Punitive block inmates did not hold out long as a rule.  Those who did not succumb to hard labor were put to death by the "work supervisors" for some offense or other.  But in my sojourn in Block 11, my luck held out twice: first, by grace of the interrogation block leader and, a second time, by dint of Rolf Winter's wise counsel.


The head of the interrogation block was the Jewish prisoner Jakob Kozolczik - a mountain of a man, all muscle.  Before the war, Kozolczik had made a name for himself as "Schimschon Eisen" ("Samson the Mighty"), displaying his feats of strength the length and breadth of Poland; I myself had witnessed his performance in Pruzany.  His muscular exploits on stage included severing chains and bending iron bars.


In Auschwitz, the Germans, anticipating the sadistic pleasure of watching him thrash the prisoners, and perhaps killing them, made him Kapo of Block 11.  After the war, Kozolczik fell under suspicion of sundry misdeeds, including the drowning of ten Jews in a water barrel. I know nothing of Kozolczik's doings in the camp prior to my detention in Block 11 - From what I saw with my own eyes, and from his attitude towards me, I got the impression that he posed as a tough thug for the Germans' benefit, while surreptitiously doing his best to help out prisoners unfortunate enough to be incarcerated in his block.  It was subsequently related that he endeavored to be lenient towards Jews, while tightening the screw principally upon the Poles, whom he heartily detested for their characteristic anti-Semitism.


One of the most agonizing controversies sparked by the Holocaust , one which will probably never be resolved, hinges upon the degree of guilt attaching to Jewish Kapos and block supervisors.  No one without experience of the camps is fit to pass judgment on this painful issue, and camp survivors likewise are divided thereon.  The issue was rendered particularly poignant by virtue of the circumstances prevailing in the camps.  In my view, the question should be posed as follows: What could a Jew do when the Germans made him a Kapo? - refuse the post, and be dispatched to a swift death - or take it on, endeavoring to discharge it in a manner likely to subject his fellow prisoners to the least possible measure of suffering?  Among the Kapos, I am sure there were evil individuals who wallowed in their borrowed authority to rule the roost over their fellows.  But power-hungry sadists are to be found everywhere and at all times.


On hearing I came from Pruzhany, Kozolczik told me: "I'm from Grodno. I'll do my best to help you, though it won't be much.  My advice to you is to say as little as possible in the interrogation.  The less you reply and go into details, the smaller the chances of the interrogators catching you lying." I followed his counsel, sticking to my claim that 1 had found the pair of women's shoes - the pair discovered in the hut under my charge - on my way to work outside the camp, and that I had intended to bring them back to the camp at the end of my day's work.


On conclusion of my interrogation, I was sentenced to three months S. K. ('Strafkommando' - punitive squad) in Birkenau's Block 11 in camp B2D.  The squad set out each morning for its grueling tasks.  One of the most lethal assignments was the excavation of drainage ditches.  The Germans would allot each prisoner a two-meter stretch which he was required to dig to a depth of two meters, with the base 60 cm. wide and the opening two meters across.  Anyone failing to complete his assignment by day's end risked death at the hands of the German squad leader (Kommandofuehrer).  Had I remained long in S. K., I am convinced that I would not have lived to complete my sentence - even though my physical condition was by now relatively good. I did not suffer from malnutrition, my striped uniform had been fitted to my dimensions by a tailor prisoner, and I possessed warm underwear.  In my mind, I entertained no fear of being killed.  True, there were moments when I doubted whether I'd get out of the camp alive - not, however, because I foresaw myself being killed along with so many others, but as the result of some extraordinary event. I knew that the selections weeded out the weak, the sick and those broken in spirit.  Anyone fit to work was not put to death.


About two weeks after my sentence to three months S.K. in Birkenau's Block 11, overcrowding there grew excessive, even by the inhuman criteria enforced in Auschwitz.  Camp registrar Stibitz, evidently summoned to the block to select prisoners for early release (especially those with short sentences for relatively mild offenses) so as to make room for fresh inmates (in particular, grave offenders with lengthy terms, such as prisoners given life sentences for escape attempts) immediately picked me out among the convicts, beckoning with his finger to indicate that I should accompany him.  Turning to Blockalteste Bednarek - a Polish-German ('Volksdeutsche') prisoner with the green triangle of a criminal - Stibitz said: "Make sure this Jew gets light work after his release from the block.


Not a day passed without at least one prisoner being beaten to death by Bednarek; but now, regarding me as a protégé of Stibitz, he took me to the camp registrar with instructions to have me transferred to a good work squad.  The registrar turned to a Kapo named Karl Hackel, saying: "Stibitz requests you give this prisoner good treatment in your Kommando."


That was how I carne to the Kartoffeleinmieter - the potato Kommando, one of the camp's best labor squads.