Chapter 2. Deportation
Three weeks after “Krystal-Nacht” the Gestapo ordered The Metzger family and its Jewish neighbors to get ready for deportation to Riga, Latvia. They were told to take three days’ worth of food with them on the train, since they would be given no food. They were allowed one hundred kilograms of baggage packed in gunny sacks.
Fourteen days later they were picked up by the Gestapo. When the Gestapo came into their apartment, Selma opened her husband’s army regiment book from World War I. She left the book open on the page where the words of Hindenburg were printed: “You can be assured of the thanks of your country.” (translated from the German original). She left the book open on the center of the table, between two burning candles.
They were lead into a big bus loaded with about thirty other Jewish people. The bus took them to Munster, to a large outdoor restaurant near the railroad freight station. In the main hall of the restaurant there were about 500-600 people, mostly middle-aged couples with their children. The floor was covered with straw, which was their bed for the night. The next day more people arrived until there were more than about a thousand. At one o’clock in the morning, in the secrecy of dark, they were all loaded into unheated passenger cars. It was cold, below freezing,
December 13, 1941. The S.S. began hitting people with clubs as they boarded, and they realized that their future was dark.
A day and a night passed. There was no heat in the train — her brother-in-law’s feet had frost-bite. The personnel running the train were changed, and they learned that the baggage car, containing the last of their belongings, had been disconnected. In Konigsberg the train took on coal, and it was there that a man escaped.They arrived finally outside the city of Riga. They were grouped into lines of ten, flanked on either side by Latvian men with loaded guns with bayonets. Those who fell out of line were brutally beaten: arms and legs were broken by the blows.
The march to the former ghetto of the late Jewish inhabitants of Riga (murdered just days earlier by the “Einzatsgruppen”- special detachments of S.S.) seemed endless. Near dusk they arrived to find people waiting for them who had earlier arrived from Koln. They were then the second transport from Germany and they were greeted with hot coffee by members of the first transport.
The S.S. came and herded them into a former Latvian Jewish home, ten people to a room. It was then that they learned that almost all of the Latvian Jewish men, women, and children of the ghetto had been shot to death. They were horror-stricken when they entered the rooms of the house. There was blood on the walls and on the floor. They immediently set about cleaning up the room, and then fell to the floor, totally exhausted.
For the next three days they were given no rations, and they lived off the left-overs from what they had prepared for the journey, which was not much. Later they received a ration of two slices of bread per person, and a little sugar. They collected frozen potatoes from the fields to supplement this. Later they were given a portion of horse-meat and a little margarine. One day they were given sardines, which turned out to be infested with maggots.
When Eva saw this she cried out and asked, “What is being done to us?”.
Selma’s husband Morris worked at hard labor for the S.S. He was transported to and from work by military truck. Selma worked for the army every day. She had to inspect used uniforms from the Russian front, sorting out those which were too bloody or torn from those which could be reused. At this time she began a little program of sabotage, cutting up perfectly good uniforms and relegating them to the garbage heap.
One day she saw a mouse in the uniforms and she screamed. An army officer came over to her and asked her,
“Why are you scared by a mouse, but you are not afraid to be in a concentration camp?”.
The military was not as cruel as the S.S., and occasionally their actions were kind. Eva once shoveled snow for the army command, and she was taken to work in open army trucks. One day Eva’s scarf was blown off her head by the wind. The officer’s car behind them stopped, retrieved the scarf, and returned it to her. The military command ordered that the Jewish women laborers be given a nourishing soup for lunch, even though these prisoners were officially under the S.S. jurisdiction.
Eventually Selma’s program of sabotage aroused some suspicion in some of the soldiers. She was called into a tent before an officer, accused of the crime of sabotage, and arrangements were made for her to be shot. At the last moment, her supervisor was called in, and he testified that the “lady with the white stripe” (Selma had a large streak of grey in her brunette hair) could not possibly be guilty of the charges. She was saved, for a little while at least.
Frequently the Latvian S.S. came into the Ghetto to see them. One of them came into their dwelling and said that there was to be no sexual intercourse between men and women in the building. A single man, a manufacturer from Bielefeld, said sarcastically. “Oh, we would not do such a thing”. The S.S. man took him outside and shot him dead. From then on no Latvian S.S. were allowed into the Ghetto by the Nazis.
A week before the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah all the people of the Ghetto were called together.
Each person was asked what he was doing, and those without work, mainly old people and children, were told that they would be sent to Dvinsk (German: Dunaburg), where they would be employed in a factory.
The next Sunday the group going to Dvinsk was told to prepare for the trip. On Monday, when all the others were at work, a large transport of trucks came to the Ghetto. About fifty people were crammed into the back of each truck, and the compartment was tightly sealed. When the trucks were in motion, the truck’s exhaust was piped into the compartments. Over one thousand people were gassed to death by this method, including approximately forty-five of Selma’s relatives.
Selma had two nephews who. along with fifty-eight other men, were ordered by the S.S. to dig graves to bury those who had been gassed. The S.S. made them swear to secrecy, under penalty of death, about everything that they had seen. One nephew buried his own parents. The men were not allowed to return to the ghetto for about two weeks. They lived in a cave, and were given very little to eat. One man was brought back on a stretcher, his body emaciated. Miraculously, both men survived concentration camp.
They were included in a group of one thousand Jewish prisoners whom Sweden had requested be saved.
Only after her liberation did Selma learn what these two men had been forced to do.
The constant hunger and malnutrition from which Selma now suffered had one beneficial effect: it sapped her emotional strength and numbed her to what was happening to her. If she was well-fed, the psychological impact of what had been done to her would have been more upsetting.
One day the S.S. commandant ordered all pregnant women to report to the one-room infirmary near the Dvina river. Here the women were given abortions, even though some were in the last months of pregnancy.
The S.S. had no use for those who were severely ill or injured. In the “infirmary”, a Jewish doctor was forced, on pain of death, to give insulin overdoses to such inmates, which induced coma and death in them.
After Selma’s liberation, this doctor was reported to the Russian authorities, who had him tried and shot.
One day the S.S. commandant inspected the Ghetto. In one house was a gynecologist from Vienna who treated women in the Ghetto. The commandant — whose name was Krause — found this doctor’s wife lying on a couch when he entered their room. He shouted, “Stand up when I enter’, and he hit her in the face. The doctor attacked the commandant and hit him; the doctor was taken outside and shot.
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