Professor of medicine at the University of Strasbourg.
For the first time I will deal with a subject beyond my professional occupation, and I do so with hesitation. I am not a skilled narrator, nor an author, politician or a publisher. I am a biologist and physician. I accepted the request of the Société des Etudes Germaniques to write a report about the Nazi's concentration camps because I realized that I can reach German teachers of the different school levels this way. These teachers will be responsible for what will be taught about the Germans and Germany in the years to come. For this reason I thought it to be useful, if I express my thoughts and reflections about the Nazi's concentration camps in a most objective manner. I am quite aware of the numerous dangers inherent in such a project and I would like to avoid the misunderstandings unavoidable when dealing with a topic of such burning authenticity. So I will try to keep being inspired by the following words of Thukydides while telling my story: »When I am talking about incidents, I will not only be satisfied with writing them down the way the first to come told me about them, nor the way they seemed to be, but I took care to make sure of all the facts related to these incidents, even of those I witnessed myself. I tried to be painstakingly precise while doing so, as witnesses usually do not tell the same version about something that happened. The reports of witnesses differ considerably due to the vagary of memory or perception. Maybe, my report will be read with less delight because I left out the fantasy. Nevertheless, I am content if my report is considered to be useful by those who want to know the truth about the past in order to draw conclusions if similar incidents will repeat in the future due to the human nature.« (Thukydides, The Peloponnesian War, Book I, XXII).
What I will report is the testimony of an eyewitness, and I am perfectly clear about the weak points of such testimonies. I will try to keep from telling about memories touching my soul in order to avoid the suspicion I tried to promote myself as the main actor in order to solicit compassion. Such memories, regardless if comfortable or painful, have no use at all except for close friends. Beyond, a certain amount of restraint should be obeyed in order to take care of the feelings of our close relatives. So I won't focus on reports about cruel or shocking scenes; other reports about the camps did so enough sufficiently. Not that there had not been such scenes. Though they are sad reality, they only reveal one particular aspect of the life in the camps. And their presentation only satisfies the sadistic inquisitiveness of the broad public leaving the real problems untouched. This is why I would like to deal with the organization of the camps in general, as its intended perfection stresses the horror and the dangers of these facilities set up for mass extermination. I will describe the camps Auschwitz, Groß-Rosen and Buchenwald which I experienced personally, one after another. I will try to compare them with each other, as there were fundamental differences between these camps, not only regarding the technical facilities of the camps, but regarding the state of mind of their inmates as well. Whenever I will have to abandon the purely descriptive scheme and comment on events, because I have no explanation for them, I will do my very best to find plausible interpretations. In addition, I will try to relinquish personal emotions, as they would cause me pain without compare. And as soon as the reader or listener is touched by the grief or the pain of an author, he will be incapable of understanding the full significance of the story being told. And this is the kind of understanding necessary to prevent the repetition of such disaster. To put it short: As a scientist, I will try to stay in touch with my professional pattern, which requires facts to be revealed in the clearest way available before starting with interpretations.
Maybe, these preliminary methodological and narrative precautions appear to be superfluous. And maybe they cannot prevent certain reactions this article may be giving rise to. In this case, it may be taken as a sign for the spirit of good will, in which I wrote it.
The name »Auschwitz« does not refer to one single camp but to a group of camps of varying importance all of which depended to Auschwitz I, which was known as »Auschwitz Stammlager« as well. The latter was situated at a distance of about four kilometers from the city of Auschwitz (Oswieciem) which is pretty close to the famous »Dreikaisereck«, where the borderlines of the empires of Austria Hungary, Russia and Germany met before 1914. Personally, I was interned in Auschwitz I, and all descriptions I will give are not valid but for this camp. For this reason, they will considerably differ from those of other authors which actually relate to other camps like Birkenau (Auschwitz II) or Monowitz (Auschwitz III). Numerous minor camps were affiliated to this central camp, like Birkenau, Monowitz, Fürstengrube, Gleiwitz, Kattowitz, Zator and Laurahütte, to mention only the ones of major importance. Locating these camps on a map reveals, that the camp of Auschwitz spanned an area with a diameter of about 120 kilometers, which is the average size of a French county. It has to be explained, that in the near surroundings of Auschwitz there were the not less renowned and not less sinister extermination camps Lublin, Majdanek and Treblinka. The camp complex of Auschwitz held about 150 000 inmates, according to various records. In Auschwitz I, there lived an average of 15,000 to 18,000 prisoners; in spite of the continuos movement of prisoners according to my perception this number was more or less stable due to transportations to other concentration camps and because of selections and murders immediately after arrival. I saw a plan of the cell blocks in the camp complex of Auschwitz one day at the office in Raisko, revealing the substantial importance of Auschwitz I. It showed a whole set of facilities and works some of which were already totally or partly finished. Others would never be completed. Regarding these facts, Auschwitz was something completely different from what one associates with a concentration camp. Indeed something completely different from an area surrounded by electrically charged fences in which prisoners are held to kill them. Auschwitz was a titanic enterprise with industrial facilities of all kind: mines, depots, farms, departments for laying electric cables, for draining and canalization. There were streets, barracks for the SS troops, hospitals, sanitary installations, the actual camp blocks and last but not least the famous gassing chambers and crematories which imparted Auschwitz its unique fame.
Before I will proceed to describe the everyday life of the inmates at Auschwitz I, I will tell the story of my arrival at Birkenau. This story immediately aims at the most important point: The mass exterminations and the point of view about these widespread between the inmates.
At the time of my arrival, the railroad transports to Birkenau arrived at a platform specially designed for this purpose, which was located at a distance of only a few meters from the gassing chambers and the crematories.
Immediately after our arrival on June 2nd, 1944, we were hustled about in a most brutal way by inmates and SS-officials after the wagons had been opened, to make us leave the wagons as fast as possible, leaving our luggage behind. A young SS-doctor asked me in perfect French, where the reserve of medicaments was to be found and he inquired for infective diseases. Then, we were pushed to the platform with clubfoots to our arms and legs. On one side, the patients from the sick wagons were gathered as a group. I never ever should see one of them again, nor hear any news about one of them: »vanished on arrival«. Then, men and women were separated. Trying to describe the resulting scenes makes no sense. Thereafter we passed a SS-doctor, who ruled us by gestures with his baton to a group on the right or the left, respectively. Having already been assigned to one of these groups, I was ordered to the other group with a harsh "To the other side!" because of a non-commissioned officer's remark »Such a young man«. I mention this detail to illustrate the cursory way these selections were performed. Within one hour, two groups of people had been formed this way. I recall, that on the one side there were predominantly old and weak men. The other group, with me in it, consisted of young and tough men. We assumed, that we would be obliged to hard work, which seemed to be a plausible explanation to us. During my time in prison I had experienced working hard to be better, as one received better nourishment. I saw some good friends within the group of the weak, and after having exchanged a few words with them, we were separated. The fact, that my miserable comrades were gassed and cremated immediately after our arrival did not occur to me at once, but step by step and after months.
On our transport from Drancy to Auschwitz I had been responsible for one of the three ambulance wagons. The main difference between these ambulance wagons and the other cattle wagons was, that they were equipped with some mattresses and water tanks, which we could refill at certain stations. In addition, there was such a huge reserve of medicaments, that even the longest travel could not have explained it. The deported in my wagon mainly consisted of old and sick men. One had not considered it to be necessary to tell me their diagnosis at our departure in Drancy. On the transport some people, who fell ill, joined my wagon. So me and my colleagues had to give more and more medical assistance during the transport. We could not foresee, what would be the fate of our patients. Finally, out of these three wagons only three persons survived: the medical staff. All other inmates of our wagon vanished on arrival. I will try to render the term »vanished on arrival« more precise by describing the process of arrival itself, a procedure that had occurred thousand fold on this haunted platform and the significance and sinister sternness of which we could not understand but a long time later. The newcomers were uncertain about the disembarkment followed by choosing being a process of selection and extermination in reality.
About two hundred men were left. We were drawn up to lines of five and marched by foot to the camp of Auschwitz I, which was located about 4 kilometers from the platform in Birkenau, thereby passing the famous inscription »work liberates«. I had a rather good impression of the camp. The blocks were buildings of stone with several floors and the streets were very clean. This impression changed to surprise, when we were guided along the blocks of the prisoner's hospital (»Häftlings-Krankenbau« or H.K.B.). Should it be possible, that there was a hospital with special departments according to the state of art of medicine in a camp, whose sinister fame was known to the whole world by radio broadcasts? Lined up in front of the ambulance, we were met by a camp doctor who twice called upon those prisoners who did not feel well to step forth. His request in German was translated to several languages by an interpreter. About twenty of my comrades, who possibly supposed themselves on the barrack yard or were seduced by the hospital buildings, stepped forth. They left the camp in an ambulance car with the sign of the red cross. I never ever met one of them again, and I never heard one of their names mentioned: »vanished on arrival«. Now we were taken with all our belongings without giving the trouble to draw up lists. Our belongings were sorted and piled on heaps which were designed to enter the »canadas«: gigantic deposits of things stolen from the newcomers. At this time we were deprived of our personal documents, which were destroyed. From this very moment on, we had no identity, no personality and no legal shelter of any kind anymore, neither within the camp, nor anywhere else on the world. Hence, we became nothing but a number: the famous prisoner number, and there was no time wasted to have it tattooed on our left forearms. After that, we were deprived of all of our clothes and shaved all over the body, hence guided to the showers and finally equipped with the striped clothing, which had impressed and alarmed us in such a vivid way while approaching the camp. Obeying an old tradition, we newcomers were given the most ragged clothes which marked us as such for the next weeks and imposed the jokes and contempt of the established inmates on us. Finally, we were brought to block 17, were the Polish chief of the block (»Blockältester«) gave a rather harsh speech to us in German and French. He told us to better free ourselves from the misbelieve to be in a barrack, where disregarding the rules leads to more or less harsh punishment and that every negligence and every mistake would in the end lead to a unique kind of punishment in Auschwitz: death.
