MEMOIRS OF SHERESHEV
By MOISHE KANTOROWITZ
The large entrances of the camp open up for us and we are being led in. Our guard remains outside. They do not follow us. We are under new authority. We are surrounded by new strange capos who are leading us between two large stone buildings. We remain between the two stone buildings a long time, when suddenly two large wooden crates full of sliced bread is brought to us. Each of us gets a slice of bread, the first piece of bread for me in two weeks and the first bite of food in sixteen days except for the five raw potatoes. We are being counted several times and are told that out of the almost nine hundred that left Sosnowiec seventeen days ago, we are four hundred including all the big shots of which none perished of course. Those big shots included the camp altester, the blockaltesters, the capos, the office staff, cooks and their helpers, some fifty men in all. All non Jews, who were not treated like we Jews during that march, were receiving food everyday. That leaves us only three hundred and fifty Jews that survived the march from Sosnowiec to Mauthausen. By then we Jews have forgotten what day of the week it is or day of the month, until one of us asked one of the trustees for the date. The second of February came the answer. Something clicked in my mind. Somehow the date was registered in my memory, but then in the state I was in, barely aware of what is taking place around me, it hit me. I remembered that on the same day, the second of February two years ago, I arrived in Auschwitz. What a coincidence.
It turned out that we were next door to the bath house. We were ordered in and got undressed. Our hair was cut and with a blade, a stripe five centimeters wide was shaven in the middle of each head running across from front to the back. Like in Auschwitz here too, we were permitted to hold on to our belts and shoes. Those, whose shoes were falling apart or lost a shoe like myself, received a pair of shoes that had a wooden bottom or sole, and cloth top. After all this we were led into the shower room. I felt so weak that I sat down on the floor. I do not know if we got much cleaner as we had no soap. After some minutes under the showers we were driven into an adjoining room where each of us received an undershirt and a pair of drawers. No pants, no jacket no coat. As we were leaving the bath house we were registered. You gave your name, age, nationality and profession. Unlike Auschwitz where they tattooed your number, there they gave you a small piece of tin, two centimeters wide and six or seven long on which your number was impressed. I received number one hundred and twenty five thousand four hundred and sixty five. With it each received a short piece of wire to tie the number around the left wrist. Dressed only in underwear we were led out that February the second into the wintry outdoors. After lining us up we were led through the camp whose buildings were made of stone blocks. They seemed to be built to last forever or for the thousand years Reich that Hitler promised his people. We entered a separate part of the camp where I saw a wooden barrack surrounded with a barbed wire fence and guard towers. Next to that barrack, there was another one just like the first one, but this one was not fenced in nor were there guard towers. We are led inside that barrack and ordered to sit down on the floor, and to spread out legs so another one can sit between us and spread his legs so the next one can get in. And so we were squeezed in one into the other taking up the entire floor. The barrack was completely empty of bunks except for a room in one corner in which the Blockaltester and his Stubendiensts had their accommodations. It was late afternoon when we were packed in there and we were still sitting there in the evening. The one good thing is that it is warm when one leans against the other but it is difficult to sit. We were not allowed to move and the floor is hard and hurts the behind. With day light we were given permission to stand. Our overseers, the Stubendiensts are not Germans or Poles like in Auschwitz. They are Spaniards. Those inmates were supporters of the republic and were fighting against Franco when Franco took power they escaped to France who sympathized with them. However, when Hitler occupied France, they were arrested and sent to concentration camps as anti fascists and anti Nazis. Here I would like to point out that during my short two weeks stay in Mauthausen I noticed that despite the fact that there were among the Spaniards capos and Stubendiensts, they did not manifest that inherent anti Semitism that was so prevalent in Auschwitz among Germans, Poles, Czechs or Russians. That morning we each received a quarter bread and at noon the bowl of soup. It was only then that our hunger had awakened a new.
