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November 1944 to Allach Liberation on April 30, 1945
This material, copyright 1990 by Sidney Iwens, is excerpted from his prize-winning book “How Dark the Heavens”. This conclusion includes the Allach Liberation, a sub camp of Dachau where Sidney was located at the end of the war. This material may not be reprinted or reproduced in any form without the expressed written permission of Sidney Iwens.
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Month of November l944
Now that we had been living in our wooden barracks, it was somewhat warmer at night, but during the day we all suffered a great deal from the cold.
Today, as usual, we were already chilled to the bone by the time Appell was over. Later, after our work brigade delivered wooden boards some distance away, we had to wait in a yard. It was gray and cloudy, and the cold wind went right through me. The thin stuff we were wearing was just no protection from anything, and every part of my body yearned for a bit of warmth. I looked longingly at the radiator of a small auto. I knew the water in the radiator got hot when the auto was driven, but although it had been standing there lifeless, with an irrationality born of despair, I hoped I might still find some warmth there. We were not supposed to move from the place, but slowly I shuffled over and touched the metal. It was, of course, ice cold.
Five people of our camp were taken to Camp No.1 and executed by hanging. The crime of the offenders? They’d been caught wearing underwear crudely made out of blanket material or some other kind of cloth.
I had a surprise. A truck with inmates from Camp No. 10 stopped for a few minutes close to where I was working. Shmulke Palec was among them! I found out that there were only about 600 people in their camp, all from the Siauliai ghetto. Even now some of the ghetto leaders–Burgin, for example–were in positions of power inside the camp, but Pariser was not there. Conditions in No. 10 were much better than in any of the other camps in the area.
We were all issued brightly colored overcoats, probably belonging to some European army or police force. Although the material was quite thin, we were glad to have them; they were better than nothing.
Every day people died here–how many I didn’t know. But those whose end was near were easily recognizable. Some got swollen up and walked around with puffed-up faces. But most became extremely thin, just skin and bones with a certain empty look in their eyes, which seemed to become very large. When a person reached that condition, he was called Musel-mann–a name brought here by the Aryan kapos. It was sad, but most prisoners who had not yet reached that stage tried to think of them as little as possible.
But in our own barracks, there were about half a dozen people whose suffering was very hard to ignore. They were barefoot. I looked at their swollen, purple-colored feet and could well imagine their torment. The increasing cold had begun to cover the puddles on Appellplatz with a thin layer of ice, and we had already had some snow. These people slept close to the entrance, and every time we ran to Appell, I saw them huddled together, waiting until the last possible moment before hobbling out to what was obviously an extraordinary torture: standing barefoot on the freezing ground as long as everyone else. They were all German Jews and spoke only German. They had probably arrived with one of the later transports, I knew nothing else about them. How much longer could they last now that it was growing colder every day?
A transport of Hungarian Jews was brought here. They had lived in comparative freedom until last spring when they were abruptly deported to the Auschwitz extermination camp. Now they all looked like Musel-manner.
The work at Moll was very hard. But it was the distance we had to cover to get there and return that made it unbearable. It was very far, maybe six kilometers. Lately, I wound up there quite often, though luckily not every day. This was how it went yesterday. . . .
As usual, we were jarred out of our sleep by the banging of metal and the hysterical screaming of the kapos–“Aufstehen! Raus!”–the daily wake-up call. The suddenness of the brutal sounds never failed to have a jolting effect as we jumped up to face another day in Camp No. 2.
It was so very early, and I hadn’t had enough sleep, but there was no time to think much. I ran outside to get my bread ration, and devoured the few bites of bread with black ersatz coffee, standing in the cold. It only took a couple of minutes. There was the usual agonizing: The voice of reason told me, “You have to leave at least something for later, remember the long day ahead of you until you get the soup.” But on the other side was Terrible Hunger, and reason had a tough time; it was a toss-up. Today I managed to leave a tiny piece of bread in my pocket.
The Appell–it went on and on. I caught sight of one of the barefoot men of our barrack, his face distorted in a grimace of pain, as he kept jumping from foot to foot. As soon as Appell was over, there was a rush of people to the various work commandos. Those who had their established work places were lucky, but most of us who didn’t, had to play a grim game of chance every day. We milled around, we began pushing and rushing toward an area where we hoped small commandos were being formed. Kapos cursed, clubs were swung. But eventually I wound up with the majority–the Moll work brigade.
After more counting and rushing around by kapos and guards, our column was at last on the way. By now we had been up a long time–felt like hours–but it was still dark when we left camp. Time went by, our long column kept moving ahead, then it was daylight. Two German boys passed us on bicycles probably on the way to school, and I wondered for a moment what they thought of the hundreds of ragged, exhausted men they saw. I was tired and hungry, and the thought of that small piece of bread in my pocket nagged at me constantly. But I remembered the days when I succumbed to temptation and swallowed the few bites in the morning. I knew I wouldn’t feel less hungry, just guilty and worried that I’d have no food until evening. Still, the pull of that morsel of bread was so strong that twice I was ready to pull it out–I even touched it with my fingers. But today I was successful in fighting off the terrible temptation after all.
At last we arrived. The site was enormous. We were sorted out by several kapos, along with other columns that had already arrived earlier from Camp No. 1. A Kaunas Jew from No. 1 was in charge here, shouting orders in a rough, loud voice. There was pushing and jostling around as people tried to position themselves to be chosen for an “easier” commando. The kapos swung their clubs, and after a while we were all assigned to our various work places.
The kapo led us to the main worksite, which was a gigantic cavity in the ground. Standing at the rim for a moment, I looked down at a tremendous hole from which enormous bites of earth had been scooped out and removed; it was the future underground aircraft factory. It was so big that the people and equipment down on the bottom looked like children’s toys. I thought with contempt, The stupid Germans! How can they expect to finish this before the end of the war? We were led down a long earthen ramp to the bottom, and our workday began.
Our job was to smooth out and grade a stretch of ground with spades. The OT people and kapos dashed around, shouting, “Los, los, bewegt euch, schneller! [come on; bestir yourselves, faster!]” I felt lucky, not to have wound up with some of the “bad commandos.” But even so, it was very hard work. The kapos yelled and cursed, and every so often we got clubbed by them.
The long day stretched ahead of me–the weariness, the hunger, the cold–like an unending road. How would I ever get to the end of it?
I glanced with envy at a fire the kapos had built for themselves in a large steel drum. Then I started thinking of Daugavpils: a winter evening . . . Golda and I in the laundry room by the fire . . . the glowing embers. . . . I lost myself in thought, and time moved much faster.