On the first evening we were visited by established French prisoners, most of whom were doctors. They were permitted to enter all blocks including the quarantine blocks prohibited to the other prisoners as they wore special badges. These comrades came to hear news from France and they all asked the same impatient question: »How many were you on arrival and how many are left?« As far as I can remember we were about 1 200 when we left Drancy, about 500 men, 200 of which were left and brought to Auschwitz I after the selection on the platform. When we told the established prisoners, that we had left the other men, women and children behind in Birkenau, some of them broke out in a laughter, while others didn't say a word. Following our burning questions, some of them initiated us in the horrible secret of the camp: mass gassings and cremations immediately after arrival. One of the French inmates plainly told me that those we suggested left in Birkenau, had gone to heaven long ago in reality. Another one begged me not to believe a single word of this pessimistic gossip (a long time later he told me, that he did so because of pity for us, because he did not want to face us new-comers with the truth and because he himself did not want to believe it). I did not know, what to think about this. I was lucky enough to have come to Auschwitz alone, but my miserable comrades, who came here with their wives and children and had left them behind on the platform in Birkenau, started to worry and were frustrated: Was that true or not, what should they believe and what not? For the following weeks and months, these questions would be the subject of vivid debates, in which special words were used, as speaking about gassing chambers, gassings and crematories was forbidden by death penalty. Among the French, this extermination works was called »the pipe, the stew pan, the chimney«. After a while we used a special gesture in conjunction with a special miming, leaving no doubt about the fate of an individual, a group or a whole transport: We looked to the sky lifting our right index finger at the same time, telling the initiates as much as what was called »forlorn hope« within the camp.
And this is how I learned about the truth: Three weeks after my arrival in the camp the great rabbi of Straßburg, who was in the camp since February 1944, showed me a letter from his wife. Being chosen in a selection, she could manage to write him this letter immediately before she made her way into the gassing chamber. This way, I had learned that there were selections within the camp. But I was not yet convinced about the reality of mass gassings immediately after the arrival of transports. Since 1936 I knew, that incurable patients were killed by intravenous injections of poison in German hospitals, especially in asylums. And there was no plausible reason to assume, that this procedure considered as legal in Hitler's Germany wasn't applied in the hospital of Auschwitz.
Pretty early, we heard about one or the other, who had disagreed with having himself hospitalized, and we knew, that one could vanish by surprise on the occasion of a selection. But even in the knowledge of these facts and in spite of the malicious statements of the established inmates the massive gassing of whole convoys immediately after arrival was not certain reality to us. Through secret channels we received messages from young women and girls of our transport, who we had left on the platform at Birkenau, which reinforced our doubts. Indeed, it struck me pretty soon, that we never received any message from old men, women with children or old women we had left behind on the very same platform. Was it true? Was it untrue? Personally, I started to believe that it was true. But my comrades, who had been separated from their families in Birkenau, clinged to the sparse news we received and the hope, that women and children would have been brought to a special camp for families not accessible to our secret messengers. We had heard about such a camp, where there was supposed to be a kindergarten where the children were fed with milk and butter cake. Such almost incredible rumors temporarily soothed the fears of my comrades. There really had been that mythical camp for children, as there had been gassings of children in Birkenau. I had to learn this crazy truth from an old Kapo from Birkenau, who had been an witness to first hand.
The last Saturday of June 1944, chamber 8 of Block 28 saw two newcomers who should perplex me and my colleagues. Two Czechs had been brought from Birkenau by a SS-doctor in his car. Various reports reaching us from the neighbor camp suggested, that these two Czechs had escaped death due to the intervention of this SS-doctor while the whole Czech family camp had been exterminated by gassing this day. One of them was a university lecturer for psychiatry, the other one servant at the autopsy of the German university at Prague. The latter, suffering from epilepsy, depended on my services to clandestinely get sedatives. In return, he opened his heart to me and told me various stories about Theresienstadt and Birkenau during phases of confusion and stung with remorse, which I could have let confirmed by the psychiatrist. This servant had occupied a very privileged position in Theresienstadt, as he held the office of the hangman. He told me, that he had to execute 13 of his comrades one day. He had managed to get the favor granted to perform this dreadful work in a cell instead of the open public, as prescribed by the camp rules. For some time, he had been the Kapo of Birkenau, where he was in the repute of great brutality, before he was transferred to the Czech family camp. According to the rumors, there was a school, were the children were fed with specially chosen nourishment. And exactly these children had been murdered on this last Saturday in June 1944. Other inmates told me, that this sinister person had taken care of the children in an admirable way, hence had been adored by them and wore the nick-name »Napoleon of the children«.
It was him who gave me a detailed description of the selections on the platform in Birkenau, and he precisely described the gassing chambers and the crematories, which he knew from the inside, to me. To only mention the most important of all of this here: Those condemned to vanish in the course of a selection on the platform had not the slightest doubt about what they would face. After they had been deprived of all their belongings, they received a towel and a piece of soap and guided them to a special building wearing the inscription »bath«. Once in these showers, they were exposed to hydrocyanic gas, which was set free by a special product, Zyklon B, which normally is used for the control of rats on ships. They must have died a quick death. Afterwards, the corpses were immediately burned in a rather modern, perfect crematory. The work of the removal of the corpses and later the remains of the crematories was done by a special command of inmates, who had a lot of material privileges, but were often exchanged and exterminated themselves.
That man from Prague also told me, that the number of those being selected after arrival varied considerably from one train to the other; he himself had totaled convoys, coming from France and the Netherlands in autumn 1943, seen vanishing. During the week preceding his transfer to our camp he had noticed the massive extermination of certain convoys coming from Hungary. This story was in agreement with the delivery of masses of Hungarian artificial limbs we daily had to sort at the drugstore, where I was working at this time. Considering the numbers of those artificial limbs we received in one week we estimated the number of people gassed per day to have been as high as about 8,000 to 10,000 per day for some periods. This number, which appeared confusing to us, revealed to be correct later in the course of different trials against war criminals. Based on the collected oral reports of this servant from Prague, which were confirmed by several other hints, there is no reasonable doubt to me: a systematic extermination of a certain number of new-comers fixed in advance was performed. We came to the conclusion, that only the Jews were treated that way. According to my experience, there was not a single convoy of Aryans ever submitted to a selection. Although I meanwhile had been convinced of these incidents being reality, I pretended not to believe these »horror stories«, as I could calm down and cheer up numerous of my comrades. If there is somebody who returned to France as well reading these lines, he now knows about my real thoughts.
Another procedure of massive and summary extermination were the selections inside the camps performed by special »commissions«, the unmasked purpose of which was the annihilation of sick inmates or those unfit for work. Every four or six weeks, such a »commission« passed through all of the departments of the hospital having the physicians present the patients to them jotting down a certain number of them. Those patients were summoned the same day or some days later and brought out of the camps with lorries. Due to hints of comrades working in the central laundry we knew, if the clothes of those patients had been delivered there or not. If delivered the same day, it was the confirmation to us, that they had been gassed and cremated. Sometimes, these selections were performed under strange circumstances in order to disturb us. Sometimes only a very small number of really incurable patients was chosen. On other occasions, there was certain lag between the the commission's inspection and the consequences. Once there were no patients selected for execution at all. Another time, the eldest of the camp (»Lagerältester«) was finally - in order to calm the camp - charged to join the transport to Birkenau, to convince him, that the selected inmates were in fact brought to a recovery camp. Following the testimonies of comrades in Buchenwald and Dora, the procedure with sick inmates was definitively the same in other camps. They were sent to die in so called recovery camps like Bergen-Belsen.
The greatest and most cruel measure taken, which I personally experienced, took place in the last days of September, 1944. It took such a special turn, that numerous comrades even doubted that it was a selection. On one evening, fresh SS-troops arrived at the camp, which always had to be considered a bad omen. In the depth of the night, they made all of the inmates of two blocks stand up and divided them into two groups, making them go to bed hereafter. In the following days, all blocks except the hospital were subject to the same procedure. As the selected inmates were allowed to stay in their blocks and the work took its usual way, the rumors started in the camp. The optimists were convinced that it was one of the usual registering, which we had to submit to in periodical intervals. The pessimists were sure, that all these confusing measures would sooner or later lead to a general massacre. In the hospital, the arrival of a commission had been expected for about fourteen days and the physicians did all they could to have the rooms emptied. While trying so, they had to fight against the camp physician Dr. Klein, who should come into prominence in the trial of Lüneburg and who prolonged numerous hospitalizations for a sufficient time. Now, we were surprised by an unexpected hit: all those dismissed from the hospital were killed, which in the first line alarmed the pessimists with me among them. Hence, those selected in the last days were called to an appeal and ordered to gather at block ten, the quarantine block. They received supplies for a march and the officials tried to spread the news, that they were to be brought to another camp with less harsh conditions in anticipation to the planned total evacuation of the camp because of the advance of Russian troops who stood at Tarnov at the moment. On Saturday evening, some dismissals from the hospital were approved, but those who were allowed to leave the hospital did not return to their innate places in the camp but were sent to the quarantine block. Two days of irritation and waiting followed. On Thursday evening, October 2nd, the route column of the selected left the quarantine block and the camp. We never were able to find the slightest trace of any of the comrades leaving the camp with this transport, in spite of the totally contradictional rumors about its estination, which presumably had been set by the officials. Immediately before the marching off, the Aryans and the expert workers from some metallurgical and laboratorial commands had been taken out of the squad. Due to the unusual nonchalant attitude of the inmates working at the central laundry, we didn't find out, if their belongings were delivered in the course of the day. The morning of the following day saw the crucial event of this sinister week, which left us beyond all doubt. All patients that had been hospitalized for more than eight days had been selected after looking over their medical records by the commission which had taken possession of the central registry. These patients were called upon and loaded on lorries without any preliminaries and without blankets. Within minutes, the hospital was empty. We could reassure ourselves, that their clothes had been delivered before noon.
