When the day was over, I went back to the barrack and I was overjoyed to see my father. When I arrived at work on the following day I was greeted by S.S. officers. They were actually waiting for me; they had been told by the man who had snitched on us that I was the one bringing the materials. They demanded to see where I was getting the materials from. I tried convincing them that the place where the materials are kept was muddy and their shiny shoes would get dirty. However, they were not fazed. I began walking them out. We walked for about 10 minutes and at exactly the moment we arrived, a truck full of materials showed up and emptied out a whole load of sheet metal onto a pile of garbage. I calmly showed them all the metal and explained that this was where we were getting all the material. He said to me, “This is garbage; this is nothing.”
He ordered me to bring a piece of metal back to the factory so that they could see how we make the bowls. I gave it to my father and told him to quickly create a dish. The officer was very surprised at the skills my father demonstrated. All this convinced them that we were not dealing with sabotage.
It was Rosh Hashanah. About 400 prisoners gathered together. One of the Rabbanim got ready to blow the shofar we had smuggled in. It was quite a miracle that no one from the S.S. was around. The Chuster Rav said, “Min hameitzar karasi Kah…” real loudly; everyone present began to cry. The Rav blew the shofar once and then sent everyone back to work. He feared that we would be caught. We did not blow the shofar again and the incident was forgotten.
Each barrack had two workers. The first one distributed food while the other wrote down each person’s number. The night of Yom Kippur they found one man who was a chazzan. Another ehrliche talmid chacham said he would say the words by heart while the first one sang. Kol Nidrei was beautiful, just as if it was in a big shul. A davening like this couldn’t be matched.
It was already fall and the weather was getting cool. There was a lot of rain. In order to keep warm, people took cement bags cut out like a vest and put it under their jackets. The S.S. found out and made them remove the vests. This did not deter them from creating new ones.
It was Chanukah time when word spread that the Russians were coming and we would have to somehow escape. It was the sixth night of Chanukah when a Bobover Chassid lit the menorah and began singing Maoz Tzur; it was beautiful. Years later, in Williamsburg, I heard a man singing and recognized the voice. Sure enough, I was right; it was the same man who had sung for us in the camps.
Did you walk in the death march?
We remained in this camp a few more weeks before the Russians arrived. On Thursday, January 18, 1945, around lunchtime, we were each given a woolen blanket (which saved my life) and two loaves of bread. While the weather outside was stormy, we began walking. Whoever couldn’t walk or fell down was shot to death.
We walked and we walked until we arrived on Friday at the entrance to a big, beautiful farm. We stopped because the German Wehrmacht were very tired and needed to rest. The guards warned us against hiding in the haystacks. They promised to pierce the haystacks with their bayonets and kill anyone who decided to try and hide.
After a short while the Germans ordered everyone out of the barn. Had they followed the typical procedure, they would have burned down the whole farm; however, it belonged to a German so they left it intact.
We continued walking for a short time before three S.S. soldiers appeared and split the group, just a few feet from where I was standing. The group behind me, consisting of 3,000 people, was taken to the forest where they were all shot.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.