that constructed the planks was wide. It was done on purpose so as to make lying down very uncomfortable. We were told that we had received a blanket but we never had.
Suddenly a deafening alarm siren was heard which signaled that we had to report for roll call. We stood at Attention by the planks until the guards finished counting and recording attendance. The guards (S.S. men from an especially cruel “elite” unit) went out and locked the doors from outside. We could not get out until the next morning.
In the short time that we were outside the barrack we heard some information about our new place. We were in a camp called Birkenau, not far from the Auschwitz camp. We were told another important thing: `do not finish your bread ration in the same evening`. The ration was for 24 hours. If we finished the whole ration in the same evening we would work the next day without any food and be hungry until the next evening. The man who lied on the plank beneath me managed to find out more information about the camp. He told us that the before the war the whole area was a big camp of the Polish army. The houses in Auschwitz were the officers’ living quarters. The barracks in Birkenau were the stables of the horses of the cavalry force. The barrack really looked like that. The Polish army built the heating ovens in order to warm the stables in winter for the horses. The Germans, as I already wrote, never operated them.
The camp was divided into sub-camps:
1. A camp for able-bodied men who could work, mostly Jews, Russian P.O.W. and some German political prisoners. (The wounded Russians were sent to the gas chambers together with the Jews.)
2. A camp for able-bodied women who could work.
3. A camp for Gypsies who were treated worse than the Jews.
The sub-camps were separated by double electric fences with watchtowers and projectors.
I fell asleep on the plank, still listening to the information, without any covering and without taking off my clogs but I had to change my lying position every several minutes because the spaces between the boards hurt dreadfully.
That is how my first day in the “paradise” named Birkenau passed.
The next morning at dawn the doors were opened. We had a quarter of an hour for latrine and a wash. Hundreds of men tried to force their way into the latrines and faucets. There was a terrible tumult. Not all the men managed to finish in such a short time. Some of them gave up because they did not have any choice and returned quickly for the roll call. The roll call was not only for counting but for selection too. We were ordered to take off our clothes. We stood as naked as on the day we were born in front of the S.S. men. They instructed us to divide into two groups – one group, including me - was sent back to the barrack, the other group was loaded on a lorry. Among them were acquaintances and friends from my hometown. They were sent to an unknown destination. I understood that I had again succeeded to pass another selection. I faced death and was saved.
I tried to figure out why I was sent to the right hand while some of my friends were sent to the left. I could not find an answer. Even now I have no explanation. They were neither sick nor weak. They were as young as me and in spite of that they were sent to extermination.
The circle of my friends and acquaintances was narrowing. I will never forget the parting. I can still see the waving hands of my friends who were standing on the lorry naked, frozen and shivering. The look on their faces saying all. Some of them lifted their hands up and shouted “Shma Israel” (Hear, O Israel). We knew already what their fate would be. In 10-15 minutes they would not be alive.
Not far from the camp there were gas chambers disguised as showers and they were taken there. I could not absorb nor believe what we were told. It was unbelievable. Apparently in that tragic situation there was a need to keep on hoping and believing. My group was taken on the same day to the “clinic” where numbers were tattooed on the left arm. A number that stayed engraved forever. My number has been 145227. The tattooing hurt terribly, the blood that flowed from the needle pricks mixed with the ink and it felt like a very painful burn. We were not allowed to touch or wipe it; we had to wait until it dried.
We became registered prisoners. On the same day we received striped clothes – including a striped hat. On the front of the garment was the letter P, according to the land of origin, and the prisoner’s number – identical to the number on the arm. Only after all those arrangements were finished did we receive our first food ration after almost 24 hours that we had not eaten at all. The ration was the same hot water and the quarter of a loaf of bread of which the prisoners who were in charge of the food distribution stole part of.
In fact that was the only day on which we did not do hard physical labor. After that day for a year and a half we worked continuously seven days a week from dawn till dark.
In the evening of that day on the roll call I was assigned to work in a workshop of dismantling crashed airplanes that were brought from the front. The workshop was located not far from the camp and we went there on foot. In the same area there were several more workshops in which prisoners worked.
I started on a routine of suffering, hunger and continual bothering of fleas and lice. They sucked our blood day and night. My body shrank and probably adapted to the meager portion of food that I ate. In Auschwitz there was no way to get for all the money in the world an addition of food.
I (and also others) had money, gold rubles, U.S dollars and diamonds too. Since the day I left home all of it was hidden in the sewed pockets of my suit. Before I gave my clothes in order to receive the striped clothes I managed to tear the pockets with all the money and valuables. I looked for people in the camp and pleaded with them to sell me a ration of bread in return for all my treasure but I could not find a seller. Without a doubt I had a big treasure – but it was worthless in the camp.
It was also very dangerous to keep valuables because when we entered the camp we were ordered to give everything. I witnessed a case of the hanging of a prisoner in the camp’s square. The prisoner was caught in the morning by the gate with valuables when he was going to work. That prisoner worked in painting outside the camp. He filled a pail with jewelry and diamonds which he had collected, covered the contents with paint and tried his luck at getting through the gate with the fortune, planning to hide it out of the camp, hoping that when the day of liberation comes he would be a very rich man. It was not clear how the ruse was discovered. It might be that he looked suspicious or that someone reported him. Still, it was a fact – when he reached the gate he was taken out of the line, while all the others went on marching in accordance with the rhythm of the orchestra that played every day marching tunes in order to “heighten the morale” in the spirit of the slogan “Work Liberates”. In the evening when we returned from work and reported for roll call the man was hung and we had to watch.
It was the middle of 1943. I remember the transports that came from the Warsaw Ghetto. At that time transports arrived not only from Poland. Transports came from all the occupied countries. We knew about every transport that had come to Birkenau – how many railway wagons, the population composite and the land of origin. We got that information from the prisoners that worked in the railway station in supervising and sorting the packages and suitcases. They saw the whole procedure from the moments the trains arrived. Most of the arrivals were driven straightly to the gas chambers; only few were taken to the work camp.