This incidence inspires to some considerations: Did the camp- physician know, that there was a commission about to show up in the camp to choose the patients according to the duration of their stay in hospital, or not? In case he did not know it, it was clear, that the officials of the camp were not informed about the arrival of special commands for extermination in advance and that the dreadful work performed by these squads sent from Berlin were independent from the camp's administration. This version was spread by the great majority of the SS-staff and I cannot judge if it is the truth or not. If the camp- physician knew when and under which circumstances there would be a selection, one has to face a monstrous deceitfulness, as the aforementioned physician had a very good reputation among the inmates. Had the transport gathered in the quarantine block been a part of this selection and had it been exterminated in the gas chambers of Birkenau? There is reason enough to assume so, though we never were able to find clear proof for this. In any case, no sign of live could ever again be received of any member of this transport. On the occasion of this selection several thousand inmates vanished without a trace and a climate of incredible dismay weighed on Auschwitz I for several days. Little by little we calmed down again all the more as the news from the different fronts, especially the French one, were rather encouraging. As far as I can remember, only Jews and Gypsies fell victim to major measures of selection and extermination. Aryans and half-breeds were regularly removed from the groups of the selected. One day, a convoy of Aryans suffering from tuberculosis left the camp for a recovery camp and we actually received messages from some of them.
These selections at the end of September and the beginning of October should be the last ones to have been performed at Auschwitz I. Around the middle of October there was a mutiny among the special commands working at the chimneys. The members of these commands knew, that they were bound to die and so they tried to save their lives by killing their guards and trying to set the facilities on fire. This happened one afternoon and all firemen of Auschwitz I (there was a fire brigade with very modern equipment) marched out in a hurry, and afterwards they told us what had happened there. Most of the members of the special commands fell a victim to the machine-guns, but a small number of them managed to escape. Maybe them are among those who brought evidence to the world that the gas chambers and crematories of Birkenau were reality, though this fact is also confirmed by other sources like the testimony of an officer who escaped from Auschwitz on April 7th, 1944, which had been published by the by the Executive Office of the War Refugee Board at Washington or by allied radio broadcasts, which some of our comrades could clandestinely receive in the camp.
After the mutiny of the special commandos, the gas chambers and the crematories were dismantled and the parts were stored at the fitting yard, from where they should have been transported to Groß-Rosen. Probably, this transport never took place due to the advance of Russians, in any case there was only a very small crematory at Groß-Rosen and no gas chamber at all at the time of our transfer to that camp. At Birkenau, the SS-officials only kept a small crematory running to cover the every day requirements. Most probably, this was all the Russians found left in January 1945 of this huge stew pan which had devoured millions of human beings and ruled the minds of millions of internees. The mass exterminations which took place immediately after arrival, the omnipresent fear of getting caught by a commission one day and face the end in the pipe were the underlying principle behind all we did. Regardless which limits I obey in my report, regardless which may be my assessments regarding the technical facilities of the camp -- may the reader always remember the existence of gas chambers and the millions of prisoners who have vanished in them.
Auschwitz consisted of 28 blocks built of stone which stood in three parallel rows with pavement roads in between them. A third street planted with birch trees, the birch alley, extended parallel to the long side of the of the rectangular area, an avenue reserved to the inmates. There was even a swimming pool under the free sky. All this was surrounded by a concrete wall at the inner side of which several rows of barbed wire charged with high voltage current were spanned. In fixed intervals, there were pylons with lamps, which were lighted at the break of dawn and they were only switched off in case of air raid warning. The area, this enclosure, which essentially formed the camp, covered about 800 X 400 Meters in size. Apart from the kitchen, the hospital and some administrative buildings, the blocks served for the sole purpose to house the inmates. The many services, works and sub-divisions of the camp were located at the outside of this enclosure at smaller or greater distance from it.
Every block, built of bricks and tiled, consisted of a cellar, a ground floor, a first floor and a top floor. At times the camp was crowded, all these places were in use, but under normal circumstances only the ground floor and the first floor were in use. The ground floor was usually divided into small sleeping rooms reserved to relatively privileged inmates. There were great and well maintained washing basins as well as public lavatories according to the latest state of hygiene. Every lavatory was under the control of a number of inmates, one of which (»Scheißmeister«, means as much as »shit-master«) was especially responsible for cleanness. The surveillance over the lavatories and the baths was one of the duties of the block eldest (»Blockältester«) responsible for the whole block.
Without any doubt, that the problem of the sanitary facilities, one of the crucial questions if dealing with large crowds, was solved in the most intelligent and cleanest way in Auschwitz I. As a physician, I dare to insist on this point of view, though people who never experienced something other than their private rooms, might be perplexed by this. The life and survival of the inmates of a concentration camp depends much less on general and abstract principles fixed in high toned humanitarian declarations than on reasonable constructed sanitary facilities and their painstaking maintenance. I will be getting back to this point in my description of the camp of Groß-Rosen, where many of my comrades perished because of poor hygiene.
The sleeping rooms, the ones in the first floor being of higher importance than those in the ground floor, could hold up to 1,000 internees. The beds were built following the example of those ones in use in the German barracks: A wooden frame with three levels each of which was occupied by one internee. At times when the camp was overcrowded, and especially in the quarantine block, two, three or even four internees shared one mattress. At some commands working in day- and night-shifts, the same bed was used by turns by the two internees from the shifts. During that, what one might call normal times, each internee had his own bed, what has to be considered as the greatest luxury in a concentration camp. The bed clothes consisted of special bags filled with straw or wood shavings and two or three blankets. At some very privileged commands one could receive two bed-covers in addition.
Every internee was responsible for the maintenance of his bed and making the bed was one of the most tiresome duties of the inmate, especially for the newcomers lacking the routine in making the bed quick and in the right way. Almost every day, the rooms were inspected by an SS non-commissioned officer (»Blockführer«, means as much as »block-leader«): If a bed was poorly made, the first who had to suffer was the one responsible for the block (»block-eldest«), who in return took revenge on the ones responsible for the rooms (»room-eldest« or »room-service«), who passed their frustration on to the owner of the rejected bed. Making the bed immediately after getting out of it was an essential work and every negligence could lead to maltreatment or even the transfer to another command. In the extreme, neglecting the bed could expose the internee to the danger of death. Hence, making our beds were one of our major concerns. When we were informed on the occasion of the evening roll call, that a certain number of beds had been objected, we were prepared for the worst. It could mean a reduction of our nourishment as well as some of our comrades being sent to other commands. In order to avoid such trouble, the more intelligent among the room eldest managed to assign the beds on the middle row to those most skilled in making the bed according to the fixed rules, as usually these were the only ones checked on occasion of the short inspections because they were easily seen. Another difficulty of major importance that at times could get unbearable, was the personal hygiene. There were rather huge baths (in some of them, there were more than 100 washing- basins) that everybody could wash himself in the morning. In fixed intervals, every internee received a piece of soap and a towel, and there were enough toothbrushes in the camp, so that everybody could get himself one with a little slyness. Finally, the big ambition was to get a shaving kit, be it for oneself or for a small group, in order to no longer be in need to attend at the public shaving being held thrice or twice but at least once a week. Once more, this is a topic where I go into details which may appear to be of insignificance. But I can reassure, that survival in the camp of Auschwitz depended on being well shaved to a remarkable extent. Resting unshaved for several days quickly marked an internee as weakened thus attracting the malicious attention of the Kapos or the SS. To be well shaved was a sign of our will to defend ourselves from the point of view of our guardians. In addition, the tidy impression we had to make in spite of the miserable conditions we were living in, was a must to maintain the balance of our bodies and minds. A saying I heard from one of my best comrades immediately after our arrival brought it to very point: »An unshaved face is attracting beatings«. And beatings in Auschwitz could lead to death sooner or later.
The most malicious chicanery was the inspection of our feet in the middle of the night. The block chief sneaked through the rooms, lifted the blankets and checked our feet using an electric torch. Woe to those with dirty feet! He was forced out of bed and had to wash his feet immediately. It is not necessary to stress the fact, that it was a wise idea to avoid the ill will of the block eldest. Bad luck for those, who suffered from contagious diseases on their feet due to poor hygiene: They were hospitalized and exposed to the threat of easily falling a victim to one of the occasional selections.
The problem of the hygiene of one's feet is suggesting the topic of the shoes we wore. Theoretically, we could have worn the wooden camp shoes. Practically, at least during my time at the camp, we could wear the shoes we wore at our arrival. Sure, there were some Russian and Polish internees, who - specialized in this business - used to steal the newcomer's shoes to operate a booming business with them. But the camp was crowded with the shoes of those vanished on arrival, and it was no problem at all to get a pair of shoes, sometimes of the highest quality, from a comrade working at the camp depot. So there was the paradox situation, that everybody, though forbidden by the camp rules, wore leather shoes with flexible soles. The wooden shoes, as prescribed by the rules, were not worn but on transports to other camps, at work and by those, who had not understood, that a good pair of shoes could save their life. It was even more paradox, that the SS demanded from those in possession of leather shoes to exercise strict care for the leather. Every room was equipped with cleaning utensils. Woe to those, who were caught with dirty shoes on the occasion of an inspection or the departure from the camp. Again, I do not think it to be exaggerated, when I state, that in the hierarchy of what had to be obeyed by an internee in order to improve his chances to survive, a clean shaved face and clean shoes stood at the top. The personality of an internee did not count much, which was as true for the relations between the internees themselves as for those between the internees and the SS.
