Rabbi Hersh Meir Lichtig (Part II)

When you were still home in Sosnowiec, did you know what was happening in other parts of Poland and Europe?

We didn’t know anything. We weren’t even allowed to have a radio to hear the news. Some people smuggled in a radio under penalty of death. Everything was death. After we were in the camps already, we knew about the war in Russia. We were very hurt by it. Town after town was falling into their hands — the Ukraine, Lithuania and parts of Hungary.

Can you describe how you were separated from your family?

At the end of 1940, they started to register the Jews. It was right after Sukkos. I was called to present myself to the center of town, where they were rounding up the Jews. We were going to be sent away to labor camps. This was different from the concentration camps. There was barbed wire but it was not electrified.

I packed my tefillin, a few sefarim and a few shirts. I took along a little food too — some cakes and cookies.

I went in to gezegen zich with my father. I can remember it like it happened today, even though it’s more than sixty-five years ago. He was sitting in a room, with all the little kids around him. The tiny ones didn’t realize exactly what was going on, but you could see in their eyes that they knew something was wrong — they were smart kids.

My mouth was dry. I couldn’t find my voice to speak. I looked at my father and he looked at me. Then he started to speak. He said to me, “My son, what will be with us I don’t know. You will be saved. Remember — when you come out of this Gehinnom — to remain an ehrliche Yid. You’ll get married and have children. If you ever have a chance to influence others, you should do it.”

I was so emotional. In a case like this, I should have run over to him to hug him and give him a kiss, but I couldn’t move. We looked at one another. I waved to him and walked out. After that, I never saw him again.

To where were you transported?

We were transported by bus — they were like school buses. They took us to the labor camps in Germany. At this point, it was still a little mentchlich. We were given rooms. There were 2 to 4 boys on a bunk bed. The food that we were given was not too bad yet.

What type of work were you forced to do?

The work was very harsh in this place, which was called Markstadt. We worked in the forest. The trees had already been cut down. The stumps remained in the earth, and we had to remove the stumps. I had never in my life held a pick or a shovel in my hand. My hands were full of blisters, but we learned very fast how to do it and in no time, we became very good workers.

Then came the winter of 1940. The snow started and you couldn’t work in the forests anymore. Instead, we were told to clear the highways of snow. When springtime came, we went back to working in the forests. I worked there for one and a half years, until the beginning of 1942.

What were Shabbos and Yom Tov like?

We tried hard not to violate the av melachos. We tried to do the least work possible.

I had smuggled into Markstadt a pair of tefillin. I was able to put on tefillin almost until the death march started. How was this possible? I worked in one area basically the whole time — until the beginning of 1945. They changed the name of the place. First it was called Markstadt and then it became Heiffinif teichen. Markstadt was a lager — a labor camp, then it became a concentration camp. In this place they had built tremendous weapons factories. The Germans — this rasha with his band of murderers — had intentions of conquering the whole world.

to be continued…

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.

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