We remained in that barrack all day watching through the windows as all day long inmates were dragging bodies to the crematorium from the neighboring fenced in barrack. We found out that the neighboring barrack served as a bunker (penal barrack) in which inmates breaking the law in camp were held under inhumane conditions. The day before our arrival, the six hundred inmates in that barrack decided to break out. The result was that every one of them was shot. The second night in Mauthausen we tried to spend lying down. Surprisingly we succeeded thanks to a bit of ingenuity and above all, the sticks of the Stubendiensts. We were ordered to lie on our sides as close too each other as humanly possible. In the morning we received the quarter of bread and the soup at noon. What we could not understand was the fact that we are not going out for the reveille, nor are we being counted indoors. This compounded with the fact that we are still in underwear created suspicions which turned to rumors that they are going to dispose (kill) of us. That same evening we received a whole loaf of bread, for the first time in the history of the camp, in any camp as far as I knew. This act really confused us. But the joy of holding an entire loaf of bread in our hand chased away any dark thought from one’s mind. Who can imagine the feeling of a proprietor of an entire loaf of bread? Not only during the years in camp did I not possess an entire loaf of bread but ever since we were driven out of our homes in Shershev, bread had become a luxury. After four years of constant hunger I was looking at the bread and could not believe that it is mine. The camp experience dictates to eat when you have and can. So we ate and to the last crumb. Regarding the bread we heard all kinds of assumptions. The most reasonable was that the camp expected a large arrival of inmates from camps that are being transported deeper into Germany. However, that arrival or transport did not materialize due to the thousands that fell on the way, their tortured bodies lying by the way-side indicating the direction to the Nazi concentration camps. We were eating their bread wondering when and who will eat our bread.
A couple days later we received pants and jackets and were transferred to another barrack which had already three tier bunks like those in Auschwitz. That barrack served as a transition barrack in which new inmates from other camps used to be brought in and others taken away daily to other camps around Mauthausen. On those bunks in Auschwitz we slept singly but here in Mauthausen we slept two and three on a single bunk. I remember one night four of us shared one bunk. Not only did we lie on a side we had to lay with our heads in opposite directions, that is your neighbor’s feet sticking in your face. In that barrack we became mixed with inmates from other camps with whom we had no prior contact except the fact that we were Jews and shared in thought the expected same final fate. Once we received our outer clothing, that is pants and jackets, we had to show up to the appell (roll call). We also could move about in the camp, hoping to find something to eat. Mauthausen at that time was over-flowing with inmates brought in from all the camps on the Polish territory including Auschwitz. Many were simply dragging themselves over the camp with one thought in mind: Find something to eat. Some volunteered to go to work hoping to find there something to eat. I was a fortunate one taken with a group to work in the kitchen. What could be better than to work in a kitchen I thought to myself. At least I will get a bowl of soup. We were led into a cellar where we saw some fifty Soviet war prisoners peeling potatoes. They were all invalids. Each was missing one or both legs. The mystery to me was that the Germans bothered to amputate their leg or legs what had to be done in a hospital, while at the same time they were shooting thousands of perfectly healthy Soviet prisoners. Something I saw with my own eyes. They put us to peel potatoes. Slowly I worked my way closer to the Russian soldiers and the reason became clear to me. On their well worn uniforms, I noticed their ranks. The lowest rank was of a major. Is it possible that the Nazis kept them as bargaining chips? The bowl of soup I hoped too get did not materialize but I did succeed in slipping a few raw potatoes into my pocket which I ate on the way to the barrack I was not fortunate to be picked again for the kitchen.