Some blocks were equipped with special facilities and were not used for housing inmates. There were the blocks of the hospital, which I will describe in detail later. Block 24, the ground floor of which was a single great room, was used for rehearsals of the camp orchestra; the first floor was divided into rooms for the prostitutes. The first floor of block 2, the quarantine- block at the time of my arrival, was reconstructed later to be used for the performance of concerts and cabarets and for movie shows.
Block 11 was the camp prison (»Bunker«) and specially designed for this purpose. It could hold up to 1,200 prisoners: camp internees, imprisoned for various violations, and civilians from the surroundings of the camp, mostly Polish patriots. Block 11 was linked by a passage completely shut off from the outside with block 10, where there was that black wall that had been used as the place for executions. At my time in the camp it was not used for this purpose any longer. One day, I saw from a window in Block 21 a number of civilians being loaded onto that famous gassing lorry. That lorry, which was subject of detailed debates in different trials against war criminals, was a rather huge one with a closed loading area and a gas generator of enormous size mounted on the back. According to what numerous Polish comrades told me, a special installation suffocated the inmates during the ride, which led to the crematory to deliver the corpses there.
In block 25, there was a canteen, a big store, where tobacco, cigarettes, books (which were more and more rationed later) and even some toiletry was sold. According to the comrades who were in the camp for the longest time, this store was furnished much better earlier. On the same floor there were some bureaus of the camp's political police, no internee ordered to show up there ever had entered but alarmed to the highest extent possible. The chief SS-officer of this department had been entitled »Counsel of the Reich for Prisoners« (»Reichsbeistand für Häftlinge«) for a long time.
Block 10 was the home of the prostitutes for a long time, later they moved to the quarantine block.
Between block 1 and 2 there was a barrack equipped with showers, which was a rather peculiar matter: It could be used day and night as well for newcomers as for the public or individual shower days each internee was obliged to have once a week. It was also used for delousing purposes, although a much more modern facility working with short waves outside the camp was more and more used to perform delousing. The observance of the weekly shower days was strictly surveyed. One of my comrades obviously anxious to show up nude in public and who was afraid of water, as everybody knew, was made step forth one of these days on the occasion of the evening appeal and immediately driven to the shower as a warning example. He was a German Aryan. If he had been of other nationality or even a Jew, this incident would for sure have come to a much worse end. Beyond block 24, at the utmost end of the twelfth block row, there was the central laundry which was equipped with rather modern facilities, working day and night in shifts.
There, the washing and the clothes of the internees, being changed in fixed intervals was washed. If some- body was keen on keeping his own clothes, having become his property by force of habit, he had to know an internee working at the central laundry. This one had to keep an eye on the bundles of washing and returned everybody his own clothes as they were or even mended. By this strategy easy enough to realize, it was possible to replace the ragged clothes received at the arrival with more appropriate clothes by and by. The clothes were of considerable value for the internees safety. In Auschwitz I, striped clothes were worn without exception, but there were immense differences regarding the quality of the fabric, the fashion and the state of preservation of the suits. The big ambition of every internee was that he might succeed as early as possible in getting rid of the image of what is called »the Blue one« (i. e.: »Greenhorn«) in French barracks, this way escaping the strokes, chicaneries and the meanness the lowest ones are exposed to in any kind of human community. The easiest way to achieve this, was to be as little striking as possible and avoid the use of meanness while trying to get oneself into a more clean and considerable shape. A very special feature may illustrate the blossoms of vanity that thrived in the camp.
There were minor differences in the quality and the making of the personal identification marks every internee had to wear. The new-comers received rough, poorly done marks with negligent inscriptions. The established internees in contrary had little marks which were printed (there was a printing works at Auschwitz) or even ingeniously written by hand and sewed with a machine, if possible. The chances to survive corresponded with the making of these marks.
The hygienic measures prescribed by the camp command and painstakingly observed by the internees as well as by the SS due to fear of mistreatment put a hygienic standard in safe keeping, which could not have been much better. During my time in Auschwitz, the number of internees with lice was very small. Those, the surveillance of the block could get hold of, were renown all over the camp and immediately had to face harsh and malicious remarks. The discovery of a louse ended with delousing of a single room or even the whole block. If there was a group of internees with lice found, an entire group of blocks or even the whole camp were deloused. Lice are a dreadful threat to any human community crowded on a narrow spot. In Auschwitz, signs and inscriptions in several languages and with unequivocal signs reminded: »The louse is death«. It is not necessary to deal with the role of the louse in the spreading of infectious diseases, especially typhoid fever. The discovery of a louse caused massive investigations about the individual accuracy the internee applied to his personal hygiene and the origin of the clothes he wore. If a delousing was ordered, those who had to undergo this procedure turned angry. These measures were really feared, especially during the winter. The vivid interest of the internees in such an uncomfortable situation was to find out, whether the delousing was to be performed by short waves. In this case, the whole procedure took place in a closed and heated room and the clothes leaving the apparatus were handed back to the internees in dry state. If the delousing was done in the old showers, though, the clothes returned damp to the internees, who had to stand naked between the blocks for hours waiting for the delousing process to finish. Dry or moist delousing, this was a question of high significance, whatever incompetent journalists who were allowed to attend at several trials against war criminals might have thought. As the Draconian measures of hygiene following the discovery of a louse could cause the death of comrades due to pneumonia!
In fact, in Auschwitz I there was a craze for tidiness. The hygienic organization of the camp was at the state of the art. To deal with the possible amazement some who read these lines I have to recall the fact, that this was not valid for the camps in the surrounding. It is more than probable, that all these hygienic measures were not taken out of care for the internees, but that they were a part of an experimental program designed to reveal the effects of public hygiene. In excess, all of the buildings of the camp had been built by internees, so maybe the remark of the camp eldest of the hospital block was possibly no exaggeration: »Every brick of these buildings equals the extermination of one human life«. And besides the steady dying following maltreatment and by exhaustion only four kilometers from this tidy camp with its perfect hygiene, there was another high developed machinery running: the pipe, which sometimes exterminated thousands of internees per day.
Before I proceed to the description of the work and the ccupations the internees had to master, it is necessary to outline the scheme of categories the internees were divided into. In order to do so, we have to think back to the first hours after our arrival. I already mentioned, that we had been deprived of all personal belongings including our documents of identity, which had been destroyed. On the following morning, we had to undergo the registration procedure in our rooms. Registrars filled out very detailed forms according to our declarations. It was not possible to apply any corrections later on, and there was no lack of wrong declarations. The new-comers, being still guileless and unaware of the discriminations resulting from the affiliation to some nation or race, all together made correct declarations. In addition, it was known, that one had to be careful because of spies and denunciations. The column »profession« needed careful consideration. I had foreseen, that there most probably would be adequate physicians. In my transport alone there had been ten. Seduced by the bakery, which I had seen on our arrival, I was indecisive for a moment considering to pretend I were a baker. Grown up in a bakery, I was pretty familiar with this profession. Finally, I decided for the physician, but without telling my special subject. I could be pretty sure, that nobody had been waiting for an expert in histology! Later, my special subject was revealed and offered me the opportunity of an occupation at the laboratory in Raisko, where I worked until the end of my stay at Auschwitz. Many of my comrades were smart enough, to pretend to be educated in some craft, they had more or less skill in. Some of them finally got an occupation in one of the works this way, which saved them from being sent to one of the bad commands used for excavations or transport.
The administrative paper work at Auschwitz was enormous. For every internee, there were several register cards, which were stored in the gigantic central registry. There was a medical card, filed for the hospital, a packet card, filed for the post office (which for most of us never saw any entries) still another card, filed for the political department (camp Gestapo) and last, but not least, the general registry card. On the occasion of the creation of all these cards, everybody received a registry number, which had to be tattooed on our left forearms, mine was A-11.953. The tattooing procedure itself, performed by specialized internees using special pen holders, was painless; the state of mind caused hereby was terrible, though. From this very moment on, we were reduced to the state of numbered objects. We were internees, the official term was »prisoner«. Every internee had to wear two badges made of fabric showing the registry number and a triangle, signifying the internee's category from a distance. Those badges had to be fixed on the left side of the jacket and on the right trousers leg. The internees were classified into five categories: 1.) political Aryans, red triangle, pointing down; 2.) ordinary criminals, yellow triangle; 3.) Homosexuals, pink triangle; 4.) Antisocials, black triangle; 5.) Jehovah's witnesses, violet triangle. To the Jews, various different signs were assigned. Their tattoo contained a special sign, be it a triangle or a special letter. On their badges, there was David's star: a red triangle pointing up and a yellow triangle pointing down with only the edges being visible. For many months, the Jews in addition had a yellow triangle pointing down below their regular signs. Later, this additional sign was abolished and replaced with the sign of the political Aryans with a thin yellow bar below the triangle.
These signs were of the highest importance for the future fate of an internee, as these signs revealed the category of every internee at first glance. It is unnecessary to stress, that the measures taken by the camp command varied considerably according to the category of an internee. A German with a yellow triangle had more freedom, a French with a red triangle less and a Jew none. And I would like to remind that every minor mistake could cause death, while the borderline between the things allowed and those forbidden was rather poorly defined.
Some words about the administrative organization of the camp: There was something best described as the external administration under the command of a SS-major. A number of ranks was subordinated to this major: camp leader (»Lageführer«), camp commander (»Lagerkommandant«), and finally the block leaders, which were of different ranks, ranging from the »Sturmbannführer« to a »Rottenführer«. In the medical hierarchy, there was the garrison physician, a camp physician and various helpers at the Army Medical Service, not to mention other bombastic titles decorating the SS-staff of other services like the »Counsel Of Legal Affairs for Prisoners« for instance. When addressing these gentlemen it was always a wise idea to know their official titles and apply them the right way.
