Hunger turns men into animals. The will to live is very strong. In Durnau I met two righteous men from my hometown of Munkacs, men known for their noble and saintly characters. We were given crusts of bread which I put behind my back with one hand, and with the other I took the bowl of soup. These two righteous individuals grabbed the bread out of my hand and gobbled it up. They won, I lost. The smallest scrap of food made the difference between life and death.
Yom Kippur arrived. The day before there was no food. I did not eat on Yom Kippur and there was nothing to eat when the fast was over. I went without eating for three days. I went out to work as usual. Anyone too weak to work paid with his life.
We were set up in groups of five according to height. We had five minutes to get ready and stand in the exact place we had been assigned. Anyone who didn’t remember exactly where he stood the last time was taken out and beaten mercilessly.
I was terrified of my kapo. A kapo was usually another prisoner who was in charge of the Jewish laborers. Most often they were cruel and did what they could to make our lives miserable. I once told him that the lice were coming from the dirt and the dirt was sticking to us. He nodded agreement, and then he informed me, “…and for that reason you will be lashed.” He proceeded to hit me brutally until I was in great pain and my condition was very fragile. I did not even know that particular kapo, but after being hit so severely, I can’t forget him. At the same time I must say that one cannot pass judgment on them. They were fighting for their existence in the camps. If they would not have fulfilled their duties they, too, would have been killed. These people had arrived in Auschwitz in 1942 — two years earlier. They had seen every form of torture, from beatings to hangings, and at this point they were immune to human suffering.
Most of our enemies in the camp were Ukrainian. They were worse than the Germans and enjoyed torturing us. Nearby was a house with three floors. They would stand on the steps with sharp knives in their hands. They would have us run up and down the stairs. When we passed by, the knives would stab and cut us. We were forced to run up and down the steps with blood flowing from our wounds. This was a source of amusement for them, and the more we screamed and cried, the more they laughed.
The Germans saw us as a subhuman race; a form of something not connected to any kind of human being. How they enjoyed making us stand naked in the cold outside! They were entertained by the music our teeth played when they chattered in the freezing winter conditions. They laughed and clapped. They were dressed in warm coats, gloves and hats that covered their ears. We were dressed in thin, torn pajamas, our feet and hands exposed to the harsh cold.
One day, while deep in the pit, I could not feel my legs anymore. I just could not climb out. I thought it was the exhaustion and hunger that would not allow me to move my limbs. I knew that if I could not get up and crawl out of the pit, they would shoot and kill me as they had murdered too many others before me. I saw death in front of my eyes.
Above me was a Dutch Jew who became my friend. He said, “Get up, you have to get up. If you want to survive you need to make every effort to climb.” He stretched out his hand and, with supreme effort, he pulled me out. It was very difficult for him to do, but he used every ounce of strength he had left to help me.
Once I was out, he took a look at my leg and discovered a raging infection full of pus. He was a doctor by profession. I cannot recall how he pulled it off but he had two men sit on my leg and two men sit on my hands. He took a knife and cut around the wound, scooping out the pus. I screamed in agony but he continued until he was able to take out a considerable amount of pus. He saved me yet again.
The lice enjoyed sitting on my open wound.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.