In those days many transports of inmates used to arrive. Those were not people from the outside freshly arrested. Those were tired, hungry, emaciated, exhausted inmates from other camps which were being marched into Germany as the German army was retreating or rather falling back under the onslaught of the Red Army. Although the greater part of those inmates perished in those marches, the remnants were overflowing the remaining camps, creating a problem for the camp authorities. During my short stay in Mauthausen one early evening a large transport of inmates arrived from Gross Rosen. If it really was from Gross Rosen, I am not sure, that was the rumor. Nobody was permitted to get close to them. They were let into the bath house and after the hot shower, they were driven stark naked outside where they remained over night. They stood there hugging the stone wall huddled together when we left them that early evening. In the early morning when we went over to see them, only a handful was still on their feet but near collapsing. The rest were lying on the ground motionless. We were not permitted to watch them and were chased away. We were later told that there were twelve hundred men in that group. All perished in that mid February night of 1945. Mauthausen, just like Auschwitz had its affiliated camps. The largest of them were the two camps Gusen one and Gusen two. Each held twelve thousand inmates a piece. In Mauthausen, they used to tell horrible stories about them. It was a known fact that each day five hundred inmates used to leave Mauthausen permanently for the two Gusen camps and as King Solomon said: “All the rivers flow to the sea but the sea does not overflow.” So was with those two Gusen camps. Between those two camps they used to “consume”, to be more precise, they worked to death five hundred souls in every twenty four hours. The camp Mauthausen itself had horror legacies of its own that were known almost in all the concentration camps in Germany. It was infamous for its stone quarry. I remember how a trustee, a gypsy inmate sitting on his bunk on the third tier in our barrack looking down on us said: You Jews think that you have it tough here, you should have been here in 1939 when they brought here Jews from Germany and Austria and were made too work in the quarry. You could have seen a father and son holding hands jumped down from the top almost two hundred steps down into the abyss. Their bodies used to get torn at times to shreds from the sharp edges of the rocks below. A day or two later, I happened to come across a group of the Strafkompany (penal colony) that worked at the quarry. They were led to a pile of stones where each had to pick up a stone, put it on his shoulder and carry it up all the way to the top, the entire two hundred steps, dump it and go down for more. They were not permitted to pick up a smaller stone but pick up the one in front of him. They were doing it twelve hours a day without rest.
One morning, in the middle of February, the block Schreiber (block registrar) called out some numbers. Among them was mine. He took us to the appell square. There we were joined by many other groups until we were a group of about five hundred men. We were led out of the camp and marched on a side road. We were in farm country. Every couple hundred meters, we saw a farm house with a couple other buildings. The snow had begun to melt and we could see in spots the black fertile soil. Nobody was looking out a window nor did anybody look at us passing by. The locals are used to seeing us inmates. Suddenly we are among a few wooden barracks and in front of us is a wide high gate. We are already used to the sight of those gates. Never the less we are wondering what is behind them. We are led inside. Our escort of SS men remained behind and we are surrounded by a bunch of new overseers. The majority are Germans with green triangles. They recognize or are informed that they have another group of Jews, although on our triangles we have the letter “P” for Polish, but we have not yet gotten the yellow inverted triangle identifying us as Jews. As the majority of us in Sosnowiec were Jews from Poland. When we received our pants and jackets, we received at that time our triangles and ordered to put on the initial of the country of birth on it. All of us put on the letter “P” for Poland. I, not knowing if our camp commandant has brought with him the archives, I was hoping to get by as a Russian who stood a better chance of surviving then a Jew, so I marked a letter “R” on my triangle. The two weeks in Mauthausen nobody seemed to notice or made a fuss over it and I was hoping that this “R” might be a remedy and a help in fooling the Nazis.
We are told that we are in Gusen “A”. Our new overseers do not let us wait to find out who we are dealing with. They refer to us by our pure Jewish names, like Shloimkah, Yankelah, Moishelah, and Berelah. They pronounce the names with a clear Yiddish accent but with so much cheap mockery and contempt that we immediately realize among what kind of Jew haters we find ourselves. We are in the center of the camp, the appell square. A couple more big shots approach us. One with a list starts reading some names. One name sounds familiar, Rosen. I look around and see the former capo of D.A.W. in Auschwitz, the older Jew, the engineer and inventor who used to supervise the repairs of all the engines in the factory. He may be the only capo that never raised his voice or hand against anybody, the one who used to gather a quorum for Jewish prayers every morning despite the danger. I have never had anything to do with that man nor did I ever speak to him, but when I saw him suddenly in that hell, I felt as if I saw a long lost friend. They led away those half a dozen or so men and started to break us up into smaller groups and assign us to different barracks. I, among a group of about fifty was assigned to block (barrack ) 15. Half of the fifty were from Sosnowiec camp. All were acquaintances and to some extended friends. The barrack I was assigned to was in a corner of the camp. There was one more barrack behind us, number 16. That barrack number 16 was as of late taken up by German inmates, professional criminals, who have recently volunteered to join the army. The Germans were at that time so short of men, that they were willing to over look their crimes as long as they volunteered to serve in the army. Those criminals already half free, were dressed in the African corps uniforms in which the German army had no need anymore. The African corps ceased to exist with the German defeat in Africa. Those half inmates, half free people were hardened criminals who became foremen, capos and even Blockaltesters (block elders) in camp. Because they co-operated with the SS by doing their dirty work, they used to go out of the camp for training and gymnastics. Of course they received better food and conducted themselves more arrogantly than before.
