In Britain people know Bergen-Belsen, Dimbleby and all that, but Buchenwald was liberated about a fortnight before that, and it was the first camp. Nobody had any idea what the camps were like. And there were these young American GI Joes they didn't know what to do, they didn't know what to expect. They went to their pockets: cigarettes, chewing gum, Hershey bar, bully beef, whatever they had in their pockets. And the prisoners on the bunks they were reaching out trying to get some of these goodies. And of course it wasn't the sort of food or material that in our condition survived on. I was too weak to reach out for anything and that probably saved my life.
The Americans were there, there was no-one to stop me from going into the barracks, and I went into various barracks and I saw the bunks, the things… they were empty, but then I went to a barrack and I saw Americans there, and laying in the bed, and I went there and I listened to what the Americans thought about, and I remember this young American was showing photographs of his family, to the other fellows. And I heard him say ‘I don’t know what I’m here for.’ And I looked at him, and I said to him: ‘Soldier, may I tell you that you saved my life’. And I told him who I was, and they were just in time to save our lives, what they did save. If he wouldn’t have come, if he had come tomorrow or next week, who knows we wouldn’t have been here. Then he understood. And on another occasion I was walking around in one of the barracks and I saw an American, he had a thing in his hands for eating and in there was a steak, a lump of steak, and he was looking around where to throw it or what, and I says, I said ‘Are you trying to throw this away the way you are looking?” –Yes, he says, it’s tough as the sole of my shoe’. I said well, sorry, I haven’t had a bit of steak meat here for three years, I’ve been a prisoner.’ He said ‘Do you want it?’ I said ‘Yes please’. And I ate the steak for the first time. And he said ‘Do you want any more?’ I said ‘yes, I’m still hungry’. So he took me along the road to the field kitchen of the Americans, and I had potatoes and some more food to eat. Ya, I remember all that.
The Americans gave us thick soup, we couldn’t eat it, I could, I was always hungry. A lot of men didn’t eat. A lot of men died after they saw the liberation. I remember the Kapo of the barrack said to me ‘Come along, you can shave, you can cut hair, come along’. In that barrack were 42 men: beards and hair, for weeks they hadn’t been shaved. They were really in dirty condition. And they were ill, ready to be thrown away in the gas chamber, and nobody would have known. He said ‘clean them up!’ And the whole day I had to stand there, cutting their hair with a clipper. And shave them with a razor. Some of them couldn’t even sit in their chair. I had to hold them. They were Polish Jews. And I did that. And I can’t forget that.
...there was a day that the Americans unlocked the gates of Buchenwald, and thousands of men went out into the villages. Did the wrong things probably with the women. Chickens, radios, they came back with those things into the camp. And the public told the Americans. So the Americans said ‘no one is allowed out, and the gate is locked.’ No one is out. So I said to one of the Americans that came in then, I said ‘Look, I speak your language, I’m English, I didn’t go out with the group, I didn’t hurt people, I would like to talk to my men, you are my people, and I got a letter, I don’t know where it is, also in here somewhere: ‘This man has the right to leave the camp’. So whenever I wanted to go out, I showed the guard: ‘Here, I’m allowed to go out’. That’s how I used to mix with the Americans in the barracks, where I was, that’s one incident. Until the day came that… I got papers to leave and that was the 23rd, 24th of April, that I came out of the gates, I was walking on that road, I wanted to go back to Holland to do a bit of fighting, in my mind, I wasn’t weak but I wasn’t strong at all but I ? back, and asked an American: ‘Are you flying to Holland?’ ‘No, we don’t fly’, and on my walk, I thought to myself what’s the hurry? You’re free now, no more bullying, no more kicking’, and a jeep pulls up, and I heard a man say ‘Are you the man that wants to fly?’ I said ‘Yes, yes, that’s right, that’s me. Are you?’ He said ‘No, we’re not flying, but here’s a lady from London, England, she wants to talk to you. A lady from England who wants to talk? I hadn’t seen anybody from England for three years, and out of the Jeep came Anne Mattison. She was a journalist from the Evening Standard, in London, she came out and she talked to me, she said I want to know something, tell me something about the camps. I said “If you put my name and address where I used to live in England, in London so my brother and family in London can read that I’m still alive, if you put it in the papers, I’ll tell you”. And I told her, and she did. And a lady came running into my brother’s house and said ‘Look, isn’t this your brother?’ And it was, he read: ‘Leon Greenman, so and so, and so my brother knew that I was alive. And that was that, that was another incident. That article you can read, the Evening Standard, I think it’s Colindale, has libraries and you can see that you can find it, that article is in the Evening Standard of the 23rd, 24th of April ’45. Anne Mattison, and she gave the title on that: ‘The Barber of Buchenwald’. I wasn’t a barber in Buchenwald, but she used that for a journalist idea. But you can see that.
My father went into Buchenwald after Kristallnacht. They came on the Saturday to pick him up. And it was- we were lucky - it was a policeman and- and he was not a Nazi, but he had to do his job. And I was told to say that, “Papa is not zu Hause.” [Papa is not at home] But of course they said, “Wo ist Mutti?” And my- they said- he said to my mother, “If I go away without him, they’ll send the Gestapo or- or the SS and they’ll trash your flat. So you’d better just let me do my job.” He was very sad. He was a lovely man. He gave my father good advice. He said, “Take off your Sabbath suit,” - cause it was a Saturday – “put on warm underwear. Don’t take a big case.” Some of the Germans- Jews, you know, didn’t know- they took big cases. “You’ll be subjected to lots of unpleasantness. Take a little attaché case - essentials. And give your wife power of attorney so she has access to your money.” He was a wonderful man. And the last thing he said was, “I won’t embarrass you in front of the neighbours. I won’t walk with you as though you’re under arrest. I’ll walk behind you.
My mother & I went to Stutthof to a work lager & my father went to a coal mine. My brother remained in Birkenau as a runner. He ran with messages for the Nazis from one lager to another. He really had the hardest lot of us all, because he stayed in Auschwitz right up to the end, right up to January ’45. After some rather bad transport he ended up in Buchenwald. So. That was my brother. My eldest brother was gassed on the 7th March, ’44. My mother & I survived digging tank trenches. My father was in a coal mine. On the marches he couldn’t walk any further, he couldn't see; he had eczema in the eyes from the coal dust. He asked if he could stay behind & the officer said “Yes, of course.” And shot him on the spot.
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