"So when we got to
Buchenwald they put me in a barrack, with real beds, no straw. I think it
was barrack number 22 or 23, with all the intelligentsia. There had been
about eight beds, and there were SS men watching that room. The next
morning we had to come out from the barracks and stand out there so we
could be counted. So then we saw two people. They hanged them. We had to
watch. They hanged two people because they escaped. They caught them. So
that they showed us. Every morning we had to stand outside the barracks so
we could be counted."
"All of a sudden, a German said, 'they call numbers.' They said 'Di ruffen
dein namen.' They will call your number. I went up there to the commandant's
door. I went in and they checked me out. My number is 677 thousand and so
on. After, they sent us from Buchenwald to a factory in Sonneberg, Thuringen. When we had first come in to Buchenwald, we were two hundred
and eighty people from Chenstochov. Now when they sent us out, we were a
hundred people to work in a factory. The factory had been in the city of
Sonneberg and our barracks had been in a forest. When we went to work we
had to march and sing, and when we went back we had to sing too.
Left-click on the earphones
icon and listen to the song that Alter and
his fellow workers had to sing on their march to and from the factory in
The factory made wheels for tanks. A turret-laid and engine-laid machine. I
was assigned to work for a foreman, a tall guy, German guy. And I had to
help him, work together with him. That guy had been a blessing to me. In
the morning he brought a breakfast special for me. And then he said,
because there are SS--the SS were watching over all the machines of all
the people who were working there--everything should be quiet.
We had to pass the SS guard before we went
to the toilet. He sat at a
table and he had been sitting and smoking his pipe. He had been a
terrible--he had been a killer actually. We found out later that he was a
killer. So the foreman brought me this breakfast every morning when he came to
work. He made a "wall," that I could go hide behind his back where he put
the food, and I could eat it there without being seen. He was watching me,
that I shouldn't get caught."
THE DEAF SS MAN, THE TOBACCO, AND THE BOWL OF SOUP
"Well, I don't know how long we were in Sonneberg. We each got a ration of tobacco and the SS also got a ration of
tobacco. We didn't get the ration at the same time as the SS got it. We'd
been productive so we got some tobacco too. We had an SS man there who had
become deaf at the Russian front. When he didn't have his pipe, or he
couldn't smoke his pipe, he went wild. He didn't know what to do. He
needed nicotine, you know? So he didn't have any. We had the nicotine. And
so a foolish thought went through my mind. I took a little bit of tobacco
and rolled it in paper, and made a big thing. And I put it on his table
and I went to the men's room. Then I went back to the machines. He
observed me. I showed him with my finger, what I put on the table, the
piece of paper. And he took it and went into the hall. I don't know what
he did, probably unwrapped it, smoked his pipe, happy, happy-go-lucky. And
I went back to work. After, when we were finished, we marched back from
the factory. And after we were back, the same SS man came to the area
where we all ate, looking for me. In his hand, he had some food. He asked
for me. He described me, you know? And the guy said, 'The tauber (the deaf
one) zuch dich. The tauber zuch dich.' So I went to the tauber sucht dich.
He gave me the geshear. He says, "Es das auf!" "Eat it up!' So I got a bowl of soup
like that. And I ate it up. Oh, I felt good. And I said, 'Danke schoen.'
And people stared. Oh, look at that! I was embarrassed. I ate a bowl of
soup and they were hungry like wolves. And I got a privilege from him. And
from his own things. A Jude eats from his own geshear. Imagine that... And
I finished the food and he left. A while later, he came in with potatoes.
Oh potatoes! He gave them to me. And they got a little stove, you know? So
they took the potatoes and threw them into the ashes to get them warm. So,
that was the experience I had at the camp. I can't remember how long I had
been at the camp. But soon the time came when we had to go, because the
Allied forces had been...they were near..."
THE CELLAR AND
factory had been bombed. So we had to go and take out from the cellars all
the dead people. The Germans had cellars where they kept their food. And after the
cellars were bombed, they wanted us to take out the dead people. The
Germans went down to the cellars to protect themselves, not to get
killed...So we went to the cellars. We had to take them out, the bodies,
the dead bodies.
Before we left the cellar we decided to take for ourselves, you know?
They had all kinds of food in the cellar. We helped ourselves to the food.