The prisoners who worked at the railway station were those who brought lots of goods into the camp – lots of money and sometimes even food that they found in the suitcases and succeeded to smuggle into the camp using devious and dangerous methods. We discovered that in a certain barrack where a group of railway workers were living it was possible on the days that transports had arrived to get bread or other food for money or diamonds.
After checking we knew that it was true. In our barrack we saw that a group of prisoners were covertly dividing among them an old black loaf of bread, partly covered with mould. They told us exactly whom we should approach with our request. My two friends and I collected our gold and diamonds and decided to try our luck. We sealed our pact of sharing alike with a handshake. We trusted each other. After a short discussion it was decided that I was the most fit for the task. I was the youngest, small, so it was not likely that I would be suspected of carrying valuables. I hurried – almost running. I almost reached the barrack I was looking for. Suddenly I heard the alarm whistle that called for entering the barracks and attending roll call. I decided to go back. In fact I had to go back.
On my way a very young S.S. man dressed in a ship-shape uniform stopped me. He asked me yelling: `Why are you still outside and not in roll call?` Without waiting for an answer he dragged me into one of the nearby barracks, ordered me to bend and hold one of the planks and then he lashed me 15 times with a thick stick which he had had. The pain was terrible but I tried to overcome it. My pockets were full with the valuables. I was frightened to death that he would notice my overfilled pockets or that something would fall out during the lashing. So, with my outmost will power I overcame the pain and accepted the punishment without crying and yelling. After he had finished he asked me the number of my barrack. I answered. To my great astonishment he told me quietly: `I will escort you to your barrack, otherwise you may be punished again by another guard who will catch you on the way`. I looked at his face. We changed looks. He understood that I thanked him.
So that was how I returned, frightened, humiliated but alive and breathing. My friends could not believe their eyes. We hugged and were glad that I was still alive. `We did not believe that we would see you alive again,` they told me. `It is miracle from Heaven that he did not notice the valuables. There is a power that’s taking care of you`.
All of a sudden a prisoner whom I did not know very well came near me and said: `I know why you were saved. You are lucky. Add the digits of your personal number and tell me the sum`. The sum was 21. `You have a lucky number; you have to believe in it. You were chosen to stay alive`. In our conditions then every one was looking for a glimmer of hope and faith. I really started to believe in what he had said. I embraced a faith, which I went on keeping.
My friends told me: `We were so right choosing you for the task. You were not suspected. It did not occur to the S.S. man that a small weak lad hid much money. Surely, if one of us went he would not come back alive`. They were older than me, taller and it was probably true that they would have been suspected of something more serious than merely being late for a roll call.
After I calmed down and started thinking on my own I understood how much I endangered my life. In fact, once again I received my life back.
Of course I did not try that ruse again. As time passed all of us were weakening. I must point out one fact about myself – I was in a better physical shape than most of the prisoners whom I knew. I do not have an explanation for that – may be a special research should be done.
Quite a few prisoners committed suicide - they were fed up with life. They could not take any more suffering. They went to the electric fence, grasped it and died. They preferred death to waiting for selection and the fear of being transported to the gas chambers and the crematoriums. It was not a secret any more. The fire that erupted out of the chimneys was seen clearly at night. The smell of burned bodies was in the air all the time. We had no more illusions. The destination of the women, the children, the ill and the weak was not unknown any more.
In the camp there was a “respected” group of prisoners that were called Sonderkommando (special commando). They lived in a separate distant barrack and they got special treatment and better food. The reason was that they worked in the crematoriums. They had opened the gas chambers, took out the bodies and loaded them on carts that went straight to the crematoriums. Later they loaded the ashes on lorries and escorted by guards threw the ashes into the Wisla river.
I remember a heroic action of two Jewish prisoners from Greece who belonged to the Sonderkommando. There was only one German guard with them when they unloaded the lorry. One of the Jews hit the head of the guard with his shovel and wounded him mortally and then they took his gun and killed him. After his death they went into the river and swam across it attempting to escape.
After several hours the incident became known to the Germans. Immediately all the prisoners were returned to the camp. The Germans recruited all their mighty forces to search for the escapees. The prisoners were found and executed. Their bodies were exhibited in the camp for show.
For us they were heroes.
As a punishment for that deed the Germans held that same day an especially strict selection. Hundreds were sent to the gas chambers as an act of vengeance. For the Germans it was very important to catch those runaway prisoners. They were eyewitnesses to the death industry that was going on in Auschwitz. They could tell all the details to the free world.
The Germans probably succeeded to keep that horrible secret relatively hidden. Why only the Sonderkommando could perform such an action? The explanation is that they were still physically healthy because they were not wasted by hunger, so they could physically and morally think about such an action and carry it out. Another reason was their objective work conditions. The lorries in which the ashes were taken to the river were driven one by one so that only one lorry at a time was by the river. On the lorry there was only one guard, so the prisoners had a chance to overcome him and escape swimming. Whatever the explanation, the fact was that not everyone went like “cattle to the slaughter”.
I positively know about another heroic deed. A young woman from France was standing, together with many others, on the way to the “showers” (gas chambers). Among the densely crowded people stood S.S. men who directed them. The young woman succeeded to take out the pistol of one S.S. man out of its holster and shoot him to death. Another guard reached her and shot her but before she died she managed to shoot and wound him. The Sonderkommando men saw the incident and told us about it.
Those deeds encouraged us. We felt the will for vengeance in our guts. After each and every revenge action came heavy punishment action. Many paid with their lives. The punishment for the young woman’s action was the hanging of 10 women in the camp’s square.
It was the beginning of 1944. The winter was very cold. It seems that the Germans decided to hurry up the “final solution” of the European Jewry. The camp was in tumult. New prisoners arrived everyday. Most of the new prisoners were Hungarian Jews. The population changed from day to day. Selections were going on incessantly. Each time in another barrack. Trains full with Jews arrived almost every day. More prisoners were recruited to work in the railway station. We heard that at that time the building of a fourth crematorium was finished in order to hasten the output.
