Rolf assigned me to the street-cleaning Kommando's hut in "Palitzsch Square", where he put me in charge of maintenance. My job was to clean and service the equipment. and keep the hut tidy and orderly. In practice, I converted the hut into an "organizing" center, where I concealed valuables brought from the camp before offering them for barter in town. From time to time, Germans employed at the camp as contractors or engineers would approach me with a proposition. Nothing had a fixed price. Anyone interested in striking a deal would say: "I've got a diamond. What will you give me in exchange?" In some instants, the price was a few loaves of bread; in others, a set of warm winter underwear. No one gave any thought to the intrinsic worth of the merchandise: its price depended upon its barter value in exchange for sought-after commodities or amenities.
One day. Rolf shared his concerns with me:
Since you - more than any other worker in my Kommando - do a lot of barter trading, you're liable to get caught. For an offense like that, the penalty here is death. lf you want my advice, get hold of a diamond, go to camp registrar (Lagerschreiber) Stibitz and tell him you found it and want to entrust it to him. That way, he'll remember you as more than a run-of-the-mill inmate.
I did just hat. Purchasing a diamond. I took it to Stibitz, telling him I had found it and wished to entrust it to him. As reward for my honesty, I received two loaves of bread.
Shortly afterwards, on May 17, 1943, there was a spot inspection at the hut where I was employed. The inspectors of the camp's political (investigation) department came upon a pair of women's shoes. I claimed that, having found them that morning on my way to work, I intended to bring them to the Komínandatura on my return to the camp at the end of the day. But my claim was in vain: I was arrested for interrogation, which was conducted at Block 11, headquarters of the camp Gestapo's political department.
The political department ('Politische Abteilung') was the official appellation of the Auschwitz Gestapo, which was located in Auschwitz 1. Auschwitz being the final destination of prisoners, including political detainees sent by their local Gestapo with the comment "R.U." ('Ruekkehr unverwunscht' - "return undesirable"), this was the place designated for the "undesirables" to "vanish". When and how that came about was up to the camp authorities.
The investigation department pursued its inquiries by a variety of sophisticated means, including infiltration of the inmates' ranks. Various prisoners were won over by the easier work and larger food rations offered by Gestapo agents. The latter, posing in prisoners' uniforms and even working as prisoners, took a hand in "organizing" valuables and sent prisoners to their colleagues on the pretext of intending to save or release them, in return for the information they possessed.
Department agents scoured all the camps, scrutinizing everything and taking everyone - inmates and civilian employees alike - by surprise. They would ride about on bicycles or motorcycles, or drive by in cars, keeping a sharp lookout for any illicit activity or unsanctioned contacts between prisoners and S.S. men or civilian employees.
The department was subdivides into various sections. One was the registrar's office (Registrator), which documented particulars about inmates, alive or dead. With German punctiliousness, they recorded every prisoner brought to the camp, noting each person who died of natural causes or was put to death in the gas chambers. Mail addressed to prisoners went through this section, and communications from Kripo (police) or Gestapo offices throughout occupied Europe were handled by its clerks, who filed every scrap of paper.
One task of the political department was interrogation of prisoners, by torture as a rule. Interrogations were shared out among the department's S.S. men in accordance with their spheres of expertise. For example, prisoners caught attempting to escape were interrogated by Oberscharfuehrer Wilhelm Boger and Unterscharfuehrer Klaus Dilevski. Underground activity and smuggling links with civilians were investigated in Block 10 by Unterscharfuehrer Gerhard Lechmann. Ruttenfuehrer Perry Brod was in charge of gypsies and brothels. Executions were performed by Sturman Wilhelm Florschitz. Communications from the International Red Cross were handled by Unterscharfuehrer Hans Andreas Dreiser, and so on.
All office tasks - typing, filing, registration and translation - fell to Jewish women prisoners. One of these, Lore Shelley, survived the Holocaust to compile dozens of testimonies from the "Secretaries of Death". In a book bearing that name, she related that there were some 60 such secretary-clerk-interpreters, referred to as the 'Himmelfahrtkommando' ("Heavenbound Kommando"): since they were privy to the most awesome secrets of the "final solution", the Germans had no intention of letting them live. The women, ranging in age from 20 to 50, were of varying educational levels and from assorted socioeconomic backgrounds: some carne from Orthodox families, others had a secular upbringing. Hailing from the length and breadth of Europe - from Drancy in France, Westerbork in Holland, from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Greece, Poland and Belgium each one spoke a number of languages, making them qualified to serve the German interrogators as interpreters with the prisoners, who likewise carne from all parts of occupied Europe.
The most fearsome of the Gestapo officials was Oberscharfuehrer Wilhelm Boger, known to the prisoners as "the Satan of Auschwitz". He was among the S.S. officers who specialized in interrogation and execution of prisoners sent to the punitive Block 11. Born in Stuttgart in late 1906, Boger was among the earliest Nazis, having joined the ranks of the Nazi youth movement as far back as 1922. He served with the police, transferring to the political police and on to the Gestapo.
In Auschwitz, he was in charge of the section dealing with escapees, and was notorious for his barbaric sadism which sowed terror in inmates' hearts. He refined an instrument of torture which bore his name: the 'Bogerschnaukel'. Prisoners caught in escape attempts were shackled hand and foot and suspended from this appliance. By the time they were taken down, they were no longer capable of standing up. "Human beings no longer, they were broken vessels," stated one testimony. When they were in this state, Boger put them to death with a small-bore pistol. He also took a hand in selections of incoming transports, and in gassing Jews. He habitually conducted wholesale shooting executions at the "black wall" between Block 10 and Block 11. He condemned other prisoners to particularly arduous tasks where the effort either killed them, or left them so enfeebled that they were sent to the gas chambers.
One day in Block 11, he executed Lili Toffier, a secretary at the political department, with two shots from his pistol. In another instance, he lined up an entire Polish family - parents and their three children - and killed them with pistol shots from a distance of three meters.
Boger did not rest content with killing at a distance. On a tour of the prisoners' kitchen, he lost his temper with a 60-year-old Polish inmate, holding the man's head under water until he succumbed. When the gypsy camp was liquidated, Boger took a hand in killing its 4,000 occupants.
(Arrested by the U.S. military police in June 1945, Boger found himself in November 1946 facing extradition to Poland. He escaped to spend three years living underground in Stuttgart, before returning to his home town where he engaged in commerce. He was re-arrested in 1958 and given a long sentence for war crimes. He died in the prison hospital in March 1977.)
I was in luck. When I was brought to Block 11 for interrogation, I saw Boger, but did not fall into his hands. Having been arrested on a property charge, my case was entrusted to a different interrogator. On completion of my two-day interrogation in Block 11, I was consigned to the S.K. ('Strafkommando' - punitive squad) in Birkenau's Block 11.