The half-hour break for lunch amounted to little or nothing. I swallowed the bite of bread and didn’t feel one whit less hungry. In the afternoon the shovel seemed to weigh a ton in my hands. I thought of the warm soup awaiting me at camp. One never knew. Tonight I might find something solid in it, something that had a few calories.
And again I began to daydream. These other people–did they daydream as much as I did? Perhaps some did. But no one else had a Golda in his life. I was certainly luckier than most. How would I ever get through the day without her? She was with me always, and all I had to do was plug in one of many episodes, of which I had a large memory supply, and I was far away from here. . . . Poor Golda, she might not even be alive anymore, and still she was with me, aiding me, helping me endure every single day.
At last it was dark, and we were ordered into columns again. The guards who were part of the Postenkette–cordon of guards– now surrounded our column. After some counting and recounting, we were on the way.
There was still the long way back to camp, and that was no small feat after such a long day, but there was the soup to look forward to and at last the chance to stretch out and rest.
Too soon, my hopeful mood evaporated. It was such a long way; we were just too exhausted and weak, and the wooden shoes made walking difficult. The guards tried to keep us in straight lines, but in the darkness they had to give up. We shuffled along in broken lines, every step an effort.
When I heard some commotion in the back, I knew what it meant: Someone had collapsed. Whenever a man died or just collapsed and could not move anymore (and that happened on every trip) he had to be carried back to camp on a makeshift stretcher. Anyone nearby stood a good chance of becoming one of the stretcher bearers. The very thought of having to carry someone now was enough to make me shudder. I sped up, and got to the front rows.
It was late, and we seemed to have marched for hours, at last we were in view of the camp. But as we entered the kitchen compound, there was a sudden wailing of sirens: an air-raid alarm. The lights went off, and we were plunged into darkness. We were told that we could enter the camp proper and go to our barracks, but if we did so, we would not be allowed to return for soup. If we wanted to get the food, we had to stay right here and wait for the all clear. Each of us had to make an agonizing decision: go in and forgo the warm soup we had been looking forward to all day, or wait here, with no way of knowing how long the alarm would last. Most of us stayed. I could not think of giving up the soup, but some of the people were just unable to stand it any longer and went to their barracks.
The Allied planes passed our area on the way to bomb larger cities. They never dropped any bombs here–I wished they would– but they would have to return before the all clear sounded, and it took them a long time. More people gave up, and went inside. And still I waited. It was cold, I was beyond exhaustion, but I wasn’t going to give up the calories, especially after having waited so long. It was very late, and the camp had been asleep for a long time when we finally heard the all clear. Lights went on in the kitchen, and after a while, we got our portion of soup at last. It was tepid and not very thick, leaving me hungry and dissatisfied.
While we were standing at the evening Appell, a prisoner was brought by a guard and made to stand at attention. We were told he had been captured while trying to escape from the work site. They beat him for a long time and then made him stand in between the two rows of electrically charged barbed wire. He was a young fellow, and as I looked at him, standing there without a coat, trembling, his face stained with blood, I wondered how long he could survive in the cold and snowy night.
Later in the barracks, people talked about him. We assumed that he had slipped through the guard chain during the day and that he would be kept standing until he died. Before going to sleep, I went over to the fence again. He was still standing on the same spot. I tried to imagine what was going through his mind.
Next day I was astonished to hear that the boy had been allowed to stay alive after all. He had apparently convinced the Germans that he had not tried to get away, he just fell asleep at work, waking up after his commando had left. You never knew with the Germans.
In the four months we had been here, much had changed, and not only in the amount of food we got. When we first arrived, there was still a feeling of community among us; we were all from Lithuania, from the ghettos of Kaunas and Siauliai. The kapos were well known and were former friends and acquaintances. But with people dying at an accelerating rate, the composition of the camp population had been changing rapidly; the kapos were now our chief tormentors. The most vicious were the German criminals, but some of the Jewish kapos were not much better.
A hierarchy among the prisoners was much in evidence–which was encouraged, at least implicitly, by the SS. The great majority starved, worked, and died, but a small privileged class was also in existence. Those various functionaries who ran the camp under the authority of the SS, or were our kapos at work, helped the Germans keep us in a constant state of terror. Most of them did it in a most brutal way and were compensated with food and other privileges.
We all dreaded the Appell, but today’s was certainly one of the worst. It started out the usual way, with Muetzen ab and Muetzen auf, the counting and recounting, and with kapos running around shouting and striking people with their clubs. But more than the usual time passed, more counting and more harassing. We could see there was some problem, and as time went on, we became aware that there was one person too many. The irritation and anger of the kapos and Unterscharfuehrer kept increasing, translated into a cascade of blows. And it was only after about two hours that the mystery was solved at last. A Musel-mann who’d been reported dead–he did not wake up and looked lifeless to his comrades–had somehow pulled himself up, after everyone had left the barracks, and dragged himself over to Appell. I heard a little scream. Meir told me later that the Aryan kapo, Willy, was so enraged that with a few blows of his club, he killed the man. “Now the numbers will balance,” Willy said.
Month of December l944
The misery here was increasing every day. I swallowed my piece of bread early in the morning, unable now to hold back any part of my ration. It was just beyond my power to withstand the terrible craving. Twice more, while on the way back from Moll, we were caught by air raid alarms as we approached camp, and once I went to sleep without the soup; it was beyond my endurance to wait. The cold, the hunger, the lice, the Appelle, the mud and the rain and the hard work–I got some relief only in my daydreams about Golda and in some other fantasies.
I saw Gershon.
“How are you doing?” he asked, looking at me closely. I said I was OK, but he seemed concerned.
“So you work sometimes at Moll.” It was more a statement than a question.
“Not that often. I got out of it today too.”
“We’ll have to do something about that,” he said as the orders for Appell were being shouted out.
We called it the Scheisserei (the shits)–severe diarrhea, the condition that precipitated dying in most cases. We looked at it more as a final stage in the deterioration of the body, rather than the actual cause of death. A Musel-mann who had become very weak and emaciated with that particular “look,” got the runs. He could keep nothing inside, and at times could not even make it to the latrine. After a few days he died. That was the course it ran. Sometimes it took a little more time, sometimes a little less.
I spent most of the day in a warehouse fixing wooden racks. This was the Sommerkeller, the dream commando of the camp. A carpenter was needed there, and Reibstein arranged for me to get the work. My job was not only inside–a rare privilege–but in a place full of shelves containing a variety of foods. I had to be careful–Germans were always around–but I did manage, besides chewing bread, to swallow mouthfuls of sugar and even a bit of margarine. In the afternoon I was sent to a noncommissioned officer’s quarters to repair a stuck window. Eventually I got it loose, but the German who was watching me must have seen that I was no expert.
