Ida Tenenbaum (Part III)

As told to Mrs. Chaya Feigy Grossman

From Ploszow we were transported to the Skazisko death camp. The hygiene in this camp was beyond humanity. People were dying of typhoid, right and left.

It was very cold. We lived in barracks, which were constructed of very thin ply-wood. The temperature dropped to 20 degrees below zero. We wore thin striped dresses which made up our wardrobe. I sat on the floor with my good friend, praying to Hashem for good days to come.

Suddenly the door opened and an old man came in covered in snow. He begged for a menashke, a soup bowl. I had such pity on him that I decided I would give him my bowl. My friend who was sitting with me said to me, “Ida, don’t give him your menashke! If he doesn’t bring it back, you will not be able to get soup.”

But I couldn’t tolerate his crying and I gave it to him, begging him to return it when he was finished with it. After he had gone, I found that he had left behind $100 for me. With that money I went to the next barrack where I was able to buy bread and butter on the black market. We sat down and ate heartily. This $100 lasted me for a few weeks. Please note, this man did bring the menashke back to me.

Did you work in the Skazisko concentration camp?

Yes, I worked in an ammunition factory. We were working with bullets on an assembly line. My job was to fill the bullets with powder. I figured out a system that would allow the bullets to move down the assembly line empty.

In this way thousands of bullets were sent out without any powder in them. The number of lives saved is incalculable.

How long were you in the Skazisko concentration camp?

I was in the Skazisko concentration camp for almost a year and a half. Then selections were made and I was sent to a camp in Leipzig, Germany. We were transported in cattle cars. People were dying like flies from the unsanitary conditions and malnutrition. When the doors of the cattle cars were opened, dead bodies fell to the ground.

Upon arriving in Leipzig we were put into a large room where we were told we were going to be sent for showers. We knew already that sometimes showers meant they were going to gas us. Some people were crying, others were saying their final good-byes, and yet others were saying Shema.

Fortunately, we were taken to a camp and not the crematorium. The conditions in Leipzig were much better. We were housed in barracks used for soldiers. We had the luxury of hot water instead of the ice water that we had in Skazisko.

One time, while waiting in line for the showers, a German approached me and said, “I think your father is here.” I knew my father had been taken with a big transport and murdered.

I begged the German to bring my father over and he did. However, it was not my father; it was my uncle and my cousin. My cousin looked malnourished and could barely walk. My uncle gave me a stolen piece of bread and said to me, “Ida, eat this bread, and let’s hope that we will see each other again.”

Once during a selection, the young people and the older people were selected. I was also taken in the selection to go to the crematorium. We were stuffed into a room, waiting for the cattle cars to arrive to transport us to death. There was a guard watching us until the wagons would arrive. He kept coming back in and then, addressing me, he said, “Stupid, get yourself out of here.” He repeated those words to me a few times.

I decided that if I stay, I’m surely headed to the crematorium, so I might as well take a chance. I climbed up to a window and jumped. Fortunately, I have long legs. I landed far and I quickly walked back to my barrack. Everyone was elated and shocked to see me.

The next day the empty wagons came back carrying the clothing and shoes belonging to the people who had been with us just one day earlier.

Did you walk in the Death March?

While we were in Leipzig, the Americans and the Russians began moving their armies closer and closer. The Germans realized that this was their last chance and they began taking us on what was known as the Death March.

By this point we were so weak that as we walked most of the people collapsed and died on the spot. I have to say that there were many times that I looked at the dead bodies on the floor and I envied them.

I thought to myself, they have no more pain, no more hunger; they don’t have to suffer any more and they are no longer afraid for tomorrow. Yet, any time that I had these thoughts, I envisioned my father’s face in front of me saying, “Go on, go on…”

That’s what we did, we went on. We walked through fields, through heavy downpours of rain, without any food, while the German soldiers road close by on motorcycles and bicycles. From the thousands of people who left the camp, 500 remained.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.

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