Having passed the intake and registration processes, we were marched on foot to sector B2, to the transit camp the Germans referred to as the quarantina.  At the time, It was under construction; later, It would house gypsies.  Prior to the war, a Polish cavalry unit had been stationed at the camp, whose stables were now adapted into ballets for the inmates.  The latter were put to work constructing barracks for future transports, digging drainage canals, and any other task required by the German planners.


The quarantina was a transit camp where fresh transports of prisoners were held for several weeks, to ensure they did not bring infectious diseases into the labor camps to which they would subsequently be sent.  "That, at least, was the theory," as a postwar research treatise on Auschwitz noted.  In practice, the quarantina also served as a kind of "training camp" where the Germans broke the spirits of the weaker prisoners, leaving only those strong enough to serve a useful purpose as a physical or administrative work force.


Prior to the construction of the quarantina, the Germans isolated new prisoners in a variety of locations: blocks, huts and even tents, with several hundred prisoners crammed into each one (two such tents served as the quarantina in concentration camp Auschwitz 3, Monowitz).  In 1943 - the year we were brought to Auschwitz - the Germans set aside the B2E section of the Birkenau camp to serve as a quarantina.  At the time, the section comprised 16 stables converted into residential "blocks" to house thousands of prisoners, including the men of Pruzhany; indeed, we were the camp's first inmates.


Conditions were abominable in the quarantina, particularly as it afforded the new prisoners their first taste of the "laws" prevailing in Nazi concentration camps, above all the "law" which endowed the S.S. man in charge of the block ('Blockfuehrer') with limitless authority over the prisoners.  He exercised his powers of life-and-death with the aid of the camp's second administrative tier: inmates the Nazis entrusted with various tasks.  There was the 'Kapo' - head of a labor team or a block, who, no less than his German superiors, often wielded powers of life-and-death.  There was the prisoner in charge of the block ('Blockalteste') who was assisted by aides ('Stubdienst').  Aside from sanitary details, we did no work inside the quarantina, but our life there was extremely arduous.  Overcrowding was atrocious, and the regimen of terror was designed to break our spirits.  In the quaratina we also learned that, unless expressly ordered, a prisoner was forbidden to do anything whatsoever - he could not even bend down to pick up his cap if it slipped from has head.  No one told us the dos and don'ts, but every "offense" drew a thrashing.  In addition, the fact that we passed our days in idleness broke the spirits of many.


Our day commenced with a brutal awakening: we were hauled out of the stables to the parade ground ('Appelplatz') at the center of the camp, where we, were drilled for hours.  The purpose of the drill was to instill the orders for lining up for parade, and for doffing and donning our prisoners' caps (the Germans referred to this pastime as "Sport").  At the time of our arrival, the parade ground, as yet unpaved, was covered in mud.


At Birkenau, as in all concentration camps, prisoners were required to salute S.S. men.  The procedure was well depicted by Erich Kulka:


"At six paces from the S.S. man, every prisoner was required to take off his cap, pin his arms to his body, and pass by at a stiff march.  The S.S. man made no response whatsoever to the salute, but a prisoner who forgot to bare his head was severely punished."


Saluting was the theme of endless drills.  "Cap off!... Cap on!" Outranking shoes, the cap was the most important item of the prisoner's uniform: anyone losing his cap was punished and required to acquire a replacement, which was to be had from the tailors in exchange for food.


"The cap was also the most salient mark of the prisoner's standard of living," as Kulka discovered in his research, bearing out what we all learned from bitter experience.


A newcomer could be picked out at first glance: he wore his crushed, shapeless cap in a careless manner.  A prisoner of longer standing, who had passed at least six months in the camp, attached importance not only to the shape and color of the cap, but also to the manner in which it was worn.  Whoever had weathered the physical and mental crisis, and was determined to hold out at all costs, was particular about the manner in which he wore his cap.


For six weeks, we spent each day outside in the bitter coid.  The parade ground was covered with deep, sticky mud.  Some sank in so deep they were unable to extricate themselves, and were left there to die.  Others were too scared to help them, for an S.S. man who saw a prisoner attempting to aid one of his fellows would subject the would-he helper to an often lethal beating.