After work I was told not to return the next day. I don’t know whether it was because my work was unsatisfactory, or because they only needed someone for one day. The next day it would be back to the usual hell, but at least I had this one great day, and I was thankful for that.
There had been a change lately–and for once, for the better. Our commandant had been killed in an air raid while home on leave, and the new one was apparently more human. Perhaps it was the swiftness with which the camp was emptying that had something to do with the change in attitude toward us. Lately, there had been no new arrivals while the dying continued unabated. The cart filled with spindly bodies was a familiar sight at camp. Every day many died here, but others who were sick were sent to die at camp No. 4–the “camp for the sick,” from which no one ever returned. At any rate, the soup lately seemed thicker and more plentiful, and the Appell didn’t last so terribly long.
I was now working in a new commando where I hoped I could continue a long time. Our work involved sorting potatoes that had been stored in the ground and covered with a roof of straw and earth. We had to dig them out, remove the rotten ones, and load the rest on trucks. Already on the first day, we each managed to bring a few spuds into camp, and I had myself a feast. I cut them in very thin slices, roasting them until tender on the hot metal of the small iron stove in our barracks. Surely, there could be nothing in the world so good as sitting near a hot stove and eating roasted potatoes!
The job was arranged for me by Reibstein and other fellows of the Sommerkeller. I didn’t not know any details. But in this place, if one had food, he had power and influence. Most used it for their own advantage only; a few helped others as well. But Gershon Reibstein risked his life daily for the sole purpose of helping friends.
Most people in my commando were from Kaunas, and so was our kapo. He looked like a regular guy.
After I’d worked at potato sorting for a week or so, it was announced that our camp was going to be closed, because there weren’t enough people left. We were to be distributed among the sister camps in the area. I didn’t know what would happen to our “potato commando” and was very uneasy. How galling it was for this to happen now–just when I got the new job and after the change for the better in camp conditions.
Monday, January 1, 1945: The 1290th day
So, 1944 had departed. I thought of the end of l94l, the scare we’d had that New Year’s night. How long ago it seemed now. Surely war could not last much longer, but hadn’t we thought so for a very long time?
We were dispersed among the various Dachau satellite camps, and I was now in camp No. 11, close to the town of Landsberg. This place looked very much like No. 2. The same tormentors were here: our old big-shot kapos, Unterscharfuehrer Schreyer, Antonas. Luckily, our commando continued to function from here, and I was still working at potato sorting. Dov Shilansky was able to transfer to No. 1.
Month of January 1945
The majority of the people here were brought from Auschwitz. For a long time I had heard frightening tales of what was taking place in certain camps; judging by the details I heard now, none of it was exaggerated. But as usual with the Germans, you just could not figure them out. Thousands of people were killed in Auschwitz every day, but last fall when the advancing Red Army approached that area, prisoners were evacuated, and many of them were here.
The barracks, as in our old camp, was built partly below ground, with long, double-tier, wooden platforms on both sides, and a very small, round iron stove in the middle. I slept on the upper tier. In our hut there were about ninety inmates, brought here from many countries of Europe. Besides me, there was only one Lithuanian. Many are from Poland and Hungary, as well as from Romania, Germany, France, Greece, and probably some other countries; at least one person was from Italy. My neighbors to the right were an older man and his son–from Paris.
I was usually called Litvak or 999, the last three digits of my number. No one here knew my real name, except for Yanek, a fellow from Poland who slept to the left of me.
Most of us spoke Yiddish, although each in the dialect of his country of origin. But there was also a babble of different languages. Some of the Hungarians and Romanians of the so-called educated class didn’t speak Yiddish at all, and some of the Polish intelligentsia spoke it very poorly; the German Jews spoke nothing but German. Still, in general, communication was not a problem; most of us spoke more than one language and knew German–except for the Greeks and the one Italian, who spoke neither Yiddish nor German.
At work most days we were able to “organize” a few potatoes, on occasion only a single one, and sometimes nothing at all. One day we had to deliver a load to camp and had a real chance to fill up our pockets. After work I was able to cook them and ate almost all of them. I knew I shouldn’t, but for once I wanted to eat until I felt no more hunger. That was impossible–I could not imagine ever not wanting to eat. In my case, the control mechanism that told me when to stop eating simply didn’t work. I ate too much and had to run to the latrine several times.
Five people in our commando were replaced by new workers. No one was talking, so I could only surmise what’s been happening: Our commando was considered one of the best in camp, and people with influence were trying to get their proteges in. Why I was not replaced, I didn’t know, but I suspected that the fellows from the Sommerkeller must have made a strong effort on my behalf.
Electrifying news! Golda was alive! At least she was last summer, when Mark, one of the new fellows at work, last saw her. He was from the Netherlands, but had spent some time at the Kaiserwald Camp. I asked him whether he had ever met a girl from Daugavpils named Golda Gutterman, and to my surprise he answered, “Yes, I remember her well.” He described her to me and said, “She used to talk to me about you.”
“Do you remember anything specific she ever said about me?” “Yes, a few times she remarked sadly, ‘Wehr weisst wu zeine beindalech zeinen yetzt.'”
“This is just what Golda would say!” I told him happily.
Conditions here were pretty much what they were in our old camp before it got better. Here, too, the SS men walked around with whips and the kapos with clubs–it didn’t take much of a transgression to get whipped. My personal circumstances, however, were much improved, due to the potatoes I am able to “organize.” Of course, I might get caught any time, but meanwhile I felt wealthy and lucky. I usually ate them baked, but once in a while I exchanged some for bread. Either way, I had something extra most days. And after the news I got of Golda, I was full of hope.
The prisoner hierarchy here was much more pronounced than in Camp No.2. The brutality and viciousness even of Jewish kapos knew no limits. Perhaps that was because we had so many toughened camp veterans from Auschwitz. But some Lithuanian Jews were just as bad. Hanging over them was the reality that since they themselves were also inmates, their benefits and rights could be withdrawn at the slightest whim of an SS man. They had to keep proving themselves constantly. Even so, a few of them tried to be humane when possible, others fulfilled their duties as tyrants with much gusto and, I suspect, enjoyment.
Not all of the privileged people were equal in the power they had and the benefits they received. But there was a sort of understanding among most of them, concerning exchanges of favors, sometimes not only for themselves but for friends and proteges as well. That applied, to some degree, even to tailors and shoemakers, who worked in camp. For example, it was quite natural that a shoemaker who had fashioned a pair of leather boots for an SS man should expect extra food and sometimes certain favors from his pleased German master.