Our barrack although wooden was a bit better than the Birkenau ones, the so called “Pferdestallbaraken.” (horse barracks). This barrack consisted of two “stubes” (rooms). In between the two rooms, was the entrance to the barrack and a separate room for the Blockaltester. The Blockaltester (block elder), a tall slim German with a green triangles was earlier the Lageraltester (camp elder) but was demoted to Blockaltester for some transgression. His legacy of a murderer was no secret and followed him everywhere. Our group was led into one room which was full with three tier Auschwitz style bunks. Unlike Auschwitz, where we slept singly, we were paired into two per bunk. My partner was a boy, my age who was with me in Sosnowiec, Henry CZESIELSKI (pr TSHESHELSKY). He came fairly late to Auschwitz but spent four years in labor camps prior to Auschwitz. We were the first Jews in that barrack. Besides us, there were another fifty inmates in that room mostly Russians. The Stubendienst (room elder) was a twenty five year old Ukrainian from former east Poland, a raving anti Semite. We did not receive any food that day. When I lay down on the bunk, I was surprised to find so much room and thought to myself: Here we are, two grown men on a sixty centimeter wide bunk and we could find room for one more. The gong woke us at four thirty. The lavatories were in a small adjoining building. As I got in there, I noticed in the right corner, a large wooden barrel the height of a man. One had to stand on his tip toes in order to look inside and all older or earlier inmates did look in right after they came in. I became curious myself and looked in. For a moment all I could see was water almost to the rim. A closer look exposed a pair of shoes swimming upside down in the water. Looking closer I noticed a pair of legs leading downwards. The first thought that came in mind was that the man committed suicide. Turning to the closest person to me, a Russian inmate, I said to him: He must have had enough. The Russian looked at me as if to say: Do not be such a fool. But quietly said: they drowned him. There was no time for questions. I ran back to the stube to get my quarter of bread and ran outside for the roll call. Right after the roll call, we were lined up and marched out of the camp together with all the inmates. We did not march far when I noticed at a distance of three quarters of a kilometers, a long row of barracks in which direction we were going.
As soon as we got there the entire column dispersed into the barracks. We, the new comers remained alone. A few SS men appeared with some overseers. They called out our numbers and assigned us to the different barracks. I was led into a wooden barrack not wider than those in Birkenau but much much longer. Along the two walls of the barracks were lined up turning lathes each operated by a single man. Every ten or twelve lathes formed a separate unit that performs a specific task. Over each group there was an appointed supervisor which is called Einsteller (adjuster) whose job it is to make sure that the cutting blades on the lathes are placed properly. The lathes are very automated and the operator does not have to be an expert. His job is to put in the piece of metal, secure it properly in its proper place, check the cutting knives to make sure they are not dull and push a button. The machine does the rest. When finished, he takes out that part, checks for the correct measurement and puts it on a specially designed wagon. When the wagon is half full, it is taken to the next section. The Einsteller (adjuster) has to know about a lathe, must know how and where to fasten the cutting knives so as they should cut just the right amount of metal. My Einsteller is a young Russian, my age. He noticed the letter “R” on my triangle and takes me for a Russian and in no time we became friends. Our capo is a Lithuanian. The first and only Lithuanian I ever met in the concentration camp. He is friendly to the Russians but hates Jews. He speaks well Russian and German. He is polite taking me for a Russian. At noon we got our soup. With the work I have no problem. I do not even need the Einsteller (adjuster) to adjust the knives. Just the same he comes over for a chat. I was eager to speak with him. He has been there some time and knew the camp. From him I could learn something. He too wanted to speak with me to find out abut other camps. He wanted to know all he could. Of course I had to fulfill my norm of work, but I knew I can do it and so did he. I found out that all the twelve thousand inmates in this camp, Gusin “A” are working in this factory and producing six hundred light machine guns every twenty four hours. The factory consisted of a row of wooden barracks and in each barrack a different part of the machine gun was being made. In our barrack we were making the gun barrels which by then I have already figured out by myself. He told me that if a worker does not fulfill his norm, he is hung right on the spot in the factory. The execution is conducted under the supervision of the “Ubercapo (head capo) who is nick-named the “General”. That was a German inmate with a green (criminal) triangle. He was feared by the inmates even more than the fear of the S.S.
