In June 1944, you were transferred from the ammunition factory and the camp in Skarzysko-Kamienna and sent to Buchenwald. What happened to you in Buchenwald?
When we got off the train, the German communists offered us each a loaf of bread. We were stunned. Then they asked the Jewish prisoners to turn in the Jewish policemen who had tortured them. These men were taken into Barrack No. 11 and given an injection before being thrown into the crematoria. Meilich Goldberg was one of those Jewish policemen handed over to the Communists.
In the middle of the night, two of these Communists came into the barracks calling my name. They took me into a barrack where they were holding a trial. They had brought me and a Jewish doctor originally from Warsaw to testify for Meilich Goldberg. When they accused him of hurting people, he insisted that he had helped people and since he knew me, he had asked that I be called in as a witness. I told them how Meilich had saved my life and they freed him to go back to the barracks with me.
About two weeks after I arrived home in Radomsk after the war, I met Meilich on the street. I warned him that he should flee far away to a place where there were no survivors, for if someone from Skarzysko-Kamienna to whom he had not been so good noticed him, they could hand him over to the Russians to be sent to Siberia.
How long did you remain in Buchenwald?
We were in Buchenwald for 10 days. We were then divided up onto different transports. My transport was sent to Schlieben in the west of Germany. From there we were again divided up into groups. Some were sent to Theresienstadt. My group of approximately 2,500 people was marched eastward. Eventually, we wound up in Czechoslovakia.
Would you describe the Death March?
We walked for about two and a half weeks. Fewer than 1,000 of us survived. Anyone who couldn’t walk anymore was shot on the spot. The Germans loaded up wagons of food for themselves and we were the horses, pulling the wagons.
We marched until the Germans wanted to rest. Then we stopped. We rested in barns. Sometimes we were given a slice of bread. We had to dig holes in the ground to use as toilets. Anyone who needed to use one had to wait for a guard to escort them.
How were you liberated?
Early one morning while we were on the march, one man went out to use the toilet. He returned to say that there were no Germans in sight. We crept out and saw white sheets hanging from the windows in the town: the Nazis were surrendering.
The only thing on our minds was to find food. We went into the village but it was deserted. Around noon, the Russians began moving in, in great droves from all sides.
The Russians gave us whatever they had. Their doctors warned us not to eat too much for our stomachs would not tolerate it, but many didn’t listen and ended up in the hospital.
I saw four Russian officers standing about, talking. One of them looked familiar. Suddenly he called out to me in Polish.
“Don’t you recognize me?” he asked. He had gone to yeshivah with me. He helped me get food and clothing. He also told me that almost all the Jews in Radomsk had been killed. There were only about 100 survivors.
When I returned home, I found that our house was occupied by Poles. I had to get it back. The woman living in the house gave me some pictures that she had found. A few days later, however, I fled to Czestochowa because the Poles wanted to kill us.
During the years you were in the camps, did you know when it was Shabbos or Yom Tov?
We didn’t know anything. In addition, when a person is starving, he cannot think of anything besides food.
In Skarzysko-Kamienna there was one man whom we called ‘Lange Leibel’ because he was very tall and skinny. He had some torn pages of Tehillim. As we worked preparing ammunition, he would say Tehillim from these pages. Once, a German commander walked in and Lange Leibel didn’t notice him. The commander grabbed away pages and accused him of praying that the Germans should lose the war. He nearly killed him.
Right before the liberation, the Gestapo came into the three sections, A, B and C and made selections. These selections consisted of 400 to 500 people each. These unfortunate people were automatically shot. I was spared but Lange Leibel was not.
What message would you impart to younger generations?
Jews cannot give up! Chazal tell us, “yishuas Hashem kiheref ayin” — help can come in a blink of an eye. I saw this myself: overnight, the Germans disappeared and the Russians came.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.