In 1942, you were sent to a work camp, while most of your family were deported to Auschwitz. What happened to you?
I was sent from Kishanev to Sosnowiec. We were taken first to a central camp, from which we were sent to various work camps. I was sent to Annenberg. I worked on the roads that the Germans wanted built from Berlin to Lemberg. At this time, my father was still in hiding. Through the Judenrat, he found out where I was and managed to send me some packages of food and even a few sefarim.
In the camp, I befriended a young man who was a carpenter. Each day he was taken to work in a furniture factory outside the camp. One day, I asked him as a favor to mail a letter to my father. He was very reluctant to do it because no communication outside the camp was allowed and he was afraid of being caught. I promised to share with him the next food package that I would receive from my father. He agreed. I wrote my father a letter detailing every part of the day. Shlomo gave the letter to a girl so she could mail it outside the camp. As she was leaving the camp, a German overseer found and confiscated the letter.
Although it was the middle of the day, all workers were ordered to return to the camp. We had to assemble at the center of the camp. The camp commander took out the letter and called out my name. Fortunately, this German had a little compassion and decided that my punishment would be only 50 lashes with a leather whip. A Jewish kapo was assigned to give me my punishment.
When he took me to the washroom for my lashing, I asked him, “I won’t even be able to withstand 10 lashes; what good will it be to you if it kills me?” He had pity on me and told me to scream as if I was getting all 50 lashes, although he only beat me a few times.
On Shabbos, we worked only until 12:00. That Shabbos, I was in the middle of davening Mussaf when I overheard a voice asking in German where I was. I quickly hid my siddur. In came the commander of the work camp, who told me to go with him. He led me to the kitchen and told the cook to give me a double portion of food for a whole week, because I’d survived the 50 lashes.
I remained in Annenberg for six weeks and then I was sent to Laure-Hite. There, the Germans were building factories for the Wehrmacht. Dysentery broke out in the camp and we were told that no one would be going out to work. It happened to be the second day of Rosh Hashanah 1942. We davened with a minyan and we even heard the shofar. In the afternoon, they put us on trucks and took us to Gross-Panow.
Gross-Panow was a work camp but the Germans were afraid to enter it for fear of catching diseases. The very sick inmates were sent to Kozel, another camp, where they were killed and their bodies were burned.
On Yom Kippur, we were able again to daven with a minyan. That Sukkos we made sukkos out of our blankets. For s’chach, we found some branches. After Sukkos, a German doctor came and examined us all. Those of us who were declared healthy were sent to Brande. This was a temporary holding camp. Each day, transports of Jews arrived in Brande, to be sent to various other work camps.
When we arrived in Brande, the guards told us to hand over any money, gold, diamonds or precious items. The Jewish kapos searched through our belongings. When they found people’s valuables, they beat them up so badly that many times the people died.
We were told to shave. I did not want to use a knife, so I managed to get hold of a depilatory powder; it had a terrible smell. When the camp commander got wind of what I’d done, he ordered me to meet him in his office in one hour. I went to the Jewish overseer of the camp, Salik Meller, and told him what had happened.
He told me that he would go to the commander’s office and that I should follow about 10 minutes later, making sure it didn’t seem planned. When I entered the commander’s office, the commander began yelling at me about my crime. Salik Meller spoke up and said he had a good punishment for me — he ordered me to clean the toilets every day when I came back from work and then kicked me out of the commander’s office, yelling at me to disappear. There is no doubt in my mind that he saved my life.
I was sent to Gross-Sarne in Cheshvan 1942. There, we again built roads. We had to walk 15 to 20 kilometers through the snow each day, with torn shoes and only rags to wear. In the morning, before going out to work, we lined up to be counted. One of the commander’s hobbies was to take every 10th Jew and shoot him. Sometimes he would have his dog attack prisoners and we had to watch. We left camp at 5:00 in the morning, after being given some blackened water that they called coffee. After working all day, we would be given one piece of bread and some watery soup.
We returned to the camp at 8:00 in the evening. Every day, we carried back the bodies of those who had frozen or starved to death.
To be continued.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.