Rabbi Leibish Adler (Part VI)

For how long did you remain in Auschwitz?

After having the lice sit on my open wound, I felt very sick and went to the hospital in Durnau. The doctor took one look at me and warned, “Leave as fast as you can. If you stay here one more hour, they will kill you.” Feeling sick and miserable, I dragged myself out, and left. I learned that any sick person who reached the so-called clinic in Durnau and remained there for 24 hours was taken out to be shot.

Ninety percent of those who arrived at the Durnau camp died there. People died all around me every day from lethal blows, fatal illnesses that spread from unsanitary conditions in the camp, hangings and gunshots. The bodies were tossed into the river or fed to the dogs or disposed of just about anywhere. I tried not to look. Ten percent survived, and I was among them. I was lucky to be strong and kept going.

One day, we were digging very deep pits. A man working beside me was working frenziedly. He was about 40 years old and desperate to prove his usefulness. I suggested that he rest for a few minutes because there was no way he could continue at the pace he had set. He did not listen. He was afraid of the blows he would get if he slowed down. Suddenly he fell on his back and died.

Another time, a prisoner found a frozen piece of potato. The Germans spotted him crouching and devouring it. We were called together and forced to stand in rows in front of him in our usual formation to watch how they carried out his punishment and hanged him. Any of us who tried to turn his head or close his eyes to block out the terrible sight was rewarded with blows raining down on his head. We were warned that anyone who did not watch would be hanged together with the prisoner in front of us.

One of the prisoners tried to escape from the camp. There was no problem catching him. They stood him in the special hanging place and hanged him. However, he did not die right away; it took several tries to kill him. He was a Jew who believed in G-d and was not afraid to die. At the final hanging that killed him, he called out to us, “Breeder, nemt nekamah! Brothers, take revenge!”

A young man was whipped by a kapo who beat him with 10 murderous lashes. I happened to be standing next to him and I felt that I couldn’t bear it even one minute longer. I almost fainted. The kapo approached me and snarled, “Now it’s your turn to hit him.” I refused.

He told me that if I did not hit him, I would be whipped in his place, and that is what happened. He began to beat me mercilessly with the whip. It took me a very long time to recover. I suffered excruciating pain from the lacerations and could not lie on my back.

Luckily I was young and had a driving will to live. I survived the blows, the hunger and the cold. So many people did not survive the lashings they endured.

Can you tell us about liberation?

On May 1, a prisoner came into the camp and announced that we were free. The Russians were in the vicinity and the Germans were withdrawing. We started to sing and dance. Suddenly, German guards burst in and began screaming that anyone who did not get back into the barracks would be shot. On the 8th of May, when the Russians actually came, no one was there to greet them because we didn’t believe it was true.

Before the Germans left the camp they rounded up the prisoners for a final march. The kind Dutch doctor who had befriended me tried to convince me to come along on the march. I was unable to get myself to march out due to the pain in my leg that remained from the surgery. I felt sick and later was informed that I was suffering from typhus.

Later, I heard that all those who were marched out were brutally slaughtered by the Germans, including my good friend the Dutch doctor, who so wanted to help me.

I was very sick with high fever when the Russians arrived. The pain in my leg and typhus gripped me with full force. In came a Russian officer who tapped me on the shoulder. She told me she was a Jew who was serving in the Russian army. She gave me her rifle and said, “Take my gun and go get revenge on the Germans.”

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.