Every morning on our way to work we could see the gigantic complex of the crematoriums. The high chimneys that emitted fire and smoke and the smell of burned flesh told us the truth about those “projects”. Our German guards told us that those were food and soap factories for the German army, but for us the truth was clear.
The transports came more and more often. The Germans decided to add a third shift. The crematoriums were operated also at night. At night the wind that blew changed direction and the smell of the burned bodies reached us in its full strength. The smoke looked at night like a fire several meters high crying to Heaven. In that way we could see for weeks with our own eyes the ongoing of the extermination.
We had no more doubts. We knew that we were doomed. We would not get out alive from that place just because of the simple reason: we were the most important eye- witnesses. We saw with our own eyes the extermination industry. We were the witnesses to the biggest and the most hidden secret of the Germans. They would not let us go on living.
They would have enough time to finish us off. There could not be another possibility. They would not leave under any circumstances living witnesses who would be able to tell the world what had happened in that terrible place.
It was a wonder that at that time the young S.S. guards were relived by older guards who escorted us to work. We felt that something was happening. The pressure at work was lessened. On Sundays we were allowed to rest and we received a bigger food ration. The guarding at work was less tight. One day two prisoners from our group disappeared. They took advantage of the prevailing situation and prepared in several days, with the help of other prisoners, a hiding place from which they could later escape from the camp. That was a daring unprecedented deed and almost with no chance of carrying it out successfully.
The area of the project where we worked was huge. Thousands of crashed airplanes from all the states that participated in the war and piles of junk were scattered all over, and of course, there were warehouses and workshops. It was quite easy to find a hiding place, but the problem was to hold on long enough until the Germans would stop their strict pedantic searches. For that food and water were needed, and later on help for finding a way to escape to freedom.
It was clear to us and to the Germans that the escape of the prisoners was very well planned with people inside the camp and maybe also outside of it and involved a big sum of money. There was no doubt that it was so because otherwise it was hard to understand how they had not been caught. The Germans put into action a powerful army force, roadblocks and fervent searches around the camp and also around the whole region. I had not heard that they were discovered and caught. Until now I do not know what became of them.
The airplanes’ project workers were in shock. We expected an especially cruel retaliation. We knew the German policy – punishing many people in a case of insubordination of even one prisoner, and of course in a case of escape. It would not pass without our paying the penalty.
Immediately, on the same day each of the prisoners was separately interrogated. The interrogations were conducted with beatings, bayonet stabbings, kicks at the testicles and other means of pressure. We were asked which guards we knew. Names were read to us. Those were the names of political German prisoners who worked with us. We were asked if we had any contacts with them. There was also an element of luck in those interrogations. Some of us went through it relatively easily while others were heavily tortured. I did not pass the interrogation before I got several lashes and kicks but it was a mercy compared to the suffering of others. The interrogation went on till nightfall. When it ended we were returned to the camp without receiving our daily food ration. That was the usual punishment – the most effective in breaking our morale.
Out attitude to the escape was ambivalent. On the one hand we were glad – perhaps they succeeded to get free and tell the free world about the hell in Birkenau-Auschwitz, on the on the other hand we felt betrayed. They breached our unwritten pact. They knew perfectly well that the other prisoners would pay for their escape. Our state of mind in that case was quite understandable.
On the same evening whoever had valuables, which had been hidden in the straw on our planks, took them out and threw them into the oven (as I mentioned earlier that oven was never operated). We took out one brick from the oven opening that was shut until then and threw the goods through that opening. We expected an immediate search that evening or on the next day before we left for work, but on the next morning we did not go to work – an unexpected and unusual occurrence that was a bad omen. Until noon nothing happened. We walked around unhindered, received food and drink; we even managed to clean ourselves a little by the water faucets from the lice that troubled us so much.
Suddenly an ear-deafening alarm siren was heard, the signal to enter the barracks for roll calls. Frightened and tensed we stood waiting for what was forthcoming. After a while a group of S.S. men arrived. Among them was a high-rank officer very handsome and distinguished looking. We were ordered to take off our clothes and stand naked in single file. We understood that a very strict selection was in order. Until then, since our first selection before we entered the camp, we never stood naked through the selection; the Germans were satisfied with the selection according to external looks only.
Some of the prisoners tried hiding under the lowest planks near to the floor. They hardly managed to crawl and force their way in. The S.S. men noticed them and without any warning approached the planks and shot them. They took them out wounded and bleeding and threw them on a lorry that was waiting outside the barrack. Outside there was snow and frost as the temperature was below zero. The wounded were thrown one on the top the other and the blood was flowing from the lorry and reddened the snow. When the wounded cried out because of pain and suffering two S.S. men shot them to death.
That dreadful scene is engraved deeply in my memory.
We stood naked awaiting our destiny. A whole group of S.S. men were standing near the front door of the barrack. The prisoners were standing at a little distance from them. The selection started. We were tested one by one. An S.S. man shouted `The next!` and then we had to run and approach the high-rank officer (later on we learned that he was the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele who was the physician that conducted the horrible medical experiments mainly on Jews but also on other prisoners).
The selection was very strict. It was enough to have the smallest scratch and the prisoner was directed to the left, which meant outside to the lorry and gas chamber. It was ridiculous (if it was not sad) to expect that prisoners that have been living for a long time in very poor hygienic conditions, infested with fleas and lice not to have wounds, boils and scratches. That is why lots of prisoners were sent to extermination that day, among them two of my classmates. The selection went on quietly in a very stressed atmosphere. Soon it would be my turn.
One prisoner stood before me. When the order was heard he hesitated with no apparent reason. There was another yell and he still did not advance. At that moment I instinctively ran quickly before him and stood at Attention and probably confidently in front of the officer. In a second without any checking I was sent to the right.
I again was newly born. The hesitator, regretfully, was of course sent to the gas chambers. All that happened was of course not premeditated. I acted probably guided by a basic instinct, like an animal in fear of death.
