For how long did you walk in the death march?
We walked until the beginning of March. These were the hardest months. We walked in the heavy snow without any rest. I pushed myself. I told myself, “I’m holding onto life.” Anyone who showed that he was weak was shot on the spot. I was very light, so I didn’t need much to sustain me. I kept warm with the blankets. We walked for over a month in these terrible conditions.
Suddenly we came to a railroad station. This time we were loaded into “open” cattle cars — this had a ma’alah and a chisaron. The ma’alah was that you could stick out your tongue and wet your mouth from the snow. Of course, the chisaron was that at night we would freeze. We would take our blankets and put them over the whole cattle car. In the morning, the blankets were so heavy with snow and ice that it was so hard to get them off — the snow had frozen.
At this point, it was the end of March, 1945, and the Russians were moving in. This was the beginning of our liberation. The Americans were almost 100 kilometers from Berlin. As we passed by, people threw bread and other things into our cattle cars. Across the street were other cattle cars full of Yidden. What did I hear — and this still rings in my ears today: “Water … water … water … water … water … water … water.” Unfortunately, these people couldn’t hold out any longer. Many times we had dead bodies in the cattle cars.
The cattle cars stopped at the last camp — Camp Avenze. This camp was meant to finish us off. Again, we were told to undress. We stood outside in the freezing cold, without any clothes, for 7 or 8 hours. Then we were told to take a bath with cold water. At this point they wanted to make sure that if anyone still had anything hidden away — a siddur, tefillin — it would be dumped out. Then they gave us new clothes. Some got big pants, some got small jackets. Later on, we traded amongst ourselves to get the right sizes.
In this camp, the work was unreal. We had to chisel away at stones to make a tunnel. Now there was no she’eilah of tefillin, mir haben shoen nisht gevust de numen alein, We didn’t even know our names anymore.
One good thing was that I met my wife’s brother in this camp.
When did you begin to experience liberation?
We were in the last camp at Avenze. The work there was unbelievably hard. I tried my hardest not to catch the attention of any of the Kapos. There were other inmates in Avenze aside from Jews. There were Russians, Ukrainians. There were about 50,000 people.
Suddenly, on May 2 or 3, a few days before we were liberated on May 6, the S.S. Commander stood up on a high place with a mike in his hand and started to give a big speech. What he said still rings in my ears very clearly: “The tunnels that you built are in order to save your lives.” Suddenly he had rachmanus on us! He continued to “advise us” to go into the tunnels, because there would be horrible battles in the camp between the English and the Russians.
As he was speaking, there were whispers from one inmate to another. “Whatever he says, we should all say NO! — M’zol zugen nein.” Nein means “no.” Can you imagine fifty-thousand people giving a thundering Nein?! I couldn’t believe it. It never entered our minds before, to say “no” to a German.
Now the camp guards were all escaping. The Russians were killing all those Kapos and S.S. who remained. They threw them into a body of water nearby.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.