The atrocious housing and sanitary conditions were among the causes of the infectious diseases and epidemics which afflicted Auschwitz inmates.  Conditions fluctuated at different times and in different parts of the "Auschwitz complex".


Our billet (Block) was a former stables          approximately 120 feet long, 30 feet across and eight feet high. (Specifications I discovered subsequently     in the Auschwitz archives, gave the average block a floor area of 390 square meters, and a volume of 1,200 cubic meters.) Each block had bunks installed along the walls, leaving a narrow passage down the center.  Along this passageway there was a brick heating stove with two chimneys, one rising from each of its extremities.  With 500 prisoners crammed into each block, the heat exuded by hundreds of sleeping bodies contributed a few extra degrees of warmth to the "dormitory".  But in the colder winter nights, portions of the structure remained under heated.  Overcrowding was severe, even when each prisoner indeed received his theoretical allotment of three cubic meters of air.  The Germans forbade us to open the doors of the block, making it impossible to ventilate.  With the inmates obliged to defecate inside the building, the stench was unbearable.


It was equally unbearable to share our billets with the lice, bugs, rats and other vermin that swarmed all over the block, indiscriminately stinging and biting living and dead alike.  Sanitary conditions were exacerbated by the block's lack of any washroom, and the absence of water faucets for drinking or washing.


The Germans set aside a few structures for showers, but the time allotted for their use was extremely brief.  Even after the construction of a camp washhouse, the prisoners were rarely taken there.  They were required to undress in their own block, and then taken at a run - in all weathers - to the washhouse.  That shower cost numerous prisoners their lives.


Each of us had a narrow wooden bunk with a straw mattress.  There was no sheet or pillow.  Each inmate received a thin blanket.  Some quickly "organized" a couple of additional blankets.  Others stole blankets from helpless prisoners, leaving them exposed to the cold, particularly in those bunks situated at a distance from the stove.  The blocks were very damp in winter, matters being made worse by the leaky roofs.  In the main camp Auschwltz 1, inmates were initially housed in twenty former military barracks, brick structures, six of which were two-storied, and the rest single-story.  In the absence of facilities, these structures were unfit to house the hundreds of prisoners billeted there.  The number of prisoners in each block fluctuated with the overall number of camp inmates.


In the course of time, the Auschwitz camps were augmented by the construction of huts which served as billets for prisoners, and as stores, workshops and offices.  Inmates initially slept on mattresses which, laid out side-by-side on the floor, had to be collected up immediately after reveille and stacked in the corner.  The mattresses soon wore out, filling the air with thick dust whenever they were moved about.  With hundreds of prisoners huddled into each block, they could only sleep lying on their sides.  After a time, three-tiered wooden bunks were installed.  The primitive, overcrowded living quarters, the filth and the lack of facilities for preserving personal hygiene, coming on top of the regimen of terror prevailing in the camp, combined to break the spirits of numerous prisoners.


Food was apportioned three times a day - morning, noon and night.  Very meager and very bad, its nutritional value fluctuated in the various camps and at different times, but its calorie content was invariably at sub nutritional standard; in flavor, it could not have been blander.


Food stores and kitchens were controlled by S.S. men, who kept the most vital provisions - meat, margarine, sugar, grain, flour and sausage - for themselves.  The assortment available to prisoners consequently became even scantier, and the calorie value dropped accordingly.  From 1943 onwards, the soup lacked 60-90% of the margarine specified by the official diet.  The bread, was sour and indigestible.  The sausage included scarcely half the fat processed into that issued to the S.S., even though it was all prepared by the same butcher.


Food distribution was a problem unto itself. It was the practice in concentration camps for food to be given out by prisoners the Germans considered reliable.  These "trusties" were often German criminal convicts.  They reported to the kitchen to collect the vats of soup, "coffee" or "tea", along with other items of food for allocation to the prisoners.  Before distribution, their first concern was to look after themselves and their cronies, holding back vital commodities like bread, sugar, sausage and margarine.  Consequently, in place of a daily ration of 1,700 calories (2,150 for those employed at more arduous tasks), ordinary Auschwitz inmates received an average of 1,300 calories daily for lighter work, and 1,700 for heavy labor.