The notorious Mengele was very strict. He could professionally diagnose who was weak and exhausted. The truth was that there was almost no difference in the physical state of the prisoners. We were all only skin and bones, hunched up and stooped. The only difference was the skin condition. Those who were without skin blemishes he allowed to go on living. We did not go back to work in the airplanes dismantling project. We stayed in the camp and worked in cleaning the latrines and collecting the garbage. We were very worried – it meant that we were less indispensable.
During our work in collecting garbage we were very close to the women’s camp. We were shocked by their looks. Their heads were shaven and they had a dried up neglected looks. Some of them were insane; we noticed that by their behavior. There was also insanity among the men as a result of hunger, skin diseases, lice, fleas and very hard physical labor.
It was the end of 1944. We were completely isolated. We did not know what was happening at the front. We could just evaluate the situation by the behavior of the guards or by the overall policy in the camp at that time. From what the prisoners who worked in the projects vital for the war effort told us, we understood that the tension and demands for production were lower. There was no pressure and even partial idleness. Something was happening. On the other hand we saw intensification of efforts to bring more and more transports. The crematoriums burned round the clock. The fire that was bursting out of the chimneys to a great height was like bursting blood crying to Heaven. The fog accompanied by the smell of burned flesh spread out through the camp and chocked us up to breathlessness.
We asked ourselves – we were not the only witnesses to the crimes of the Germans against the Jewish people and others. The whole region saw, smelled and still kept silent. It was impossible for the Polish surroundings not to see what was going on in their midst. Extermination was executed not only in Auschwitz – Birkenau. In dozens of locations throughout Poland mass extermination was performed by more brutal and
primitive means. Nobody reported it. No protest was heard. That is the ultimate proof that only on Polish soil the killing and extermination of the Jewish population could be carried out. Anti-Semitism was so deeply rooted in Poland; the prejudices about Jews were so distorted and false that they enabled the Germans to dare to carry out the extermination of Jews in Poland. The silence of the Poles is the proof of their corroboration in the extermination of European Jewry.
At that time additional manpower came to the camp – young men that were selected out of the transports from Hungary. Most of them did not speak any language except Hungarian, a language that sounded very strange to us. A few knew Yiddish or German – those that came from Mukacheve (Munkács then) and its region.
It was very difficult to find a common language to communicate with them. Still, we got information from them about what was going on at the front and the world at that time. I heard from them that the Germans were losing and retreating from the Russian front. The American and English armies were advancing and closing on Germany trough France. I did not understand much of the war strategies. I was not fit then physically and mentally to concentrate and be interested in evaluating the chances of the war’s end.
The Hungarian Jews confirmed what we had felt already for some time. The Germans were absorbing blows at all fronts. The Hungarian Jews tried to encourage us to keep on hoping. We did not change our mind – the Germans would not let us stay alive, we would not get out by any means. The Germans would not leave alive the eyewitnesses that might incriminate them. They would finish us off at the last moment.
Most of the people that came in the transports from Hungary were immediately sent to the gas chambers. When the transports stopped coming, a drastic change came over the camp. Most of the prisoners were not going to work any more. We were moving around the camp idle without roll call or any kind of schedule. We were very worried. In that kind of situation rumors started spreading around, mostly worthless, about the meaning of the idleness and what was coming next. Of course most of the rumors were that we were doomed. The Germans would not allow Jews to hang about idle and feed us for nothing in return.
The Russian front was probably getting nearer, so the Germans decided to empty the camp as much as was possible. I, personally, was without any more feeling. Selections from one barrack to the next were started again. They reached our barrack too. Again the same notorious doctor that I knew from the last selection entered the barrack. We were not ordered to take off our clothes but to stand in front of the examiners that were standing near the main door. Those that were sent to the left were ordered to stand together outside and those that were sent to the right climbed the lorries. The sides’ order was the opposite of the last time. My turn came. I stood at Attention like an experienced man. Mengele looked at me and said: `small, right?` As if asking his helpers. `How old are you? ` He asked me. `16 years old` I answered. `He is well but small`, he said again to his helper. `Check if he is 155 centimeters tall’ (about 5’1’’). I was measured and was not as tall as required. I was sent to the right. That was the end. I have not been able to remember what I thought then and what my feelings were. I was indifferent about my fate. It was better that way; otherwise I do not know what the results would have been.
When the selection was finished the lorries moved and disappeared. A group of prisoners, including me, for whom there was no room on the lorries, remained outside the barrack. We waited for a lorry to come and pick us up. After some time we were ordered to start walking towards the main gate, escorted by S.S. men. We knew what the destination was and what to expect. The guards shoved us demanding to hurry so that we would get to what they called the “hot shower” in time.
We were certain that we were going to the gas chambers. We walked slowly on purpose, stopping from time to time. Some of us did not agree to go on, begging to be killed immediately on the spot. Others lifted their hands, and shouted: `our God in Heaven, where are you? Have we sinned so much? Help us, we need you, don’t abandon us`.
There were also those that cried heart-breaking cries. The guards hit us murderous blows and shot in the air. After about a half an hour’s walk that seemed like forever, we reached the exit gate of the camp. We stopped. One of the guards spoke with the gate-guards, probably to ask for a permit to go out.
We were stalled for a short time. There was a dispute about the exit permit. Just then came an army vehicle that looked like a command car in which were seated two high-rank officers relatively older then the guards. They got down from the car in a hurry – elegantly dressed wearing high polished boots. All the guards saluted them. After a few moments the guards returned with an order to take us back to the camp. We did not know why on earth that order was given. We also did not know who the two officers were. The fact was that we were returned back to our barrack.
We came back with mixed feelings. We did not know if we were really saved from death or if would soon be taken again as we were already sorted and marked. We continued to worry. We did not know and did not understand why we were taken back.
In the conditions that prevailed at that time we could have neither any optimistic thoughts nor a glimmer of hope or faith that the worst of all had passed. The last thing that could have occurred to us was that the commander of the camp himself saved us. The camp commander ordered earlier the gate guards not to send any more people to the gas chambers, probably obeying orders from a higher authority. That was the reason why the gate guards did not allow our guards to pass through the gate.