In addition to the SS administration, there was something, best described as the internal administration, which was exclusively manned with internees. Under the command of the camp eldest for the camp and another one for the hospital there were block eldest, responsible for one block, who had a block secretary to their assistance. The titles assigned to the functions in the administrative hierarchy were chosen by the SS-officers, and they often changed. It was hard enough, to establish a relation between the SS-staff and the internees, as it was easy enough for the latter to sooner or later overthrow one of their chiefs as it was no problem at all for the SS, to dismiss them without any preliminary warning. As I already mentioned, the internal administration was exclusively manned with internees, so every decision of importance had to be confirmed by one of the administrative departments of the SS, especially the assignment of internees to one of the commands. The service responsible for these assignments according to the number of workers needed in the commands and to the personal qualifications of the individual internee, the »Arbeitsdienst«, was the most important service within the internal administration. It had the dreadful power to move individual internees from one command to the other, to appoint them as expert workers and even to assign a fixed occupation to them. Every command was led by a »Kapo«, assisted by one or more »Unterkapos« and foremen. Below, there came the crowd of ordinary working internees. Considering the weak points of human nature, this whole system was designed to promote perverse quarrel for competence between the resorts, ruthless misuse of authority and a climate ruled by steady fear in a seductive way.
Theoretically, jobs should have been assigned to the internees according to their individual abilities and skills, though practically it was seldom handled this way. In Auschwitz, there were no blocks for the disabled, because they were exterminated after the selections immediately after arrival or on occasion of later selection. In Auschwitz I, I have not known but two internees who were constantly unfit for work. These were two comrades who had lost their eyes at a bombing raid in the camp and whom the camp officials granted a secure life and freed them from the duty to work.
There were many very different commands, and so I only can mention a few examples. The most striking thing was the unfair distribution of be it regarding the tasks to be performed and the working time in the different commands and even within a special command depending on the rank of an internee. It is not possible to compare the work done in the commands for underground building or the transport of girders and rails (which was the job I did during the first time of my stay in Auschwitz) to the work of packing medicine at the camp's drug store or the preparing of histological slides (which was what I finally did at the laboratory in Raisko) in any way. The »shit-commands«, how the bad commands were called, labored in excavations, building and underground building, reconstructions and agricultural jobs. The good commands were those in the mines, in the mechanical works, the bakery, the butchery, in the depots (»canadas«) and jobs at the administration and above all at the hospital. But even within a single command, there were considerable differences. Even in the worst commands, there were good jobs, as well as there were unbearable ones in the good commands. The most miserable internees were those without a professional education and without special skills, as there was no possibility to assign a job to them, that seemed to be suitable to their learned profession, and the number of these internees was abundant. Those, who were skilled in a craft, could expect to be sent to one of the works or the factories with a little hope. Internees speaking foreign languages usually succeeded in getting a better occupation sooner or later, if they did not have bad luck. It did not matter at all, if one had a diploma or any titles. The internees were judged according to their ability to adapt to different tasks, their team spirit, their abilities their readiness at work, and their slyness. With a little patience and caution one could succeed in getting a steady job, one was »officially assigned« to this job then. Sometimes even with the title of an expert worker, which was a shelter against transports and selections to a certain extent, except for the omnipresent imponderabilities.
First, I will present some commands, I never personally worked at, so I only know them by what I heard about them. The command »Union« worked in a factory belonging to the Krupp trust, where ammunition of middle and big caliber was manufactured around the clock. The shifts were rather long, but the internees working there were considered to be expert workers. In addition, they were in contact with female internees from Birkenau and German civilians who worked there. Finally they received abundant extra rations and had lots of possibilities for »organizing things«, which meant theft. Another great command worked at the D. A. W., the »Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke« (means »German Equipment Works«). There, joinery, carpentry and various building supplies were manufactured: window frames, stools, tables and wardrobes for the exiled camps, the prisoner- camps and for the German civilians bombed out. Many internees were doing agricultural jobs at the horticulture of Raisko, where fodder plants, vegetables and even rubber trees were produced at an industrial scale. There were gigantic greenhouses. The mechanics at the »motor-pool« had good jobs at the garages, where the vehicles of the SS were repaired in shifts. Jobs as servant or helper in the SS barracks were rather desired, because of the good food, one received there. Taylors and shoemakers were assigned to special commands sewing and mending the clothes of the internees and the SS-staff. At the butchery, the sausage factory and the bakery, there were rather desirable jobs, as the internees working there were very privileged. For a long time, these occupations had been exclusively manned by Poles until they were assigned to French internees from October 1944 on, to the great benefit for the other French internees. And as surprising this may sound: jobs in the department for the removal of refuse were rather good ones. The real aristocracy among the commands, however, were those at the architecture bureau, at the SS-drugstore, at the weapon factory, the pest control including delousing chamber working with short waves, the clothes depot, the post office and finally all jobs at the administration, including the »Arbeitsdienst« with the aforementioned special significance.
Apart from these good commands, where the work did not exhaust the internees physically, there were bad ones in which the huge majority of internees drudged, who had no special qualifications. The departments for the building of streets were obliged to do all kinds of ground leveling, building of streets, swimming pools and removing river curves for easier passage of large ships. The famous command »Hufa« which had to build a huge water pipe made of concrete was of a comparable quality. I was told, that this water pipe was planned for the water supply of a new power station, which was under construction outside the camp. Finally, the worst command, generally known as a command of delinquents designed for extermination, was the »foul-gas-command«. Theoretically, this command was engaged for canalization, but I never was able to understand the real task of this command, in any case, internees assigned to the delinquent battalion within this command were about to face death. I will not deal with the special command in charge with the gassings. The members of this command lived totally separated from the other internees outside of the camp Birkenau, and they were exterminated in fixed intervals. Some smaller commands, wearing names sounding pretty harmless, were in fact rather dangerous. For instance, the so called »potato-peeling command«, which was manned with old men who had managed to survive the selection at the arrival by a miracle. One of these nights, the whole command was called for an appeal and vanished, and we did not ever hear a word about these comrades again. Indeed, this so called command made up by disabled had nothing in common with those, which existed at Buchenwald.
In the first line, the work in a command depended on the SS-guards, the Kapos and the foremen in charge with the surveillance. Most of the Kapos wore yellow triangles and were brutal low-lifes living in the steady fear to be dismissed. For this reason, they were not reluctant with punishment, using lowest meanness and committing abominable crimes. There were some Kapos as well as SS-guards, who were humane and did what they could to keep the work done by the internees bearable, though. During the short times I spent at the fitting yard, at the wood yard, the »Hufa« and at the street cleaner command, I experienced mean low-lifes as well as humane attendants. Every command, even the worst, could be bearable, if only the internee managed to adapt to the circumstances and to find his place at the command. In contrary, even at a good command, the physical ability of an internee sometimes could be tested to the limits. Only to mention an example I personally experienced: During the time, I worked at the camp drugstore, I had to help unload wagons with medication. We had to deal with palettes, very heavy boxes and metal cans with antiseptics, which were very hard to roll. The unloading had to be done in a very short time and one could not avoid this exhausting pace, in order to not stir up the comrades and to keep from being considered to be too weak for such tasks.
In addition to the work, every internee was obliged to do, one could do jobs for other comrades, who paid for this with food. This way, one could get extra rations, without which no internee could survive. Here, we come to one of the most important points of all: The question of our nourishment.
In the camp, we received three meals a day. In the morning, we got a quarter liter of coffee (!), on three or four days of the week even with sugar. For lunch, we usually had a soup or a stew made from various ingredients: margarine, grain, vegetables, carrots, potatoes, nuts, plums and sometimes even meat waste. The vegetable most commonly used was kale and cabbage, harvested at the huge fields surrounding the camp. The quality of these soups varied within a broad range from one day to the other and even between the commands. The reason was, that the internees working at the kitchen withheld ingredients issued for the preparation of the soup by the camp administration in order to »sell« them in the camp later, especially dried vegetables, potatoes and meat. Some Poles in the kitchen who had arranged themselves with their SS-guards, who were Poles and Czechs of the lowest kind - were running this ruthless trade in spite of the official interdiction and the occasional controls by the camp officials. In no other camp I ate such bad soup as in Auschwitz I, and nobody but the internees at the kitchen and their SS-guards were to blame for this. If the soup eventually was of improved quality, one could assume, that a control commission was about to pay a visit to the kitchen. Then, we received the most remarkable soups: soup made of spliced peas or even soup with noodles. After the control, we received the usual cabbage soup again, which sour because of vinegar being one of the major spices. This flavor was due to the customs of the internees working in the kitchen, who sprang from a region east of a meridian determined by geographers researching the distribution patterns of local customs in the most accurate way. The smell and the taste of the Polish »Capousta« caused nothing but dislike in those not accustomed to this dish. On the arrival of the soup caldrons, the internees' main concern was to find out, if the soup was thick or watery, good or bad. Everybody should receive a liter of it. When the soup was bad or poor, it was no problem at all to get more of it and keep it for the evening. In case it was good, there was no chance at all, to get an extra ration. The amount of soup and it's thickness depended to a reasonable extent to the slyness of the Kapos, the block eldest of those being in charge of the »caldron-command«, who fetched the soup from the kitchen.
This job was of particular importance in Auschwitz. During the time I worked at the hospital, I did so myself in order to earn me some extra bread and soup. The job consisted in fetching the soup and coffee- caldrons thrice a day at the kitchen and carry them to the block using transoms. One had to appear at a fixed time in the kitchen coming to a quick decision on which caldron to choose immediately after the arrival: tea or coffee, white or brown soup, thick or watery soup, a big caldron or a small one. After having attached the transoms to the caldron, we had to carry it to the kitchen yard, where we were lined up according to the number of our blocks. Following a special command, we started our way to the blocks. All this had to be done as fast and accurate as possible, in order to avoid rod thumps by the SS-guards.
