Auschwitz

And on the third morning I woke up in the dark, and what woke me up? The train stopped and it was quiet. I lay there and I realised that we must have arrived somewhere [Auschwitz] because it was very quiet and we could hear the soldiers going about and it got a bit lighter and a bit lighter and as I sat there, my father was opposite me, and the light came down, now he still had a beard, he had cut a little bit but he still had a beard, and as it got lighter I kept looking, there was something different about my father. I looked again, I can't see, and as it got lighter, he had a white streak, he got grey overnight. Now after he survived, we survived, and we started talking and I told to him “Do you remember that last night that you got white?” He said, “Did I?” I mean there were no mirrors or anything. And I said, “Yes.” And then when he turned the other side, just the two streaks, he got white. He said, “I will tell you why, when they took the water, the buckets down, there was an old German”, and my father’s German was fluent, not Yiddish, German, and he said to the man, “Tell me. Where are they taking us? What is going to happen to us?” And father said, he looked at me, and he told me. So he sat there the whole night knowing what is going to happen to us and he got grey.

Let’s see, we had to stand in a row. And it’s so peculiar, you’re a young girl and I said, ‘I must have it [gestures to the tattoo] somehow hidden’. I didn’t want it here because it will show so it has to be so, inside it. Even then, you think you are a young girl so…

I tell you. You do have an idea but you don’t want to face it, in a way. Because then you always think: ‘Oh, how will it happen? How will it happen that they kill you?’ On the other hand if you’re not the only one, if it’s a group, you know you don’t take it in a hysteric manner. Do you agree with me? You wouldn’t know, you should never be in the same position. Because somehow you know we all… Many a time people are together: ‘Don’t worry, we are all together in it’. And this how psychologically to survive a problem like this, for people who put up with it, so to speak.

Anyway, we come to a stop. And… we get out; we were told to leave our luggage inside. But before we stop, before the doors are open, we can see people in striped clothing, which we had never seen before. We see SS women, something we had never seen before, acting as supervisors. And suddenly, out of nowhere, some of these people clad in pyjamas - obviously prisoners - crowd around our window, and ask for bread. Now, as it so happened, the two people in front of me, or us, a father and daughter, had bread. They had accumulated it, or somehow got hold of it, they had travelled with it. And they asked for bread to be pushed through the ventilation slot, you know, that you could open. And he started, the old man, started to do that. But then he stopped and he said, “Well, if it’s that bad out here, we shall probably need it.” And he stopped. So they had to rush back, and carry on with their work. And it stayed with me because it didn’t do him any good, and it didn’t do the prisoners any good. Because, as we had to leave everything behind, he never got hold of his bread, and as he was elderly, he was gassed within the hour. So, nobody benefitted. So… I can’t quite- I never found the conclusion of that. Does it mean that if you are doing something carry on with it and don’t have second thoughts, or, or, or what is the conclusion? But it certainly- that has stayed with me. That the prisoners didn’t get their bread or what they could have done, and he didn’t get it either.

And we were marched off and… had our hair cut off every part of the body. And had a short shower, but no towel or anything and it was jolly cold but nobody caught a cold, you know because we were wet and yet very cold. And were issued with prison clothing, but it wasn’t the stripe variety because we were in transit. We had been promised to – to a manager of a factory, and therefore we were only in transit. And therefore we were not tattooed; we were not going to be part of Auschwitz. And I got a coat, a black coat; I was probably the sixth owner of it. It had a large cross painted on the back of it in dark red paint, brittle, which had partly fallen off, a pair of pants made out of prayer shawls, which in a round-about way did us good turn, because prayer shawls are made of best wool. So being winter, that was quite good. As for the rest, it was bits of rag; we had bits of rag for socks, bits of rag as vest. We just wrapped them around us. But we had kept our shoes; they let us keep our shoes, because obviously they would fit or – you know - something like that. Actually these shoes were taken off me, on the first night. And then, we - we were marched off to a hut and on this march, we passed… another hut where women were shorn of their hair. Now I’d never seen a naked woman before, and they didn’t look like women, they looked like shop mannequins you know, like you have in shop windows, because they had no - no hair left. They just walked like you see them in a shop window! Before they’re dressed. And then we were led into our, into our particular hut. And it’s the kapo, the head of the… hut who told us that we are very lucky, that we were going to have a job under roof, during a very cold winter, so we would be all right. He knew. We didn’t, obviously, but it had all been very well organised. And it didn’t apply to everybody; it applied only to a few really, as it turned out. So the first night was pretty awful. We slept on a concrete. We had one thin blanket for something like five or six of us. It was absolutely awful, and then… some people came around, looked at our shoes, and just took them. And we realised you couldn’t say no. You couldn’t argue with people there, you know, that wasn’t a thing to do. So I had no shoes. I had to ask and…ask for anything to put on my feet, and they gave me wooden clogs. That’s what you had. And of course the trouble with wooden clogs is that they don’t bend. It ruins your feet, you know, you get flat feet and you... it’s- particularly walking on ice, it’s absolutely awful. Anyway, that’s what I got. And then, looking forward, I met the fellow who took my shoes in… Teplice. So that wasn’t a good start when I started living in Teplice.