Sleeping across from me were about half a dozen men who always kept together. I believe they came from the Bedzin-Sosnowiec area in Poland. One of them, who seemed to be a teenager, had quite an extraordinary voice. He often sang at night after the lights were turned off when we were all in our bunks. I’d never heard anyone sing so enthrallingly as this boy did; the sad melodic Jewish folksongs tore at one’s heart. But the song he favored most was “Gypsy Love,” which he sang often, with great feeling. It was truly a beautiful song.
Month of February l945
The “potato commando” was dissolved–no more work. I was back at the bottom.
I was again working at jobs of many kinds, having to depend on my luck every day. But while the work was unpredictable and changed from time to time, the intense hunger for food was always there, unrelenting in its ferocity. In Camp 11 our rations were distributed in the barracks, not in the kitchen, and it was all in the hands of the barracks chief, the Blockaelteste. Ours was a Jew from Hungary, with reddish blond hair, who must have been about forty or so. He was a very religious man; I often saw him praying–he even wore a prayer shawl. (I could not imagine how he got it here; he certainly must have had a lot of pull.) All the same, he was not a nice man, to say the least.
To pour a ladleful of soup into an outstretched bowl seemed like a simple enough feat. But there was more to dispensing soup than that, a lot more. When the two men would carry the soup vat into the barracks, we would already be waiting eagerly, people hovering around with their eyes fixed on the precious liquid. The barracks chief would stir it around a bit, while we all looked transfixed, at the solid pieces that floated up to the top. Once in a while there was something that even looked like a scrap of meat, but I was never quite sure–nothing like that ever landed in my bowl. The first to get their portions would be the Blockaelteste’s cronies; they were the ones who got the best morsels. There was a fine art to the process of stirring the soup and then pulling out a ladleful that contained the best there was in the huge vat. Usually, the farther back one stood in line, the less chance there was to get a piece of potato or some other unrecognizable vegetable, but there was no certainty. Everything depended on the man with the ladle. He determined what you would wind up with. Sometimes there was some soup left over after all the portions were meted out, and a few lucky ones got seconds. Since the Blockaelteste hardly knew me, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones.
I suppose the German SS were all needed at the front. Our guards now were of the Hungarian SS, their uniforms were different. They may have been Hungarian Volksdeutsche.
There were some bad apples among us, but not many. What was more surprising was how much decency still remained, and sometimes one came across it in a most unexpected way.
I was in a column of about fifty people being marched to a different work location when a group of prisoners approached us from the opposite direction. As they came closer, I recognized Joshua Lutzewski who’d been with me in the same hut, in Camp No. 2, and was transferred to No.1 last December. From the way he smiled, I knew he noticed me, too, and in the split second that we passed each other, he pushed his hand into my coat pocket and was gone.
What he put there was a cigarette! My God, a whole German cigarette! Even if he managed to keep from smoking it, he could have exchanged it for bread. But instead, he gave it to me, though we had known each other only a few months. Of course, I was happy to get it, I hadn’t smoked a real cigarette since Siauliai, but it was his act of generosity and selflessness that made me feel good all over.
At Appell today I stood next to the only Italian fellow here. He was trembling. It was probably harder for him to take the cold than for us who came from a colder climate. Whenever I saw him outside, he seemed to be freezing. He could hardly communicate with anybody and was trying to tell me something; I couldn’t understand him, nor did he grasp what I was saying to him in German. I felt sorry for him.
I had had a running sore on the ankle of my left foot for some time. Although I’d rearranged the rags on my foot and the shoe didn’t rub me there anymore, the sore refused to heal. There were also several sores on my neck that did not dry up. Malnutrition, I suspected.
The free time we had on Sunday or in the evenings we usually spent trying to free ourselves from the hordes of lice. We sat half-naked, some of us with only a blanket around our shoulders, checking the seams of our clothing and squashing the vermin between the nails of our thumbs. For a while I itched somewhat less but I knew that as hard as I worked at delousing, I could never eliminate them completely. In a short time it was as bad as before. Yet, I kept on hunting them. I had the feeling that, if I ever stopped, they would eat me alive.
Most of the time I’d managed to avoid beatings, but however careful you were, it was hard not to get hit. This morning there was some pushing as the work commandos were formed, and the chief kapo struck out with his club left and right. I was standing quietly but got hit on the shoulder anyway. Nothing unusual. But certain people got hit repeatedly. I wasn’t sure what made them such tempting targets. As for me, I had learned certain rules of demeanor back in Daugavpils; I made myself as inconspicuous as possible and never looked a Nazi straight in the eye. For such “insolence,” at the time of the Aktionen, you could have been sent off with those who were to be shot. Here you could be beaten, and in our weakened condition, the result might have been catastrophic.
It was logical that, as time went on the daily death rate should increase. Scheisserei, still remained the most common prelude to the end. To a few, death came right here in the barracks, to some in the hospital, but to most it was the Scheunensblock, a barracks where Musel-manner were sent; no one returned from there. Sometimes men on their last legs were shipped off to “sick camp,” also a one-way trip. It was curious, that Musel-manner got so little sympathy from other inmates. The kapos and bullies among us treated them with derision and contempt, while the rest of us just avoided or ignored them.
Four people in our commando, where I’ve been working for about a week, each received a package of Russian mahorka–stem tobacco. This had never happened before. I guess it was among supplies captured from the Russians. (I used to smoke it in the partisan village, Bobily). The Germans didn’t like to smoke it, so during our unloading of gravel and mixing concrete, the OT Meister said he’d give the tobacco to the “good workers.” As it turned out, this grand prize was given in an arbitrary fashion, and I was very disappointed not to have been among the lucky ones.
Because people in other commandos were also recipients of this prize, the exchange rate for that tobacco dropped quite low, and in the end I was able to get a package of tobacco in return for my portion of bread. I knew it was not wise and thought of the calories I’d be losing, but the piece of bread had been so small lately–just a few bites–while that tobacco, if I was careful with it, could last for days. Anyhow, I wouldn’t do it again. This I promised myself.
The ration of bread still presented me with my daily struggle. I’d been feeling guilty about the tobacco, and in an effort to be sensible, I decided to divide my ration in several parts and make sure to eat bread at least twice a day.
After about a week, I was surprised by how well my new system worked. Not only did I eat bread more often, but I actually managed every day to save a tiny piece of my ration, and in my pocket I carried around bread that amounted to almost a daily ration. Although I could swallow it in a few seconds, that morsel made me feel almost wealthy and more self-assured: I had a reserve of bread. The fact that I saved something, even a crumb, made my hunger more tolerable. I usually ate the older bread and kept the fresh and was surprised at the ease with which I could keep to my strict regimen.
