It was December, around the middle of the month. The streets had become increasingly unsafe. The bombing attacks continued unabated and flying bricks and shrapnel made any movement on the streets extremely dangerous. Dead bodies lay frozen on the pavement. Piles of rubble became mountains, at the foot of walls which were teetering, ready to collapse with the next explosion.
It was a bad day for me: I had found neither food nor warm shelter for the night. Darkness fell early on the city, which lay dead under the snow and darkening skies. I decided to go to sleep early, not looking too carefully for a good shelter. Cold and exhausted, I just wanted to lie down, cover up with something warm and sleep through the night.
I climbed under a pile of rubble, somewhat protected by pieces of lumber, dragging with me old rags that I had removed from one of the bodies. My boots were wet so I wrapped my feet with other bits of rag and stretched out.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up to somebody kicking my feet to see whether I was dead or alive. It turned out that I had stuck my feet out a little too far. An angry voice shouted: “Get out of there immediately!” I crawled out and tried to stand up. I was immediately knocked to the ground by a powerful slap on the face, which brought me to the feet of young nazi thugs who were brandishing rifles and looking at me with contempt.
I instantly understood my predicament: here I was, dressed up like one of them, yet sleeping under rubble, as if hiding. I had some explaining to do. I started mumbling my explanation to the Nazi “brothers.” The leader demanded to see my documents. I pulled out my bundle from my jacket pocket and handed them over. They were genuine, but quite an assortment of papers stolen from different sources.
After scanning them, he demanded angrily: “If these documents are real, why are you sleeping on the street, like one of the Jewish dogs or escaping soldiers?” I started with my refugee routine, but this time it didn’t work. Caught off guard, I had lost my confidence and ended up stammering something incomprehensible. The truth was that I could think of no reason why a uniformed Nazi would sleep among the ruins, in the cold open air rather than entering a party house for the night.
“Pull down your pants!” one of them ordered. I refused, claiming that it was too cold. They grabbed my arms and one of them pulled down my pants and shorts. Seeing my circumcized penis, they started to beat me up with their gun butts and fists. Then they ordered me to stand up and pull up my pants. With shaking hands, I obeyed. The game was clearly up. I had fallen into enemy hands.
They demanded to know how I had obtained the uniforms and the documents. “They’re false,” said the leader “and we will beat out of you the names of the people who supplied them.” With this threat, they ripped off my armband, knocked the nazi cap off my head, took off my belt and used it to tie my hands behind my back. They ordered me to remove my boots, which were instantly scooped up by one of them. Then with a few kicks and blows from their rifle butts, they marched me away, barefoot and shivering.
The party house we went to was one of the larger ones. The leader of the group that had captured me reported me to his leader and I was shoved in a room. They sat me on a chair and tied me up, my hands behind the back of the chair. A few older men entered and started interrogating me about the origin of the documents, which they waved in my face. One of them pushed his face against mine. His spittle showered my face as he spoke:
“Dirty Jewish swine, your pocket is full of false documents. From whom did you get them?“
“No, Sir, they are not false,” I answered with exaggerated politeness that was totally wasted on the brute. “I took them from dead peoples’ pockets.”
This triggered a violent series of slaps by a second man, while the first one continued to scream: “We know you got them from the Zionists! These are fake and you will tell us who gave them to you. Names! Give me the names of the document falsifiers! Where are they hiding out?“
I was slapped and interrogated for quite a while. Each blow to my face felt like an electric shock. My head twisted from side to side, the shocks shook my skull and made my ears ring. They knocked the chair over, with my battered body tied to it, then set it up again and continued the interrogation. At one point, I lost consciousness and came to as they poured ice cold water over my head. More slaps. I kept mumbling that I was innocent, but no one was listening anymore.
It is impossible to say how long the beating lasted. It could have been only minutes, or it could have been half an hour, but it seemed like forever, as if the blows would never stop. At some point during the beating, I stopped mumbling my explanations and began a monologue inside my head: ‘If I survive this,‘ I told myself, ‘nobody will ever again be allowed to touch me or to hit me. If I live, no one will ever slap my face again. If I live…‘ Somehow, this inner conversation helped me survive the beating.
They eventually stopped slapping me and left me alone in the room, still tied to the chair. My head cleared up gradually, the urge to vomit went away and my hearing slowly returned. I realized that I had suffered no serious injury. However, the rope was tight, and my arms and legs were numb. I started to feel extreme discomfort and prayed that somebody would remove the ropes from my wrists.
One of the thugs entered, untied me, pulled me up by my hair, and pushed me toward the door. We went outside and he opened another door that led to the cellar below. With a shove and a kick, I was sent rolling down the stairs into the cellar. With my numb arms, I tried to protect my head from further damage. My body landed on the damp and smelly cellar floor, where I lay for a while, then slowly stood up.