We were still in a complete state of doubt and terrible anxiety. As we were idle we had lots of time to nourish the most pessimistic speculations. We heard that the selection that had been going on for several days had stopped. Other work groups also stayed in the camp and did not go out to work in the various projects. We understood that soon a change in our life was coming. We felt that the end was near. No other possibility occurred to us.
After several days we were loaded in a hurry on lorries without any selection, all of us with no exception. We were sure and convinced that the Germans decided to finish us off as soon as possible so as not to leave any living evidence. When we started moving, packed densely on the lorry, one of the prisoners said: `soon, in a few minutes we shall know if we are led to death or not. If we go to the left when we pass the gate – it is clear that we go to the gas chambers. If we turn to the right – God knows whereto’.
We reached the gate very quickly and turned to the right. A glimmer of hope was awakening. Perhaps we were not on the way to the gas chambers. Faith and hope strengthened a little as the drive was lengthened. It was a relatively long drive, so we supposed that the destination was not the Birkenau gas chambers. After about an hour we reached a small remote railway station. We were transferred into freight cars; we were not too crowded so we were able to lie down on the floor.
We noticed that one of the rear cars had a chimney that emitted smoke. We concluded that the Germans were planning to play a devious trick on us. We stayed at the station for long hours. We started moving when night was falling. When we climbed into the cars each of us received a quarter of a loaf of bread. We did not get a bucket to relieve ourselves so we assumed that the journey would not be long. The train was going very fast all through the night passing hundreds of kilometers. We were already far away from Auschwitz, but we did not know where we were and what our destination was.
Toward morning we stopped in a desolate place. The doors were opened and we were ordered to step down in groups of ten men and take plates and cups. We saw immense expanses of green fields and high wheat and other crops but not any buildings. We were surprised when we were brought to the rear car and received a hot drink, which tasted somewhat like coffee. Only then we saw that the chimney was part of a field kitchen on wheels. We were very much relieved.
We were also surprised by the way we were treated – we were allowed to relive ourselves in the field, of course under strict guarding. To stop and get hot drink in the train was something we did not even dream about and what was most important – the mystery of the chimney was solved.
In spite of the better treatment we still did not stop worrying. We did not know our destination. The more know-it-all among us assumed that we were heading to the north and that the change in our treatment was not incidental, it was a basic change of policy.
The Germans were too disciplined, madly strict, so it was not possible that the guards were acting independently without orders from higher ranks. Attaching a field kitchen to the train needed fore-planning and explicit instruction from the higher commanders. If they wanted to finish us off there was no need to drive for hundreds of kilometers. Still we went on worrying.
The train kept on going, we assumed, to the north. By estimating time and the train velocity we almost passed through all the length of Poland. At dawn the train started slowing down. For a while we passed through built areas and then we passed again through open spaces. We saw all that through the minute cracks in the walls of the car.
We stopped. The doors opened after a long time. When they were opened at last we stepped out into the “world’s air” and we had the good fortune to see our surroundings. We saw near by a big forest spreading a nice pine smell. We breathed a lungful of good air. To the right of the forest we saw a small camp, about ten wooden structures. Fences and watchtowers surrounded the structures but we noticed that there were no chimneys. It was raining when we walked to the camp and the soil was muddy so that sometimes the clogs stuck in the mud. The walk was very hard. Some of us arrived completely exhausted.
We reached the gate. It was early morning. We saw lots of prisoners, some of them in civilian clothes and others with the striped clothes. They were running about holding food utensils. Before we passed the gate the guards informed us that we came to Stutthof (Shtut’hof). The camp was near the city of Danzig, a port town near the Baltic Sea that was in dispute between Poland and Germany before the war (in Polish the name of the city is Gdansk and since the end of the war that is its official name because it was again a Polish city).
Our speculation about the direction of our journey was right. We did not know anything about our fate. We quickly made a temporary state evaluation. One thing was clear: we were out of Auschwitz. We were hundreds of kilometers away from the most terrible Hell on earth. Second: we were no longer in Poland. Danzig was officially annexed to Germany, not as an occupied territory but as a German city. In fact we were on German soil. That fact gave us a spark of hope. We were out of Birkenau but still in a camp, still prisoners under heavy guard. Basically our feelings and conditions were not changed.
We were still among the queer figures that in the beginning astonished even me. The other prisoners called them “Muselmans”. They all looked the same. Old men bent and hunched up. Their heads were sunk in their necks and their noses protruded out of their faces because of extreme thinness. They were cold, walked slowly shuffling their legs and in a deep state of apathy. (They were not really old; they just seemed to be old. The nickname “Muselmann” was invented by the other prisoners as they reminded them of the way Muslims dressed because the “Muselmaenner” walked around covered with blankets. Being a “Muselmann” was the lowest stage of degeneration as a result of the life conditions in the camps.
We looked at each other and lost the will to go on living. We ourselves looked like walking skeletons. Still I had to keep on struggling.
We were in Stutthof.
Immediately upon our arrival we reported for a roll call. There were among us several exhausted, weak and very sick men who died on the first day of our arrival. After checking and counting we were allowed to get a wash by the troughs that were arranged in parallel rows in the open air. There were pipes without faucets. Instead of the faucets there were holes in the front of the pipes that hardly trickled droplets of water. All of us tried to reach those troughs. The strongest succeeded to wet their faces. The weaker stayed behind.
After the “wash” we stood again in single file and received half a loaf of bread. We were overjoyed. For the last two years we did not get such a ration of bread. From our experience we knew that we should not finish immediately the whole ration. We had to leave something for the evening and the next day. More over, it could be a one-time gift. It might be the ration we were supposed to get on our journey and did not get.
We were experienced in planning the portioning of our food ration. A little piece of bread should be kept and well guarded in the pocket. It should not be touched and that was the way to overcome the hunting thoughts about food and in spite of the bothering hunger the precious little peace of bread was not eaten almost up to the time the next ration was distributed. That was the only way that in the most difficult situations there was something to hang on to.
At least we had a big enough ration on that first day from which we could keep something for the next day. An encouraging welcome to what was about to happen. It might be that in spite of all we were destined to a work camp.