But after I had accumulated more than a portion of bread, I ate up my whole reserve. Not because I had trouble controlling myself, but because I’d started worrying. There had been thefts in the barracks before, but last night a portion of bread was stolen not far from where I slept. I shuddered when I thought that it might happen to me and decided to take no chances. No, I wasn’t any less hungry, but at least I had those few calories in my own stomach.
Yanek told me about Auschwitz-Birkenau; he was there for a year and a half and worked at sorting the belongings of new arrivals. Many former Auschwitz people were here, and I heard the stark facts of the selections, the gassing, and the crematoriums. But Yanek told me some details of what went on at the unloadings, of the hundreds of tragedies played out there every day, haunting stories. And this went on for years! Truly, even if someone should survive the war and tell about Auschwitz, no one would believe him.
On the way to work, we were stopped at a railroad crossing while a passenger train passed by. As the cars went clattering past, I could see people in their seats facing each other, and a man sitting comfortably reading a newspaper. I had a momentary thought: How splendid that would be! To travel in a train and leisurely read a newspaper!
Actually it was hard to think at all about “after the war.” I just wanted to survive, and my dreams were mostly of how to put something in my stomach. Once in a while there was some talk in the barracks about what one would do if he survived. But it seemed to be half-hearted. Hunger took up most of our thoughts, dreams, and emotions.
Some mornings I woke up just moments before those early- morning wake-up calls. I had a vain hope that there would be some minutes left to me before the sudden banging and brutal shouting. It happened only rarely, but when I did get those quiet moments, they were the only time when I belonged to myself. Everyone was still asleep, and I, covered with blanket and coat, for once felt snug, almost warm. Usually, though, I was disappointed, for almost the minute I awakened, all hell would break loose, and I was abruptly thrust at another harrowing day at camp.
We had a selection. All the inmates had to stand in line while several SS men inspected us; those who were in very poor physical condition were taken away. We were told they were going to a “recuperation camp,” but we all knew that no one came back from wherever he was being taken. We were all pretty thin, but I suppose this too was relative. In general, I trusted no hospital, infirmary, or sick camp. It was obvious that they only spared us at all because we were needed for work. The minute one admitted to being in some way incapacitated, he was as good as dead.
I noticed some men whispering together secretively. Yanek said he’d heard that they’d killed a dog at work and brought it into camp. I was very envious.
I could think of nothing but food. Even fear, even the acute awareness that I might be murdered at any moment, receded into the background. All concern was centered on food.
It was Sunday, we could rest a bit. I watched the Greek fellows, whose bunks were close to mine. They looked different– tall and dark and always jabbering excitedly. I had to remind myself that they were Jews. I couldn’t understand their language, but I could tell, by the way they were smacking their lips, that they were now talking about food. One of them tried to tell me in broken German all about the different foods they used to eat in Salonika–the sausages, the meats, the cakes, the pastries, and other delicacies.
There was no more “Gypsy Love.” The boy who used to sing so beautifully was moved away. A pity. Someone said the Germans liked his singing so much they gave him a job in the kitchen.
I exchanged my portion of bread for a full bowl of potato peels and was glad for the opportunity. The fellow said they came from a German kitchen and really, the potatoes had apparently not been peeled too skimpily. They had to contain more calories than the small piece of bread, but what really appealed to me was the volume. I could almost feel them swelling up in my poor shrunken stomach.
Behind the barracks, I put the peels in a can with water and put the can on a small fire I’d made from scraps of wood. We were not allowed to use the small stove inside. With great anticipation I watched the water get hot, and impatiently waited for it to boil. Suddenly, our Hungarian block chief appeared.
“Put out the fire and take the stuff away!” he yelled.
“But I’ve seen other people do it. Just–just five minutes more, a couple of minutes . . . ”
“Put it out immediately, or I’ll dump your junk on the ground!”
I had no choice. I stamped out the fire, cursing him in my mind: Damn you a thousand times.
And this man prayed with fervor several times a day–with prayer shawl yet. How was one to understand somebody like that?
With great bitterness I went to my bunk and ate the raw potato peels. At least they were warm. Surprisingly, they did not taste as bad as I had expected.
On my way to evening Appell, I ran into Reibstein.
“Shaike, I haven’t seen you for so long. How are you?” he asked with concern.
“Why don’t you ever come to see me?”
I said nothing.
“Stop in my place after Appell. Be sure to come.”
I knew what he meant. If I’d gone over to his barracks from time to time, as some others did repeatedly, I’d have been receiving bread from him. But I couldn’t do it. Reibstein had done a great deal for me, I wouldn’t be around anymore if not for that stint with the potato brigade, and I had often thought of him with gratitude. But to push myself on him like the others, would be the same as begging–I couldn’t beg. But now that I was asked specifically, I did go.
It was as bad as I’d expected. At least half a dozen people stood around, obviously waiting for a handout, while I hung back, feeling awkward. After a while he noticed me and called out, “Ah, Shaike, why are you standing there like that? Come here.”
He gave me a piece of bread. We exchanged a few words, and I left.
Even as we were becoming more and more emaciated, our lice were getting fatter, more ferocious. Truly, they tortured us constantly.
At work today, the cold, hunger, and exhaustion were as usual, but the itching seemed worse than ever. I had a momentary flash: If I die here, at least, that the lice will die with me. suppose I’m their–sort of world, I mused, and when I’m gone, they’ll be gone too. That would be some consolation, but I knew it wasn’t so. When I died, the lice would just move to someone else.
Month of March l945
Quarantine. Our camp was sealed. No one was allowed to leave for work. We were told there was an outbreak of typhus. Small wonder, with all these lice around.
Weeks were passing and nothing was happening. We were shut off from the outside. At first not having to work seemed like a dream come true. But more people died of starvation now than before.
Our ration was reduced still further, much of it just plain mold. Each piece of bread had two shades, a layer of the usual sand-colored bread and a layer of green, somewhat powdery mold. The proportion of bread and mold depended on luck: the dividing line usually ran at an angle, as the mold ate the loaves in an uneven way. It was not unusual to wind up with as much as half the ration consisting of the green stuff. I heard that the mold did no harm and was even used in some drug, but there were no calories in it. Some threw it away, others ate it. I not only ate my own but sometimes took it from people who were afraid of the mold. It had a sweetish kind of taste.
We spent a lot of time on our bunks, experiencing a general feeling of lassitude. No one had any idea how long we we’d be kept shut away. We also didn’t know how widespread typhus was here. Although we could rest all we wanted, I felt quite weak; so did most of the other people.