From this young Russian EINSTELLER, I found out about the unspoken phantom of Gusin. It consisted of the group or “commando” fireman. This was a group of hardened German criminals sentenced to life or long terms who had to make the camp their home for a long time. Those people without principles or morals once in jail realized that it is better for them to be on the side of the oppressor than the oppressed and collaborated with the SS fully. As there were no fires in camp, as a sport, they used to wander around the lavatories at night and if they found in there a lone inmate, they used to drown him in the hugh barrel of water that was in every lavatory. When I heard it, it became clear to me the event of the first morning in our lavatory. At six we finished work. According to camp regulations, we lined up five abreast and marched off to the camp. At the wide camp gate we are being counted and as we are inside we disperse to our barrack to line up for the appell. We get nothing to eat, not even the so called “Tea”. I have nothing to do so I go to explore the camp. The entire camp consists of wooden barracks except a large store house and the kitchen, which are both built of bricks and stone. There is a bath house, a Krankenbau (camp hospital), and the inevitable crematorium. I also came across a couple firemen swaggering in their fancy uniforms with more arrogance on their well fed faces than the SS.
If my previous camps had on them the obvious sign or stamp of hunger, Gusen “A” deserved top prize. This I noticed immediately from my over two year’s camp experience. Returning back to the barrack, I took a better look around at the room and my room mates. Half the room mates were Jews that came with me, a few Poles, a few Frenchmen, few Dutch and a few Belgians. All of them were receiving parcels from home until recently. Now they were waiting impatiently for the defeat of Germany. They were just starting to feel hungry as their parcels had dried up. Their homes now liberated, beyond Nazi reach. The only others besides Jews that were not receiving parcels were the Russians. They were in Gusen already some time and some of them succeeded in finding some kind of niche in the camp system by which they managed to procure some extra food and even help out a friend. One had to admire their desire, their ardor for living, their talent to improvise and ability to make do. To a degree I would say they were very fool-hardy when it came to procuring some food. Their reckless behavior which brought on inhumane and terrible punishment I saw a short time later. A Russian teenager stole from another one of the same age a piece of bread. The wronged Russian denounced him to the Blockaltesten. We were awakened in the middle of the day as at that time we worked night shift. We lined up in a line and the Blockaltester said to us: You will now witness the punishment for stealing bread. Turning to the young thief, he said: Do you have any friends you would like to say good-bye to, for you are going to die. None of us took his words seriously and I doubt if the young Russian did. Still he shook hands with the few Russians in our Stube (room). The Blockaltester with the Stubendiensts, that Ukrainian anti Semite tied his hands behind him and led him to the lavatory as we were following. They led him to the large barrel filled with water. The Bloockaltester with the help of the Stubendienst lifted him up and with the head first, they threw him into the barrel. I was not too close to the barrel, but when I saw his body going over the rim, I turned away. I do not even know when his body was taken out and away.
So far we Jews walked around with our red triangles and letter “P” on it, which identified us as Polish political prisoners and I with the letter “R” being taken for a Russian by those who did not know me personally. Some dozen days after my arrival during the mid day break when we were receiving our watery soup, I noticed some Russian inmates carrying bowls with soup. I noticed the direction they were coming from and let myself go there. I entered a small stall and saw in the middle of the floor a barrel with thick noodle soup around which a few Russians stood. To the side there was a short line of Russians forming. One of the Russians near the barrel has a ladle in his hand and is dishing out the soup to each of them while another is writing down the recipients number. Desperate for food, I get in line. When my next comes, the one that marks down the number, not knowing me, asks me where I work. With a nod of my head I point to the barrack. He writes down my number and I receive a liter of noodle soup thick as if cooked without water. The one that wrote my number down says to me: Remember to bring the two cigarettes tomorrow. I assure him that I will. Eating the soup I am trying to figure out how those Russians managed to swipe a barrel of such good soup for it certainly was not for us inmates. It had to be for the SS. The bowl of sup did not satisfy my hunger but I was pleased with the unexpected treat. As far as payment goes, I never had cigarettes nor did I ever see those Russians again.
