Concentration Camp Survivor
English people didn’t understand anything about the camps. Whatever you said they didn’t believe it. So that [showing his KL tattoo], I used to say was King’s Loyalty, KL. It stands for Koncentration Lager. That was put on in Mielic, the only camp that had that put on. I haven’t got a number on my arm. When I came to Manchester I met Moshe Besserman. He was in Mielic, we got very friendly. After 5 years of marriage he committed suicide. So in England I am the only one with with KL.
One time while I was in Dachau, the Gestapo came running after me, because I was late for roll call, they hit me with a rubber truncheon filled with lead, even today I have got a dent in my head. You can feel that dinch yourself, here. They hid me for 3 weeks, somebody else from another barrack came in for the roll call. I was bleeding, unconscious for 2 or 3 days, when I became conscious I slowly managed to come to the roll call. They hide me, behind the sleeping compartments, right in the corner. I was half laying, half sitting, against the wall, covered with straw. I was hit in the head, afterwards sleeping on the straw I lost my hearing. Perforated drum in the right ear with the straw, I found out when I came to England. That's why I've got a hearing aid. When I got to Flossenberg they saw the crack in my head & put a bandage on it. The same bandage all week without changing over. I still get big headaches from it, after so many years. Every time I go here to hospital for x-ray they think I have got a plate put in my head.
They take you to a part outside [in Auschwitz], they called it ‘Canada’ for some reason, where the valuables were all sorted. Somebody told me: ‘You got the easy job!' She said ‘I had to take out the gold teeth from the dead!' There was lots of gold teeth from the people who died. ‘We had to look in their mouths & take out the gold.’ Oh my God!’ I said. You just don’t complain, do your job. Sort out the shoes. Sort out this. The glasses go in there, sort them. So we did that. We just carried on.
My mother had another child, an older child, born before me. When we were in the camp they separated children from mothers but because I was so young they said I can stay with my mother. She told the story, not to me directly, but to my son when he grew up, that one day, some of those Nazis that were in charge of the camp got drunk. They went into the barrack where there was about 8 children, very young children, & they killed them all. They killed them by- Some with their hands & some by taking them by their feet & throwing them against the wall. And… [sighs] I mean when my son told me this, I don’t know really how my mother survived this. I mean obviously she lost all her family in the war. So how my mother survived these events, I don’t know. How she survived the knowledge of my father’s dying, not knowing that he'd died but seeing his boots on somebody else’s feet… I mean, I don’t… Some of the stories that she told Benjamin [Ruth's son], she never did tell me. She kept me with her all the time. When there was the the roll call she would put me under the bench & then she would go out, stand near German women, women that were not Polish but were there for other reasons. She thinks that that probably helped her not to be selected. So it was each time, it was hoping that she wouldn’t be selected. Hoping she can go out & do a little work & bring back a little scrap of food. So I understand that, having survived such horrors. Who wants to talk about it? You really want to forget about it.
I sat there in a chair. I wasn’t there for half a minute, the door opens & in walks an SS officer. Beautiful uniform. Medals on his chest. He passed by, didn’t look at me, went to a window & then I heard him say ‘Anfangen’. Commence. The doctor tied my arms with leather straps to a chair. I had to spread my legs, they were tied with leather straps to the chair. I couldn’t move. They got a kind of tube with an instrument on there. They put it into my penis, turned it around, took it out & put it back again. I remember they pumped liquid into me. I let it go. The doctor said ‘Don’t let it go, hold it…’ So, they pumped it again & I held it. They were messing about with my body. I thought to myself ‘Ridiculous'. This went on for 10 minutes, maybe longer. I heard one doctor say ‘Das ist ein Engländer’. The SS comes to me, says in English ‘You’re British?’
‘Yes, Sir I’m from London, I shouldn’t be here with my wife & child, can you get us out?’
‘No, take your complaint to the political department. I’m the medical department.’
The doctors continued with me. They went so deep I thought ‘Aaah I can’t walk no more after this’, so I shouted out & he said ‘Lass’ ihn gehen, er braucht nicht wieder zu kommen’. They unstrapped me, took me back to barracks. For the whole week, when I had to pee, blood came.
They took us to the showers. 100s of women in various stages of undress. The German soldiers stood around. So off came our nice warm winter coats, clothes, everything. I looked at the soldiers, they were joking with one another, they never even thought that we were women. It was the first realisation: when you see that they don’t look at you as women. We went into the next room where they cut your hair off, it all happens fast. You must have heard it before; in the next room they took the rest of the body hair off & into the showers. They gave us this soap that wouldn’t lather, it smelt. They made those in Auschwitz from human fat. But of course we didn’t know any of this.
You go under the shower, the shower was warm, it felt very good. As I stood there I nearly passed out, I thought, “Dear G-d, I have lost Judith.” I had just promised my mother that I would take care of her. Where is she? I had a feeling I was going. Everything went dark. I kept shouting: 'Judith, Judith, where are you?' & she touched me: “I am here.” She was standing next to me. I said: “Where?” All I could hear was this sound coming out. I looked at her, she had no hair on. I said: “Don’t ever leave me.” She said “You don’t have to worry.
I could see blood on the floor, rivulets of water, red. It was a huge big room & I thought, “Dear Lord, they are killing us here. What is all this blood?” Not far in front of me there was this woman menstruating, there was no sanitary towel, nothing, just like animals. They started shouting 'Raus, Raus, Out, Out'. We went out. I was very cold. The last day of April, it was winter, there was no hair on you, nothing, they didn’t give you towels or underwear, just these grey clothes, a hole to put your head through, a slit for your arms. That is how they did it. It took them less than an hour to reduce us to a non-person.
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.
I didn’t really have a feeling of hardship, apart from being hungry all the time. My grandmother was working in the kitchen. Every so often she stole a carrot for me. My mother had a manicure set. She was doing manicuring to other people in the camp. They gave a little bit of their stew. A little bit extra for her, for doing the nails of these people. These are silly things that I remember. Not the- Not the serious things. We were allowed to to learn to read & write & to play with clay. So it wasn’t as bad as some other factories. & places. Apart from the starvation. We slept in straw. You could see these bedbugs. Big, big things, moving about. In the straw. Our hair was full of fleas. I remember things like that & a lot of itch. But basically this was still a better place than some of the people went through in these horrendous other camps. Yes, we children, we certainly had a better time than some other children where they were just taken and killed.
We were supposed to go to Auschwitz but we didn’t, & that saved our life. Because most of the people, all the Jews in Szeged they were all exterminated except the people on our train. That’s as much as I know. The train was very traumatic. The soldiers were very rough, pushing more & more people into this carriage. Just awful. It must have been quite long, because we were very thirsty & had nothing to drink. This terrible smell, because people had to go to the toilet.
I remember the Russians coming into Theresienstadt. I remember that very clearly, because we were standing in the street. And by that time I think the Germans must have fled. And they were coming in trucks. And they were throwing off the trucks pieces of chocolate and pieces of bread. And all the things we haven’t seen - in years. And we were absolutely over the moon, grabbing what we could. And they said that we were free to do what we wanted and that was unbelievable.
And then we had to leave this camp because I think the Russians were advancing. So their- the- the Austrians or Germans, I don’t know who were looking after the camp, were moving us all the time to- towards Theresienstadt. And I remember walking quite a lot. And it was winter and cold. And I remember walking through woods and there were planes coming and dropping bombs. And I remember that we had to lie down. And my mother put her head over my head. And she said, “If we have to die, then we have to die together.” That’s another little thing that I remember.