The march to the kitchen was an excellent opportunity to meet comrades from the neighbor blocks and to hear news from within and without the camp. The caldron- command, to which extend ever feared by new-comers, finally became something like a game and a diversion, even though one had to get up half an hour before the others in the morning.
The meal in the evening consisted of a piece of bread of 375 grams. In addition, we received a little bit of sausage, margarine or marmalade. But the bread as well as the spread often did not reach the internees but occasionally depending on the honesty of those, whose hands it passed on its way from the central to the local distribution. If nothing unforeseen happened, the working internees received 750 grams of bread and some sausage every Tuesday and Thursday. This was the so called extra ration, which we always received, doubling our weekly bread ration on four days of the week. According to a theoretical calculation, our daily rations should have equaled 1,300 to 1,800 calories a day. Checks done at the laboratory at Raisko in fixed intervals revealed, that the actual values were considerably lower. The discrepancy was due to the excessive dishonesty of the administrational SS-staff and the internees, rather those working at the kitchen than those in the blocks. It was a cinch for the SS-officials, to blame the internees themselves for their poor rations. Alas, this was partly true, being caused by the cheating in the camps and the kitchen, and because of a special feature representing one of the greatest grievances of Auschwitz. I am talking about transports of food and clothes within the camp complex. On the occasion of such transports, a valuable part of the foods and clothes left the camp forever to be distributed among the civilian workers of the works in the neighborhood, who in return paid for this with two very demanded things, though worthless for survival: alcohol and cigarettes. The SS-guards were involved at high profit in this flourishing trade taking from the camp what was needed for survival.
Most obviously, the rations were not sufficient for those, obliged to do hard work, even when the officially fixed rations were obeyed, particularly during the winter. One depended on additional sources for food. Every internee was allowed to receive to receive packages, principally. To be able to get packages, one had to take care, that somebody outside the camp was informed about one's registration number. But the right to write letters was limited to certain categories of internees. Particularly Jews were not allowed to write with few exceptions. As a result, only a small number of internees received packages. Aryans of different nationality, and a few German and Czech Jews. The recipients of packages were the »rich« of the camp. Often, they were able partly or even completely do without the camp rations, they could use to pay other internees for smaller or larger services, then. The easiest and most reliable way to earn an extra ration was to do a job for somebody other. I myself did various jobs: taking over the caldron-command, cleaning jobs of all kind, clandestine lessons in English, French and even in Biology. Finally, it was a good idea, to exchange the whole tobacco ration for bread. This way I often succeeded in having more food from the camp rations and even sweets from the packages of comrades, than I needed. It was a holy duty obeyed by every human comrade, though, to pass surpluses to other comrades, especially to those recovering from a disease at the hospital, where the food supply was chronically insufficient. For this black market, there was even a currency replacing money: cigarettes, regardless if camp cigarettes, German or Polish. There was real money, as well, the Camp Mark, used to pay some of the commands for their work. I personally received half a Camp Mark per week for some time. And once I was paid 4 Camp Marks on receipt at the laboratory in Raisko. One Camp Mark equaled 30 cigarettes, and in such a case one was obliged to give the surplus to comrades that were not getting paid. This duty became of particular importance, when tobacco was finally issued only by payment or for tobacco cards.
The differences between the commands not only comprised the hardness of the work to be done and the way the Kapos treated the internees, but in the opportunities to »organize« additional food being better or worse. One source of food was minor or major thefts from the camps, the »canadas« or the huge depots for the SS-troups, which were every day business under peril of the thieve's lives, but sanctioned by all comrades, and which comprised little thefts for the personal needs as well as purloining several hundred cans on the occasion of unloading a freight wagon. The possible sources of these additional supplies depended on the personal skill of the individual internee. Anything was allowed in order to obtain extra food, as long as no other internee was jeopardized. This being the case, it was clearly considered a crime. Most lamentable, there were as well means to obtain food, that were considered to be less honorable. These ranged from stealing a comrades food to his assassinating. But there were no such incidences except for times of extreme famine or misery, and I had opportunity to experience some examples of such cases during my stay at Groß-Rosen and in the small camp of Buchenwald.
After a pretty hard time at block two, the quarantine block, were I had been working at a special command employed for rather tiresome jobs, I and seven other physicians had luck and were moved as a group to block 28 , the hospital.
The hospital (»Häftlingskrankenbau« or H. K. B.), consisted of four blocks, that were constantly used for this purpose, which could be extended by three additional blocks when needed. The complex was built according to the latest state of art in building hospitals: block 21, surgery; block 20, contagious diseases; block 19, diarrhea and cutaneous diseases including scabies; block 9, interior diseases; block 10, for a long time the experimental gynecology; block 28, ambulance, ophthalmology, diseases of throat, ears and nose and the camp drugstore.
The camp eldest of the H. K. B., a physician, was responsible for the engagement of personnel and the supply of the blocks, was supervised by the camp physician. During the time of my stay at Auschwitz, the camp eldest was a young physician from Lwow, a very cultivated and polite man, who had managed to admirable trick to have excellent relations with not only the SS-physicians in charge, but with the internees as well. He used a tricky tactic, to by and by have the physicians working in other commands gathered in the hospital, thus providing an appropriate occupation to them. To do so, he had to outwit the systematic malevolence of the Arbeitsdienst against physicians. Often, physicians were moved to the hospital as patients for a short time to be sent back to their jobs as ordinary workers. This way, by and by and in little steps, they were allowed to do their job. The greatest problem however was, to have them being »officially assigned« for a job there, as only this official assignment from transports or being sent back to another command within the camp. But even if an official assignment was not possible, the work at the hospital often offered a long lasting breathing spell. The fact, that so many physicians returned from Auschwitz, is the merit of this camp eldest.
Due to the steady arrival of physicians at the H. K. B., to replace incompetent staff, which resulted in the possibility to ensure professional treatment for the patients, whatever else may be said about this topic. I am able to talk most freely about this topic, as I never was »officially assigned« nor did I ever work as a physician in any of the departments. But due to my work at the drug store, I was always informed about everything happening in any of these departments. The physicians, especially the French, did all they could for their comrades, considering the material and moral we were living in.
The H. K. B. was equipped with the necessary machinery and all needed for modern therapy. The possibilities to care for the patients were at the state of the art. But the dreadful threat of selections was pending over the hospital. The psychological and practical problem in treating the patients having to prevent at the same time, that a commission took hold of them. In most cases, we were warned sooner or later, if such a squad, whose work I described above, was about to come. These warnings had to be kept under strict confidence. After such a warning had been issued, the physicians had to take care, to release all patients from the hospital, whose physical condition seemed appropriate for this, without a word of explanation to them. Sometimes, the selection of a patient depended on the way, the physician presented this case. It is easy to imagine the state of mind, the physicians had to endure in such critical situations. The big knack was to cure the patients during the time between two selections. It was also necessary to prevent patients being hospitalized, who were not strictly in need for this, in order to treat them clandestinely within the camp. But there were a lot of really tragic cases of comrades who, not having been informed to the detail what they had to expect, did not agree on leaving the hospital or staying out of it without asking further questions. They doubted the good will of those trying to cure them and perished. Gassed after a selection.
The internees working at the H. K. B. knew clearly, that the supply with food and the hygienic conditions were incomparable to those in the rest of the camp. We did not have to attend the appeals, but the work was rather hard, especially for newcomers. By no means, my comrades and me worked as physicians in the first time. Our occupations were diverse: cleaning the lavatories, toilets and staircases, washing glasses, emptying the dust bins, washing caldrons, tiling the floors, cleaning the floor after whitewashes, removing corpses, fetching the laundry, shoveling coal and chopping wood. These were some of the duties we were obliged to fulfill for the benefit of those who lived at this block. This was the »medical work« we were envied for by many comrades. But one had to do all this work in order to not be resented by the camp and in order to pretend to be indispensable at the block.
Finally, I had the opportunity to move to camp's drug store to block 28. This was a job, one was envied for most. The fact, that I succeeded in holding myself there, had nothing to do with the fact, that I was a professor, nor that I had detailed knowledge of the international pharmacopoeia. The only reason for this was, that I knew to wash numerous different kinds of bottles in the right way, that I was skilled in caring for parquetry, brushing carpets, polishing furniture, polishing bottles for drugs to high luster, draping a display of special pharmaceutical products in a most precise way and last, but not least, that I could whistle very well. Sorting the medicaments coming from the »canadas« and assembling deliveries of medicaments for the hospital block, was not allowed to me until later. But above all, I was able to make friends with a lot of other internees. Later, I will tell more details about them: Jean, the Belgian an Marian, the pharmacist with the registration number 49; a professor for forensic medicine from the university of Krakow and two Poles, one a dedicated jazz fan, a connoisseur of English literature the other. But my stay at the drug store was insecure, as I had not been officially assigned. The equipment there was rather good. One part of our supply, we received from the central drug store of the SS from Berlin, another part was delivered in boxes, a higgledy-piggledy mixture of special medicaments from countries all over Europe, that had been taken from the newcomers on their arrival. Selecting and sorting these medicaments was my main occupation during the last time of my stay at the drug store. In addition, we received bundles of additional deliveries. Due to the skills of Marian, who managed to bribe some SS-officials with alcohol, nothing that should have been to found in a normal drug store was lacking. Sometimes, I was really perplexed to find products, which were unavailable to civilians due to bottlenecks since a long time. Thrice a week, the ordered medicaments were distributed to the hospitals and the various field hospitals of the camp complex. There we had to start with being cautious. If we knew for sure, that medicaments were stolen on the transport so they did not reach the patients, we had to allow less than the ordered amounts. In contrary, if there was no doubt about the honesty of the internees in charge with the transport, so it was sure that the patients would benefit from the medicaments, we had to allow the ordered amounts or even more. Finally, we always had to withhold a stock of those special medicaments needed for some patients, which should not show up on the official lists, or which were needed for the clandestine therapies within the camp. Nothing was lacking with regard to the pharmaceutical possibilities. Some of the internees really benefited from the medicaments. The great majority of those internees who fell to share of these medicaments, vanished in one of the selections or fell a victim to famine or exhaustion in the end, though.