Very soon we met with prisoners that had come to the camp several days before us – Jews from Lithuania and Latvia that came from other camps, not from Auschwitz, and
they told us that every several days a transport from Stutthof was sent to work camps in Germany.
We were very doubtful about that information. It could not be possible that we, Auschwitz-Birkenau “graduates”, would be transferred to Germany. It was unreasonable to believe that we were so lucky. After we had seen the worst it was hard to be optimistic. I told myself that if that information was true, I still had the will to go on living. It might be that the worst part of the war was behind me. It could be that there was a reason behind the struggle for survival.
For the first time after I had left my home, the will to go on living returned. The Jewish prisoners from Lithuania and Latvia also encouraged us. They told us that the Russians were advancing toward Poland and that the Germans had been defeated in the Russian front. On the other hand they knew nothing about the extermination camp Auschwitz. I was not sure if they believed the stories we told them. It might be that they did not have the physical and mental strength to show any feeling about our stories. They, too, could not understand how we were let out of that cursed Hell. To that question we also did not have any answer.
For the first time in my life I heard a different Yiddish from ours in Poland. In a short time I learned to understand them. In the Lithuanian Yiddish there are many Hebrew words and it has a nice sound. I enjoyed the language and tried to imitate it. It kept more of its origins compared to the Polish Yiddish, which is mixed with many Polish words. On the whole the conditions in Stutthof were not much different from those in Birkenau except that we did not work. For us it was a transit camp.
All through the two years I was away from home I was never sick until I came to Stutthof. I probably scratched my hand and did not notice it. I woke up one morning highly feverish. I saw a red stripe, which started from the wound, stretched through the whole length of the arm toward the direction of the heart. The older prisoners said that it was an infection. If the infection spread and reached the heart my condition would be critical, because my constitution was weak, lacked vitamins and did not have the stamina that was needed to fight the infection. The prisoners started to debate – should the guard in charge be informed of my condition or should we wait and try to find another solution. It might be that there was a physician among the prisoners whom I could ask for help. We knew how the Germans treated sick prisoners, especially those that were to be sent to work camps.
I was desperate, frightened and depressed. My optimism was gone. Just when there was a spark of hope I was sick. The anxiety almost wore me down. I did not feel physical pain. Suddenly a childhood friend appeared, my classmate Lajzer Bocian, together with a Lithuanian Jewish prisoner and told me that for an exchange of a whole loaf of bread he was willing to take me to his friend who was working in the infirmary as an assistant aid-man, perhaps he could help me. Without hesitating I agreed. Anyhow I could not eat because of the fever, the nausea and the headache.
I went with him to look for the friend. We found him and he checked my hand. Without saying a word he took a needle out of his coat collar, stuck it along the wound and let the pus come out. He brought a bandage with black lotion for my arm and hand and ran away even before I had time to thank him. Before he ran away he said: ‘This is the most I can do for you, I have no other means, and neither does the doctor.’
The lotion worked like magic. After several hours the red stripe started withdrawing. On the next day I felt much better. The red stripe was completely gone. The fever lowered and I was hungry but I did not have bread that day. I was very weakened during those few days; I could hardly stand on my feet. I was saved from a certain death. I heard that also from my friends who said: ’ we knew how dangerous your condition was and we pitied you. Now we really believe that you were marked with a lucky number.’
Fortunately we did not work in Stutthof. That was why I got better more quickly. If I had to work I would have totally collapsed. We were in Stutthof about two weeks. Later we learned that also in Stutthof there was a small crematorium where the very many dead were cremated. After two weeks we left the camp without any selection. It was the end of 1944.
It was winter, mud and snow. We did not know anything about the Germans withdrawal at the fronts. Their defeat was almost certain. Their treatment towards us did not change – just the opposite. We were transferred in sub-human condition. We were again crowded hungry in freight cars.
Even the small window in the car that usually was closed with barbed wire was closed with wood boards. It was almost entirely dark, stifling and stinking. We could not peep out and we did not have enough air for breathing.
We were told that we were destined for work. We did not believe them because in those conditions nobody would stay alive, but as the train progressed and accelerated the velocity was greater and more air came in, the condition in the car improved a little bit and the fainted recovered somewhat.
As we progressed deeper into Germany the train stopped very often. When it was going its velocity was low. We understood that there were obstacles on the way. There were not enough free railways. We also heard many airplanes and shots from anti-aircraft guns. The prisoners that stood by the window succeeded with hand blows to release one of the boards. They moved it carefully so that a strong gust of wind came in and we could also see what was going on outside.
In one of the places where we stopped we saw several anti-aircraft posts manned by boys of about 12-13 years old (Hitler Jugend – the Nazi youth movement). We understood that the Germans were really in very bad shape if boys were recruited to the front.
Along the way we were bombed several times by the Allies bombers that passed above us and threw bombs that fell nearby. Airplanes that passed over the cars sniped with machine-guns. One prisoner in our car was hit in the palm of his hand by a splinter that penetrated the car. He was about my age and one of his fingers was paralyzed permanently. It was especially sad because he played the piano before the war and it was thought that he would have a brilliant career, but to be truthful nobody thought when we were in the train about the future when death was chasing us incessantly.
We were progressing at a slow pace for about two days until at last we reached our new destination. The car doors opened accompanied by yelling, swearing and blows. We were thrown forcefully outside straight to a roll call.
A strong smell penetrated our noses. It was the smell of fire but different from the smell in Birkenau. The smell was of oil or some other kind of fuel. A cloud of fire was going up into the sky, which burned our eyes.
It was worrying. To where did we come? The first signs were not forecasting good news. The cars stopped not far from the camp that was in fact a hangar fenced with double high barbed-wire fence, and, of course, guard towers on the four corners. The hangar was filled with planks arranged in ten stories with ladders for reaching the higher ones. When we arrived we found several sick prisoners that did not go out to work on that day. They looked the same as us. We were all bone-thin, exhausted – just skin and bones.