Some days later as our “Einsteller” (blade adjuster) was adjusting the blades of the lathe, he cut off a finger and was taken to the camp hospital. Our capo, the Lithuanian anti Semite comes over to me and appoints me as the blade adjuster. He tells me that it is my job and duty to make sure that the blades on the lathes are properly adjusted and the lathes are always in working condition. Somebody else takes over my lathe and I assume my new job. I think to myself would that anti Semite capo have appointed me to be the blade adjuster if he had known that I am a Jew. As I can now move about I can admire how well the work is organized. How raw material is delivered to each lathe and taken away to be delivered to the next lathe for the next operation. How good and fast weapons are being produced by starving prisoners. The some fifteen lathes under my responsibility are producing machine gun barrels. The first lathe gets a piece of rusty steel some sixty centimeters long and less than five centimeters thick, through it there is a barely noticeably hole. By the time this piece of rusty steel passes through all the fifteen lathes in my department, the final product is a brand new shiny machine gun barrel. Nobody stays over you to rush you nor are those that work at the lathes being beaten. We all know what is awaiting us if we do not fulfill the norm. In contrast those that work in the so called transport column, those that haul the raw material all day long are constantly chased and beaten. They use to fall by the dozen daily. I used to see them bringing in the heavy rusty metal all day long and think of my work on the Holtz-Platz (timber yard) in D.A.W. in Auschwitz.
At noon we get the liter of thin soup which I swallow in a minute. After everyone gets his soup, the capo calls the blade adjuster for seconds. I stand the last in line unsure if I qualify or not. The Lithuanian capo makes no fuss and pours me another liter. I do not believe it. It is too good to be true and wonder how long my luck can last. For the hunger takes its toll continuously, even among those that work at the lathes, the mortality due to starvation is immense. In my group the majority of the workers on the lathes were Jews, most of them from my stube (room). I could not see it so much on myself but I could see it on them. How they were being spent, literally burning out. Coming to the barrack after a twelve hour day, our Ukrainian Stubendienst used to punish us for not making our bunk straight enough. He mercilessly used a piece of thick cable over our shoulders and back and backside. I too was privileged to be treated by him a couple of times. It used to leave marks for weeks. Putting in a twelve hour work day on a quarter a loaf of bread and a liter of watery soup a day, how long can a tired and exhausted human being go on? Is it then surprising that the mortality was so immense? The fear of not fulfilling the norm was great and many used to become panicky if they were falling behind with their work. When I worked on the lathe I had no such problem. My training at school in Brest-Litowsk and my experience in Sosnowiec camp came in handy. Others however, found it difficult. Quite often I used to leave my place and go over to the next guy to help him catch up. The Russian “Einsteller” (blade adjuster) used to tolerate it. Now that I was the “Einsteller”, I was free to do with my time whatever I found necessary as long as it did not interfere with the gun barrel production and all lathes were operating. So I will now say with a little pride that at times I did help my friends and brothers in need with their work, as that was the only thing I was in position to do for them. With one of them I spent a year after liberation in Southern Italy in a refugee camp called Santa Marina Di Leuca. There, at any occasion, he used to say to me: Moniek (the name the Polish Jews gave me) you saved my life many times in Gusin. I did not feel that I was doing such a great deed when I was doing it nor when he used to remind me after the war. But now, over half a century later, it feels good to know what I have done.
As I said earlier, it was too good to last. I am referring to the extra liter soup. An order was issued in the camp that all Jews have to put a yellow stripe above their red triangles. The next day at work nothing seemed to have changed. At noon we lined up for our soup. I get my soup and drink it quickly to be ready for when they will call the “Einstellers.” They call and I am in line. My next comes. The Lithuanian capo takes a look at me, sees the yellow stripe and says; You do not get extra soup. You are only a temporary “Einsteller.” I leave the line heart broken. The extra liter soup kept me going, at least for the time being. Now it is a question of weeks before I collapse like so many before me. It is April. The snow is gone and it is warm in the sun. Every couple days new workers from other camps arrive to replace the departed. In my place comes a Pole, a former capo from some camp, a well fed young man. He has no inkling of what is going on here, but he is a former capo and a Pole to add. He gets the extra bowl of soup and I do the work. His work.