After the work at the drug store and supper, I had to hold additional consultation hours, held in shifts every day at block 28 every day in the evening after the evening appeal until the light was switched off. The work for a physician was rather hard there. One had to see the problems at first glance, as one had to bandage numerous comrades, who came to have open wounds treated in order to avoid being hospitalized. During these consultation hours, we tried to find patients with inner injuries or in need of extensive care. Ten physicians and one male nurse were in charge with this duty, which had to be done in a hurry while it was strictly forbidden to talk with the patients. We disregarded this rule frequently under the risk of getting beaten by the ambulance guard, who was a matchmaker from Krakow for a long time. After he was replaced by a former officer of the Polish air force, a rather cultivated man with excellent manners, we were able to do really professional work for some weeks. We only had to deal with a very narrow range of cases. Most of them were accidents at work. Burns, cutaneous diseases, furuncles, abscesses and ulcers were treated with the various ointments and the abundant bandaging material we had as good as possible. On these occasions, we had the opportunity to have a little talk with the internees, to give them some advice about their state of health or warn them, to avoid being hospitalized, because a selection was about to happen, or encourage them to do so, when a selection had taken place. I repeatedly mentioned the possible sad consequences of a hospitalization. The patients, who had a longer stay at the camp, understood after the slightest hint, that the time for a stay at the hospital was not convenient, while other comrades sometimes suspected us to be malicious. Seduced by the equipment of the hospital and by the idea to get a break, they ignored our warnings guided by clauses due to spying and asked for their hospitalization unaware of the immediate peril of death they were submitted to hereby. Another positive aspect of the consultation hours was, that we keep ourselves informed about the medication needed by our comrades in the camp, so that we could treat them outside the hospital, though this was not allowed. Patients, that had to be hospitalized, were sent to the hospital the next morning, where they were temporarily freed from work. After the morning appeal, they were brought to block 28. After a shower, they were presented to the SS camp physician by the physician on duty, who accepted the hospitalization or sent the patient back to work.
A last word about the other facilities at block 28, which was the cleanest block and the one best designed to meet the practical needs of all the blocks in the camp. There was even a diet kitchen, where easy digestible pastes, special soups and even a special bread could be prepared for the patients, as if there would have been internees who had the opportunity to recover and as if there would not ever had been selections. We had an X-ray device, devices for infrared ray treatment and ray therapy, a little special equipped laboratory for the hospital, a little depot for medicinal herbs, a sterile operation theater, and an examination room for diseases of the eyes, ears, nose and throat. In the first floor, though, there was a special room, room 19, in which the SS performed experiments with our comrades, which was forbidden for us. I managed to enter this room several times pretending to deliver medicaments. At this time, there were experiments with substances causing abscesses hard to cure for German pharmaceutical factories. Maybe, the many contradictions in the facts listed here, provide some understanding for the atmosphere of insanity that ruled Auschwitz.
Around the middle of October 1944, I was moved to the laboratory at Raisko. I left block 28, where I had been able to establish since the middle of June, with regret. The direction of the laboratory at Raisko had requested me to be assigned to there, because I was a histologist. For several reasons, it was good to leave block 28. I could not have delayed my move to Raisko any longer.
The laboratory of Raisko was located at a distance of about 4 kilometers from the camp in a little village, whose Polish inhabitants had been evacuated so that there only lived the SS-staff. The laboratory was an advanced post of the SS Medical Corps, which was controlled by the directorate of the SS Sanitary Service at Berlin. There were several sections: chemistry, bacteriology, serology, experimental biology, meteorology and last, but not least the smallest section, the histology. I should work there for three months with my colleague Lévy-Coblentz, the former chief of the laboratory at the faculty of medicine of the university at Straßburg and the director of the faculty of medicine of the university of Paris. At the time of my arrival at Raisko, most of the equipment was already packed and ready to be evacuated to somewhere near Breslau, due to the advance of Russian troops. The equipment still in use, especially the one we used for our work, was sufficient and of the newest making. The furniture was adequate and elegant, and all of the equipment came from the best manufacturers of Germany. Some of the devices were of French origin, I never found out for sure, though, if it was bought or stolen. Our work comprised the examination of anatomical and pathological tissue preparates from biopsies and autopsies, coming from the different camps of the camp complex, from the SS-hospitals of the south eastern sector, from diverse civilian hospitals of the region and from the horse- and dog breeding facilities of the camp. In addition, we were in charge with the examination of food, especially the sausage from the sausage factory. Now and then, colleagues from the botanical section, which lay across the floor and manned exclusively with female internees sought our help as well. During my time at this laboratory, we did not receive any tissue preparates related to experiments with internees. The histologic section of the laboratory, with offices for parasites of humans and cattle, was the quietest of all laboratories in Raisko. We had to work through an average of about 8 to 10 preparates per day. The total number of specimens handled in all of the departments of Raisko was 113,000 in 1944, the greatest part of which was done by the department of bacteriology. All operations were registered at a modern bookkeeping differentiated according to the departments. There was a last garden at the laboratory, experimental stations for animal breeding and depots for laboratory supply material. In addition, there was a library with numerous text books and the usual manuals and journals.
From an administrative point of view, the laboratory at Raisko was part of the SS and the research done there was completely independent of any universitarian organization. The leader of the laboratory, a physician with the rank of a captain, was the 28 years old »Hauptsturmführer« Weber, unconditionally dedicated to the SS ideology. A bacteriologist by profession, he had a rather good education in biology. He did all he could, to increase the number of specimens examined at Raisko, as well as to extendthe departments in order to prove the laboratory's right to exist to his superiors. Without any doubt, the concentration camps of the camp complex Auschwitz were used for biological and hygienic statistics, the data of which could not have been derived from any other human community. On some occasions, we were able to assist at elaborate methods of modern biology and join discussions about unusual cases within the camp led in truly scientific earnest. In these discussions, professional vanity was of major importance while this abominable »chimney« was running day and night. The SS was most interested in keeping the laboratory running without problems, as while there comrades at the various fronts proved their fidelity to the SS-codex by being killed in the fights, the technical SS-staff at Raisko considered it unavoidable to stay at Auschwitz due to public interest and because of scientific reasons, leading a unburdened life. There was a young bacteriologist, »Obersturmführer« Delmotte subordinated to Weber, for whom several of my comrades had to write a thesis. Together with him, a physician named Münch, a man in the forties who had recently been promoted to »Untersturmbannführer«, which equalled the rank of a medical non-commissioned officer, were responsible for the histology. He treated us like colleagues and always thought of new tricks to get extra rations for us. Every time, when evil things were happening at the camp and one of our comrades was endangered, we could openly discuss this with him and he did all he could to help. I do not know, what became of him later. He was one of the few but not the only of the SS physicians who stayed human in their uniforms.
The psychological relations to our chiefs were far from being simple. They signed our diagnosis's being responsible for them to their chiefs. But we had to falsify these diagnosis's in order to not endanger one of our comrades in the camp. As long as we wore our white overalls, we were considered to be technical staff. As soon as we took them off, we were normal internees again, having to obey the camp rules. So we led the life of ordinary internees, except for the privilege to be able to work in our profession which was a shelter from some inconveniences and maltreatment. I will try to describe the every day life of the internees now as briefly as possible.
In the morning, a bell was rung to wake us. In the summer at 4 a. m. and with the days getting shorter, by and by a little later until it was 6 a. m. in the deepest winter. We had little time, to stand up, wash ourselves, do the bed according to the fixed rules, sip a little warm liquid and eat a piece of bread of the last evening. For those working within the camp, work time started immediately hereafter. The great majority, who worked outside the camp, had to attend at the appeal, followed by the marching out. The appeals, which were not the least uncomfortable during summertime, became a torture during the rather harsh winter. At Auschwitz I there was no special place for the appeals. To every command a place on the streets of the camp or beneath the blocks was assigned. The columns had to line up in rows of five with every internee having his individual place assigned. Groups of ten internees were under the command of a »Scharführer«. It was very easy for the secretary of a command, to state that one of the internees was missing, as he knew most of them personally. After having lined up, we had to wait for the command for the orchestra to play a march accompanying the out march, which had to be given by the camp commander. And this was a real torture due to the chill, especially on foggy days. Then, the commands started march in close rows, passing the camp officials, who were drawn up opposite to the orchestra. This ceremony had to be absolved with strict discipline. The block eldest were drawn up in lines at the end. About fifty meters before we reached the camp officers, there was a special sequence of commands: »file leader! side direction! keep distance! caps off! salute!« Minutely lined up in rows of five we passed the officers at a distance of a few meters. While passing the gate, the Kapo gave report. I will never forget the thundering voice of our Kapo Bertram beating the orchestra: »laboratory Raisko, one hundred and three prisoners«. A secretary noted the names of the commands and the number of internees in them leaving the camp. About twenty meters behind the gate, we put on our caps again and the cadence march played out of time. This out march of about 5,000 men lasted about one hour, and it was always the same procedure. The only exception to these fixed rules was applied, when it was colder than -12 degrees Celsius, as the camp commander had decided to dispense with the »caps off!« in this case.