Well, one was sort of playing mental games, anything from chess in your head to Bar Kochba or mental scribble, scrabble, or that sort of thing, or telling jokes, Jewish jokes, other jokes, or whatever, or anything, there wasn't much else to do. Except during the first fortnight we had one so to say job to do, send a postcard. And that wasn't from Auschwitz, but from some lakeside name, 'we are here, we are OK, the weather is good and the food is wonderful’, and that sort of thing. No I don’t think it said the food was wonderful, but... and just send the postcard like you would send from Ibiza or... We sent it to one of our tradesmen in Györ and afterwards we found out it actually got there, saying how wonderful life was in, not Auschwitz but wherever. But apart from that, just milling around during the day between the two roll-calls, and of course the two roll calls took up three quarters of the day anyway.

But I didn’t know about that, I didn’t want to believe it. But then that man who I helped now and then with the cement sacks, I used to say ‘Where is so and so?’ –‘Gassed’. –What do you mean gassed?’-‘ Gassed, finished with. Too weak to work’. –‘Ah, when you’re too weak to work, the gas chamber.’ Then I start believing it. But that didn’t happen to my wife and child. I didn’t want to believe it. It kept me alive. Somewhere my wife and child, was working, I’ll see her in the end, and we can talk to one another. There were only two occasions that I gave up this life… when I wanted to give up this life. I didn’t want to believe that my wife and kid were gone. I kept on living, and that, I was kidding myself, fooling myself, I didn’t want to believe the in and outs. I had fleas, I had lice, I had scurf, I was very hungry, I fought the hunger by shaving the beards of the prisoners, they had to be shaved every Saturday. So that’s what the Nazis said, when they march out to work on Monday, with a clean face. And who had to do the shaving, not the village barber, we, amongst the prisoners. Amongst the prison were ex-barbers like myself. And you shaved all day long, one was lathering, one or two others was shaving, and you got the shaver from the chief barber Kapo in the barrack, we had to hand that back, there’s another story in that. Anyhow. And for that you received payment. Not money. I never saw money in the camps. You got half a litre, if there was any left, half a litre soup on a Sunday. And if there wasn’t any, you didn’t get any, dare not to talk about it. If they want they’ll beat you up to ask you what you’re thinking, what did you say. You just took everything that came your way. Your former life did no more exist. You had a different life now. A terrible life.

I tell you we were non-stop, in Płazów and Auschwitz, everywhere, terrified of the selections. And I always, with my sister, survived. It was incredible. That was fate. I sometimes think of it, I think how can one survive such a thing and live a normal life and enjoy life, which I do. I do. I want to live longer and enjoy life. I enjoy playing the piano and giving concerts. I enjoy-. I went the other day to a lovely film, a French film, ‘Etre et Avoir’, and I enjoyed it, and I love the theatre and good books, and nice friends.

I met a Hungarian-Jewish writer there. She was quite famous, lovely, she was just deported. And she told us that, you know you got only one choice: Do as you are told. Fight for survival. Or you touch those wiring and it will kill you… The fence with electric wire… if you want to die you go onto this wire, but you officially are not allowed to do it. Unofficially you can go and die, if the guard is not around. Because somebody was trying to do this, the Germans shut it because they had this tower where the guard, German guard SS was watching us, not one, few of them. So, gradually, we just adjusted, this is the way of life. She said, ‘If you have guts, don’t kill yourself, you never know, we might survive. Because what they are doing here, it’s beyond comprehension.’ I said, ‘It’s, nobody ever will understand or. Somebody has to be very lucky to survive it.’ That was a very sweet voice, and very clever woman. She happened to be on the same bunk in the barrack like I was. She gave us, we gave each other some encouragement: ‘We are going to see our family!’

The- the documents, you know, the Germans were meticulous in, in…in documenting everyone. Everyone had a card and everyone was documented exactly. And that transport, and our transport and the transport that came after- There were three transports and three months apart. And they all had the mark “Sonderbehandlung”. But anyway, when the first transport, with the with Sonderbehandlung …went into the gas chambers, we thought that we would do the, that our fate would be he same, after six months. And… we were also after six months the familienlager was changed was- And we were …separated totally. My mother and I went among the women to Stutthof to a work lager, and my father went to a coal mine, and my brother remained there in, in…in Birkenau as, as…a…a, well he was really a…a - a runner. He ran with messages for the Nazis from one lager to another. And he stayed in, he really had the hardest lot of us all, because he stayed in Auschwitz right up to the end, right up to January ’45. And ended up after…after some rather bad transport he ended up in Buchenwald. So. That was my brother. My - my eldest brother was gassed as I told you once. He was gassed on the 7th March, ’44. And… my mother and I, we survived the- we survived digging trenches. Tank trenches. And my father was in… in… in a - a coal mine. And on the, on the marches… he couldn’t - he couldn't walk any further because he couldn't see; he had eczema in the eyes from the coal dust. And he asked the officer in charge if he could stay behind and the officer said, “Yes, of course.” And shot him on the spot. And the column was then overtaken by the American troops a day later.

 
 

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