It is a sunny afternoon. From nowhere, suddenly sires start to wail. All motors stop and the capos yell; Run to the air shelters. I run with everybody else not knowing where. We run through fences, over green grassy ground to the nearby hills. I see holes in the hills like caves in which we were driven in. Inside I see long corridors in which prisoners are working. They are using pneumatic drills, others pneumatic chisels with which they are slicing away chunks from the stone walls and ceiling making the tunnels wider and longer. The part that I can see is roomy enough to take in our entire factory. Sure enough, inside tunnels are lined up with different machines, some just standing there as if temporary. Others are already sitting in cement and connected with electric wires to some-where as if all they need is to push a button. While still in Mathausen I knew that every day inmates are being taken to the nearby towns to clean up after the frequent allied bombardments. We all knew that Germany’s industry is being destroyed from the air. As I was looking at the maze of tunnels under the mountain, I was over-whelmed at the Nazi accomplishment in digging themselves underground in order to protect their war industry. At that moment I was concerned with the inability of the allies to destroy it. The alarm did not last more than half an hour and we started to return to the factory, a distance of two kilometers. To get there we had to run. On the way back we walked. I had no more strength to run and apparently neither did others. As we were walking back I noticed among the young grass, a scattered clover leaf which I used to pinch off and put into my mouth.
For me it was the first air raid in Gusin, but certainly not the last. It started repeating itself several times a week. The running became more difficult each time. Yet for all those alarms, I have not heard a single explosion in or around the camp. It was for me a great puzzle why the allied planes do not bombard the wooden barracks that stood no more than ten meters apart and produced six hundred machine guns every twenty four hours. One bomb could have incinerated the bone dry barracks that would burn like sulfur. That the situation for the Germans was getting worse, we could tell by constantly occurring shortages of raw material. The twelve hour shifts were shortened to eight. That is we started working from six in the morning to two in the afternoon and the second shift from two in the afternoon to ten in the evening. The factory used to stay idle at night, for the first time. Even the thin soup became thinner. There was nothing to put in it. The distribution of the soup that used to take place at work was now taking place in the barrack. The morning shift that used to start work at six A.M. received its soup upon returning from work. That is about three P.M. The evening shift that used to start at 2 P.M. used to get its soup at noon. The distribution of the soup used to be done by the Blockaltester (block elder). We used to line up in a single line each with a bowl in hand and the Blockaltester, with a ladle in his hand used to dish out a full dipper a liter of soup as we approached the barrel. When the soup lately became so thin, we started to manipulate for a better position at the barrel. It meant to be either in the first few as something might float on top and the distributor might fish it out and you will be the lucky one to get it, or one of the last ones as maybe there is something on the bottom. The irony of all this was that we ordinary inmates were literally dying of hunger while our Blockaltester used to walk around in the barrack drunk. It is difficult to understand or even imagine such a contradiction (or ambiguity) but this was the reality of the concentration camp.