I had worked within the camp for a long time, and this life had become monotonous and tiresome. In contrast, there was nothing more stimulating that these marches in the morning after the uncomfortable ceremony of the appeal. Joined by guards armed with rifles at the gate, we passed the camp's concrete wall at the outside and the administration buildings of the SS left a second barring cordon behind us and finally reached the bank of the Sola, which we followed for about three kilometers. Having passed the second barring cordons, the guards shouldered their rifles and we were allowed to talk to each other. Strictly considered, we then reached the outside of the camp. Almost every morning, we could watch the breathtaking spectacle of the sun rising over a hoar frost covered landscape. While the red disk of the sun rose behind the hills of the Beskides, silence usually took hold of the columns. The express train from Krakow to Berlin, which passed us every morning, reminded us on the normal life, other people led, whereas the silhouette of the »stew pan« at the horizon recalled to some special aspects of our future. The smoking chimneys of the buna factories visible in a distance of some kilometers reminded us to the - compared with ours - much harder jobs being a heavy burden to the thousands of comrades at the neighbor camp Monowitz. The rising sun over the chain of the Beskides reminded those of us susceptible for such considerations on the insignificance of all that regarding the gigantic spectacles of the universe.
After our arrival at Raisko we went to the laboratory and started to work. A short while before the end of our working time in the afternoon, it was time for the sacrament of tidiness: the famous cleaning had to be performed. Following a sign of the Kapo, every work had to be immediately stopped, and the instruments, tables, cupboards, lamps and floors had to be cleaned without any delay. This ritual, which obviously was considered to be of higher importance than scientific work, was worshiped for a half hour every day. Before leaving the laboratory, the rooms were checked for tidiness, and the severity of these checks depended much on the non- commissioned SS officer on duty and his fancies. Some of them were rather hot tempered and checked every drawer, in every quarter, every lamp and instrument. Woe, if there was a dust particle or a spider web! There immediately were loud scenes and we got slaps or even reduced rations. The reason was, that the non-commissioned officers lived in steady fear of an inspection by the »Stabsscharführer«, their chief, who again was responsible for the unobjectionable state of the rooms and the instruments. Here, another detail of this devilish system comes to light: steady fear of the chiefs and steady chicanery against subordinates for revenge. If a spider web was found, scientific qualification was worthless. In the first line, this craze for tidiness was nothing but an efficient means to repression. Not only had we to beware of the officers during our daily work, but of the non-commissioned officers as well. And sometimes, the Kapo bringing us back to the camp considered it to be necessary, to take measures against us, if there had been objections at the check for tidiness.
After we had left the laboratory, lined up in rows of five once more, we marched back to the camp, where we had to show up at a fixed hour. There, we once more had to take our places in the march columns of the commands, which entered the camp one after another to the sound of the orchestra with the precision of a clockwork. Afterwards, we had to fall in to the appeal with all its terror again. The command at Raisko for sure was one of the best at Auschwitz. In our laboratory overalls, safe and sound and in the warm, we did a job we more or less were trained for. We worked, had the opportunity to read (sometimes clandestinely even for ourselves instead for the work) and could discuss scientific, philosophical and even political topics, though we had to be rather careful. We always kept a key word in mind in order to be able to give a quick turn to our discussions if we got surprised. But how should we have been able to forget, that we belonged to the privileged in the camp, as we daily met our miserable comrades from Birkenau on the street, who were doing excavations and agricultural jobs, having to endure their inhumane female Kapos and live dogs. After the check of the laboratory and the return to the camp, the usual chicaneries of our block eldest, who hated »the professors« set a contrast to the few relatively calm hours of work at the laboratory. We led a real double life. All in this camp was schizophrenic, insane.
The working time ended at half past six p. m. in the summer and with the break of dawn with the days shortening. For every command, there was a special place reserved, where it had to fall in for the evening appeal. Lined up in rows straight as a die, we were inspected and counted by the SS »Blockführer«. The duration of these appeals was rather varying. Standing at attention without the slightest notion was something very uncomfortable, especially during the cold season. Every internee had but one single wish: that nothing unforeseen happened at the counting of his own group or one of the others. If an internee had escaped during the day, so the counted number did not match the one fixed for the morning appeal at the secretary, the appeal could last very long. In the moment, the results of the counts of the single commands were passed to the commanders office to be compared with those of the morning, the internees petrified in their standing at attention and an anxious silence filled the camp. This was the crucial moment of decision, if the appeal was over or not. It was also the moment, at which some important decisions about some internees fell. And it was the setting, in which the public executions took place. One of the last days of December, after the last »caps off!« of the day, four Polish patriots were hanged beneath the christmas tree with all it's glittering lights. Their last words, »down with the tyrants! Long live freedom!« filled the silent scene. On the occasion of another hanging, the rope broke. A murmur arose in the crowd normally so silent. All were sure, that the delinquent would be pardoned in accordance with the customs valid centuries. He was brought to the bunker, where he was executed the next day. This silence at the end of the day was impressing. It was the moment, where one could consider topics, carefully ignored during the day. The commands »caps on! dismiss!« broke the silence and the day was over. There were two hours left for us to eat, do one's toilet, chat with the comrades or rest. Finally, a ring of a bell was the signal to everybody to return to his block. A quarter of an hour later, a second ring of the bell announced that the lights were turned off, the beginning of a more or less good night, depending on the physical and psychic state of the individual internee.
On sundays and holidays, this fixed order was broken. Only a small number of internees left the camp to work, the great majority did not have to work. The appeal was at 11 a . m. and afterwards we had leisure time. In the afternoon, there were soccer-, basketball- and water-polo-tournaments under the vivid acclamation of the spectators. It does not take much, to divert from pending danger. The camp administration had allowed periodical entertainments for the internees even on working days. At a cinema, news movies of the Nazis were presented as well as sentimental movies. There was a rather popular cabaret doing frequent presentations, which were often even visited by SS-staff. Finally, there was a remarkable orchestra, which was manned with Polish musicians during the first time, which later were replaced by a group of first class musicians of all nationalities, the majority of them being Jewish. The conductor of the orchestra was a professor at the conservatory at Krakow. Due to a strange random, I witnessed the end of this orchestra. Besides being an unforgettable experience, this story illustrates once more the complete madness which ruled that camp. The orchestra was just on a rehearsal playing »invitation to a waltz« by Weber, when an internee accompanied by an SS-official interrupted the rehearsal. One musician after the other was called for, laid down his instrument and left the room to head for the quarantine block. From there, they were brought to Northern Germany. To them, this was a real deportation, as they left their home country. I will never forget this view. This scene reminded me to the famous copper engraving by Rethel, showing the death interrupting a musket ball and the last musicians are about to leave the room.
As a result of the steady transports to other camps and incoming transports of newcomers, the population of the camp was steadily mixed up. Transports to other camps always represented a steady unpleasant threat, because one lost all the material advantages one had managed to get during a long time. It was a journey to the unknown, with all the hardships of such transports and the difficulties of having to establish oneself in the new camp again. Despite of all that, a transport could as well mean rescue, especially for the Jews, who suffered under the steady massive threat of being gassed. It was necessary, though, to get as clear information about the destination of the transport, if ever possible. After that, one could do what had to be done to join the transport or to be excluded. The transports to Dachau and Buchenwald were always very popular, as Buchenwald represented something near Paradise for us. One of these days, there was a transport to Natzweiler (Struthof), Bas-Rhin. I was very keen on joining this transport, as it would have meant my return to the Alsace. After I received information from a very reliable source, this would be forlorn hope, I kept from showing any interest for this transport. I can only say, that this was a very wise decision. So far, nobody can say, what happened to the miserable internees from Auschwitz, who were brought to Struthof in fixed intervals. The few, that were found in the morgues of the anatomical department of the university of Straßburg, were buried at the cemetery Straßburg-Nord.
Because of this mixing of internees from different camps, we were always informed about what happened at the other camps. Sometimes, we had detailed information about friends in camps at the other end of Germany. So we were not really totally cut off the rest of the world, we even knew what was happening at the different fronts. There were German newspapers brought to the camp. Some internees were even allowed to subscribe to a newspaper. But we were even better informed by radio broadcasts of allied senders, some of our comrades could pick up at some commands during their work. One had to be very careful with the spreading of news, though, as there were a lot of spies in the camp. Every conversation about political topics was strictly forbidden. One even had to avoid to only mention the name of a city which had been mentioned in a report. Real chains of internees known as reliable had formed, who spread the news within the camp. So we could follow the stations of the allied troops advance in France. The fall of Paris, Brussels and Straßburg were clandestinely celebrated in an adequate manner. We followed the advance of the Russian troops as well, which had been stopped since August 1944 at the front near Tarnow, to Krakow, which had fallen on January the 14th. We had waited for this for a long time, and now we started to worry, if we would be left to our fate, exterminated or evacuated. Two days later, we received the command for the complete evacuation of Auschwitz.
Just an annotation: I'm aware of the difficulties arising from the attempt to translate articles from one language to the other. So nobody should expect it to be possible to reconstruct the original text from this translation of the French original, as I first translated it from French to German and hence from German to English. These three languages have little in common, so I could not do more than trying to transport the spirit, the author of the original was writing this article. I did my best to do so, and from the feedback I received from some people lending me a helping hand, I'm quite sure that I managed to do so. Many thanks to all those who supported me. I appreciated their help very much.
I didn't try to translate some names of ranks within the hierarchy of the SS and the internees, as this would be impossible, so I simply used the German names. As far as I could, I tried to use the anglo-saxon transcriptions of geographical names, but I could not find any specific transcriptions for some of them, so I used the original German names in these cases. Last, but not least, I'd like to stress, that I'm not a native speaker of English, so if you find any faults or inaccuracies, please don't hesitate to inform me, I'll do all I can, to eliminate them.
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Last update: 01/21/1999.