I was lying on my bunk watching a man gnawing a bone. As one of the cronies of the block chief, he’d gotten it in his soup. This bone was not the kind to be easily ground up with one’s teeth, nor was it as hard as stone; it required hard work to extract its juice. It held me like a magnet; entranced, I was unable to take my eyes away as the man went on and on, working with his teeth. I was hoping that, when there was almost nothing edible left, he’d throw it away, since he always got extra food. Would I have picked it up? Yes, if no one had seen me doing it. But he went on and on. I kept watching and I thought: Just like a dog. I’m watching that man the way my dog Rex used to watch me back home when I ate supper. And only last fall, I would not pick up the cigarette butt the German threw away. . . . The man still kept on with the bone, and at last I turned away.
Hunger. How was one to describe our kind of hunger, an all- absorbing yearning for food? The need to put something in one’s belly–the craving of the body for any kind of nourishment–was so strong that other normal concerns lost their urgency. We had a single desire–food.
I felt tired all the time. The weather had been good; I walked over with Yanek to a barracks where the roof had a southern exposure. The bottom of the sloping roof was flush with the ground; all we had to do was just lie down on it and feel the sun’s warm rays. I got to know some fellows, and we talked about different matters. Sometimes we reminisced about the “time before,” which now seemed so very remote, or about a war rumor that filtered through to us even now in our isolation. We knew that the situation of the German army was getting worse all the time. We conversed quietly, without much passion.
I suppose man is both very strong and very vulnerable. After years of being in the hands of the Germans, I often marveled at how much one could endure when he had to! On the other hand, we were absolutely at the mercy of their whims. All they had to do was cut our ration just a bit, and probably an additional twenty men would die every day. If the next day, they’d cut out the bread, maybe another fifty would die. And if they gave us an additional few ounces of bread, many people would continue to live. It takes so little to make the difference.
As the days went by, I seemed to get weaker; we all did. We still came to the roof. Mostly, we just lay in the sun. I was baffled by the fact that at times it took an effort just to talk. Surely it doesn’t take much energy just to move one’s mouth!
There was a rumor that we were to receive Red Cross packages. But we’d heard plenty of glorious rumors before, and the events predicted never did come true.
But miracles did happen after all. We actually received packages! “Package” is probably not the correct description. What each of us received was one small can of sardines, one can of evaporated milk, about a pound and a half of cube sugar, and a package of twenty cigarettes. The women got a can of sweetened condensed milk instead of the cigarettes.
After receiving our treasure, we all returned to the barracks, sat down on our bunks, and feasted our eyes on the unbelievable wealth we’d just acquired. What to start with? The Frenchman said, “You have to make two holes in the can of milk.”
Someone had a nail and made a hole with it in the lid. He tried to drink it, but the milk did not come out easily.
“You’ve got to make another hole,” the Frenchman insisted. He was right; two holes let the milk flow easily.
Many of us used the nail to punch the holes. When I put my mouth to the can and started to drink the thick savory liquid, it felt as if life itself were pouring into my insides.
Yesterday I only drank the milk. Today I ate the sardines. The sugar I kept in my pockets; from time to time I took a cube in my mouth and sucked on it.
I had decided not to smoke the cigarettes. I could not see myself using up, in this manner, something that was of so much value. Until yesterday, one could get more than a loaf of bread for them. Now that everyone had some, the exchange rate dropped precipitously, but I intended to hold onto them until supplies were used up, and then exchange them for bread at a decent rate.
In the afternoon it was announced that everyone would receive a supplement of one more food item; I came away with another can of evaporated milk.
Something terrible happened during the night–someone stole my cigarettes. I had kept them in the pocket of my pants, concealed under my head rest, but when I woke up in the morning, the cigarettes were gone. Obviously someone lifted them while I was asleep. I had not even opened the package, dreaming of the bread I’d get for it. That dirty rat, whoever it was!
It must have been done by someone who knew where I kept the cigarettes, someone who’d been sleeping near me. I had a strong suspicion but could’t prove it. My neighbor, the old Frenchman, had been puffing away like mad. Was he the one?
The loss of the cigarettes ate at me the whole day, and I became more and more convinced it was the Frenchman. Still, I could not accuse him openly without proof, but from the hostile way I acted toward him, he must have become aware of my suspicion. In late afternoon, he came over, handed me a somewhat wrinkled cigarette box, and said:
“I couldn’t help myself. Temptation was too strong. Here, that’s what I have left.”
Inside were eleven cigarettes.
I felt quite disgusted. I wasn’t going to take any more chances. I smoked the eleven cigarettes myself.
After three, four days, the glow that had engulfed the camp the moment we got the packages was fading fast. I held on to a few cubes of sugar a little longer and then was back where I’d been before, living on a few bites of bread and some soup.
Month of April 1945
Quarantine was lifted. It had lasted more than a month.
On the way to work, we passed some dandelions. Someone said the leaves could be eaten. I picked some and ate them.
Lately we had been hearing the sound of planes flying overhead almost every day and were sure they were American. Even here, evidence of the bombing that German cities were experiencing was visible. A work commando of about twenty of us was taken to Landsberg several times to clean up the rubble after the bombing.
Another big surprise! For the first time since our arrival in Germany, we had a chance to take a shower. We were marched off to the delousing facility at Camp No. 1, and while we were in the shower room, our clothing was being treated with intense heat. I hoped all the lice were killed.
Someone stopped in from the neighboring barracks to tell us that the American President, Roosevelt, had died; the Germans had been passing the news around with much glee. But it wasn’t going to help them; their end was near. Too bad about Roosevelt, though. As long as I could remember, he had been the President of America; he was always known as a good person and a great man. But his death could not possibly help the Germans much. Let them gloat.
The end really must have been near. At work one day a guard watched me struggle to dump a wheelbarrow heavily laden with dirt. No one else was around. Handing me a piece of bread, he said, “It won’t last long for you anymore. Soon I’ll be in the position you’re in now.”
We went to work the same as always, and the SS were still as threatening as ever.
We had waited so long for our deliverance–for the defeat of the Nazis. I tried to imagine how it would come about, what they would do with us at the very end; the Germans were so unpredictable. Would they shoot us or try to dispose of us some other way? There could be a lot of confusion and chaos at the end, and that might be of help to us.
I said to Yanek: “We’ve got to run if we see that they mean to finish us. Remember, just because someone shoots at you doesn’t mean he’ll hit you–run like the devil. . . .”
Meanwhile, the only indications of battle were the many planes flying overhead. We knew few details. The general camp routine continued, and our main preoccupation was still food. We were as hungry as ever, and people got the runs and they died.
I hadn’t seen Reibstein since the time when he had asked me to come to his barracks.
I walked by a large rubbish heap, which hadn’t been there before. Somewhat to the side I noticed a small prayer book on the ground. Back when we were children, if a prayer book accidentally fell to the floor, we’d pick it up fast and kiss it. I felt a twinge, seeing it abandoned in the dirt, and picked it up. Small, only about three by five inches, but thick and printed on very thin paper, it contained prayers for many occasions, something that a religious Jew might take along on a trip. I wondered what the owner was like as I was putting the little book in my pocket.