About ten days or so into April a rumor spread like wild-fire over the camp that the six hundred sick inmates in the Krankenbau (camp hospital) have been gassed. As there was no gas chamber in Gusin, the SS ordered us to board over the windows and doors and make the hospital air tight leaving a small opening for a can of gas. The result was that all the six hundred patients died. What was however surprising was the fact that the majority were non Jews. They consisted mostly of Russians, a few Poles, Frenchmen, Dutch and Spaniards. There was talk about a couple of Germans. After this was confirmed, we Jews lost completely the last shred of hope. If they can do it to non Jews, what chance of getting out alive do we have? In such a mood we lie down, get up and go to work. A couple days later as we come from work dejected, depressed but still with the constant hunger, we line up for the liter of liquid called soup. As soon as the Blockaltester opens the barrel and dips the ladle we start jockeying for a better place in the line. The Blockaltester lifting his eyes from the barrel says; You stupid Jews. What are you pushing each other for. I have received orders that as soon as the other shift returns from work tonight, I am to take you all to the Krankenbau (camp hospital) where all the Jews in camp will be gassed. So, I think to myself, this is the end. It should not come as a surprise. I knew it all along that this is how it will end. But from knowing until the moment it arrives, is a different story. We do not push each other any more. We take the bowl of soup with indifference knowing that this is the last meal that any of us will ever have. As if to confirm what we just heard, two capos walk by. One opens the door and yells in “Lagersperre”. That means that nobody is allowed outside. We cannot even go out to confirm with Jews from other blocks what we have just heard. The Ukrainian Stubendients hammers down a couple loose boards in the floor. I think to myself. How foolish of him. What Jew would be stupid enough to try to hide under the floor in front of a hundred people and what good would it do? I get up on my bunk. My partner to the bunk works in the other shift and I envy him. The fact is that he does not know yet the terrible news and is spared the last agonizing hours. I sink in my thoughts and go through all the suffering, all the agony of the last years, especially the over two years in Auschwitz; to have suffered so much, so much; who could recount all the suffering that I went through, every minute, every agonizing day. I think of the hurt, the beatings, the hunger, the hopelessness, the despair, the anguish. I felt so much remorse, so much regret for having slaved so much, for all the torment, the torture, the drudgery that I had to go through, for what? So I can die a couple days before liberation?
I suddenly felt a terrible regret; a heart rending remorse for not going together with my parents on that memorable Saturday morning, January 30,1943. When they all, my parents, sisters and brother, were taken by sled to the rail way station. Instead I chose to remain another night in the ghetto to try to get out. Deep down I knew that if I did not succeed three consecutive nights to get out, how will I make it in the fourth, the last? I could have spent two more days. The two days in the cattle cars with my parents and help them with the children; my sisters and brother, in their final and agonizing moments of their lives. How can I describe how and what I felt then? How can anybody? Is it humanly possible to recall the dark thoughts that went through my mind then? It was a long wait till ten o’clock. I fell asleep. In all the dreams I ever dreamed in the camps I never dreamt about the future. It was always the past or the present. Now, a couple hours before I leave this world, I was having an extra ordinary dream. I was standing somewhere near rail way tracks and I see a train passing by very slowly. The train is full with passengers. In fact it is so crowded that some are sitting on top of the train. Others stick half way out the windows and doors. The passengers are dressed in civilian clothes and are waving to me. I recognize many of them. Jews from France that were with me in the same stube (room) in Auschwitz, others that were with me in Sosnowiec and still others that I met right here in Gusin. I call out to them: Where are you going? And they reply: To Switzerland. I woke up. What a sweet dream and what a bitter reality. Again arises in me the question. In fact it never left me: Why? Every Jew in the room is either sitting or lying on his bunk absorbed in his thoughts. Hardly anybody says a word. If yes, it is a whisper. I do not feel like talking. What can anybody tell me except to depict his and mine last moments. If somebody’s imagination is richer than mine, he will make it more gruesome than I can imagine. The time drags and yet passes too fast. The minutes are long but the hours very short. I wish it was in my power to stop all the clocks in the world, so that ten o’clock will never come. It is nine o’clock. In another hour the second shift will be back. I know that we are not the only ones, that the Germans have decided to get rid of every Jew under their jurisdiction and intend to accomplish it. Is it possible that there will be no Jews left in Europe? I lie down and listen to outside sounds I wonder, do miracles still happen?
I hear the shuffle of feet, the treading of shoes. They are here. Holding my breath, I am waiting for the Blockaltester’s command to fall in. He most likely wants to have his fun and is letting us stew. Slowly I raise my head and look around. I do not see him and the just arrived tired workers go straight to their bunks and lie down. I ask my partner of the bunk Czesielsky, if he heard the news. He says no. He is too tired for conversation. I am not sure if he heard me. In a minute, he is asleep. I lie on the bunk. An hour or two later, I fall asleep. I am awakened by the gong. It is four thirty. I do not believe I am still alive. We come to the conclusion that the Blockaltester, the drunkard, played a callous joke on us. One can feel or smell in the air the approaching end of the war. Some inmates that go to work daily on the main road tell of heavy military traffic and frequent air attacks on them. Our soup gets even worse and we get an eighth of a loaf of brad instead of a quarter.