The sick prisoners informed us about our new camp. It was a factory for producing fuel out of shale oil or brown coal by a new invention. The shortage of fuel was enormous. Most of the German lorries operated during the war on gas that was produced by burning wood. The lorry was first ignited by fuel and when the engine was warm enough it was changed to gas. On the lorry there was a big wood boiler and the gas was conducted to the engine.
The factory was a first rate strategic target. It was the target of incessant air raids. The Allies knew about its existence and made all the efforts to destroy it.
We hardly managed to get organized and we were already witnesses to one of the routine air raids of the plant. We were still in the hangar that was far from the plant and the hangar was never bombed. It seems that the Allies had the information that prisoners had been living in the hangar.
The discipline was very strict although the guards were not S.S. men but older Germans Wehrmacht (army) men. The reason was the secrecy of the plant and its strategic importance.
The Germans demanded full performance and output of the norms they wanted to be produced every day. Of course it was physically impossible. Except from beating and torture they had a very efficient way to make us fill the norms. Our food ration was according to the output, so we had no choice but to try with what little strength that we still had to make the effort needed to get the full food ration. In order to create competition between the groups, the Germans invented the bonus (Zulage) system for the groups that produced more than the allocated quota, but only seldom someone got any addition.
The Germans did not take off the time lost because of the air raids. During an air raid we had to take cover, but we were permitted to lay off only when we finished our quota.
In those days we had moments of satisfaction and vengeance when the German had to get down with us into the ditches during the air raids. Even then we were strictly watched. Some of the guards cursed the Allies and vented their anger on us. Others cursed the Wehrmacht and Hitler. Those were awfully frightening and tense days, but on the other hand the air raids were the messengers of good news – the Allies were close.
We also saw the guards in their weakness and helplessness and that, of course, encouraged us. Many times during an air raid the guards were the first to run to the ditches, and then they stood in the entrance with drawn guns and did not let the prisoners enter. They demanded that we go on with our work exposed and unprotected. The planes were so low that we easily could see the pilot and the British insignia on the plane.
Not only Jews worked in the plant. There were many Russian captives. As I already wrote, the pilots knew that the workers were captives and prisoners and that was why they tried not to hit the hangar.
We noticed that. They never hit our living quarters – so many prisoners sometimes preferred to be hungry and not to get their daily food ration and stay in the hangar that was almost safe from the bombings.
There was not a day or moment in the fuel plant that we did not face the danger of death. We already understood why we were brought so far away from Auschwitz. The Germans were sure that sooner or later we would all be killed and it was very important to them to produce fuel at any price. In our case the price was the cheapest.
The guards that hid with us in the ditches showed more fear than we did. They showed that after all they were flesh and blood just like us and not a “superior race”, free of fear. In those situations their weakness, stupidity and ugliness were revealed. Discovering their own true nature shocked some of them – they could not stare straight into our eyes. As the air raids worsened there were some changes for the better in the way some of the guards treated us. I was an ear witness to a conversation in which one of the guards said: ‘I hope that soon you will be free. There are signs but I cannot tell you because I am not allowed to. I hope that you have a good opinion about me. I was a decent guard, not cruel and considerate. I have not done anything wrong. All of us have the same wish – we want the war to end and that everyone will return home to his family.’
Only some guards changed their treatment. On the whole the treatment did not change. Not one of the prisoners had then the physical or mental strength even to think about settling our accounts with the Germans.
The air raids went on and even grew stronger until the plant could not go on producing. The price was heavy. Many prisoners were killed or wounded. The plant was utterly destroyed and it was impossible to reconstruct it. We stopped going to work and stayed for several days in the hangar that was relatively safe. The planes went on circling around the plant everyday, probably for photographing the place. The air raids stopped. After several days we were transferred in open lorries in the snow and frost to another forced labor camp.
The drive was not long. We arrived at a god-forsaken village whose name I do not remember. I was not interested in the places’ names so I do not remember them. We climbed off the lorries near a white forest covered with snow. The road was muddy. We discovered several shacks hidden in the forest, fenced with guard towers the same as it was in the other camps.
We accepted our new place as it was obviously expected. We did not expect better conditions. We were happy that we came to a work camp and not, Heaven forbid, to the last destination.
Again there was roll call, counting, registering, and allocating each one his place in the shack and the plank’s number. The procedure of organization was finished. After the roll call we returned to the shacks. Near the entrance door we received soup-like hot water. We were not allowed to go out anymore. We waited for the next day. What would it bring? Was that place really a forced labor camp?
On the next day with the first light we were taken out of the shacks for a roll call. After the counting we started marching to work, without a wash, drink or any food. We marched under cruel heavy guard. The guards were yelling and kicking those that fell behind because they were exhausted and weak and could not keep up with the marching pace. After exhausting efforts we reached our new place of work, of course without the wounded and weak that remained lying in the snow and mud without getting any help or treatment.
We saw a stone quarry, not big, primitive, without any mechanization except a rail for carts, which carried the stones. The manager, a German citizen, prepared us in advance not to panic – in a moment there would be an explosion in the quarry. After the explosion we would have to load the stones on the carts and transfer them to the lorries or to the grinding mill.
‘By 10 o’clock you have to transfer 25 full carts, after that you will get hot drink. You must also know that this task is your entrance test. We want to see and be sure that you are able yet to be considered as a productive work force’.
After the explosion we started with the backbreaking work. Suddenly two people appeared, an older man and a good-looking woman, both civilians. We were astonished. That was something we were not used to. We immediately thought that they were the committees that would decide if we were work worthy.
After a while the pair went away. The guards told us that they were the owners of the quarry, a father and his daughter. Their visit was routine for discussion about labor, efficiency and output. We calmed down and went on working beyond our ability. It seems that we passed the test and stayed to continue working.
The people were exhausted hungry and weak. The work in the quarry was beyond our physical ability. In that place the discipline was also very strict, just like in the other camps. We were not allowed to rest for a moment or to say even one word to another prisoner. If someone was not behaving according to those rules the guards set the dogs on him or hit him. The food was the same as in the previous camps.