Monday, April 23, l945
As the day wore on, our feeling of nervousness and expectancy kept increasing. There was no doubt–the Americans were coming closer and closer, bringing either deliverance or death at the hands of the SS
. Late at night, maybe eleven or twelve o’clock, someone threw our barrack door open and shouted:
“The kitchen is wide open! The guys are helping themselves to the food!”
I took off like mad, finding the kitchen unguarded and unlocked. Inmates swarmed all over, but by now there was hardly anything left, except for a few potatoes. I managed to grab two.
My hopes rose. If no one bothered guarding the kitchen–was freedom at hand…? But as we returned to the barracks, I could see the SS guards at their usual posts.
Tuesday, April 24, l945
Since early morning, there had been confusion and uncertainty. They counted and recounted us, ordered us into marching columns, but then made us wait again. The talk was of evacuating us–where and how no one knew.
At last, we were told that we were being evacuated by foot. We were warned to keep in line and that we would be shot for any infringement of the usual rules; the ill and weak would be transported alongside in vehicles, together with the hospitalized inmates. But very few admitted to being sick, and some who could hardly stand up refused to accept the offer of transportation.
An extra bread ration was issued to us, and at last around ten o’clock, we left camp. Surrounded by many SS guards, our column of perhaps 2,000, stretched a long way. They wanted us to walk fast and kept urging us on:
“Five in a row! Five in a row! Keep in line! Faster!”
For a while we kept up, but after a few hours all the shouting and hitting with rifle butts could not keep the column in orderly lines. Finally they gave up, but were still very strict about our keeping up with the column, and were ruthless with anyone who fell behind.
Later in the day I saw the same scene repeated quite often: a man, unable to walk any farther, lying on the side of the road, and being threatened and beaten by a guard, who was trying to make him get up. I had to move on and could not see the outcome. Sometimes I heard rifle shots, but I also saw a few people who had collapsed from exhaustion, being thrown in a truck traveling in the same direction we were.
The guards kept hurrying us on. I was very tired.
At last it was night, and we were led to a low-lying area, which was marshy and wet and had a small stream passing through it. When the guards took up positions on the high ground surrounding us, some people were alarmed. “This might be the place where they’ll finish us all,” I heard someone say.
There was a rumor that we were being led to the Swiss border to be exchanged for Germans, but we didn’t believe it. We didn’t trust the SS at all; they might shoot us down any time.
On arrival here, a kapo had said, “A truck with bread is on the way. We’ll get our rations tonight.” To my surprise, late at night, we each received a slice of bread.
Wednesday, April 25, 1945
We were on the road since early morning without food or water, straggling along in broken lines. I knew none of the people around me. Everyone seemed to be on his own, absorbed in the aches and pains of his body. The guards had completely given up trying to keep us in any marching formation.
I think of past grueling marches when I learned that one can go on for a long time just by putting one foot in front of the other. But now . . . many ended up in the ditch. How weak we all were….It was our lack of food . . . and the damn wooden shoes . . . the aching feet . . . the sores. . .
We were led along roads that were little traveled and passed very few villages. At one point, I found myself near the end of the column. Behind me on the empty stretch of road, a German civilian on a bicycle was drawing nearer to us, and way in the back were stragglers with guards urging them on to catch up. As the German came closer, I could see in his wire basket two loaves of bread. I kept walking, but the next moment–commotion. The German, with a startled expression, was standing next to his overturned bicycle; the loaves were on the ground, and a pile of men struggled to get at them. He must have tried to give it to us! flashed through my head. I dove into the midst of the mound, and for a few seconds became part of the clawing, intertwined mass; I managed to tear off one small piece of bread and push it into my mouth. Then an SS guard started hitting us with his rifle butt, and for a split-second, I was aware of the scene and seeing it as an observer: the men hurling themselves at the bread . . . fighting each other . . . tearing at it. . . . Within a minute all was back to normal, and we speeded up to catch up with the rest.
I still had my two raw potatoes. There had been no chance to make a fire last night. From time to time I thought of eating them raw but kept postponing it. I told myself that, when we stopped for the night, I’d get a chance to cook them. Meanwhile, having the potatoes in my pocket gave me a bit of hope, of expectation. I kept seeing before me the soup I’d make of them.
Thursday, April 26, 1945
We spent the night in a quarry and were again on the way in the morning.
I kept on plodding ahead with my eyes riveted to the ground. . . . What did I expect to find? Still I kept looking, searching. I picked up a tin cigarette box–it was empty. A little later, I found a three-inch pocket knife with two blades and a corkscrew. But it was food that every fiber of my body cried out for–food . . . . We passed through a village. People offered us water, but the guards wouldn’t allow us to take it.
The street narrowed, and we passed close to the houses. We were overcome by a frenzied desperation. Ignoring the threat of being shot, some dashed into doorways, hoping for food. I, too, darted in through a door, and found myself in an enclosed porch. I saw a flat wooden box with some greenery–might be salad leaves or just flower plants. . . . I grabbed a handful of the long, slender leaves, crammed them into my mouth . . . zoomed out again. The street was filled with the frantic mob, and the guards, in their effort to keep order, shouted and cursed hysterically, threatening us with their guns.
We had reached the end of the village. It was calmer. I noticed a civilian standing at a doorway, motioning. Five of us scrambled over, and each got a boiled potato.
Late in the afternoon we came to an abandoned camp. We were ordered into wooden barracks with three-tiered bunks. I still had my two raw potatoes.
Friday, April 27 1945
We were up early. The bunks were actually more comfortable than the ones we’d had in our camp. But I felt tired–as if I had never rested at all. My feet and legs felt heavy, they were swollen.
Limping along, dragging our feet, we were back on the road again. Mind dulled by exhaustion and hunger, gaze fixed to the ground, I was driven by the one clear thought: To fall back, to stop, means the end. . . must go on.
After some time we were stopped at a camp, and word was passed throughout the column: “Whoever is too exhausted or too sick to continue may stay in this camp.”
I had only a few minutes to decide. I knew that to admit to being weak was always dangerous. But if I continued marching, I’d wind up in the ditch. I had no more strength. I stayed at the camp, and so did many others. The rest continued on their way.
The camp, called Allach, was packed. I was told to go to a barracks, which I found so crowded that there was no place to sit down. We had received no rations since the first night on the road, and there seemed to be no chance at all of getting any in this camp.
Outside people were milling around, most looking like Musel-manner. An inmate hovering over a small fire was cooking something in a tin can.