The "menu" was as follows: every morning, we would get half a liter of black coffee (in practice an ersatz substitute) or a herbal potion known as "tea".  These beverages were unsweetened as a rule.  Four times a week, we were served a so-called "meat soup"; on the remaining three days, we got "vegetable soup".  Any reference to vegetables denoted primarily cabbage.  Basic foodstuffs were, accordingly, cabbage, potatoes, barley, rye flour and a concentrate going under the name of "Avo".  From 1942 onwards, the inmates' soup was enriched with provisions the Germans confiscated from incoming transports.  A portion of soup comprising three-quarters of a liter contained 350-400 calories.  The soup was watery and ill-tasting.  Newcomers to the camp would sip it distastefully, but they soon learned to gulp it down to the last drop, even when it was served cold - a frequent occurrence, particularly when we were late in returning from work.  At supper, we would get 300 grams of bread, with a supplement - 25 grams of sausage or margarine, or a spoonful of jelly or cheese.  As a rule, the food was tasteless or downright moldy.  Supper had a calorie value of under 1,000.  The bread issued at supper was also supposed to suffice for breakfast, but we were too few could bring themselves to divide their meager ration into two halves, and a majority, eager to still their hunger however briefly, would devour the bread right away.  Driven by hunger, numerous prisoners would scrabble in the garbage cans outside the kitchens, gobbling peelings or rotten vegetables.  In consequence, many of them suffered severe ailments, dysentery in particular.


With no dining hall, food was generally distributed in the open.  Morning and evening, we would stand in line to receive our portions from vats of tea, coffee or thin soup.  We ate in the open, or in our bunks.  When we began working, we would eat our meager lunch at our work places.


Some prisoners, their spirits crushed by the arduous conditions, grew indifferent to their fate.  Such did not last long.  Many became 'Mussulmen' - living skeletons who had given up thinking.  They would line up for food, but did not cat their allotment.  Some would take their ration of bread to their bunks when they went to sleep, persisting therein even after learning that the scraps of food conceded in their clothing were stolen in the course of the night, as they slept.  These people were walking corpses, apathetic to beatings or ill-treatment; when they were finally put to death, they were probably unaware of it.


Of the 1,200 men from Pruzhany, 300 died during the first six weeks of our sojourn at the quarantina.  The proportion of women who did not hold out was higher. I learned subsequently that their fate was worse even than ours, their women prisoner supervisors mistreating them with bestial ferocity.  Many of the women from our town chose to go to the gas chambers voluntarily.  When the camp doctor carne round to perform a selection, Dr. LISA MESCHENGISSER, no longer able to bear her torment, begged in broken tones: "Add me to the 'chosen ones'." The doctor granted her request.  The 17-year-old daughter of the head of the Judenrat likewise asked to join those to be taken from the transit camp; the doctor graciously consented to add her to the list of those consigned to the gas chambers.


In contrast with those who failed to withstand the diabolical test, other prisoners gritted their teeth: fervent in the conviction that their present predicament could not last long, they deluded themselves that they would survive.  Hope was the elixir of life. and survival.  Those with hope clung to life by their very fingernails, fighting for food, for easier work, or for a post with the camp's service staff, so as to be able to hold out.


'Überleben' - spiting the Nazi tormentors by living one day, and another, and yet another - that was considered an achievement and a triumph, which gave heart to those with hope.  Psychologist Victor Frankel, himself a survivor of the camps. depicted it well in the theory of logotherapy set out in his book "Man's Search for Meaning".


Facing the challenges of different epochs, the Jewish people's survival instinct evidently generates a variety of reactions.  When the foe - in the form of the Catholic church - sought to make Jews disown their creed, they responded with a willingness to go to the stake for their faith, or by posing as Christians, as they did in Spain and Portugal.  When the Nazi foe sought to eradicate Jewish existence, the response was a lust for survival by any means and under all conditions: 'Überleben'!  To outlive the enemy.


