A Day of Work at Dachau Camp 2.
This material, copyright 1990 by Sidney Iwens, is excerpted from hisprize-winning book “How Dark the Heavens”. This material may not bereprinted or reproduced in any form without the expressed written permission of Sidney Iwens.
You can order your own hardcover copy of “How Dark the Heavens”,autographed by the author, for $21.00, which includes shipping costs.
The work at Moll was very hard. But it was the distance we had to cover to get there and return thatmade 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 thekapos–“Aufstehen! Raus!”–the daily wake-up call. The suddenness of the brutal sounds neverfailed 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 ranoutside 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 ofreason told me, “You have to leave at least something for later, remember the long day ahead of youuntil you get the soup.” But on the other side was Terrible Hunger, and reason had a tough time; itwas 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 facedistorted 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 workplaces were lucky, but most of us who didn’t, had to play a grim game of chance every day. Wemilled around, we began pushing and rushing toward an area where we hoped small commandoswere being formed. Kapos cursed, clubs were swung. But eventually I wound up with themajority–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. Timewent by, our long column kept moving ahead, then it was daylight. Two German boys passed us onbicycles probably on the way to school, and I wondered for a moment what they thought of thehundreds of ragged, exhausted men they saw. I was tired and hungry, and the thought of that smallpiece of bread in my pocket nagged at me constantly. But I remembered the days when Isuccumbed to temptation and swallowed the few bites in the morning. I knew I wouldn’t feel lesshungry, just guilty and worried that I’d have no food until evening. Still, the pull of that morsel ofbread was so strong that twice I was ready to pull it out–I even touched it with my fingers. Buttoday 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 othercolumns that had already arrived earlier from Camp No. 1. A Kaunas Jew from No. 1 was incharge here, shouting orders in a rough, loud voice. There was pushing and jostling around as peopletried 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 rimfor a moment, I looked down at a tremendous hole from which enormous bites of earth had beenscooped out and removed; it was the future underground aircraft factory. It was so big that thepeople and equipment down on the bottom looked like children’s toys. I thought with contempt, Thestupid Germans! How can they expect to finish this before the end of the war? We were led down along 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 kaposdashed around, shouting, “Los, los, bewegt euch, schneller! [come on; bestir yourselves, faster!]” Ifelt lucky, not to have wound up with some of the “bad commandos.” But even so, it was very hardwork. 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 startedthinking of Daugavpils: a winter evening . . . Golda and I in the laundry room by the fire . . . theglowing 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’tfeel one whit less hungry. In the afternoon the shovel seemed to weigh a ton in my hands. I thoughtof 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? Perhapssome did. But no one else had a Golda in his life. I was certainly luckier than most. How would Iever get through the day without her? She was with me always, and all I had to do was plug in oneof many episodes, of which I had a large memory supply, and I was far away from here. . . . PoorGolda, she might not even be alive anymore, and still she was with me, aiding me, helping me endureevery single day.
At last it was dark, and we were ordered into columns again. The guards who were part of thePostenkette–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, butthere 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 andweak, and the wooden shoes made walking difficult. The guards tried to keep us in straight lines, butin 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 everytrip) he had to be carried back to camp on a makeshift stretcher. Anyone nearby stood a goodchance of becoming one of the stretcher bearers. The very thought of having to carry someone nowwas 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 aswe entered the kitchen compound, there was a sudden wailing of sirens: an air-raid alarm. The lightswent off, and we were plunged into darkness. We were told that we could enter the camp properand go to our barracks, but if we did so, we would not be allowed to return for soup. If we wantedto get the food, we had to stay right here and wait for the all clear. Each of us had to make anagonizing decision: go in and forgo the warm soup we had been looking forward to all day, or waithere, with no way of knowing how long the alarm would last. Most of us stayed. I could not think ofgiving up the soup, but some of the people were just unable to stand it any longer and went to theirbarracks.
The Allied planes passed our area on the way to bomb larger cities. They never dropped any bombshere–I wished they would– but they would have to return before the all clear sounded, and it tookthem a long time. More people gave up, and went inside. And still I waited. It was cold, I wasbeyond 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 andnot very thick, leaving me hungry and dissatisfied.