Camp Survivors:

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, yeah? 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 are 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. Yeah, because somehow you know we all…Many a time people are together, ‘Don’t worry, we are all together in it’. And this how it applies psychologically to survive a problem like this, somehow to 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.

One day, I got terribly ill. We were standing on the parade there for hours. And it was pouring with rain, and with this cold. I told you I never had a cold, we were never ill. And with this wet cloth we went to bed, and we never changed, we had a shower, we put on again the same things. And I got, I don’t know, something that upset my stomach. Because we didn’t have a spoon to eat. But again, the brushes, the toothbrushes. My sister went to upstairs where they had the joinery in this factory, and asked them to make two pieces out of wood, like a toothbrush. And she knew how to do it, she got a wire or something, or some other, or not a wire, but something she could put into the toothbrush, it wasn’t plastic, at that time we didn’t have even plastic. And she made two toothbrushes and we started brushing our teeth. But she also made a spoon there. Because they gave us in Auschwitz the soup, which we had to do this way [gestures], and that gave me such cramps after each such food that I got very ill. I was standing on the parade, excuse me for it, what I am telling you now, and it was running down me, and I could not move, and I was told by my sister not to move because they will take me to hospital and to the gas chamber. I must not say that I am ill. So I stood like this, in this filth and everything. But we met another friend there, who was already - she is dead now, one shouldn’t talk about dead people - she behaved to me wonderfully, but she was dressed in a knitted suit, and lovely boots, and who walks like this in a camp like Auschwitz or Birkenau? Nobody, who hasn’t got any connections with somebody. So that’s what must have been. But my sister called her and she told her that I am very ill, so she gave her, I think, a blanket, a blanket for me, to cover me up, and she gave her something and a glass of milk. And that helped me.

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!’

Click on each name to explore


Made by BookJaw

@ Refugee Voices 2020