Frankel refers to the "ruses" whereby the individual defies his predicament, and the slim chances of survival it offers, by seeking to protect himself.  He can find it in himself to face up to the humiliations and the evil by recalling the features of his loved ones, by falling back on his religion or his sense of humor, or by stolen glances at nature's healing wonders, whether a tree or a sunset; or, to go one step further, by clinging to the notion of 'überleben'.  Each evening, when the prisoners returned to camp from their day's labors, they would heave a sigh of relief and tell themselves: "Another day has passed." In this context, Frankel quotes Nietzsche: "Whatever does not kill me, fortifies me."


Dostoevsky, having personally experienced the horrors of Czarist dungeons and forced labor, portrayed man as a creature capable of coming to terms with anything.  Each of us who did come to terms with the terrible conditions in the camps, said to himself: "l won't run to the barbed wire!" (a reference to the electrified fence, where prisoners who had lost hope committed suicide).  The bitter battle for survival waged by camp inmates was a relentless struggle for the daily bread ration and for life itself, each man for himself and his best friend, as Victor Frankel noted.  Everyone knew that, for each person saved, another victim would have to be found.  In this connection, Frankei noted that, in an abnormal situation, an abnormal response is normal behavior.


Frankel wrote in his memoirs that the first phase of one's psychological reaction reaching its climax carne when all remnants of one's previous existence were erased.  In hindsight, that is what I believe happened to me, unknowingly.  That may have been one reason why I would survive the years of horror that lay In store for me.  There was a kind of dulling of the senses, whereby the prisoner enfolded himself within a protective armor vital for his survival.  According to Frankel. the experience of the camps shows that a person has freedom of choice in his actions.  There were always opportunities for a choice.  Each day, each hour, called upon us to make clear-cut decisions which were decisive in determining whether or not we would break down and surrender to the forces threatening to rob us of our very being.


My brother did not hold out in the conditions of the camp.  He did not turn into a Mussulman, but he became enfeebled and downhearted.


"l can't stand it any longer," he told me repeatedly, in broken, stifled tones.


"You can!" I would respond, my voice feigning greater confidence than I felt.  "We're sure to be transferred out of here soon, to a labor camp, and things will be better there! "


My efforts to encourage him were only briefly effective, for conditions in the camp were against me.

One day, as we lined up for 'Appel', my brother slipped into the mud.  When he hauled himself back on his feet, he stood with a slumped back.  An S.S. man set about him, punching him to make him stand upright, and has spectacles fell into the mud.  During 'Appel', prisoners were forbidden to bend over for any reason whatsoever, unless ordered to do so.  But, being helpless without his spectacles, my brother bent over to seek them in the mud.  One of the Germans attacked him with murderous fury, heating him savagely and simultaneously berating him with humiliating curses.  In my brother's state of mind, that was enough to break him.


"l don't feel well," he told me in dull tones, "I'm going to sick parade."


I tried in vain to dissuade him.  "Don't go," I said, "hold on, it'll pass." Though new to the camp, I had already grasped that the Germans cared not one iota if inmates died.  Every evening, long lines of prisoners waited outside the doors of the camp hospital, in the hope of receiving medical attention or possibly hospitalization which held out hopes of better food, or a bed more comfortable than their bunks in the block.  Many of those waiting In line could scarcely stand.  Others lay on the ground, some in a coma.  Physician inmates would conduct a cursory examination of those reporting sick, applying first aid, dressing wounds with paper bandages or handling hospitalization requests.  The decision on such requests was up to the S.S. doctor, or S.S. orderlies.  Up to 1943, the hospital staff, men and women, consisted exclusively of Germans.  Numerous patients were put to death by means of phenol injections.  Later, patients were sent to the gas chambers.


In view of the grave shortage of beds, most hospitalization requests were turned down; those prisoners admitted to hospital after attending sick parades rarely returned to the camp.  Among those who "disappeared" in this fashion were SHLOMO YUDEWICZ, ZISHA SPEKTOR, LEVIN the teacher, VEVE NITZBERG, DR. STREICHER, ZELIG POMERANTZ, JOSEF KANEL and NATHANEL KLEINERMAN.


All the same, my brother insisted.  He reported for sick parade and was sent to hospital.  I learned subsequently by reference to his serial number - that he was hospitalized for three days until March 18, 1943, when he was dispatched to the gas chambers.