When the day was finished, we had to come up from the cellars and go back
to the camp. So we had a smart idea. We took our pants (legs) and put a
string around it, tightened it and put potatoes in our pants. And
we marched home. Well, we got a schlemazzel, a guy who
didn't close his pants tight enough. And we're marching, and the potatoes
start to fall out. And the SS man at the back of the line saw this. So
before we got back to the camp, everybody had to stand and they checked us
out. They found me with potatoes because of that guy Hatzik, a
Czechoslovakian Jew. They made fun of him too because he had been a little
guy. Anyway, the SS man wrote down my number. I had a number on the pants,
a number on the shirt. And then a short time later, an hour later, we came
into camp. They called my number. The commandant's door. I should go over
there. There was a 'siff," a prefabricated house. And he started, the
judge, a kangaroo court. He had been a judge. He said to me, 'You
stole from the German Reich potatoes,' and so on, and so on. It was a
kangaroo court. And standing all around were SS. 'You stole from German
Reich. For that your sentence will be, you get twenty-five lashes.' The
lashes had been a stake, and they had a rubber stick too. And a boot
stick. I had to lay down. 'Lay your head down.' And I laid my head down.
And I waited. I saw one of the SS on one side of me, another on the other
side. He said, 'Vierundzwanzig,' and then he started to count, 'Eins,
one...' I stood up and he hit the floor (with his stick.) He didn't hit
me, he hit the floor. When he counted once, I saw what was going to
happen, so I stood up. He hit the floor. 'For that, you, you cheated on
the German Reich. You get fifty lashes!' So I laid back down on the
chairs, but now somebody sits with their ass on my head so I couldn't get
up. It was an SS man. And he started to count again, 'Eins, zvei...'
I felt it, but I didn't cry. I hurt, but I didn't cry. He counted. I don't
know how long he counted. I became absent-minded. I figured good angels
had been watching over me. I didn't feel nothing. Believe me or not.
Nothing. After he finished counting, he said in German, 'See that you get
out quick.' So he put out his leg that I should fall over it. I jumped
over his leg too. Out the way I came in. When I got back to the barrack,
the guys put compresses on me. The next day I had to go to work."
THE DEATH MARCH TO SUDETENLAND
"I don't know how long it had been, but they started to gather us
all together. 'March! We have to leave the factory.' The owner of the
factory and some of the people who worked there watched us leave.
They were sorry that we were leaving. They knew that we were Juden,
but they were still sorry that we were going.
And then we started our 'death march.' We were to march from Thuringen
to Sudetenland, and we were marched day and night. We rested mostly at
farmer's houses. All of a sudden, one guy, a tall guy, a healthy boy, he
got away. A German went with a German shepherd and found him and brought
him back. They shot him. The SS men got a feeling that were were already
deliberating, planning an escape. But the SS man had been with us. After
they shot that guy, we started to march again, and the deaf guy from the
SS, he said to me in German, 'You are the next to be shot.' To me he said
this. I was next!
So we kept marching. The SS decided to rest. They marched with us, so
when they got tired, they rested. So he rested with me, next to me. He put
the gun beside me. He opened a couple of Spams, and he said to me to eat
it up, so I did. When he ate, I ate. So the next day, after he told
me that he'd kill me, that I'd be shot, we were marching. The SS heard
that there had been a U.S. tank somewhere not too far away. I don't know how the SS found
out, maybe by radio, but they disappeared. So we didn't see the SS anymore
"So I tracked back from where we came, me and two other guys. We tracked
back to Pilsen. This was a little town and there was a shoe store there.
We didn't have any shoes. We marched barefoot. And there was someone from
the shoe store, he called us in. We should come in. And he gave each of us
a pair of shoes. When we left, when we went on after that, there
had been a curfew. At nighttime, nobody should be out. So a U.S. M.P.
found us. He took us to a camp where the SS had been. And we started to
shout, 'Hey, we want a translator, someone to translate. We are not
Germans.' We had been with the SS and we were wearing striped
uniforms. They thought something was fishy here. We should be together
with the SS. Then they got a Jewish guy from Newark, New Jersey. I can't
remember his name. So when he spoke to us, he gave us his name. He says
'Newark' and I say 'New York.' I knew New York, but I didn't say Newark.
Anyway, he put us in his jeep and took us down to the hospital. He gave
the guy there, the doctor, a carton of cigarettes to take care of us. One
of the two guys with me was named Dimentman. They put him in a separate
room, and then they checked us over. I and the other guy had been okay. I wanted to
see Dimentman. What was going on with him? The doctor didn't let us in to
see him. Quarantine. So we became afraid. So me and the other guy, we
disappeared. We left. We disappeared into the city. What happened after
that, I can't remember too much. I know they gave us clothing. Italian
uniforms. And there were Italian guys who wanted to buy our uniforms. I
didn't want that. I don't know why I didn't want to...
After that, I went to the train station in Pilsen. I don't know how I got
to the station. There had been a train there that was going to Poland, you
know? And there was a Jew there who came up to me--an angel, not a Jew, an
angel coming down (from heaven). He said, 'Don't go back. You don't have
what to look for.' So I didn't go back. I went back to Pilsen. And from
then on, I wandered. A wandering Jew. I didn't know what for, where I
should go. And the other guy that had been with me, he somehow
disappeared. He wanted to be independent. He had a different idea on where
to go. He lives now in Canada, Toronto, I think."