Yisroel Dovid (Julian) Rosner (Part V)

Can you tell us about your trip from the ghetto to Auschwitz?

In August of 1944, 150 humans were crushed together in one cattle car. We weren’t given anything to eat or drink for a few days. By now we had heard all about the gas showers, and we knew all too well what was about to happen.

What greeted you upon your arrival in Auschwitz?

At 5:00 in the morning we arrived at Auschwitz. As soon as we disembarked from the train, we were shown two nooses with people hanging from them; and we were told: “Hand over all your valuables. Anyone caught with money or jewelry will be hanged as well.”

There was a boy there from a family who I knew from our hometown. I offered to share my money with him, but he refused it, he was afraid. I took an empty bottle that was lying around, and I filled it with the money and threw it away.

A big welcoming sign read: “Arbeit Macht Frei” — work makes you free. A beautiful band of 50 players was playing their instruments nearby. After seeing this, no one would have believed what was awaiting us.

When the Hungarians arrived later, they couldn’t believe what they saw. We had been through the horrors of the ghetto already and we were worn out. The Hungarians were living a relatively normal life, so for them this was a tremendous shock.

Upon arrival, we were sent to a room to disinfect ourselves. Our hair was shaved by Jewish-Polish prisoners and they informed us to leave everything, for we wouldn’t be needing anything anymore. We understood that our end was near.

At this point Mengele stood there watching closely. A few hundred people were immediately sent to the gas chambers. We were tattooed with a number. For five years I was called by a number, not a name — 8285. My brother, who was two years younger than I, stood in front of me and was known as 8284. The same scenario repeated itself, day after day after day in Auschwitz.

When Mengele finished with us, he went to the women’s camp, which was divided from us by barbed wire. Those who had children had to give them up or join them on their journey to the crematorium. Every woman was shaved and given the striped clothing to wear.

After two weeks, selections were being made. We knew we had to get away from Auschwitz. We smelled the burning flesh from the nearby crematoriums, and we realized that if we would not get away it wouldn’t be long before it would be our flesh that would be burned. We didn’t know which barrack would be liquidated next.

My brother and I were chosen to work in Gleibitz 1. (There were three camps: Gleibitz 1, 2 and 3.) I was put into the mine factory. There was a German political prisoner watching over us. I recall him vividly: Mr. Karl — a big, six-foot-tall man. Although he was very harsh, he was a prisoner himself. He warned me not to allow the oil on the machine to get too low, for the machine would break and, in turn, I would be shot.

We walked to Gleibitz and slept in that camp overnight. The next morning, the overseer stood at the gate choosing people. I was picked, but he didn’t allow my brother to come along with me because he looked too weak. Two hundred people were chosen, and we marched for a long while before arriving in the next camp, which was Buchenwald. Conditions in Buchenwald were really bad. People all around us were falling from sickness. There were S.S. swarming the area all day, barking instructions.

What were the living conditions in Buchenwald?

We slept on bunk beds with one cover to share amongst eight people. We had to remove our shoes at night and leave them near the bed. During the night they were usually stolen. I didn’t want to lose my shoes, so I tried to sleep with them. Once a day we were given a coffee and a slice of bread. Early in the morning there was tzel apel. We stood outside all day, until evening arrived, and they allowed us back into the barracks.

Selections were made again, and we were taken to Bisinger. Here we were given the job of cleaning swamps and drying them out. We remained here for just two or three weeks before being sent to Dachau.

Dachau was the worst camp of all. People were lying around on the floors, sick with typhus. Again, the food consisted of one slice of bread and some coffee for the day. And then the order came; the camp had to be liquidated. They lined up 5,000 men and 5,000 women, onto cattle trains. We were being sent to the Bavarian mountains, where there were explosives.

to be continued


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.