Still, there was later a substantial change in the way we were treated that came from the quarry’s owners – especially the woman. She asked to appoint a prisoner to be the foreman. She used her influence to choose a tall, good-looking and relatively healthy prisoner to be the foreman. Through him she sent us a message that she wanted to help us, especially with a food addition, but the guards objected.
She said that they threatened that they would report her to higher authorities but the threat did not frighten her. She brought several crates of apples and put them near the latrine that was far from the quarry. The Jewish foreman knew about it and hinted that each of us should go there from time to time and take several apples. We could not believe our ears and of course not our eyes. For years we did not see or taste any fruit. It was like a day of festival for us. We felt not only the taste of apples but also the taste of freedom. It reminded us of pre-war times.
We had several more good days thanks to her. Even now I do not know if she helped us because of pangs of conscience, pity, religious faith or a calculated plan to prepare for herself a background as someone who helped Jews and captives. She surely knew that the end of the war was near and that the Germans would be the losers.
Another daring deed was planned and carried out by that woman. A day before we were to be transferred to the Dachau camp, probably because of the approaching front, the Jewish foreman disappeared. There was a very strict search in the quarry and its neighborhood but to no avail. It was like the earth swallowed him. Later on it became clear that she was the brain behind the operation that without doubt had more accomplices.
After the war we met the guy and he told us how she had hidden him near the quarry and after several days she transferred him in a vehicle to a farther hiding place. The fact that the Germans did not punish us, as retaliation on the foreman’s escape, was the best evidence that the strangulation rope at the front was tightening. At that time we could already hear at night the distant thundering guns. That sound brought us the good news that the front was getting nearer.
The Germans did not yet give up their plans for us. We are transferred again. Who knows where to?
Our relatively “better” situation was finished. We were loaded onto open lorries, crowded and hungry. The Germans did not want us to gain freedom. They would find the time and place to finish us off. It could not be different. All the signs testified that that was their intention. Many, anyhow, weakened and died. Those that were still alive could hardly stand on their feet. It was hard to accept that. Just when the thundering cannons perhaps brought the message of release and freedom.
After a short drive we reached the Dachau camp, which was not far from the city of Munich. Dachau was a notorious camp already before the war. The Nazis incarcerated in that camp German political prisoners and tortured them.
When we reached the camp it was in a dreadful chaos. It was just after an air raid. Some of the shacks were destroyed and some were burned. The atrocities we saw immediately upon entering the camp were indescribable. Near the gate lay a huge pile of bodies - shriveled skeletons stinking of decay. We went on and saw another huge pile around which prisoners were sitting, looking like skeletons, and cutting meat from the dead bodies and eating it. It was a horrible sight.
It was hard for us to see it. It seems that we had never reached such a degree of hunger so as to eat human flesh. I do not want to judge them. The dead were already dead. It might be that the dead gave life to those still living.
The guarding of the camp was still carried on according to the rules but otherwise it was a complete pandemonium. There was a complete indifference. We were brought to the camp but nobody paid attention. There was no roll call, no allocation to the shacks and no food. It was a perfect chaos, hell on earth - a camp of cannibals. Because of the disorder in the camp we understood that we would soon reach the same state, starve to death and start eating each other.
Fortunately after two days the front came nearer and the Germans decided to quickly take out the prisoners that were relatively healthy and could be transferred.
Exhausted and hungry we were again loaded on freight cars. Crowded and stinking we were again going to an unknown destination. We could not understand why the Germans did not finish us off.
They had enough opportunities. There still was a reigning hand. For transferring us a plan was needed, logistics and performance instructions. The Germans still would not let us go. They would perform their plot in the time and the place that fitted them.
That really was their plan. That time their destination was the mountains of Tyrol for our extermination. We were on our way there.
Days and nights we were going on in the train back and forth, stopping very often and changing railways and locomotives. We were dragged forward and pushed backward. We were shut in a cage that was called a railway wagon. Most of us were very exhausted and some were dying.
The train was not able to progress. The railways to Tyrol were already disconnected and bombed. The Allies discovered our convoy and bombed it too. We could not understand why. There were wounded and dead among the prisoners. That air raid was probably a mistake because of lack of information and they thought that there were German soldiers or war equipment in the freight cars.
The guards stayed outside of the cars and did leave their posts. They were not yet ready to give us any help. Later on we found out that in the last car of the convoy there was bread for us. Because of the raids and the disorder the guards did not give it to us.
Locked up, exhausted, almost dead. It was clear that our end was close – we would die either by hunger or by the air raids. Each and every moment was eternity. We were helpless. Some of the prisoners fainted out of weakness. The others, because they were very weak and apathetic too, did not pay attention to those who fainted. Those who fainted collapsed and did not wake up again. It was a pity. We were about to be freed in a few hours, but we did not know it then.
The air raids went on and on, wave after wave, almost incessantly. The Americans discovered German soldiers sitting or standing holding guns or machine guns on the fright cars. That was the German procedure of guarding supplies and equipment. We were trapped on both sides.
Night fell and it started darkening. The air raids stopped. Through the night the cars were maneuvered incessantly. The locomotive pushed back and then pulled forward. The convoy was divided and several cars were transferred to another railway. The activity was going on without a pause. They probably tried to give us the feeling that we were progressing.
At dawn we started hearing dim far echoes of cannons shots. Later the echoes became stronger and stronger until we could distinguish between the second the cannon-shell was shot out of the gun-barrel until the second it hit its target and blew up. We understood that the front line was getting near very quickly. Still, the Germans did not give up. The convoy was moving very quickly. After a short while it stopped by a thick dense forest. The railway was disconnected as a result of sabotage. We were comforted by the fact that we were in the forest hidden from the airplanes.
After less then an hour we started hearing light weapons shots. The noise became stronger. The bullets flew above the cars. It seems that the American army knew already that there were captives in the cars and so tried not to hit us but just to make noise and create an effect of a fight, which was why they aimed up. In a very short time the Americans took over the convoy, broke the doors and they revealed the atrocity in its full ugliness.
It is possible that there may be errors in the dates because of the special circumstances and conditions.
Continue - Part III
Last updated October 26th, 2005