We learned very fast to follow the orders given to us. In the morning we went out of our barracks and were positioned in a group: the shorter people in front and the taller ones in back. Every morning and every evening we stood outside on the appel platz for counting. There was always someone missing. This enraged the Germans.
I had a friend, Yankel, who was in the camp with me. Back home, Yankel always had trouble getting up in the morning. Here, too, when they woke us up early for tzel, Yankel did not hear the call. When he was found to be missing, they sent guards to search for him. They found Yankel still fast asleep. He was shot and killed on the spot. I felt bad that I didn’t wake him up earlier.
Sometimes I was taken to work. One day I worked in the kitchen peeling potatoes and the next day I was taken to wash laundry. While on my way to my job, a German approached me and requested that I bring him some handkerchiefs from the laundry. A Jewish guard overheard this request and gave me sound advice not to bring anything from the laundry, because if I was caught it would cost me my life — I would be hung.
We remained there for approximately three weeks before we were transferred to the next camp.
Which camp were you taken to?
First we were taught how to march. One day, they gathered together approximately 300 people from this camp. We marched for three weeks until we reached Buna Velke.
Practically every day there was bombing in Buna. At 12 noon we had to run down to the bunker, five floors underground, where we sang Ani Maamin, loud and beautiful. Above us were Germans.
Next to me sat a man who did not sing. One time as we sat there a bombed dropped, shaking the whole eight-story building. Everyone in the bunker shouted Shema Yisrael. The man sitting next to me shouted Shema Yisrael, too, so unbelievably loud! I turned to him and asked, “How is it that Ani Maamin you wouldn’t sing and Shema Yisrael you were screaming?” He started crying and couldn’t be consoled. Finally he answered me: “I am crying for my grandparents, my parents and my siblings who were all killed. In my hometown the Germans came in and shot everyone who was there. Wherever they saw a mezuzah they chased the people out from those homes and murdered them. I don’t know how I got to this bunker. It is for this reason that I am crying.”
When the air raids were over we went back to the factory where we worked. Sometimes our place of work was damaged by the bombs. This was the daily routine for months. As we were skilled workers, our Meister was able to direct us to find a little extra food. Each day I would bring back extra food to the barrack which we sometimes ate and sometimes saved to take down to the bunker during air raids. My father would take some of the extra food to the people in the hospital. In that zechus he survived.
There were signs hanging which read “Schlagen Verboten — Hitting Is Forbidden.” The people who were there two years already explained to us that this camp was considered a Gan Eden compared to what there was. In the beginning they would gather a group of 30 people in the camp, appoint one of them as the kapo and give him instructions: “Of these 30 people, do not bring back more than 20 of them alive.” Sometimes the one appointed as kapo over the group would say, “I can’t do that, it’s my mother, my brothers, my friends…” In such a case, the S.S. took out his gun and shot him. Being that they had difficulty getting people to act as kapos over these groups, they brought over from Germany criminals from the prisons and appointed them as kapos. They had no problem killing innocent people.
At this point they had stopped killing people; they found work for us instead. On a paper was written my number and the information that I was a blacksmith. The first two weeks I was given very heavy, hard work. I had to carry big cylinders of gas up to the eighth floor. Behind me walked a German soldier watching over me carefully. In the event that I would drop it, he would shoot me.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.