Can you share with us some stories that you heard while in the concentration camp with the Klausenburger Rebbe?
I was together with the Klausenburger Rebbe in the camps. I was only a 16-year-old kid. One time the kapo appointed me to be the aufseher (overseer) of 10 people. My group was supposed to bring straw from one Waldlager (forest camp) to another Waldlager. One of the 10 people was the Klausenburger Rebbe. At the time I realized that he was [a] Rebbe but I didn’t know it was the Klausenburger Rebbe. These were the words I said to him: “I hear that you are ‘some’ Rebbe, so let’s change positions; you will be the aufseher and I will be the carrier.” The Rebbe was very happy about this arrangement.
Some people were trying to obtain easier work for the Klausenburger Rebbe. Those who knew he was a Rebbe tried to speak with higher ranking officers on his behalf. One of the jobs that was available was known as Stubenälteste (room elder). The Rebbe was offered that job but was informed that as a Stubenälteste he would be required to hit people for not doing what they were supposed to be doing. The Rebbe immediately gave up his opportunity for an easier job.
Can you tell us about the days leading up to the liberation, and the actual liberation?
We began noticing that the SS seemed very nervous, pacing back and forth. We also realized that there seemed to be more regular activity as opposed to constant bombing. In addition, they stopped taking us to work. Normally there were German soldiers standing guard, but we began noticing that the guards were not wearing the typical SS uniform. They were Ukrainian soldiers. The Ukrainian soldiers did not like being part of Russia, and they were only too happy to be given the opportunity to kill Jews.
Rumors began circulating that we were going to be taken to the Ural Mountains [in Russia], where they would shoot us. Sure enough, they marched us to the train station where they put us into cattle wagons again. After a few days of being locked in the cattle wagons, the Americans began shooting at us. The Ukrainian soldiers ran away for fear of being killed and so we were free to run.
We were tired, hungry and full of lice, but we went in search of food. (It is interesting to note that the Klausenburger Rebbe, who was also on this transport, told his followers not to disembark but rather to stay on. He was afraid it was some sort of trick.) We came to a house that must have been a candy store, for outside there were discarded containers in which small pieces of candy were left. We fought over every little bit. We helped ourselves to whatever was available. After an hour the Ukrainian soldiers reappeared and chased us back into the cattle cars.
Finally the wagons stopped at night at a train station in Tutzing [in Germany]. It was discovered that the soldiers had disappeared again, and we were free. There were three of us who kept together; we walked out of the train station with the assumption that the war was over. It was late at night when we passed a tavern. We looked inside and saw that seated there were soldiers singing German songs and drinking beer; we quickly continued on. We located an empty house to sleep in. In the morning we left and continued on our way.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.