My potatoes! I thought excitedly. “Can I use the fire after you’re done?” I asked.
“Yes, in a little while.”
What luck. I got water in my tin dish, and with my newly acquired knife, cut up the two potatoes into small pieces, then waited anxiously. The few pieces of wood could not last very long, and I could see no way of getting any additional kindling. At last he was finished and walked away with his can. But as I was about to put my dish on the fire, two brothers appeared; they were from our camp, and I knew them to be bullies.
“Wait!” one of them said with authority. “We’re going to use the fire first–then you can have it.”
Of course, the fire would be burned out by then.
I jumped up and snarled at them: “You-just-try-to-come-any- closer . . . !” They looked at me for a few seconds with blank uncertainty, and then walked away. I had always avoided any confrontation with potential for violence, but now–the expression on my face must have left no doubt about my determination. At any rate, I was not bothered again, and at last was able to eat my precious potatoes.
I spent some time resting on the ground next to the barracks, which were large and built of concrete. From people who were seated next to me, I learned a little about this place. Allach was also a branch of Dachau, and only about eight kilometers from the main center. It had been a camp for Aryan prisoners, and they were still there. But during the latest evacuation, Jewish prisoners from various camps, who were unable to march any longer, were dumped at Allach also. We were allowed to use only a few of the barracks, and most of the camp was off-limits to us.
Later, knowing it would be dark soon, I went back inside the barracks but could find no place to lie down. The floor was completely covered with stretched-out bodies. At last I found a spot on a table, with just enough room to sit down. It was uncomfortable to sit with my legs dangling, but I spent the whole night sitting on that table.
Saturday, April 28, 1945
In the morning there was no change. People moved around aimlessly. I kept to myself. I didn’t know anyone here. I had seen no Germans inside the camp since our arrival.
While at the outdoor latrine, my gaze fell on the row of half-undressed, squatting men. They were skin and bones, with practically no buttocks. These men are almost Musel-manner, I thought to myself. Then I looked down at my own legs, my thighs, and touched my buttocks–only bones. I looked the same as the rest . . . strange, I hadn’t thought of myself in that way.
In the afternoon, a rumor: “The war is over.” But a while later I heard the sound of far-away explosions, and I knew that the war was still going on.
When it got dark, I found a place to lie down on the floor, but didn’t dare leave for fear of losing it. To be on the floor was better than sitting on a table, but I could not sleep much for there were no lights, and people on the way out had to step over our prone bodies. In the darkness I was stepped on quite often. Every once in a while I heard an outcry of pain, as one or another of those heading for the latrine stumbled over sleeping people.
Sunday, April 29, 1945
Inside the camp there was no real authority, just some kapos and bullies, who still had their strength; it was best to stay out of their way.
How long could I go on without food? How long had it been since I last ate bread? Five days? I didn’t have much strength, but after a while I could no longer sit in the barracks. I tramped around outside–searching, looking. I moved away from the milling crowds toward the fence. No people there. At the hospital building, I stopped abruptly. On the ground, next to a trash can, were a few chicken bones. The source of the bones was apparent: An overflowing garbage can. The lid could not quite conceal a bundle loosely wrapped with newspaper, now partly open; it was crammed with chicken bones. It was hard to believe but shreds of chicken had been left on them. Certainly, they must have been discarded only minutes ago; otherwise someone else would have discovered them by now. What luck! I crammed them into my pockets and slunk away from there fast.
Careful not to be noticed by anyone, I chewed on the soft bone of a wing. I was in seventh heaven!
Shells had been exploding since before noon, becoming increasingly louder. I thought: Artillery . . . the battle must be moving nearer.
In the block someone said that the guards outside the fence had disappeared earlier, but now were back again at their posts.
In the evening the explosions sounded closer, and the firing went on without stop. I found a place to sleep on the third tier of a wooden bunk. The crowd must have been thinning out, many people died every day.
During the night, there was an ever-increasing crescendo in the sound of the battle. It seemed that our camp lay between the two opposing forces; I could clearly distinguish between the two sides in the cannon duel. Some shells might have fallen inside the camp or near it, but I was beyond fear, absorbed in grinding and chewing my bones. I did it deliberately and with relish. During the day I ate stealthily, concerned that my windfall might be noticed. But now, enveloped by the protective darkness, with the luxury of a bunk, I felt contented and relaxed, chewing away. A few explosions sounded so loud I felt certain that the shells had landed in the next barracks.
Sometime in the night the shelling quieted down, and I fell asleep.
Monday, April 30, 1945: l409th day
In the morning we found that shells had hit the hospital during the night, destroying part of a wall. Several patients were killed and more wounded.
Outside people shuffled around, weak and hungry, minds set on their desperate need for food.
Someone said, “I heard American soldiers are at the gate.” Another rumor? I wondered.
I walked to the gate. There, a file of about twenty inmates moved quietly in line past three tall soldiers in khaki uniforms. Each inmate, as he passed, kissed the hand of one of these bewildered-looking soldiers. They Were Americans.
I went to the end of the line.
I am the only survivor of my entire family.
No one of the Gutterman family survived.
They were actually deported to Riga, Kaiserwald Camp, in November of l943 and from there in 1944 to Stutthof Camp. Their brother, Leiser, was shot in Kaiserwald while trying to bring in food for the family. In Stutthof, the three sisters refused to part from their mother and lost their chance of being transferred to a work camp, where a more reasonable chance for survival existed. The first of them to die was Hinda. While she was standing at Appell, the string of the pendant Max had given her broke. She treasured that tiny plastic disk with his engraved initials. Frantically, she looked for it in the deep mud. When a kapo ordered her to stand up straight and began hitting her with a club, she refused and continued her desperate search. The kapo hit her until she collapsed, and Hinda never recovered from the beating. Although I never learned the details, Golda, Ella, and Mother also died in Stutthof.
Max lives in the United States.
After we were separated at Stutthof, he was sent to Muehldorf, a camp in the south of Germany, east of Munich. He was liberated by the American army.
Berke lives in Israel.
Just as we were certain that Berke was killed when we stumbled upon the German outpost, so he too was sure that Max and I had died in the same hail of bullets. He later managed to join up again with Antonov’s partisans and continued fighting in their ranks until the area was recaptured by the Red Army.
Shmulke Palec lives in the United States.
Haim Kuritzky lives in Israel.
Dov Shilansky lives in Israel and is currently a member of the Knesset.
I married Ita Tabrisky. We live in the United States and have two married daughters and four grandsons.
Of the roughly l7,000 Jews who were in Daugavpils when it was captured by the Germans, less than a l00 survived. Among those who perished were all my other friends, those from Jonava, as well as the citadel, ghettoes, and camps.